Reverend William Kubondo was a Godsend for the E for Everyone crew. Two weeks before our flight to Kenya, a flight we had paid big dollars for, we had few connections, no itinerary, not even a place to stay. Since the footage scripted for Africa was key to the drama of the film and crucial for the documentary we were scrambling to make ‘happen.’ Through a friend of a friend I got Kubondo’s email address and sent a desperate email. I knew very little about the man when I sent that message. I knew he was a pastor in a church in Kenya and that he hosted international teams to do mission work. But a film crew?
I emailed him hoping for a connection, for some advice, for an idea of where to go and if he might be able to help or connect us with someone who could help us. His response surprised me. ‘Can I arrange your itinerary and take you throughout Kenya to areas of drought, to see Kenyan wildlife areas, can I take you to people affected by HIV/AIDS? Can I travel with you?’ Our trip to Kenya surpassed our expectations: we got the footage we needed and more. But Kenya also marked us, on the heart and psyche, touched our insides.
I can speak only for myself. My experience in Kenya taught me deep things. Things, as Henri Nouwen says, I’m walking into understanding. What strikes me most is that in Kenya, more than anywhere else, I was faced with the plain facts of suffering and struggle, human hardship and need, things not hidden or covered up but exposed in plain sight. And in that suffering I witnessed a quiet dignity and willingness to receive. People not ashamed to ask us to pray, to remember them: widows, AIDS afflicted men and women, orphaned children. People hurt and wanting, but not ashamed of their needs.
I want to learn a lesson from this honesty. I want to turn my ear to it and hear. I want that seed planted in my heart or my mind, or wherever such seeds of truth get planted, to find root. Perhaps that is why I wanted to formally interview Reverend Kubondo while he was in Red Deer, because I knew his answers to some of my questions would help that seed to grow.
Learn more about Reverend William Kubondo
Andrew Kooman: Reverend Kubondo, could you tell me about your childhood, where you grew up and what life was like for you as a young boy and into early adulthood?
William Kubondo: I am a son of a pastor and grew up in the slums of Kibera, which, at present, is one of the largest slums in Africa. Then, when I was a child and before my family were believers, my father separated from my mom and divorced when I was five years old, something that is not very common in Kenya.
WK: Africans are really family bound. Divorce is not common and it is not easy for a man or woman to divorce. All parents on both sides are involved in the decision to divorce, as well as village elders. The government, especially when I was young, did not like to support it. The court always returns the issue to the village elders. But it happens once in awhile.
AK: What was it like to grow up in Kibera, a slum?
WK: It was not easy at Kibera because of education. I had to walk many miles to go to school, forty-five minutes to one hour just one way to school with no lunch to eat when I was there studying. And then I walked back home in the evening after school. The pastor’s life at that time was difficult. Pastors didn’t have enough income. Sometimes I was forced to go and work at a construction site to get school fees for my learning so I could continue with school because my father made so little money. Life became more difficult when my father was given opportunity to attend a Swahili Bible school in Tanzania, and had to leave us for three years so he could pursue his studies there. I Grew up with my step-mother, and as the first born much of the responsibility to support the family rested on me. I got support through work so I could provide for my brothers and sister.
AK: How many brothers and sisters do you have?
WK: Three brothers, eight sisters – but one sister died; that’s my father’s side of the family, not including the children my mother had when she remarried.
AK: What did you do to support your family?
WK: I woke up at 5 AM, went to the town market, and bought mangos and maize corn. I would take them back to the house, leave there and go to school. After school I would come home in the evening, roast the maize and bring it and the mangos to sell at the railway line next to where we were living in the slums in Kibera to people on the way home from work. I used what money I made to buy cooking fat and some flour, sugar, salt, and greens. We rarely ate meat. Meat was only for celebrations like Christmas. We used dry sticks form the bush for fuel for the fire.
AK: Now you are the senior pastor of a church in Kakamega. You have ten church plants in Tanzania, as many throughout Kenya, and lead a big ministry that reaches out to the poor and needy. Can you fill in the gaps? How did you go from being a boy in the biggest slum in Africa to becoming the overseer of a big ministry?
WK: I managed to finished high school at about age fifteen, but could go no further because I had no money to continue an education. In 1975 I accepted Christ and became a Christian. In 1979 I began to serve as a worker with Campus Crusade for Christ International which is known as Life Ministries in Africa. Then, I was mainly involved in showing the Jesus film in villages and also in training church workers in discipleship and evangelism. I started Christian ministry then, and did this for nine years before I founded Yoke Evangelistic Ministries in 1986.
AK: How did your life change?
WK: I had a hard life in Kibera, a very hard life. My childhood was very tough. It was about survival. We survived by God’s grace. Through that time, I had goals and desires and decided to do what it would take so that my children and family would never have to go through that same hardship. I wanted to improve my life from that level and bring it to another level. Truly, it took the grace of God. I have had opportunities to travel all over the world, to meet so many people. That is a different life from the life I lived in Kibera. This change was not my effort. [God] opened doors for me and those doors opened with preaching the gospel, and the vision to reach young people. At that time, fifty per cent of Kenya’s population was under the age of fifteen. I saw that if we were to have a good future for Kenya, we needed to reach the young of Kenya, give them good morals, give them the fear of the Lord, help them to be spiritually strong.
AK: It’s interesting that it was through vision to help others, with a burden for people, that your life changed and you had new opportunity.
WK: The adjustment from the difficult life of Kibera was gradual, and it took God’s hand. I never dreamt I would meet the people I have met or go the places I have gone. Never dreamed it. I had a burden to reach my people with the gospel, to preach it, to disciple and evangelize. Through that God has opened doors to travel outside and inside Kenya.
AK: How often do you think of your childhood and how much does your past experience shape the decisions you make and the things that you do today?
WK: My life now is still attached to my past, to the difficulty. I cannot take things for granted. I remember. I cannot misuse finances, I cannot brag and say’I have nice trousers’. I can’t do that because I remember where I was. My difficult life helps me to know how to behave, and to encounter life. Also, if I have things I thank God. If I don’t, I am still thankful, I know both lives.
You know, I had opportunity to become a teacher at a teacher’s college around Kibera before I joined the ministry. The job ensured I would make some money to support my family. At same time I was given an opportunity to serve with Campus Crusade. A friend of my father saw potential in me for Christian service and at that time Campus Crusade was recruiting workers from all the tribes in Kenya. They wanted my tribe, the Luhyas, to be represented among their workers. This was a difficult decision for me.
AK: Why was it a difficult decision?
WK: Because of one reason: my father’s income was very low as a pastor. According to African tradition, the firstborn takes the position of father, especially as the father is getting older. You are expected to provide. My father didn’t want me to take a position that was strenuous like his because of the little money and because of the needs of the family. My family was in a survival situation. But later my father would become my biggest supporter.
AK: Did you get paid to work for Campus Crusade?
WK: We were given pocket money, an allowance. Ministry was totally a faith ministry. No salaries. We depended on the grace of God. I’ve never been given a salary slip in whole life. I started ministry by faith, believed God to provide for family by faith, and trust God to give through people. This has built my faith. I’m relaxed. Oftentimes, to this day, I still don’t know where food or finances will come from. I still trust God day to day for provision. But if I don’t have faith and assurance, how will the leaders I’m leading, the disciples I’m discipling, how will their faith be? God has provided enough. I’m thankful for that. We have learned to operate with what God provides.
AK: How has the Kenya you knew as a boy changed?
WK: As a country, there are many areas. Spiritually, I would say, spiritually, in the early days, there was religion and it had a grip in the society. All people desired to go to church. They took church as very important. They respected pastors, even though they didn’t take good care of them economically. Everybody respected whoever was a servant of God in those times of religion, no matter what denomination. Now, it is fifty-fifty. Fifty per cent of people are religious, but don’t put into practice what they are confessing. Of the remaining fifty per cent, half of them are seriously seeking God more than ever before; the other half are people who are now being swayed away from faith toward the influences of the West, especially young people. Young people don’t take church as seriously as they used to.
Socially, family ties have been damaged because of issues of personal’rights’.
AK: Can you give an example of what you mean by personal rights?
WK: For example, the rights of woman. Respect that used to be there for men has diminished. Families are torn. Men have become more relaxed, using the movement of women towards equal rights as an excuse to be lazy. And things like personal legal rights. It used to be that families would share food with neighbours; a child was not a child of a father and mother alone. The child was for the community and for the village. Everybody was concerned for the good manners of that child. When a child did not behave well, even if parent was absent, people would discipline. But because of’rights’ this is fading. People think, ‘If I get involved, maybe the parent will go to the police or take me to court.’ And things like drugs and bad things on TV and the internet are changing values, especially in urban areas. Not so much in smaller villages, but more in urban areas because urban is updated and informed.
AK: As a Kenyan, how do you explain the problems of poverty, drought, HIV/AIDS?
WK: Poverty has really struck many, many people. There is a great difference between rich and poor. The rich become richer, the poor, poorer. It is a result of management of resources, it has not been balanced. One person wants more and doesn’t think of others. And, corruption in government interferes with resources that are in Kenya. Also, economic restrictions in the West, even though the West says it is open to work with resources from Kenya, there is a lot of red tape. Or, the West enjoys our resources, but there is not a balanced freedom. They might say, for example, ‘If you give us this land so we can have a base for our army, we’ll give you a loan.’ But that loan ties us down, and we are prisoners for years, financially. If you help us use our resources for our benefit, we can excel.
In the rural and slum areas there is a lot of poverty. People are living with the lowest level of poverty. Even to the point of a dollar per day. These issues need to be addressed. There are results of poverty. Number one: crime. People need to survive, they steal. Number two: AIDS increases. Women sell their bodies to get money. They don’t care about their health. They sell their bodies so they can eat. This spreads AIDS. At a cultural level, in some communities, there continues to be the practice of inheritance of women whose husbands have died. A brother must marry his brother’s wife according to tradition, and AIDS spreads. Many orphans are left without parents; widows without husbands, that increases poverty. More and more people are without resource or income.
AK: In North America we are becoming more and more aware of some of the struggles of people in Kenya, especially with things like poverty and HIV/AIDS. There is a movement in the West to ‘End poverty.’ People want to do something. At a practical level, how can people who are not from Kenya help people suffering in Kenya?
WK: People from the West would help by giving resources. First, there are many uneducated people. I finished only high school because I had no money, then I had to worry about survival. If more young people who want to study can go to school, if orphans and widows can be trained in technical trades like carpentry or mechanics, people can be self-employed. Africans need to be trained in agriculture and other practical things, not for white collar jobs, so people can use what they have, their land, to produce something. We need training that can turn into self-employment.
Secondly, in places like Kakamega town, where I live and operate from, there is no industry. But there is enough rain so there is enough grass to feed milk cows. If instead of coming and giving money and food to eat so people become dependent on aid, people form North America can provide an industry which can take care of the milk: buy cows, give a loan of cows to people, let each family have a cow, and when they get the milk they can make butter, they can package milk. Buy a machine that can processes milk products, keep the milk refrigerated. Create a dairy industry. People could then sell products and employ people. We need to create ongoing things.
AK: We need to help people become self-sufficient, so they don’t depend on outside help.
WK: Yes, empower people economically. They can then give, tithe, help those poor pastors!
AK: What do you think Kenyans think of North America and North Americans?
WK: Well, in general, I think they appreciate that the gospel came from the West. To say truthfully, they know that the Western world has cooled down from the gospel. They need some firing up from Africa when it comes to the gospel. The West enlightened Africa. But we see that materialism has taken over: the soft life
No, the Western world is very generous. It brings a lot of relief. It is very giving, coming in to assist. It has always been generous and available to give, support and assist.
AK: In your trips to North America, what have you noticed about North American culture that is good and attractive to you? What have you noticed that is troubling or unattractive?
WK: There is too much emphasis on’rights.’ This is spoiling the Western world. ‘My rights, my rights.’ There is too much about rights without checking the rights. Too much fighting for rights, even if they are evil. This is dangerous not only for West, but also for Africa. The world is so open, with the internet, things like the UN, and these freedoms become challenging even in Kenya. I think it is dangerous when people don’t think they need God because they have everything; when don’t realize they need God. And no nuclear family makes things troublesome. Children, women, men are all going opposite directions because of rights. Only dogs will remain in the home [Laughter]. This effects us in Africa. This is what I don’t want to see in Kenya, focusing on material things, not on God. We need to recognize we’re created, that there is an authority beyond us that must be respected and worshipped.
AK: What do North Americans have to offer Kenyans?
WK: We can learn how to use resources, how they are given and use them for growth; accountability and focus. We admire these things and need to learn about them from North America.
AK: What do Kenyans have to offer North Americans?
WK: Spiritually, Kenyans can remind the west of the sovereignty of God. Even if you have everything, there is this thing we call a thankful attitude to God. Just as you have a child, you work hard so he goes to school. If he doesn’t care about all the things you give him, the sacrifices you make, you feel bad as a parent. God feels this same way. ‘I created you but you don’t care about all I’ve given.’ Western people suffer with children who don’t care or are not thankful to God. They sow an unthankful, unappreciative, un-submissiveness to God. So they reap rebellion from their children, thankless children. ‘This child has everything: clothes, a car, everything, but they aren’t thankful.’ You reaped this from your kids because you were not thankful to God.
Kenya should come and help restore the North America that was focused on and appreciative of God. If you have, be thankful. If you don’t have, believe in faith for what you need.
Also boldness to preach the gospel. I see a lot of fear among Christians to share. Too much fear and care about rights, but not much evangelism in North America. There is lots of teaching, but not much sharing of gospel. Lots of teaching, not as much evangelism or salvation.
And prayer. Kenyans go into the bush for 30 days to pray and to fast; churches pray and fast all the time. This builds the church.
Africa has evangelism; it needs more teaching. This is how we can serve each other. God has blessed you with resources: help Africa with resources. You give someone a pair of shoes, this is a big thing. That person will appreciate it and remember it. Africa can help: come to learn, get exposure. If we open up to you, you can learn about the needs of people, how to share those resources you are blessed with; learn virtues like endurance, patience. In North America you have things at your fingertips, at the touch of a button. In Africa, things are slower. Sometimes things have to be slow, and you need to learn to wait when it is necessary. In Africa you can learn about needs that are there and you will have opportunity to give and serve.
See Reverend William Kubondo in the feature film E for Everyone: The Mouse and the Elephant. Get a close and personal look at the slum he grew up in and the areas of Kenya where he conducts his work.
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