(Posted January 10, 2004)

Settling in
We – Roy Hendy, James and Tom Gorman - arrived in Nairobi on the morning of 11 November, were met by members of the ‘Set My Spirit Free’ prayer group and taken to the Salesian Centre where the first conference was to be held. We arrived on Tuesday morning and had two days to acclimatise to the altitude and heat and to pray.

We had the opportunity to visit Don Bosco’s Boys Town, a Technical school for young men and women from the slums of Nairobi. The school for boarders has the aim of preparing young people for life by equipping them with moral values and recognised qualifications in two related fields such as masonary, plumbing, motor vehicle mechanics and carpentry. They also provide training in Secretarial skills and Computer studies. The Director, Fr Devasia Manathara, told us that from the hundreds of applicants preference is given to the materially poor, street boys and girls, orphans and addicts. There are three Satellite centres in the surrounding slums, one of which we visited.

We also walked to Nyumbani (Swahili for ‘Home’), a Hospice for about 75 orphans who are HIV Positive. About 150,000 children are HIV+ and the number is rising.Nyumbani is designed to be like a small village. Each child lives in a ‘family’ unit in a separate house. A community-based care program also provides medical care for another 200 children in the community.


Nairobi Conference, November 2003

Nairobi Men's Conference
The Men's Conference began on Thursday evening and ended on Sunday morning. Including members of the SMSF prayer group about twenty men attended. Places were restricted because another conference for youth leaders was running concurrently. We also suspect that the cost of the residential weekend deters men from attending. One young man had been sponsored by his working sister who felt he needed to be renewed in his way of thinking.

The days began at 7am with a time of worship, followed by a quiet time and breakfast at 8am. The first of three talks was given at 9am. The talks were followed by sessions in small groups and a time of sharing before bedtime at 10pm. On Sunday, there was a final talk, a time of sharing and testimony, followed by Mass and lunch together.

'we become freed from slavery to sin as we understand Jesus'

The Teachings
The general theme that we developed over the sessions and, subsequently, in each of the conferences reflected the view that our lives as Christians can be illuminated if we, like the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews, think about the experience of the Israelites in their journey from Egypt to the Promised land. Briefly, the crossing of the Red Sea can be likened to the stage when we become freed from slavery to sin as we understand how Jesus, the new Moses, has by his atoning death and resurrection set us free from sins’ domination. This is righteousness by faith. We receive the Holy Spirit. We then enter the Wilderness, a place of testing and preparation for entry to the Promised land – a place of rest. Crossing the Jordan can be linked to the gift of sanctification. Both righteousness and sanctification are received through faith. (As Roy put it ‘At the Red sea, Jesus died; at the Jordan, I die’.)

The sober truth that we all had to face was that we and most of our Christian friends are still in the spiritual wilderness; but we know that our calling is to be holy. (As it happens in Tanzania we came across an address given by the Pope on World Mission Sunday which began: ‘Through baptism all believers are called to holiness…..the universal vocation to holiness consists in the call of all to the perfection of charity’.)


In small groups the men shared with each other

Generally in the talks, we focussed first on the need for repentance. In small groups the men shared with each other what they had learnt from the talks, the ways in which they saw themselves as being dominated by sin or struggling with sin; and the way forward to a better place. Then there was a further time of prayer or of deliverance. The sessions were punctuated with times of praise. In each of the groups there were gifted worship leaders, but in Nairobi we were blessed to be led by a young man called Simon.

Set My Spirit Free Prayer Group Meeting
On Friday evening we were scheduled to speak at the weekly meeting of the 1000 strong prayer group that meets at the Nairobi Cathedral Hall. James gave the talk which he based on an interpretation of the first three books of Genesis. It was enthusiastically received.

Embul-bul Mens’ meeting
On Sunday 17 November, we travelled to EmBul-Bul in the N’gong diocese, a parish we have visited each time we have travelled to Kenya. The parish priest, Fr. Kevin McGarry, has spear-headed a major development programme in the area. On our first visit there was a wooden hut in the church compound where the priests and visitors lived and a church with a galvanised tin roof. There is now a dispensary that treated over 15000 people this year; a convent and novitiate where the nuns who run the dispensary live; a school providing free education for over 300 poor children, a large education block and a presbetry and, this year, a massive church shaped like a Maasai homestead. Fr Kevin’s regional superior told us last year that the pastoral development of the people is being developed with as much energy as the building programme and this is obvious. We were preceded by a visiting team from New Zealand who had conducted a week's Bible study, as well as youth groups and marriage guidance activities.

The teaching was given between nine and five and was attended by about 25 men, several of whom we now have warm friendship with. One of these is a member of the National Service Committee, Mr. John Njeroge. John is a dynamic man who oversaw the programme last year and was very hospitable to us. Unfortunately, he had recently been involved in a serious road accident from which he was just recovering. Nevertheless he came to all the meetings on crutches.

'Fathers confessed with tears to being cruel and dictatorial in their families'

The men responded with tears and laughter to the teachings. Fathers confessed, with tears, to being cruel and dictatorial in their families. Our friend John Njeroge said that he was expecting to hear more or less the same message as he had heard last year; but now understood that the teaching was extending and becoming deeper as our own walk with God continued.


Roy & Tom inbetween flights

Dar Es Salaam
On Wednesday morning we arrived in Dar Es Salaam, the capital of Tanzania, and were met by our hosts. Roman Liemo of Agape Community and Fr. Ettiene Sion, W.F., the resident priest.

Later in the day, we were taken to St. Joseph’s Cathedral and met with the Parish Priest, Fr. Joseph Matumaini, and Fr. Stefano Kaombe, the Bishop’s secretary. We also met the director of the Catholic radio network who invited us to take part in a recorded interview before we left Tanzania.

Mass Meeting at Ubungo
Two days before the Men's conference we participated in a meeting to be held in the Ubungo ward near the city bus station. What we didn’t realize at first was that we were the only speakers. When we arrived we found an area with seating for over 500 people covered by galvanised roofing. There was a stage where a very gifted worship group were leading a large crowd in singing and dancing. There was also a good amplification system, which proved to be necessary, as the numbers of those attending continued to grow throughout the two days. Many people, including lots of small children with their mothers, sat in groups around the covered area in the shade of the trees. Behind the covered area was a large oblong-shaped ‘tent’ which we were told was the Deliverance Tent. Teams of stewards with different coloured neckerchiefs stood by and there were sturdy stretchers parked by the stage. As we talked, we began to see why.

'one young lady launched herself at the crucifix'

Over the two days at least half a dozen people showed signs of demonic activity such as wailing, shouting or violent physical activity. For instance, one young lady launched herself at the crucifix that Roy was holding. It took several lady stewards to hold her down and to eventually take her to the Deliverance Tent. Next day her mother brought her to speak to Roy. It was obvious that she had no recollection of the incident. There were other incidents that were very reminiscent of the accounts in the Gospels when evil spirits noisily made their presence felt, before prayer.

'his brother who was seriously ill had been completely healed'

Another unexpected situation arose when an invitation was given to those who were sick to receive prayer. Over 300 people came forward. As it was not possible to pray for them individually we did what we could and learnt from the experience. There was no time for testimonies, but one of the men who came to the Men's weekend testified to the fact that his brother who was seriously ill had been completely healed. He had decided to trust to prayer and to divest himself of the paraphernalia given to him by the witchdoctor he had been consulting. Towards the end of each day invitations were given to those who wanted to become Christians to come forward and 20-30 people, including Muslims made a commitment each time.

The Mens’ weekend
On Saturday and Sunday, the Men’s days were held in the large, open-sided, tin-roofed shed where public functions are held in Agape Community. Last year, 35 men came on the first day and 50 on the second. It soon became apparent that more would attend this year as the queue of men waiting to register became longer and longer. By nine in the morning the shed was filled to capacity by about 150 men. Over the two days about 200 men attended some or all of the sessions.

'the queue of men waiting to register became longer and longer'

We preached a similar message as in the other conferences, talking about slavery to sin, stressing the need for repentance and humility which can be reflected in confidential sharing and fellowship with other Christian men – and in confession to a priest. We also taught about prayer and the call to live a holy life. In this connection, James gave a powerful teaching about sexuality and holiness which drew on the teaching in the Old Testament about the worship of the fertility gods Ashtereh, and Baal, and Moloch to whom children were sacrificed.



We thought it would further the fellowship between the men if they were able to eat the final meal in their small groups; but when we inquired about this we found that 85 men had been planning to go without a mid-day meal which cost the equivalent of 60p. So we decided to donate this amount from the money remaining in the £5 for Africa fund. The fact that the men were able to share their final meal together helped to confirm an impression we had first experienced in the chapel at the Don Bosco Centre where there was a small carving of the Last Supper – the original men’s meeting. When men sit down together in unity, God commands a blessing. We could think of no more fitting way to end our time in Africa.

'delivered from a cycle of bad sexual behaviour which had controlled him since his youth'

In each of the conferences we left a little time for the men to give testimony to what they had learnt or experienced. This year, a number of men who had attended the first conference in Dar Es Salaam in 2002 returned to give eloquent testimony to the lasting changes that had taken place in the lives since the last conference. One man spoke of how he had been reconciled with his brother who he believed had cheated him out of land and how his relationship with his children had been completely healed through his repentance and prayer. Another told the assembled crowd of men how he had been delivered from a cycle of bad sexual behaviour which had controlled him since his youth. Dozens of men affirmed that they had been freed from the dominion of anger, lust, dishonesty and other vices. In all cases, the meetings ended with loud rejoicing and soul-stirring singing responding to a lead-singer that is very memorable.

£5 for Africa
A few weeks before we left Roy sent a letter to our friends asking for a contribution of £5 so that we would have something to give to those in need. When we left we had been sent £2500. We distributed it in various ways of need.

The Future
The Secretary of the National Service Committee for the Renewal in Tanzania who interviewed James for the radio broadcast invited us to consider extending the men’s programme to two of the Archdioceses in Tanzania. Given the enthusiastic response to the teaching and the very effective organisation of the meetings in Dar Es Salaam, we think it would be best to concentrate future efforts in Tanzania, with the option of a stopover in Nairobi, if this is strongly requested. Although we think that there are men in both Nairobi and EmBul-Bul who have sufficient experience of the approach we use in the men's conferences to faciliate these themselves, input from outside speakers is welcomed.