“Don’t you know pastors are poor?” Timothy’s girlfriend exclaimed. She could hardly believe what he had just told her.
“I am quitting my job so I can be a full-time missionary in northern Kenya,” Timothy gently broke the news. His mind was made up. Mission work was very important to him, even more than getting married. His girlfriend’s reaction confirmed that she was not God’s choice of a wife for him. It broke his heart, but he knew he had to end their relationship. And he did.
Businessman or missionary?
Timothy gave his life to Christ in 1992 during his second year in high school. He studied at the University of Nairobi, where he earned a degree in business administration and marketing. He wanted to become a successful businessman. While studying at the university he also did a Bible correspondence course and enrolled in a Bible school that offered part-time courses. He was very interested in the gospel and wanted to know more about the Bible and about Jesus.
Even before he graduated from college Timothy landed a job in marketing in Nairobi. He liked his job — it paid well and he had a company car. Sometime in late 1998, though, he heard a voice that caused him several sleepless nights, saying, “Timothy, why don’t you do my work? Why don’t you serve me?” He shared this with his dad, John Kirema, founder and leader of Cornerstone Evangelistic Ministry, based in Meru. His dad did not try to influence him. He simply told Timothy, “If God is speaking to you, you need to obey.” Timothy then gave notice of his resignation to his employer.
Timothy went back to Meru and started his own independent work among the young people in the area. His focus was to bring the youth to Christ. He had a burden for young men who dropped out of school and got involved in drugs. They would pick chewable young twigs of Khat trees grown in the area that act as stimulants and sell them. This very mild drug, also called Miraa, is classified by the World Health Organization as a drug of abuse that can lead to psychological dependence. It is legal in Kenya, Somalia, and Ethiopia but is illegal in other countries.
In the meantime Timothy’s dad, who had diabetes, started losing his sight but continued to do the work nonetheless. Moved with compassion, Timothy offered to help him in the ministry. He started going with the missionaries of Cornerstone to the field to preach, carry the equipment, serve at open-air meetings, and distribute tracts to students on the streets. Shortly after his father passed away in March 1999, he took over the leadership of Cornerstone Evangelistic Ministry.
Timothy and Yvonne meet
In spite of repeated encouragement from family and friends for him to find someone and settle down, Timothy was in no hurry. He patiently waited on the Lord.
Four years later, upon the invitation of some friends, he attended a social gathering. These same friends had also invited a woman named Yvonne to the event. They had a deaf child and Yvonne loved that child very much. When these friends introduced Timothy to Yvonne and he heard of her love for deaf children, he was drawn to her. “I am a minister of the gospel,” he told her, “and I am looking to marry sometime.” They became friends and the friendship blossomed into a serious relationship.
Yvonne, together with her two brothers, was raised in a Christian home. Her father was a teacher and her mother stayed home to care for the kids. Her paternal grandfather was among the first converts of Western missionaries in Kenya. He donated a piece of his farm on which the first Methodist church was built. Her dad, now retired, still serves in the Methodist Church of Kenya as a lay preacher.
She was in college doing a course in office administration when she experienced a personal encounter with the Lord Jesus Christ. She declares, “He has been faithful and has truly blessed me in numerous ways!”
An unusual first date
Timothy’s idea of a date with Yvonne was quite unconventional. He invited her to come with him on an outing in the mission field. He was not sure if she would accept his invitation. Initially, Yvonne’s parents were not so sure either that she should go on the trip. But she asked them to pray about it — it would be her first trip ever to the mission field! Finally they agreed to let her go.
Timothy and Yvonne visited Laisamis town in Marsabit County and the villages of Lerata and Lengusaka in Samburu County. Marsabit is about 192 miles north of Meru and takes about four hours to get to by car. She had never been past Isiolo, 32 miles north of Meru, so it was quite a road trip for her.
“I was in for a culture shock,” Yvonne recalls. Having grown up in a town, she had no idea what life was like in the bush. They stopped in Ngaremara in Isiolo County to say hi to Pastor Paul Lokwa, a long-time Cornerstone missionary. That’s when she realized how their culture was quite different from hers, not only in the way they dressed but also in their lifestyle and the hardships they had to go through.
“What struck me about Timothy was how passionate he was in reaching for Christ the unreached communities, and the sacrifices he had to make in doing so,” she said. “He has a heart so full of love for them. Around that time, the road was not fully paved and there were so many cases of security risks, but these didn’t hinder him from doing what he loves to do.”
“We visited the Rendille tribe, and I loved how they were passionate about worshipping; some under the trees, walking miles and miles to get to the ‘church,’ and that really moved me. It was really touching and special to see the kind of people he was reaching out to help — the unreached.”
Seeing Yvonne’s loving attitude toward these tribal people, Timothy knew in his heart that she was the woman God had for him.
As their relationship and courtship continued, Yvonne was sure that Timothy was the partner she had prayed for — a Christian man not just in name but also in deed, loving, and kind.
“I loved how he had a heart for helping others,” she said.
So when Timothy proposed to her, she readily agreed. Timothy formally introduced Yvonne to his mom, and Yvonne in turn introduced him to her parents.
“They loved him,” she recounted. Several months later Timothy’s family, including his uncles and aunts, came to visit her family. They paid the dowry according to her Meru culture, and some months later her family went to visit his family. Then Timothy’s mom and Yvonne’s parents gave their blessing for the young couple to set a wedding date.
A cow, a sheep, groceries, and produce
Dowry differs from community to community. The customary dowry in the Meru community consists of five cows (one of which must be a heifer), a drum of honey, a sheep, and a goat. In addition, the groom’s family also gives farm produce and grocery items, such as sugar, cooking oil, and salt. These items are given in bulk so the girl’s mother can share them with her friends and neighbors.
In the case of Timothy and Yvonne, Timothy’s family brought the cash equivalent of a heifer, about $700, a live sheep, and all the grocery items and farm produce. Since Yvonne was marrying into a Christian family, her father saw no need to ask for more as he believed that one could never measure the value of one’s daughter with material things. Another thing worth noting is that in their culture the dowry is never a one-time deal! Paying all at once whatever the girl’s family asks for as a dowry sends the message that the groom and his family want nothing more to do with the girl’s family in the future. It means that one has no desire or interest in having an ongoing relationship with the family of the girl. In order to avoid this, the groom’s family or the groom himself should keep visiting the girl’s family with something small for her parents so that the ties are not broken.
During Timothy and Yvonne’s recent visit to the U.S., Bo Barredo, ANM Co-Founder and Global Ambassador, interviewed Yvonne and Timothy at an ANM event. He unexpectedly asked Yvonne, “What do you think Timothy would choose if and when God through His people should provide $20,000 for the ministry? Would he choose to use the money towards the roof of a large unfinished church of one of the ministry’s pastors, or would he opt to use it towards a much-needed and better truck he himself could use in traveling to the different churches and outreaches?”
Without any hesitation, Yvonne said, “The roof.” When asked to explain her response, she softly continued, “Because I know his heart.”
The beginning of a new life together
Yvonne and Timothy exchanged marriage vows in a beautiful wedding ceremony on September 4, 2010, a Saturday. After the wedding they skipped their honeymoon. Instead, the very next day, Sunday, the newlyweds visited a Maasai tribal church in Laikipia and joined them in their worship service, to the excitement and delight of the people. They honored Yvonne by giving her a Maasai name, Nasieku. It means “someone who has come quickly.” She certainly had come quickly to be one of them!
Yvonne works as part of the administrative staff of Kaaga School for the Deaf in Meru. She loves this job, which she has held for over 10 years now, because children as young as four years old have the opportunity to develop language at a tender age.
When school is out and on weekends, Yvonne goes with Timothy to the mission field, and together they lovingly bring the light of the gospel to the unreached and partially-reached tribes, among them the Turkana, Samburu, Maasai, Rendille, Borona, Gabra, and Burji tribes, located mostly in the parched, sandy, and rocky places in northern Kenya. Through their ministry many of these unreached communities have heard and received the Good News of the saving love of Jesus Christ.