Kenya Theological College president shares vision

PLAINVIEW - Decades ago as a youth leader in Kenya, Bernard Kabaru never imagined himself as a major ministry leader. But as the principal of Kenya Baptist Theological College, and with a vision to reach the nation for Christ using its own residents, Kabaru now finds himself helping to shape the mission endeavor of the African nation.

Kabaru shared that vision with Wayland Baptist University officials and ministerial students during a recent visit to the campus while in America on development visits.

"I feel that missions should be empowering the local church, with partners coming along to help in that mission rather than bringing in their own vision and expecting people to follow," Kabaru said. "What we are going to do with the present generation of Christians will determine what the church in Africa will be in the future."

While meeting with WBU leaders, Kabaru shared passionately much of the strategic planning completed in Kenya as a result of meetings with the Baptist Convention of Kenya and the KBTC leadership, looking deep into the decade with goals aimed at increasing the education level of Kenya pastors.

Pointing out a pyramid chart detailing current theological training, Kabaru noted that of the some 3,000 pastors in Kenya, only seven hold a bachelor's degree in theology and only five hold a degree higher than that. About 100 have earned a diploma through KBTC and another 90 have certificates of theology. Only about 25 percent have received Theological Education by Extension, a number Kabaru says the college wants to be at 100 percent by 2010. Many of those most highly educated are serving as teachers at KBTC.

The challenges of educating Kenya pastors do not include lack of willingness on their part, Kabaru pointed out, but a lack of resources. Ministers who attend KBTC must often travel days to get to the campus in Limuru, leaving family and churches behind while earning their education. And with about 95 percent serving bivocationally - most, Kabaru said, receive no financial compensation from the churches they serve - attaining theological training often means leaving a paying job at least for a short time.

Students at KBTC are required to be in ministry at the time of enrollment, and Kabaru said it is important for them to be learning while they are serving. But they're not just pastors or ministry leaders; many are businessmen, farmers, teachers and even housewives. Though education represents a great sacrifice, those longing to serve take that challenge willingly.

"Those who have been the recipients of western missions have experienced significant numerical growth in church starts and are urging to move forward into maturity, but the western (world) still has the resources," Kabaru said. "Kenyans have caught the vision, and the momentum is there. They are already working on church-planting strategies among the churches. The locals are doing the work, but they need trained leaders."

Wayland's role in the effort

Work in Kenya is nothing new to Wayland, whose leaders began a formal academic partnership with the KBTC in 1999 with the goal of helping train ministers in the East African nation. Five years later, Wayland has conferred 16 associate's degrees in theology to ministers who are now better equipped to disciple their church members and minister to unreached populations. The university continues to send faculty for short visits to teach courses toward the AAS degree. The first student group visited in the summer of 2002 as part of a three-week mission endeavor and another group plans to visit in May 2004.

According to Kabaru, Wayland's involvement brings great hope for the vision of KBTC leaders to be fulfilled in coming years.

"You all have been a Godsend. I really feel God has affirmed my role in this by bringing the partnership with Wayland," he said, adding that the college had approached others about the possibilities of partnering but found little interest.

Dr. Vaughn Ross, professor of biological sciences and a former missionary to Kenya, brought the two entities together after visiting with Kabaru and realizing the university's mission went hand-in-hand with KBTC's goals. The resulting partnership excites Ross, who has made several trips to Africa to teach and to accompany mission groups.

The endeavor in Africa represents something of a new paradigm in missions thinking to Ross, who spent 20 years on the field. Evangelistic efforts in Kenya are still valuable, but training the Christian nationals there, as Kabaru mentioned, will have more far-reaching effects.   For one, the cultural barriers that often must be overcome by visiting missionaries do not exist when nationals witness to other nationals. Another positive is the ability for new believers to be discipled and trained as leaders themselves as churches grow stronger in unity and theological knowledge.

Members of Wayland's religion faculty are excited about the venture with Kenya, both for what it now represents academically and for what it may someday represent as a cog in a greater missions wheel.

"We are envisioning establishing a missions center here that would involve a faculty member in missions and would serve as a direct link to the Kenya campus, coordinating activities there such as students traveling there for courses or missions opportunities," said Dr. Fred Meeks, chairman of the Division of Religion and Philosophy.

"The missions center would also serve as a focal point for churches wanting to do missions and partnering with Wayland for endeavors. We would be the ones providing training and equipping them on how to do missions, perhaps even providing some language training," Meeks added.

Meeks and his faculty have been instrumental in helping develop and deliver the associate's degree in religion at KBTC, but they see this as just the tip of the iceberg as far as Wayland's academic involvement.

"We are currently only able to offer the associate's degree but our goal is to offer the baccalaureate degree, and, in the future, we would envision even offering graduate level training on that campus," Meeks said. "We have a long-range vision for this campus, with long-term opportunities for 'doing missions' in that area."

Spreading the vision

While Ross and other Wayland leaders are excited at the university's participation in this new trend, they know there is great potential for other churches and entities to be involved as well. By catching the vision, they can see how assisting KBTC in accomplishing its mission will mean they have had a hand in seeing others come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ through today's African believers.

Since KBTC's student body is not restricted to Kenya residents - others come from Burundi, Rwanda and Sudan; participants in the deaf ministry program come from many other nations - the potential for spreading the gospel is amazing.

According to Kabaru, needs are great. The college continues to work through a lengthy and complicated accreditation process for the Kenyan government, but that will eventually require better housing facilities for students and other upgrades. Wayland has been offering the program to KBTC at no charge, adding the expense to the university's regular annual budget. Wayland would like to help KBTC make technological and library upgrades that will get them closer to eventually offering a bachelor's degree, but those efforts obviously are costly.

Scholarships for students is another avenue Kabaru would like to see increased. Since Kenyan nationals have little income, the cost of attending KBTC - though reasonable for theological education - is still a financial hardship. Scholarships that help students cover cost of tuition, books and other requirements for school would help ensure more students are able to further their theological education.

Special gifts such as a $15,000 donation from First Baptist Church in Plainview are used directly in the cost of delivering the AAS degree to Kenya. This is the kind of partnership efforts of which Wayland and KBTC hopes to see more. Ross hopes more churches in the area will see that through gifts like this, West Texas residents can be involved in missions on the other side of the globe and the gospel will be spread.

"What KBTC needs is a full spiritual partnership where all participants prayerfully understand the challenge and each brings to the vision the resources God has given them stewardship over," Ross said. A very real part of that, he said, is prayer support and sending groups for missions experiences. The key, Ross added, is getting involved.

"It's a full expression of what the body of Christ is: What gifts you have you bring to the body."

For information on giving to the Kenya partnership project, contact Wayland Baptist University at (806) 291-3427.