For many tribal people in Kenya, the arrival of the British in the 1890’s was a tragedy. It marked the beginning of stolen land. Foreign laws were enforced while education, medicine, and the railway arrived. My father came from southern England, arriving in Kenya in 1936. The Mau Mau Emergency, as the government in London, England named it, was an attempt by two tribes to expel the British. Intense violence between 1952-1954 saw hundreds of African villagers murdered. The British rapidly organized Kenyans into the King’s African Rifles to round up Mau Mau fighters who hid in the deep, thick forests of the Aberdare National Park. The uprising was mainly between Nairobi and Eldoret.
Thousands of African men were arrested and placed in detention camps for a “cooling off period.” That was a time of political crisis. Needing to provide spiritual care for these men, the British called for a Roman Catholic and a Protestant chaplain to work in each detention camp. That’s how our family came to live at McKinnon Road, a former British airfield about 60 miles inland from the Indian Ocean.
I was just beginning to understand the language of adults and how important words are. I listened carefully to my parents’ talk at mealtimes. My father ministered in hangers previously used to house World War II airplanes. Huge enclosures were cut into smaller spaces with 50 bunkbeds in each “cell.” Dad spent all his time in these cells in suffocating heat, preaching the Gospel. Swahili was the lingua-franca of Kenyan tribes. In his book, From Mau Mau to Christ, he told how he, a white British foreigner, became life-long friends with hundreds of former black Mau Mau soldiers. I think it was at that time, about age eight, that reconciliation came to be one of the most important words in my vocabulary. Many times, I’ve seen this word become a living reality. Reconciliation matters.
In some of cells at McKinnon Road, and then at the Manyani Camp, scores found their way into the arms of a loving God. After a one-year sentence for “soft core” detainees, and two-years for “hard core” prisoners, all the men returned to their hometowns and villages. Dad kept up his friendship with hundreds, leading to an entirely new ministry phase. Many former Mau Mau foot-soldiers wrote articles about their experiences, and Dad circulated these to other men in other parts of Kenya. Out of this correspondence grew a magazine, Today, in Swahili. That led to the establishment of the Literature Department of the Africa Inland Mission, AIM. Many others also longed for such a department. The growth of the Gospel in Kenya between tribal groups and between Kenyans and ex-pats is an amazing story. Many of my school friends have written about it. Reconciliation Matters.
For this issue of the LAM Newsletter, we look at the need for reconciliation in Latin America in six indigenous groups. Indigenous people groups complain about the arrival of Europeans, who fundamentally changed their cultures and laws. One of LAM’s 30 ministries is the patient, loving care taken in sharing the Good News of Christ. We aim to bring about reconciliation between the indigenous people and the non-indigenous people of that nation. God in Christ initiated this radical journey. Reconciliation matters.
By David Phillips