Ex-apprentice, Harrison Mungai, writes in 2009 of his vision of raising up workers for the African harvest field.
The African church has been much spoken about in many circles. It has been seen as flourishing in certain fronts but also failing miserably in others. It has frequently been described as growing at the periphery but dying from the core not least because of the stark contrast between a high percentage of Christians and high levels of corruption and tribalism in most countries. It has also been described as miles wide but only a few inches deep. While we might debate the helpfulness of these labels, it is certain that the African church badly needs qualified gospel workers.
After spending two years in the UK (2005-2007) one as a Careforce volunteer in Reading and the other as a 9:38 Apprentice at All Saints Crowborough, I became strongly convinced that the African church is in great need of gospel workers. Through prayer and wide consultations with leaders both in my home country, Kenya, and in the UK, the idea solidified and I felt strongly that an associate scheme would be an answer to raising gospel workers who will faithfully teach the scriptures and encourage Christians to live out their faith in the African context.
My experience as an apprentice at All Saints gave me great impetus and was an eye opener to the many opportunities available for training in ministry. It perfectly served as a ground for testing the gospel ministry waters. That I had the opportunity to be involved in a wide range of ministry activities (as well as practical ones like running the risograph for hours on end!) gave me an insider’s view of what gospel ministry involved. My stereotypes were challenged and my view of ministry sobered up.
Besides attending the Sussex Coast Ministry Training Course (SCMTC) and the Philip Project at Cornhill in London, I had the privilege of doing other courses organised by the church like Time2Serve and The Blueprint. I strongly admired all these courses and their structure. There were many times I wished I could lift all those lecturers and plant them in Nairobi. The fact that SCMTC was a day release course and that it was unaccredited was a great attraction to me. I imagined how resourceful such courses would be if they were running in Africa. I really envied the amazing depth in study and application of scripture in the UK and wished to take it home with me.
Inspired by the 9:38 Apprenticeship Scheme model, I envisaged a programme that would give young graduates opportunities of involvement in Christian ministry, helping them to explore the needs and opportunities available in gospel ministry, and whether gospel ministry is for them. It would also support the ministry of a local church. And so iServe Africa was born to address needs such as the following:
- Africa is a youthful continent with some countries having over 50% of their population under 15 years of age! (In Kenya 70% of the population is under 30!) We therefore must invest now in the youth if we are to have a strong African Church and African mission in the future.
- Many young people in their gap year sometimes have to wait up to 2 years before admission to colleges/ universities. Fresh graduates spend an average of 18 months before landing a first job. Such young people have free time which is not always spent productively.
- The need for faithful Bible teaching. This has been described as the most urgent need in Africa today. Through the Nairobi Ministry Training Course (NMTC) we will seek to raise faithful Bible teachers and preachers in partnership with others.
- Few young people have had any experience of working in a cross-cultural setting as most grow up in mono-cultural church contexts. The programme would offer opportunities for them to live and work cross-culturally thus helping break down stereotypes and develop their social skills. This is especially helpful in fighting tribalism and other forms of prejudice common in many African countries.
- Young people are adventurous – they are interested in having new experiences and are keen to be involved in a variety of activities. Unfortunately there have not been structures in which this energy, skill and time can be properly channelled and utilized. iServe Africa internships would be one way of providing constructive adventure.
- Churches, especially in the rural areas, are heavily deprived of resources. The work is huge but the churches cannot afford extra workers. A volunteer model is one solution to the problem of shortage of staff; not as cheap labour but as a helpful resource in a win–win situation, where both the church and the intern mutually benefit from the scheme.
- There is insufficient ministry to the youth and children. The church has, for a long time, neglected the needs of young people. Many of them have become disillusioned and lost focus in life and have turned to drugs and sects in their search for identity. The country has seen soaring levels of crime. Sending workers to work with the young people is a helpful intervention.
- Local Mission: There is a notion that the African Church is thriving. Many churches are full and this reinforces the impression that Africa is generally reached. As such mission is not adequately emphasised in the typical church. We will seek to encourage our volunteers into the harvest fields at home.
- World Mission: The African church is rising up to the challenge of world mission, and slowly emerging as senders. We see this programme as a first step into further involvement in world mission. We will recommend our volunteers for further involvement in the wider world of missions and expose them to available opportunities.
While still in the UK I approached an indigenous mission movement based in Kenya, Mission Together Africa, and asked them if I could run the programme under them. I had known the main leader, Duncan Olumbe, in my college days at the University of Nairobi. They were pleased with the idea and promised to help. We worked out the administrative details and established iServe Africa as a structure in which young people in Africa can give their time to serve the Church and the community both for their own good and for the Glory of God.
The vision of iServe Africa is raising gospel workers for the church in Africa and the mission is to consolidate the gains of the African church. The objective is that by the end of the experience and subsequent follow-up process, the participating youth will have grown in their understanding of gospel ministry and thus be in a position to make a tangible commitment to God and their future involvement in gospel ministry. They would be thoroughly prepared before the placement, have adequate supervision and training during the experience, and be sensitively debriefed after the year.
I came back from the UK in August 2007 and since September we have been laying the foundation for the work. MTA very kindly provided the legal and institutional framework. They gave me the job to run the programme and other support facilities like an office, a desk and internet access. My former placement, All Saints Crowborough through its Mission Awareness Committee, provided a laptop and also adopted me as a mission partner with some support to the programme. Other friends both in the UK and Kenya came forward to support the idea, giving it much needed goodwill and prayer support.
So far we have seen incredible reception of the idea and this has been very exciting for me to see it all coming together. We already have a number of churches willing to have interns (as associates/apprentices would be understood in the UK). There are many young people seeking to join the programme. We have already set up a small website https://iserveafrica.org. We are now working on the details of the Nairobi Ministry Training Course which we hope to launch simultaneously with the associate scheme in September this year.
However, all has not been rosy. With post election violence threatening to tear Kenya apart and ethnocentrisms rising to high levels, we are treading carefully and prayerfully hoping for a speedy resolution of the disputes so that peace can return. This has been the single largest threat to the survival of the programme but we are confident that we shall soon go past this dark moment in Kenya’s history. This has made long term thinking and planning very difficult.
Although we are still committed to Kenyan apprenticeships, we are exploring placements outside Kenya for Kenyan apprentices and also looking for international apprentices to come into our programme. We would be pleased to recommend apprentices to UK churches and to provide logistical support, training and orientation at this end before they leave for a placement in the UK.
Besides all this, the last four months have been defining for me as I was busy planning our wedding in December. At least Rhodah is now at my side and this has made things a little easier. Financial challenges have been there. The arrangement with MTA, like many other Christian organisations, is that I have to raise my support and as such, I have had to depend on mission partners, friends and well wishers. Once we are established, I hope many will appreciate and support us locally. The churches will support the interns with some stipend but we need support to administer the programme. At the moment we are approaching trusts and individuals for funding.
We would value prayer…
1. That there will be a peaceful solution to the political crisis currently in Kenya.
2. That the church leaders we are approaching will be positive to receiving interns.
3. That the Lord would give us the right interns and the right number.
4. That we may have the right teachers at the Nairobi Ministry Training Course.
5. That the course will be well received and attended
6. That we will have resources, financial and otherwise, to run the work
7. That the work will reflect the glory of God and that He alone will be seen and not us.
[Over ten years since the inception of iServe Africa the work continues, over 150 graduates have gone through the apprenticeship programme and your prayers are still coveted for the seven requests above.]