What does owning a Bible mean to a woman who has never had one? A great number of Kenyan women have experienced this joy, thanks to many churches and people in Surry County, N.C. and neighboring southwest Virginia.
Pastor Leo Watenya of Bungoma Baptist Church in western Kenya had a burning desire to evangelize his country. When he realized there were not enough willing men to help him he came to the culture-shaking decision to use women.
Even though 70 percent of Kenyan church members are women, they have traditionally been silent. Church work was done by men, period. The more Pastor Leo prayed the more convinced he became that women were “the sleeping giant” in the Kenyan church.
He requested through the International Mission Board a volunteer to teach Bible study and discipleship to the ladies in western Kenya. His request and my prayers to be involved internationally intersected and the result was that I was approved to teach Pastor Leo’s ladies and those in surrounding areas in March 2003.
When I learned the ladies did not have Bibles I approached Surry Baptist Association and churches and individuals responded generously to purchase 600 Swahili Bibles.
In Kenya ladies were thrilled to have Bible studies taught just for them by a woman, and they were absolutely overwhelmed when they received Bibles of their own. Some made the high-pitched praise sound Kenyan ladies make; some shouted; some danced or jumped up and down for joy. They hugged the Bibles to their hearts while tears filled the eyes of many.
Not only had they never owned a Bible before, many had never touched one. The experience opened my eyes to what the gift of God’s word should mean to people. It is the very heart of God held in one’s hands.
There were no teaching materials available so I taught from the book of John. The ladies loved it and filled the churches to overflowing. When there was no more room inside, they sat outside under the open windows to catch every word.
Too soon the conferences were over. We had registered 632 ladies, of which the first 600 received Bibles. We were blessed to have 65 professions of faith. God blessed us so richly that Baptist Mission of Kenya sought to initiate an on-going teaching partnership. They wanted the ladies in every province to have opportunity to participate in similar studies.
I needed to develop materials and God led me to show the ladies how in the Bible God uses women. I wrote “Woman, Kenya Ladies’ Bible Study” which I’ve used in six subsequent teaching missions. The women learn God used women in miraculous ways and that God still uses women today. Most importantly, they learn that He wants to use them.
In 2004, after the Mount Airy News ran an article about our on-going mission partnership, and a deejay plugged it on the radio, donations made it possible to purchase Swahili Bibles for all seven teaching missions thus far.
Eyes to see
In 2003, one precious lady came to me with tears in her eyes after receiving a Bible. “I thank you for my Bible,” she said. “Now, if I just had glasses so I could see to read it.”
I had thought it strange that I was the only one in western Kenya who needed glasses.
I found out that was not the case at all; they were not financially able to buy glasses.
And God opened my eyes to another great need: How could we get glasses for that lady and others? Two Lions Clubs in our area have provided used eyeglasses and I presented the need at Surry Baptist Association and Mount Airy Ministerial Association meetings. Used eyeglasses poured in. Even one restaurant had a box for donations.
The Kenyan ladies and pastors with bad eyes try them on and are so appreciative and delighted when they find a pair that enables them to see the words in their new Bibles.
To get to the conferences, many women walk for hours, some of them carrying babies. They sit jam-packed in overflowing churches on crude, backless benches and on the floor, listening intently for hours.
They drink in every word, taking the message to heart. And God performs miracles.
Because it is too far to walk home each day, they spend the two, or three, nights sleeping on the dirt, or concrete, floor of the church.
We have registered 13,357 ladies in attendance, and have given Bibles to 12,500 ladies. With an average of 10 people per household, that means around 125,000 more people now have daily access to a Bible.
Five thousand, one hundred sixty (5,160) ladies have been saved during the conferences, and most of the rest have rededicated their lives to Christ.
One lady, in March 2007, said, “Thank you for my Bible. I have always prayed that God would one day provide one for me so my children can read it to me.” Like many adults she cannot read, but her children go to school, and for her, having her children read a family Bible in their home would be the most blessed thing.
We teach from around 9 a.m. until 4 or 5 p.m., sometimes later, with periodic breaks and a lunch hour. Kenyans cook over open fires, either outside or in a cook hut. On the first mission trip, a number of ladies had to miss class to prepare the meal. Usually only one pot is cooked at a time, so meal preparation is a lengthy process, and is usually not finished until 2, or later, in the afternoon.
On the second mission trip, I was astonished to see a man at one of the churches helping with the cooking so his wife could attend the conference. On the third trip, all the cooking was done by men, a marvelous, miraculous thing. On the last four missions, men have done virtually all the cooking, with a little guidance from women.
Cooking the meal includes cleaning up and washing the dishes afterwards, just like it does for women.
This is a totally new role for men, and they are so proud of themselves when they manage it, and the food is actually good.
Not only are men cooking, they also ask me frequently, “When are you going to come teach us?” That too is a cultural change — to ask a woman to teach men in Africa. God changes cultures through love, not conflict.
A good test is not so much what happens during a conference but what happens after it is over. Immediately after our conferences ladies began to work for Christ at home and in their communities, and to teach what they had learned. They have already led hundreds to Christ, many of them husbands. They have inspired ladies in other churches to begin work. They have begun social work that was desperately needed; in particular, with widows and with orphans whose parents have died from Aids.
One church uses the ladies with Bibles to teach others to read. They are actually teaching literacy classes and Bible study at the same time.
To reach the ladies in every region of Kenya, we lack only two more provinces and the next mission is planned for January 2010. Both of the last two projects will be large, with a number of teaching locations in each province and a great number of ladies participating.
(EDITOR’S NOTE — Dowell, 71, is a retired teacher and member of Mountain View Baptist Church in Lowgap.)
Surry Baptist Association, 364 Welch Road, Mount Airy, NC 27030. Note Kenya Bible Fund.