A letter from Marta Bennett in Kenya
The new academic year at NIST (Nairobi International School of Theology) began in mid-August, so we are now halfway into the first semester (though we also have module courses taking place year-round). Besides teaching two master’s level courses (Leadership Theories and Personal Leadership Development) this term, curriculum development for undergrad programs, administration and advising, I am completely blessed to be able to lead a weekly discipleship group with seven students. We meet in my office, with stools squeezed around, and two weeks ago we put aside the planned study for the week and instead just took time to share our stories with each other. As I listened to each, I sat in awe as I witnessed the wealth of life experience shared among members of the group. Let me share a few bits:
Between us, we come from Kenya, Sudan, Ethiopia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi and the United States (me!). We are half men, half women, all over 30, all of the students pursuing either M.Div.’s or M.A.’s in theology along with leadership, counseling or educational studies.
One grew up herding goats in a remote area and went to school to learn the alphabet for the first time at age 17. Another has just risen to the level of regional leadership within the church, after serving as a local pastor for many years. A third holds her own weekly radio program, along with being a wife, mother and student body president this year. One was converted to faith after running a brothel and gambling place, while another has led in a prayer movement in several African countries, and another has ministered among children since she was young. One grew up Roman Catholic, another grew up Muslim; some come from Evangelical Christian backgrounds, and some from traditional religions. As each one shared, we listened, we laughed, we asked questions, stopping to pray for certain ones at various points, and noted with awe and admiration the diverse ways in which God is at work in our lives. Though we are from such a wide variety of backgrounds, we are knit together as one body in Christ.
This past week we had a hard time getting to our lesson at all; each one came in eager to share thoughts on current events, news of the week and ideas for papers to discuss as well as asking how various concerns were progressing in the lives of each other. We look forward to our year together and are already planning for ways to visit each other’s ministries and be further involved in each other’s lives — besides praying through term papers, Greek verbs and exams!
At NIST we continue to press on toward receiving the charter (accreditation from the Kenya government) to become a full university. The president of Burundi has already granted us a charter to begin there the International Leadership University-Burundi, just before the Burundi elections in May, and one of our faculty members from DRC has already moved to Bujumbura to set up courses. Here in Kenya, NIST will remain as the School of Theology, while the Schools of Leadership and Counseling Psychology will be formed alongside, all under the banner of International Leadership University-Kenya, all with the goal of better equipping the body of Christ for works of service all over the region. This past week we launched the first full undergraduate program, while the master’s, diploma and certificate programs in theology and ministry continue. In addition, this past week we held a weeklong seminar on “Theology of Work” — one section for pastors and one for professionals in the marketplace. I taught several sessions to the 100 or so attendees on “Spirituality in the World of Work,” and we were very encouraged to see quite a number respond so positively, even to come to request applications for the full-time programs, either in evenings or daytime. Though we are only a handful of faculty members, somehow God is pulling this off, and we seeking to stay focused and balanced in the midst.
On the home front, we are all fine, though recovering from colds. Justin, almost 13, is in 8th grade, playing rugby and soccer at school and taking drum lessons (he’s good!). Imani, age 11, just got long extension braids in time for school to start this month, loves learning guitar and smothering our two new puppies with love. One special gift is seeing former neighbors exploring faith and coming regularly to our church now. That all began when Justin and Imani begged the three daughters to join them in attending a Vacation Bible School a few years ago. Now both parents are becoming more and more involved as well.
Thank you all for your ongoing prayers and support—so many times I have been aware that someone must be praying, when evidence of God at work is around us.
The 2010 Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 52c