Pastor Mark Holbrook of West Unity recently returned from his fourth missionary trip to Kenya. The Pastor of the New Life Temple in Bryan, Holbrook was welcomed back to his home away from home with the typical zeal that Kenyans have for those who minister in the name of the Lord. A land of beautiful sights and even more beautiful people, Kenya sits on the African East Coast with Somalia to the north, and South Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda and Ethiopia sharing the other borders.
Once arriving in the capitol city of Nairobi, Pastor Holbrook hit the ground running. “The substance of the trip was all ministry driven,” he said. “They kept me busy. They picked me up at the airport, and took me to a guest house in Nairobi where I was going to be staying for a couple of nights. I got up on Sunday morning and ministered in a little church in Nairobi. On Monday, I did a few errands, exchanged currency and picked up some supplies that I knew that I would need. That afternoon, I hired someone to drive me from Nairobi, back to Mwingi…it’s the same town that I’ve been to all four trips. I got into Mwingi fairly late; we had a car problem that had us getting there later than what we wanted to. We had hoped to be there in time for the evening service of a conference that was starting that night.” He would wind up making up for the lost time.
“Monday night, they told me, ‘We have you scheduled for the 2:00 session tomorrow afternoon,” he said. “I thought that would be great. I could get a good night’s sleep, and get acclimated in the morning hours. 2:00 would be good…I’d be ready. About 9:00 Tuesday morning, the director of the conference came to me and said, ‘Uhh…our next speaker for the 10:00 session had some travel issues, and is running late. Can you take that slot?’ I said I could do that. I’m here. I’ve got all my notes with me, so I might as well. I ministered at that morning session, and at lunch the director came up to me again and said, ‘By the way, we still have you down for the 2:00 session…is that okay,’ so I took that session too.”
Churchgoing Kenyans are not like their American counterparts. The last thing that they want is a ‘softball’ sermon. As Pastor Holbrook said, “They don’t want you to do something simple, easy, cute or light…they want you to preach. It’s as if they want to draw every ounce of anointing out of you. They are hungry for solid Biblical teaching and preaching…they just eat it up. They begin to arrive before sunup. There are people who arrive at the conference with just a toothbrush and a change of clothes, literally. That’s it. They’ll sleep on the wooden benches in the church, or they’ll sleep on the floor; they don’t have money for a room. It’s amazing as to how many do that. They come from 50, 100 miles, or more. They don’t bring money for food, simply because they don’t have any money for food. If the conference isn’t able to provide meals, they fast all week.” By the time that his first full day in Mwingi was completed, the hard preaching in the dry, dusty atmosphere had his throat parched…but that was just day one.
“They told me, ‘We have you on the schedule for Wednesday and Thursday as well,'” Pastor Holbrook continued. Okay…I’m good. I could do that. Then they said, ‘One of the gentlemen who was going to be speaking on Friday, since you’re a guest, he would rather give you his spot.’ I said that he didn’t have to do that, but they said, “No-no…he would rather you do it.’ They have a saying in Kenya. When the British were there, they learned what snuff was. They have a saying, ‘Your guest’s snuff is always better than your snuff.’ Five full sermons…and they don’t want you to preach 20 minutes! They want you to preach an hour, an hour and a half, or longer. They want the full load, and that was every day that week.”
With five to six sessions per day, there were more ministers on hand than just pastor Holbrook. One of those ministers was Bishop Boniface Oloontare, a Maasai warrior. The Maasi live in Northern Tanzania, and the Kajiado and Narok districts of Southern Kenya near the Rift Valley. A strikingly beautiful people, the Massai are famous for their tenacious hold on their ancient cultural values, their beautiful clothing, and their exquisite beadwork. Later in his trip, Pastor Holbrook was able to cross two things off his ‘bucket list’, as he accepted the invitation of Bishop Oloontare to visit his home in Ololulunga. Those two list items, seeing the Rift Valley and visiting the land of the Maasai, brought a joy that is still visible in the smile of Pastor Holbrook as he recalls the trip.
On his way back to Nairobi on Sunday, Pastor Holbrook ministered in a small church with no roof in Kithyoko, about a third of the way back from Mwingi.
Next up for Pastor Holbrooke was a large conference in Nairobi. Shortly after arriving, Pastor Holbrook spent time with his close personal friend, Bishop Robert Mutemi, and his family. Pastor Holbrook celebrated his 50th birthday on August 27, but on Sunday night the 24th, he shared a birthday celebration with Bishop Mutemi’s daughter, Mercy, whose 25th birthday was that day. The conference that was just ahead was, by standards of the African continent, huge. “This was the first time that I’ve ever done anything with the denomination that we’re affiliated with,” he said.
Continuing, Pastor Holbrooke described the scope of the conference. It may not sound like a major undertaking by modern American standards, but bear in mind that this was not America. This was Africa, where foot and animal are still two popular modes of transportation in the gigantic continent. “The Pentecostal Church of God has churches in 16 African nations, and Kenya is probably the biggest and most active of any of them. Of the 16 nations, they’ve never had a time when all their national leaders, the Bishops, could come together. They said, ‘We need to do this.’ There’s some of these men who are on the same continent, brothers in Christ, and they’ve never met each other. These men need to know that they’re not isolated. They’re in their own countries, working hard. It’s easy to start feeling like you’re all alone. We needed to bring them together, so the Bishop of Kenya, Bishop Jefferson Nyatuka, hosted the event in his church which could hold around 3,000 people. The Nairobi conference started on Tuesday, and ran through Friday night.” A team of 23 flew in from all over the United States to assist with the event.
Pastor Holbrook drew his dream assignment at the conference. “On three occasions, they gave me a two hour time slot to minister to the pastors,” he said. “To me, if you could let me pick what I could do, that would have been it. If I can encourage them, influence them and help them be better at what they do, whatever they take from it…they’re going to touch tens of thousands of lives that I’m never going to see. The ripple effect from that kind of ministry is huge! I didn’t get an exact count, but I guess there were around 300 pastors and assistant pastors. I had one two hour session with the pastors on Wednesday, and on Friday, they gave me both two hour sessions…back to back. When I was done on Friday, I was exhausted. I had to just go somewhere and sit down. I drank a couple bottles of water to rehydrate. My throat was so scratchy, I could hardly talk…but it was great.”
Pastor Holbrook was able to squeeze out some time to visit the Nairobi National Park, a wildlife preserve located within city limits. When he was ready to depart Kenya, he was approached by Mercy Mutemi with a special request. She was about to get married, and she extended a special invitation to Pastor Holbrook to attend the wedding. The date of the wedding fell beyond the scope of his stay, but despite his exhaustion, he agreed to reschedule his flight in order to accommodate the daughter of his friend, Bishop Mutemi.
This being his fourth return trip from Kenya, not much has changed from the prior three. Pastor Holbrook went to Kenya. He worked very hard to accomplish his missionary tasks, and he returned home exhausted. These trips cannot be called ‘working’ vacations, because the term ‘vacation’ is an oxymoron to the events that take place when he is in Kenya.
Add one more thing to that list. No matter how tired he may be, given the call to return, he’d more than likely be Nairobi bound in the proverbial New York minute.
Timothy Kays can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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