History of SDA Church in Kenya
Between 1903 and 1905, the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists met and decided to send some missionaries to East Africa. These were Pastor A.A. Carscallen and his wife, together with Pastor Peter Nyambo from Malawi. The three first set foot in Mombasa which they found already occupied by Muslims. Although transport was a big problem then, they moved to Nairobi by train.
The missionaries did not settle in Nairobi but instead proceeded to Kisumu, a town by Lake Victoria which already had rail connection by then. Here, Pr Carscallen and Pr Peter met missionaries from other denominations who had already established bases. Pr Carscallen and his Adventist Team then decided to cross the Nyanza Gulf by motor boat belonging to a Mr Spark who was a businessman in South Nyanza. They started the Seventh-day Adventist Church as missionaries from the other denominations also moved around Nyanza establishing their churches too.
Pr Carscallen and his team landed near the home of Osumba, the son of Simba, an elderly Luo man from Karachuonyo. Osumba was one of the Kakwajuok sub-location old men who gave a piece of land to Pr Carscallen for building. The missionaries started by pitching two tents — one for himself and his wife, and the other for Pr Nyambo.
In the afternoons, the two pastors would take a walk trying to identify a suitable place to build a mission station. One afternoon they came to a place called Ogango. Convinced that it was suitable, accepted by the Lord and that the community would give it to them for building a mission station, they talked to Osumba who consulted the clan elder, Mr Ougo son of Onyango. He was willing to give them the piece of land they had requested for but he sent them to Chief Orinda, son of Were. Chief Orinda granted their request. Pr Carscallen built the mission station at a place where they were could view Kisumu and other places on the far side of the Nyanza Gulf of Lake Victoria.
Work at Gendia
Pr Carscallen started by building the church and residential houses. The first church building was a wooden structure with a grass-thatched roof. Materials needed for the building construction was brought from Kisumu by motor boat. Pr Carscallen’s wife, anticipating his return by night, could light a safari lamp (lantern) and put it on a tall post outside the building to guide the motor boat to the pier.
Having built the church and and office, the pastor and his wife worked very hard to learn the native language, Dholuo. This made their work to progress more easily. People started leaving their homes to settle in the mission station compound.
Though the gospel had reached Pare in Tanzania in 1903, the work of spreading the gospel at Gendia progressed more rapidly. Young men started doing what we are told in Matthew 4:18-19. To begin with, there were only two young men — Isaac Okeyo and Thomas Ojiero — ready in Kakwajuok, the clan area in which the mission station was built. Other young men did not believe in forsaking their customs and joining this religion for fear of mockery from their contemporaries. In 1906, seven young men — Samuel Dola, Daniel Aroka, John Odago, Simeon Odindo, Samuel Adhiambo, Norman Yugi, and Daudi Obuya — from Konyango, the clan next to Kakwajuok, came and accepted the faith and joined the other two men.
After winning these young men for Christ, other brethren learned about what the mission station was doing and that both men and ladies were required to join and prepare themselves to spread the Gospel. They came from all over the neighbourhood. And as the number of believers increased, Pr Carscallen continued building more houses. A two-storey ladies’ hostel named Ongabu was built, with the lower floor being used for studying and the upper floor being used for sleeping — for fear of the ladies fathers coming at night to take them away, being not in favour of female education. Ladies came from as far as Rusinga Island, Karachuonyo and Kowak in Tanzania.
Mrs Carscallen, assisted by Mrs Morse, was in charge of ladies who stayed at the mission station. These ladies were taught reading, writing and religious doctrine. They were then baptised and were set free to choose Christian marriage partners. Their husbands paid good dowry to their parents and they had fine church wedding ceremonies. Seeing that the ladies who stayed at the mission led good lives later, other parents were encouraged and they also allowed their daughters to go and stay at the mission station. The community’s perception of women at the mission station changed and they now received admiration in place of mockery.
Those who were taught were punctual for Bible study meetings on Wednesdays, Friday vespers and Sabbath. They taught their relatives how to count the days up to the seventh day, which is Saturday, and how to keep the Lord’s Sabbath holy. To encourage people to attend Sabbath regularly, Mrs Carscallen would give ladies some salt to take home after church. She also gave some salt to children whose parents never went to church. This encouraged parents to remind their children to go to church every week, and some parents even started going to church after receiving the salt.
In 1911, seventeen people became the first baptised members of the Seventhday Adventist Church at Gendia. Many other people joined the baptismal class. The work proceeded very well and on May 25th 1912, the second baptism was conducted at Wire Mission Station. So large was the number of baptismal candidates that Pr Carscallen decided to invite another pastor from Tanzania to come and help him baptise. The candidates who were ready for baptism wore white robes symbolising the clean hearts they had received from Christ. Church members who came to witness the baptism sang joyfully by the river bank. Their melodious songs attracted more people to the church who were eventually baptised.
The time was ripe for organising churches. Other missionaries were now being sent by the General Conference. Pr Watson was sent to Rusinga Island, where he was assisted by Brother Daniel Onyango. Mr Spark, the businessman with a motor boat, was sent to Rapedhi in Kanyidoto, assisted by Brother Mark Otieno. Although Mr Spark did not come to Africa as a missionary, his work for the Seventh-day Adventist Church bore much fruit.
Pr Armstrong worked very hard and later opened a mission institution in Kamagambo, assisted by Brother Peter Oyier.
In 1912, Pr Carscallan opened another mission station at Nyanchwa in Kisii and Pr Beavon was stationed here, with the help of Brother Jacob Olwa. This mission station developed into South Kenya Field (currently South Kenya Conference).
Pr Peter Risasi opened a mission station at Upare in Tanzania while Pr Ezekiel Rewe and Mathayo Oyugi worked in Uganda.
At first, there were four mission stations: Gendia, Wire, Kamagambo and Nyanchwa. Later, Wire was amalgamated with Gendia Mission Station and Ranen Mission Station was opened to serve instead of Kamagambo. Those mission stations have become fields: Gendia Mission Station produced the Kenya Lake Field, while Ranen Mission Station is now Ranen Field.
1914 World War Rumbles
In 1914, Great Britain went to war with Germany. The war intensified into a world war. Any missionary who was not willing to participate in the war was detained at Kaimosi until the end of the war. Despite this, missionary work still continued. The next baptism took place when the white men had returned from Kaimosi in 1918 after the war. From then onwards, baptism has been going on normally as it is conducted today.
In 1920, the General Conference again sent other missionaries to East Africa in one ship. Pr Carscallen returned home and Pr W.T. Bartlett took over. Pr Maxwell, Pr Armstrong, Pr E.R. Warland, Dr G.A.S. Madgwick together with two nursing sisters, Karen Nielsen and Carenze Olsen, were also on board to various churches.
Work progressed rapidly under the leadership of these missionaries and the number of new members and churches increased. Schools for primary education were also built by the side of church buildings.
In 1922, Pr Bartlett decided to start a synod that arranged for the employment of workers and administration of churches. Before the synod came into existence, one person had to do all the planning and directing of mission work. Pr Bartlett thought it wise to start a committee which would plan and direct the work of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. The synod enabled leaders to do better work. It planned:
Employment of district leaders and posted them to the districts
Made plans and directed activities in the three mission stations e.g. ways of receiving offerings and how the funds would be spent, formulating regulations for running churches smoothly etc.
Complete authority in making plans for ordinations, baptisms, weddings and other functions
Employment and remuneration of teachers and evangelists making the school syllabus, and other similar plans.
Each mission station was to elect and send four representatives to the synod. All literature evangelists were members of the synod. The heads of the training schools were also members. After a smooth election, sub-committees were formed to take care of various affairs of the church at large.
East African Union
The East African Union, comprised of Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania, was organised in 1903 and re-established in the year 1921. It was then reorganised in 1960 when Tanzania split and became a Union, and then reorganised again in 1987 when Uganda became a Union. The East African Union was again reorganised in 1995 to comprise Kenya and Somalia and changed its name to Kenya Union Mission in the year 2012.