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Team from Florida provides pastoral training in Kenya

Team from Florida provides pastoral training in Kenya

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Team from Florida provides pastoral training in Kenya

April 5, 2007  News media contact: Tita Parham*
800-282-8011  Orlando {0650}

An e-Review Feature
By J.A. Buchholz**

The Rev. Dr. Robert Bushong will always remember the chance lunch encounter he had at the 2004 General Conference in Pittsburgh, Pa.

As delegates searched for seats at a local sandwich shop, a small group from the Florida Conference delegation offered a seat to the Rev. Paul Matheri, a delegate from the Naivasha District of Kenya in the East Africa Annual Conference. After the meal, the men exchanged business cards and e-mail addresses and promised to keep in touch.

They did, and a friendship that transcends culture and several continents blossomed.

The Rev. Robert Bushong (right) presents a new study Bible to the Rev. Paul Matheri, superintendent of the Central District of the East Africa Annual Conference, during a trip Bushong made to Kenya with three other clergy from the Florida Conference to provide training for local pastors. Photo by the Rev. David Dodge. Photo #07-0558.

Bushong, senior pastor at First United Methodist Church, Winter Park, said his church was on a mission trip in Meru, an area close to Matheri’s district, in July 2005, and he couldn’t be so near his friend without making arrangements to see him in his own setting. Bushong did, and during his visit he asked Matheri if there was anything he could do to support his ministry.

Matheri, superintendent of his conference's Central District, said there was a great need for pastoral training. Bushong returned to Winter Park with a seed planted in his soul to bring theological nourishment to pastors in Kenya. Soon after, Bushong put together a small delegation that would travel to Kenya to teach a series of classes.

A group of four clergy and two spouses made the trip early last January.

The Rev. David Dodge, executive director of the Florida Conference Clergy Center for Excellence, was one of the group and said he was thrilled with the plan of traveling to Naivasha to provide theological instruction. He said the group learned about a similar trip taken by a team from Kentucky in October 2006 and talked to them to learn about their experiences so they would not duplicate what had already been offered. The Florida group decided each team member would teach a class during an intensive three-day educational format.

The group had planned for 60 students and was pleasantly surprised when 77 arrived. Since Kenya is a former British Colony, the majority of the pastors speak English, but a translator was on hand for those pastors who primarily spoke Swahili. It is not uncommon for more than 40 different dialects to be heard in the region.

Dodge, who taught “What United Methodists Believe,” said the students were extremely eager to learn.

“A sponge is not a good enough term,” Dodge said. “They hung on every word. Each day you could just tell they wanted more.”

Dodge said the students were thrilled the group traveled so far to be with them. The Florida team was equally thrilled to have made the trip.

“It was a life-changing experience,” Dodge said. “What we experienced was beyond expectations. It was just phenomenal.”

Bushong said he is still internally processing the trip and searching for the words to describe his voyage.

“I knew this wasn’t about me,” he said. “Somewhere in God’s providence I knew this was supposed to happen. I’m very connected in Florida, but it means something else for me to be connected to my brother in Christ, colleague in ministry, in another continent.”

The Rev. Matthew Hunter, a Florida Conference extension minister with the Shepherd’s Way, Wilton Manors, in Broward County, led a Bible study titled “Manna and Mercy: A Brief History of God’s Unfolding Promise to Mend the Entire Universe.” He said he was struck by the disparity between life in the tourist areas surrounding the Amboseli Game Reserve and life in the small town of Naivsha and the slums surrounding Nairobi.

“I was also struck by the passion for ministry exhibited by many of the United Methodists pastors in Kenya,” he said. “Many receive no pay as pastors. They hold other full-time jobs to pay the bills. Despite the lack of financial resources, they continue ministering to the needs of their congregations. Their passion for ministry was contagious.”

The Rev. Jim Bradshaw (left) teaches a class on prayer and ministry during a training last January for pastors in the East Africa Annual Conference. Photo by the Rev. David Dodge. Photo #07-0559.

The Rev. Dr. Jim Bradshaw, pastor at First United Methodist Church, Sanford, said being part of that ministry to people around the world was encouraging to him. He taught “Prayer and Ministry.”

“It was encouraging to see the hunger the people have for learning,” he said. “It was encouraging to see pastors very much enthused in their faith. I felt good being there, like I was filling a void.”

Although the trip provided ample time to visit and make new friends, the goal was also to equip local pastors to better serve their members.

Bushong taught “The Life and Teachings of Jesus” and said the students were enthused and excited about their faith, as well as their ministry. He said the very thought that Americans would take time and use their own money to travel so far and share with them impressed the students.

“It was big to them,” Bushong said. “That was very humbling to us. It was inspiring to be there.”

Something that touched the group as deeply as the Kenyan pastors’ desire to learn is the fact The United Methodist Church of Kenya is only 13 years old.

Dodge said the Kenyan pastors wanted their American brothers and sisters to know their church “has a toe-hold, and it’s growing.”

Bushong said he realizes there are people who question the need to travel around the globe to minister, but he has an answer for them.

“It’s not either or,” he said. “It’s both and.”

Bushong said he has been forever changed by the experience — by the things he did and the interactions with the people there, but also the differences between living conditions in the United States and Kenya. He said Americans would consider many of the homes in Kenya substandard.

“I am energized and disturbed at the same time,” he said. “I am coming back to this life of material plenty, and there are brothers and sisters with no electricity. It heightens my sense of responsibility. I am wrestling with using what I have to be helpful to those who don’t have.”

Bradshaw said being in Kenya enlightened him.

“My response to the trip has been gradual,” he said. “It has helped me to see a real world vision. I know that God is infinitely working throughout His world.”

Hunter said he and his wife, Amanda, were touched by many things on the trip, but one young pastor, Anthony Maiga, impressed them in a personal way.

Maiga’s church is in the slums of Nairobi, and his primary ministry is to widows and orphans dealing with HIV/AIDS, according to Hunter. “Anthony himself is an HIV/AIDS orphan who has been called into ministry with people in similar life situations to his own,” Hunter said.

The four-person clergy team from Florida prays with members of the East Africa Annual Conference during a closing worship service in Kenya's Naivasha District. The service marked the end of the team's visit to the African conference, where they led a series of classes as a part of a training event for local pastors. Photo by the Rev. David Dodge. Photo #07-0560.

“Amanda and I cried when we heard Anthony’s story. In response she painted him a picture of Christ with his arms around the children of the world. The caption read ‘In Christ, there are no orphans, only sons and daughters.’ Anthony cried over the gift and said the picture would be hung in the entrance to his church. That was a very meaningful exchange. We have remained in touch with Anthony since our return.”

The couple also helped Maiga connect with Shade, a South African Methodist ministry whose primary mission is to plan and execute a Pan-African conference on community-based responses to HIV/AIDS.

The couple raised funds so Maiga could travel in March from Nairobi to Cape Town to attend and participate in a Shade training event.

“Our hope is that Anthony will become a leader of a new Shade satellite ministry in Nairobi, expanding the Shade network and introducing Anthony to HIV/AIDS caregivers from across the continent,” Hunter said.

Dodge said he is often reminded of his fellow pastors on the other side of the world who serve without a salary and live in homes without electricity.

“I am forever changed,” he said. “There are some wonderful pastors there, and they have a great vision for The United Methodist Church of Kenya.”


This article relates to Missions and Clergy Care.

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Buchholz is a staff writer for e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.