So what does church discipline look like in Kenya?

The Lord has been doing a big work here in Kenya cleaning up the churches. You know when something gets cleaned you feel a great sense of reward afterwards, but the process of cleaning is hard work and can be quite demoralizing. When you move the furniture around and pull up the rugs, you find all kinds of disturbing stuff under there. Well, the same goes with “church cleaning.”
In the last few weeks several issues have emerged requiring intervention and disciplinary action. Meetings after meetings, fact-finding missions, and lots and lots of prayer. Well we have experienced some serious breakthroughs. I will not go through the details of all the events but want to share one in particular that has the makings of a great suspense thriller or a poorly done comedy. I will change the names of the actors and the church just to prevent any potential embarrassment.
One day I was invited to share the Gospel of the Kingdom with several folks gathered in a new location we will call “Kanisa.” The meeting was organized by a disciple who was a former Catholic drunkard and failed politician who had repented and was a promising disciple in training (he has since been experiencing challenges of his own unrelated to this soap opera). The meeting was organized at his brother Mzee’s house, who is a widowed father of eleven, backsliden former pastor, and senior elder of the village of Kanisa.
Mzee gathered several men and young women to hear the message of the Kingdom. The message was wholeheartedly accepted and we organized to return within days to baptize those who repented. Six people were baptized including Mzee, Walimu, Wawalimu, Bibi, and Dada. It was a great start and the birth of a new fellowship in Kanisa. The next week we returned to Kanisa and taught again and even baptized additional disciples. However, Mzee shocked us with his confession that Bibi was more than just house help, assisting him with the care of his numerous children, but they were also “friends.” This came as a shock to me since confession was something to occur BEFORE repentance, not after. I demanded that she not stay at his home and that he organize a proper marriage if the relationship was to continue. We continued to send teams of teachers to Kanisa for months, strengthening the church there and added several more disciples.
Several months after planting the fellowship in Kanisa, Mzee had visitors…his older boys were in from Nairobi. One of his boys hitched a ride with me and I slyly asked him who was staying in the home at night. He told me Bibi was sleeping there (as I suspected). I was quite disappointed to learn this. I immediately called Walimu and he admitted that Bibi had been staying with Mzee for weeks. I explained to him what fornication was and told him to get together with Wawalimu and sit Mzee down immediately and correct this matter. I told him if this was not corrected then the entire church would face disciplinary action. He responded immediately and Bibi moved back to her parents’ home.
The fellowship in Kanisa proceeded to organize for Mzee and Bibi to marry. They sent a delegation to me with the wedding agreement (dowry package) which was a sheep, thirteen cows, and lots of cash, assuming that I would pay (their foolishness amazes me!). I just shrugged it off and ignored their request. I sent teachers a couple weeks later and one noted that Bibi’s belly was getting quite large. Hmmm. I had noted a little pot belly the last time I was there but Sam was confident there was something in there. Oh dear! Now I have to address this one!
I organized for Mzee, Walimu and Wawalimu to visit our fellowship so that we could discuss this matter and others after fellowship. They assumed that I was calling them in to give them great news about my funding of their proposed wedding. But our plan was to get to the bottom of Bibi’s apparent pregnancy. I also wanted to address the issue of Mzee’s having self-appointed himself as leader of the Kanisa fellowship. It was clear that he, as per African culture, having been the person responsible for bringing the visitor (“blessing”) and being the oldest man and being a former pastor, was automatically the de facto leader of the fellowship. However, we appoint elders as per the Scriptures and not African custom. So we likewise took the opportunity of this meeting to clarify that leadership is appointed by the church planters and is not self-appointed according to local traditions. The meeting was tense. Mzee was deeply offended by the tone and message of the meeting. His own testimony and words validated our concerns. During the entire meeting, Walimu and Wawalimu were very coy and would not directly incriminate Mzee, as it is African custom to never reveal another’s secrets. But near the end of the discussion, Walimu finally broke his silence and laid it out: Mzee was overbearing and controlling in the fellowship and would not tolerate any correction from others he deemed subordinates. Finally some honesty….a total break from tradition. Mzee was shocked for sure. But we still were only discussing the leadership issue and were yet to address the pregnancy issue.
Then, the bombshell! Is Bibi pregnant? He seemed very surprised and denied he had anything to do with her getting pregnant. He insisted on his innocence. He was steadfast. But the facts were undeniable. Unless Bibi had some strange sickness, this girl clearly was carrying. Mzee was not short on words. He talked at great length, insisting his innocence and sulking in his betrayal. We closed with Mzee’s insistence that he would inquire into the accusations and get to the bottom of things. Inside we wondered what he could possibly mean. We closed the meeting with the plan to announce to the church that Mzee was not an appointed leader and that those appointments would come from the church planters in due time. Mzee was feeling very bad but at least publicly accepted our decision. Privately, however, he still had some fight left in him.
On his way out he pulled Sam aside and initiated a long conversation. He said that he had not impregnated Bibi, but rather it must have been Walimu, a married man! He said both Walimu and Wawalimu had multiple wives. That as a village elder, he was privy to their numerous legal cases and that they were generally people of ill-repute. He was not going down alone. It appeared as though he was intent on destroying the fellowship if he could not resume his self-appointed leadership role. Oh dear!
Before our planned Sunday meeting, I thought it wise to meet with Walimu and Wawalimu to learn more. Wawalimu visited us but Walimu missed the meeting due to a conflict in schedule. We shared everything Mzee had said. Wawalimu was heartbroken over the accusations. He clearly appeared innocent of Mzee’s charges based on his demeanor and body language. Our plan, to proceed with the Sunday meeting and lay everything out in the open.
Sunday came. I shared an exhaustive teaching on church discipline, church leadership, and about church lampstands being removed based on 1 Corinthians 5, Revelation 2-4, Matthew 18:15-18, and Galatians 6:1. It was well received. Then we sent away those not involved in the scandal and began the difficult meeting. Our leadership delegation included Sam, Tim, Samwell, Cosmos and me. From Kanisa, Mzee, Walimi, Wawalimu and another older brother were present. I introduced the meeting with what I had heard from all their respective reports. Then we let them say their parts one by one.
Mzee started. He repeated everything he had stated to Sam in private. He added specifics about the legal cases: Walimu stole maize from Wawalimu resulting in much conflict. He finally conceded that Bibi was pregnant. But he still insisted that Walimu was the father! He said that both the brothers had multiple wives in secret. He was not budging and he exuded confidence in what he was saying. The leadership delegation was shocked to hear him repeat these mind-bending allegations. He ended with the statement that if he was lying may God strike him dead immediately. We were speechless.
Then Wawalimu. He, nearly in tears, said everything that Mzee said concerning him was indeed true. Before he was a Christian, he impregnated a girl and fathered a child. He never married her, but in African culture she would be called a wife though not legally or culturally considered a wife. But he said he had changed when he repented and has never since been unfaithful to his first and current wife. Pheewww! I wiped beads of sweat off my brow.
Now Walimu’s turn. He speaks at great length. He is more adversarial and denies the allegations. He admits only to the maize stealing incident but denies any sexual liaisons with Bibi. Stalemate!
Finally, the other mature brother. He refuses to pass judgment and will not say anything since he is unsure of the truth of the matters. I commend him.
Now my turn. I reiterate that this meeting had two possible conclusions: 1.) one story everyone agrees with, confession, repentance, forgiveness, and complete restoration, or 2.) they stick to their disparate stories accusing each other and the leadership surrenders Kanisa fellowship relegating it a false-start. Now, ball in their court. I concur with the tight-lipped mature brother that it is time to stop talking about what their brothers did wrong and now time to confess their own errors before God and ask for forgiveness. Stakes are high. First up, Wawalimu.
In tears, he admits he was wrong in impregnating a girl who was not his wife before baptism (what Mzee called a second wife) and confesses he was bitter with his brothers for the accusations and asks all for forgiveness. Great start. Next, mature brother comes clean that he was feeling bad because of all this drama around him and nearly gave up on the church and asks for forgiveness (I certainly did not fault him and as a new believer would have dropped these guys as well).
Now the tough ones. Mzee is on deck. He confessed getting angry at his brothers but would not move on any of the other juicy accusations. He still insisted his innocence of impregnating Bibi, implying Walimu is the father of the baby carried by his fiancée. Oh dear. Heartburn.
Now, the climax and end of this whole ordeal, right? Nope. Walimu, clearly distraught, says he needs some time alone with his God before he can say anything. What? No comment on being accused of fathering Bibi’s baby!?!?! His guilt is now obvious to all.
I grant him his time and reiterate the terms: complete confession and repentance ending with one story, or Kanisa’s doors are shut permanently. I also one-up the ante by insisting Bibi be present to explain the situation herself. Next meeting is scheduled for Wednesday.
Wednesday comes. Tim, Sam and I are tense but with high expectations. I called ahead to see if Walimu would be present and to my surprise he fully intended on attending. What fireworks were we in for today?
We arrive and people begin coming. Mzee and Walimu are there. The mature brother is there. Then Walimu’s wife even arrives. Oh dear…what does she know? Wawalimu arrives, and finally Bibi and her mother (also a disciple).
I opened with the ground rules. No one discusses the actions of others but instead simply confesses their own wrongdoing. Then each go in turn. Mzee, Wawalimu, mature brother…no new developments. Then Walimu. He says he was bitter at his brothers and wanted forgiveness, but total silence on any sexual sin. Then Bibi. She apologizes to Enoch for wronging him and offers no specifics but it is understood…she had now made it clear there was wrongdoing there, right?!?
Then Walimu’s wife contributes. She speaks at length that she knew there were problems with the marriage plans of Bibi and Mzee and that she had information about their situation. Again, implied sexual liaison but no one would say it.
Finally, I add that people are apologizing to one another but no one is apologizing to Walimu’s wife, the innocent victim in all this. A church member engaged to be married to another brother is having sex with her husband and still silence. They offer little to satisfy my leading so I get direct (which is against cultural norms here).
I say, “There is an elephant in the room and no none will acknowledge her presence.” I look to Bibi’s belly and ask her, “Is there a baby in there?” She says yes. I ask her, “Who is the father?” She gives a long answer about how when we found them she had been with Mzee but that when they repented she went home. I confront her again: “Who is the father of your baby?” Answer, “Mzee!”
A look of shock on everyone’s face was priceless. Then I looked into Mzee’s eyes and said, “SURPRISE!!!” Everyone burst out in laughter, except Mzee, of course. He was still in shock. We discussed the date when they were baptized and her estimated due date based on the size of the bulge. It all added up. She was impregnated before she was baptized over eight months ago.
I guided everyone through the final steps of confession, repentance and forgiveness. I then advised Mzee to follow through with his plans to marry Bibi (he had sent her away after he discovered she was pregnant). And now the fellowship in Kanisa is starting over with a clean slate. All in a day’s work in the Africa mission! Lord help me!

2 Replies to “So what does church discipline look like in Kenya?”

  1. Hi Marc;

    I think I missed something in this story ~ I thought Mzee was already married to someone else?