The Impact of Kenyas School Shutdown Until 2021

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Tony Merida: Welcome to “Churches Planting Churches,” a podcast on the theology and practice of church planting. I’m your host, Tony Merida.

One of the biggest changes the coronavirus has brought to our way of life is the way we educate our children. In the states, many schools are choosing to begin the school year virtually or reopening classrooms at reduced capacity.

But in Kenya, the government has elected to cancel school altogether until 2021. This decision comes with harmful consequences for many vulnerable children. This increases their risk of suffering through domestic and sexual abuse, hunger, malnutrition, prolonged poverty, and more. In a society where education is directly tied to survival, denied access to schooling has potentially grave implications.

With me on the podcast today to discuss how Kenyan church planters are rising to the challenges of COVID-19 with gospel intentionality is Ronald Kogo. Ronald is planting Covenant Baptist Church in Nakuru, Kenya. He and his wife, Jackline, are raising four kids together.Ronald, welcome to the podcast.

Ronald Kogo: Thank you, brother. Thank you very much, brother.

Tony: It is good to see you, man. The big smiling face.

Ronald: Good to see you, brother. Good to see you, bro.

Tony: We’ve spent a little bit of time together, haven’t we, Ronald?

Ronald: Yes. I think that was two years back in Nairobi, and then last year together in Orlando.

Tony: Yeah. I was planning on coming this past February, but we had to cancel for various reasons, and then COVID hit. So, eventually, I’ll get back there, Lord willing.

Ronald: God willing.

Tony: Yes.

Ronald: God willing.

Tony: Yes, yes. Hey, tell the listeners a little bit about yourself, how you came to faith, about your church-planting journey in Nakuru.

Ronald: Yeah. As you have said, I’m Ronald Kogo. I’m married to Jackline Kogo. We are raising 4 kids, a 15-year-old, and 9-year twins are girls, and then we have a 5-year-old boy. So, we have two boys and two girls. I came to faith in 2005 after a very long battle with my own sin. And I was in the Pentecostal movement at some point in my life, and I’m the kind of guy, wherever I went to the crusade and they will say, “Who wants to get saved?” I would be the first one to raise up my hand. So, I went to numerous crusades and one of the things that I was promised is that the moment you get saved, so that means everything is going to be okay. And I just felt the weight of my sin. It never went away from me.

So, 2005, I decided, you know, I’m going to be reading my Bible, so I’m not going to go back to this thing, crusades, and just raising up my hands. So, 2005, in February, that’s when I got saved as I was reading Romans. So, I had decided to read through the Bible the entire year. So reaching Romans 3, the way, you know, the Bible truly explains about the nature of our sin and the only hope being Christ, from verses 19 onwards. That’s when I came to the Lord. I was in my house reading because it was something I started. It was just a behavior I started doing. And I knelt down, and I prayed to the Lord. It was not a long prayer, just asked the Lord to forgive me. “These words which I’ve read are very true about me. Forgive me all my sins.” And that’s when I started my journey with the Lord.

Tony: Amen, brother. And so then, take us from that point into your church-planting story.

Ronald: Yeah. I’ve been involved in two church plants. In 2008, Injili Bible Church, which is in Nairobi in the slums of Kawangware. And then I was involved in another church plant, again, in Nairobi in Kabiria Satellite. It’s called Grace Baptist Church. And in 2006, we needed to take a sabbatical from the back-to-back church plant, so we joined Emmanuel Baptist Church in Nairobi, and we were there for two years. And so, Emmanuel Baptist Church sent us here in Nakuru to plant Covenant Baptist Church. Covenant Baptist Church is a Baptist church in Nakuru. It’s a church that we started in 2008, August, so it has been a long journey. We are just celebrating our second year coming August.

But before that, obvious, I was coming to Nakuru. I was not born in Nakuru, so I’m not a native of Nakuru, but I used to walk through Nakuru, so when the mind of planting a church in Nakuru came up, we spent a whole year traveling back and forth from Nakuru to come and do Bible studies, you know, build up a co-group. And by the grace of God, when we started in 2018, we were around 13 or 14 of us, and so that has been something of great, great encouragement to us. So, we thank God. Covenant Baptist Church is a church that, lo, we have seen tremendous and tremendous blessings from the Lord. It has been a very, very great blessings from the Lord that as a young church, we have a membership of 29 members, as a church. On the 15th of August, we will be affirming our deacons, our first deacons.

The Lord has given us numerous opportunities, which part of my heart is…you know, I have a very big heart for pastors. And so the Lord has opened a door for us. Covenant Baptist Church, we started a training school this year, which we have 12 students who are all pastoring churches in Nakuru, and the vision is to help even churches in Nakuru to get rooted and to be gospel centered. So, the Lord has been great, several opportunities in universities and in schools. And so, we are seeing God at work in them. Though we are very few of us, 29 of us, we find joy in Christ and our togetherness, and we see what really God is doing, and we know the Lord is going to use us more, more in bigger ways in Nakuru just to preach the gospel and also to help other churches be more healthier.

Tony: Wow, that’s great. So, you said you had 12 students in the training program?

Ronald: Yes. We have 12 students, of which all of them are pastors in various churches in Nakuru.

Tony: Now, you talked about being gospel centered. Obviously, a big need in Kenya is to saturate that great country with the gospel, right?

Ronald: Yes. That’s very true. You know, when you come to Nakuru, especially for us in Nakuru, one of the things you’ll find on the road is that a big sign that tells you Nakuru is the city of God. But as you live in Nakuru and you keenly observe what is happening among churches in Nakuru, we know there’s so much prosperity preaching. There’s so much, you know, cults, you know, non-biblical…many churches are not built on the solid ground of the Word of God is final and sufficient. It’s the word of men. So, realizing that, all this time in Nakuru, we thought, “We are not going to wait until we are big.” Then we decided to do things. We decided at this very start, let us also think about other…and the Lord has been good. We have so far hosted two conferences, last year and the other year. The first conference, we had around 80 pastors coming over, and last year, we had around 100 pastors coming over. So, you know, we are telling the Lord, “We will do what the Lord allows us to do,” for our heart is that to see the gospel, Christ is being proclaimed in the pulpits in Nakuru among many churches.

Tony: Amen, man. Now, you’re involved in the Church in Hard Places apprenticeship, right?

Ronald: Yeah.

Tony: Can you tell us about that process, what that’s been like?

Ronald: Yeah. I’ve been involved as an apprentice. I finished last year, but also I’m involved as a cohort leader in East Africa. So, when I think about the last two church plants I’ve been involved in in Nairobi and this one in Nakuru, I think there have been a tremendous way of looking at things to some point you think, “I wish I knew these things before I dived into any kind of church plant.” So, for me, the Church in Hard Places, you know, apprenticeship has been of great and enormous help to me in just knowing what it means to plant a church, do church, lead a church, you know, develop leaders. It’s something, you know…think about our cultural backgrounds in Africa. When you become a pastor or you church-plant, it’s always about you. Everything, you know, revolves around you.

And so, that has been a great learning, you know. The books have been…you know, we did many books. We did, like, 24 books with Church in Hard Places. That’s, you know, two years. And the amount of things I read and they are helping me on a day-to-day basis on how to do church. And one of, I think, the greatest thing I do appreciate and I’ve appreciated so much is the need, or the desire, or the teaching about raising up leaders in a church. That you are not looking from outside, God to bring in and throw down people from heaven, but, you know, just having men and sitting down with them, taking through them the Bible, and just doing church, the entire process of church, you know, things we learn, or, like, plurality of eldership. How do you come to those aspects? How do you come to those decisions to bring up elders in the church? Why it is important to be a plurality of eldership and not just a single man. Just learning the good doctrines of the Bible that really will affirm your ministry in some way, if we are to use that word, to understand that ministry is not about man, it’s not about what you do. Actually, it’s about what Christ wants to do in his own church.

So, for me, the program, I would say it was like a thumb up. I will give it a thumb up. And that’s why I do encourage several guys, even here in Nakuru, who are willing to come on board. As a cohort leader, I’m learning as I’m hearing the brethrens also what they are going through because, at some point, you might think it was you alone who was doing things in the wrong way. But I’m learning from the brethrens, seeing also how they are struggling to articulate the things we are learning together, how they are struggling, you know, to come from a me ministry to us or to a plurality of ministry, of how to do ministry with other people. So, it’s something as we share on a monthly basis with them on different books they are reading, I can see an appreciation. So far now, we are in…like, this is the last year with the first group, and I can see an appreciation. These brothers write emails, and they’re really appreciating. They’re like, “We didn’t know these things.” And majority of them, they have just also dived into, you know, church planting.

So, the program is really…I would say, it’s something that we need. It’s something good. It’s something that, you know, it’s workable for us given the fact that you are not being plucked out of ministry, go somewhere, study, and then come back and you plug in again. It’s study where you are, do it where you are, read the books, you know. Read the book and then also continue with ministry. What you read, put it in practice. And I think that’s something so good given the fact that many people here in Africa or in East Africa, people get into ministry with zero training. And it will be not a good thing to pluck them out and, say, “Let them go learn and come back.” I think being trained while at the field itself, you know, is something of great, great importance because also you are trying to tell people, “Sit in a class, go back and practice what you have read.” So, I think the program is needed. My prayer is that people continue many to benefit from it.

Tony: Amen. Amen. I’m grateful for our guys who lead Church in Hard Places. Tell us a little bit about how life in Kenya has changed during the coronavirus.

Ronald: Yeah. It has changed enormously, I would say, in five ways, things, which I can think of. One, lockdowns and curfews, which some of us have never experienced at all. And these lockdowns and curfews have led to big, big problems in the society. We talk about things like, for example, families which have disintegrated because of the curfews. We are talking about marriages that, you know, have fallen apart because these people have never known to sit together. Again, restriction in movement, in doing things, that has been a great effect on us as a family. And then, you know, the other thing is the health crisis the COVID-19 has just brought in. We have just come to realize our hospitals do not have the capacity, you know, to help with the numbers that…like for now, we are talking today, we are talking about 20,000 cases. And our hospitals do not have the capacity, you know, the doctors don’t have the capacity to do that. So, we have just realized that these things…we always think there’s a hospital to go, but now we are realizing we are unable. If there was to be a big, big thing, we are unable to go through this.

I mean, the fear that has just gripped people, you know. Too much information outside in the social media. Nobody knows what to take in, what not to take in. We have had, like…we are having mass exodus. People are getting out of cities and towns. They’re going back to their homes because everybody is like, “Probably back at home, I will not be able to catch COVID.” We have social inequalities or injustices that have been…you know, we have been experienced because of this. In essence, for example, testing of COVID here, it’s 10,000 plus. That’s $100 plus to test. So, how many people on the average scale in Kenya…how many people do have that capacity to go and be tested? It is impossible. And that’s why people have decided just to sit back and wait what comes.

If we think about the isolating facilities where…you know, we have seen clearly that probably those who have enough money or have some cash have had an upper hand, you know. They have been given better facilities. So, the poor, partly, they have been taken in places where you have to live in a place with those who are infected, those who are not infected. People have been complaining. Some have been complaining they have been infected because they have been in places where they have been put together with others who are infected, so. And then the gap that has kept on widening between the poor and the rich because of COVID, because now everyone doesn’t know the future, how it’s going to be. So, you find those who have are keeping what they have. Like, I’m not willing to give it out because I don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow. The poor man has nowhere to go. So, what has happened, those who are poor, they are saying, you know, “Better to get COVID than die hungry,” and that’s why the government is keeping on pushing people, please social distance every this and this, but people are feeling like, “If we stay at home, what are we going to eat? It’s better to get COVID than to die poor.”

The other matter has been a decline in our economy. A big, big factor. People have lost jobs completely, you know. We have had cases where mothers have poisoned their children, and they have killed their children, the reason being they have lost their jobs and they’re feeling like, “Why should I keep my kids and look at them starve to death?” And so, there have been that, businesses have been closed completely. People have run out of town. People are going back to their homes to just, “Let me go home and die home.”

And then we have had domestic abuse. You know, these things we are talking about, we are thinking about things like, you know, children now who are not able to be going to school because schools have been closed. They are now being turned into slaves. They have to work, you know. They have to do massive jobs. You know, we have crime going on because kids are not at work. They are idle. Their hands are empty, you know, nothing they can be doing. So, all these things are contributing. Yes, there is COVID, but we see the great impact that, yes, there is COVID, but the great impact that the COVID is bringing to the society is not only in terms of, you know, we can’t move, health crisis, but even the day-to-day society life, which is becoming unbearable to live.

Tony: Wow, man. Really heartbreaking, Ronald. I’m going to pray for your country and for you guys this Sunday at my own church. And those who are listening, lift up this brother, lift up this country. Talk about the shutting down of schools this year. What kind of implications has that had on vulnerable children, teenagers, and talk to us about how some church planters and pastors have been responding to this crisis.

Ronald: Yeah. I think the shutting down of schools, as you said in the beginning, obvious, we are looking at 2021 for the schools to reopen, and they are going to reopen again in phases, sorry, whereby now we’re thinking about maybe universities, and maybe they’ll come to secondary, they will come to primary. But I think the greatest effect of the closing of schools has been in various ways. One, you know, already we don’t have so much good…well, I’ll say good schools. Our education is a bit lagging behind, so you can think now that a whole year has been spent home, we are looking at a decrease in our literacy skills, you know, which now is going to go high and high. We don’t know how many are going to go back to school next year. Parents who had paid some little money at the beginning of the year, we don’t know how much they are going to be willing to take their children back to school given the fact that already jobs have been affected.

The second thing, you know, looking at where for us we are, is some schools around here are good that they keep kids in school and they offer feeding programs for these children, but now kids are at home. Eating is a problem because some of the parents cannot afford a three meal a day, breakfast, lunch, and supper. So, you are looking at, you know, a problem that is…you know, we are looking at malnutrition. Our kids going hungry. They have no food. Their parents cannot afford to give them a three meal a day. Some of their parents have been literally…their small businesses have literally been…have gone away. So, you’re looking at kids who are starving through the day, and that’s a very sad, sad story.

But thirdly also, as I’ve said, we are looking at, you know, child labor. People are taking advantage now that kids are not in school. Those who are privileged, still their businesses are working, what are they doing? Get these kids, especially secondary school kids, give them work, pay them badly, or pay them little. And, you know, parents are also…in one way, they’re feeling like, “Yes, you go do some sort of work that we can be able to get food to eat.”

And fourthly is something that has hit hard in Kenya is, lately, the government has been announcing the levels of underage pregnancy that is going on. Just last month in Machakos, that’s in the eastern part of Kenya, 4,000 cases of young kids who have been impregnated in 1 month. You can imagine. And, you know, all this is happening because kids are at home. Some of like… There’s a story that has been running in the newspaper just recently from Narok. A 12-year young girl has been married off twice in 2 weeks, to a man of 51 years for a week, and another guy of 35 years in another week. All this is because kids are at home, and people are preying on these young girls at home because, you know, guys are at home, there are no jobs. What else are they thinking? Is just engage yourselves in behaviors that really are infringing on the rights of these young teenage girls.

And then crime. Crime is another thing, you know. Groups, you know, bad groups, you know, gangs are recruiting young boys or young girls who are at home because there’s nothing else these young girls are doing. Some of their parents who are privileged, they are busy, they go away. They leave them in the home. They come back in the [inaudible 00:22:16]. They don’t know what, you know, the kids have been involved in. So, we are having…like where we are in Nakuru, so many cases of crime have come up, you know. There’s a gang called Confirm here. They are recruiting young, and very, very young girls and boys into their business.

So, it has been really a time you think about COVID, you think about the social injustices, the evils that are going through the society, and sort of, you know, you are not so much alarmed. Where we are here, we are not so much alarmed probably by the COVID. These other things we are talking about are big things to us, you know. This is insecurity. This is, you know, child labor, higher rates of pregnancies among… These are now becoming the real thing, big things to us, and we are thinking, “How do we solve this?” So, that’s why when you hear in Africa, people are just like, “Life is going on normal for others,” it’s like people are feeling like COVID is not an issue because COVID has led us to get into massive issues, which we don’t know how we are going to sort them once the dust has settled down of the COVID.

How have the church planters responded? I think, like, for us, where we are, is that one of the…we have seen enormous opportunities at the same time during this time. Opportunities of just evangelizing to a fearful society, which fear has gripped them. They have been…you know, so much fear from the media every now and then, you know. Every now and then what they hear is death. COVID will kill you. People think, you know, the moment you get this thing, you know, there’s no need for survival. So, the opportunity has been, you know, people are looking for hope. Where, then, should we turn to? People are not trusting the government, like what is happening in the entire world. So, the opportunity we have has been one, God has given us an opportunity of doing good. Of just, you know, starving families, going to them and helping them out with food. So, that has been a very, very major opportunity to us because as we have gone, we have created friendships with people, we have evangelized to them. We have talked to them. Children who are loitering through our own neighborhoods, there’s an opportunity to talk to them, you know, help them think things biblically. Make friendships to them so that they may know, okay, you know, we can go to somebody and talk to those people and help out.

So, part of our church, at some point, has been a beehive of…people have been coming around, and we have also been asking ourselves, “Are we exposing ourselves to COVID?” So, we have had people coming. The little we have shared, and thanks be to God for Acts 29. The gift they sent to East Africa has also helped a lot here in Nakuru, but among the brethrens in East Africa in just also shepherding their own people, shepherding the souls of their own people by doing good works and providing food to them, which is still a big challenge here because you give, others come. Now, we are having even others still asking, “Is there a way you can still help us?” But as a church, I feel that has been a great, great opportunity, even as we plant churches, frankly speaking, that we have known more people probably than we have known more people when we came in and the church began, just because the opportunity God has provided during this time when everybody is fearful, there’s no food, jobs are going down. And the brethrens who have helped us, it has been an avenue just to go and encourage, you know, families which are really in great, great need.

Tony: Ron, thank you so much for sharing, brother. I’m so glad the Lord has you there to lead and to be a leader of leaders. We are definitely praying for you guys and praying for church planters there in Kenya. Also, if you’re listening to the podcast and you would like to give to Church in Hard Places, this is…you’re able to do that, and you’re able to bless guys who have real needs, like Ronald has shared. Our church had the joy of giving a gift, and many others have as well. So, it’s a joy to partner with our brothers and sisters, with churches around the world. And so, Ronald, it’s just been a blessing to hear from you, make us aware of some of these social challenges that you’re dealing with. Pray that the Lord would use you to bring the gospel to bear in a place that is quite corrupt and dark and that your church would just shine like a city on a hill, brother.

Ronald: Thank you, brother.

Tony: Great. Great having you on the podcast, and, Lord willing, I’ll see you soon, my friend.

Ronald: See you soon, brother. God bless you, and greetings to all the brethren.

Tony: Amen.

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