We’re republishing this as part of our 25th anniversary series featuring favorite stories from our archives. This story by Jerry Harding about a makeshift church, a vision, and a generous partnership, appeared in ANM Magazine in 2014.
I was in central Kenya in 2011—45 minutes north of Meru Town in the village area called Tigania. Nearby was Mt. Kenya, the second highest mountain on the continent, with its craggy peaks reaching over 17,000 feet into the African sky. I was worshiping the Lord with hands raised, ready to preach to a jubilant congregation.
I had been here seven years before. That was the beginning of this miracle.
In 2004 I had been part of an Advancing Native Ministries team conducting a three-day conference in Meru for the purpose of encouraging indigenous pastors. The coordinator of that meeting was Timothy Kinyua, a young man who in 1999, at the age of 26, had been asked to assume leadership of Cornerstone Evangelistic Ministries after his father, the ministry founder, had unexpectedly died. By Timothy’s own testimony, that conference changed forever his ministry and his workers.
The day after the conference, we were riding with Timothy on the road to Isiolo to see some of the village churches and to visit the animal preserve at Samburu. Along the way two young men dressed in dark suits flagged us down. They had attended the conference and wanted to show us their church.
As we turned off the main road and slowly drove about a quarter of a mile, these tall African pastors, Richard and William, were running just ahead of our vehicle and occasionally looking back to see if we were indeed still coming. Then we arrived at their church.
It is difficult to describe what I saw. The makeshift structure was about 12 feet wide and 20 feet long. One end was open. Large rocks had been piled about two feet high around three sides. Poles provided support for walls of horizontal slats and a roof of metal sheets held down by more of the large stones.
The “pews” were boards about 5 inches wide. The floor was dirt. There was plenty of light coming in from everywhere. About 15 men, women and children gathered that day to meet us. We exhorted and prayed, took pictures, and continued on our journey.
(That evening at dusk, eight hours later, those same young men, still dressed in their dark suits, were again standing by the road waving to us to be assured that we had safely made it through an area frequented by bandits. My heart was moved.)
Prior to that conference, Pastors Richard and William and a few others were discouraged and had planned to leave the ministry. But the power of the Holy Spirit through the preaching of the Word during the conference brought life, hope, inspiration and vision to these tired pastors. Their lives were refreshed and transformed.
A partnership brings change in Tigania
Upon my arrival back home in the U.S., I wept as I shared this story with my wife. Later that month I showed the pictures and told the story of the Tigania church to a small congregation in North Carolina, and they cried, too. They wanted to help this group of believers in Kenya. They had no money, but they were willing to work hard.
They held yard sales, sold hotdogs, had church suppers, challenged children and youth with contests. Everyone got involved, and eventually they raised $1500 to send to Africa through Advancing Native Missions to provide a better structure for this worshipping community. Unknowingly, this North Carolina church had become part of a miracle.
Now, on Sunday, May 1, 2011, Timothy brought me back again to Tigania. I was overwhelmed with what God had done in seven years through a Spirit-anointed conference, through an advocate who told the story, through a gift from a small, loving group of people in North Carolina, and through the dedication of a hard-working pastor with a renewed vision.
The new church building constructed in late 2004 has undergone three additions to accommodate the growing congregation. The floor now is concrete, the rafters sturdy, the roof metal, the walls permanent. A small well-built home adjacent to the church has been constructed for Pastor Richard and Polly, his wife of two years, and their young son. (Pastor William has since moved on to another location.)
Today more than 500 people meet regularly for worship at the church, now called the “City of Refuge” (Mji wa makimbilio in Kiswahili). The youth choir is composed of more than 50 young people smartly dressed, and singing and moving in unison to the rhythm of the African hymns and choruses. What an inspiration! The worship begins at eight in the morning and continues until five in the evening. People come and go—sing, pray, eat, fellowship, listen to the Word. It is truly a miracle!
After the meeting I walked slowly up the dirt road just a bit further to see if the little makeshift structure that I first saw in 2004 was still there. It is not. Everything is cleared away. The old has gone; the new has come—and I rejoice in the miracle!
However, I still cherish the pictures I have of what was—before the conference, the advocacy, the gift, and the leadership. All contributed to this miracle called the “City of Refuge” below the vistas of Mt. Kenya. To God be the glory!
Twenty-five years after we started partnering with native ministries to make a difference among the least and lost, like these precious marginalized people in China, we are closer than ever to seeing the Gospel proclaimed and lived out among every people group in the world. Thank you for your partnership in the Gospel!
There’s more to be done, and just $25 a month can equip another missionary.