A letter from Marta Bennett in Kenya
Dear family and friends,
Graduation! On Saturday, June 11, 2011, Nairobi International School of Theology/International Leadership University (NIST/ILU) celebrated our 27th graduation. Included among the graduates were the first class of students to complete the Master's in Organizational Leadership and the Master of Science in Governance, which we launched two years ago. As always, the joy, the tears of gratitude, and the celebrations filled the air. Though the ceremony was conducted with all proper decorum for such an event, the graduates were cheered on as they each crossed the platform to the shrill ululations and blaring vuvuzelas from their families, friends and classmates seated in the large sanctuary of a neighboring church.
The student speaker, Felicien Ndayizeye from Burundi, began his speech with words of enthusiastic congratulations to all his fellow graduates, using the many languages represented in the class: Hongera! Felicitation! Congratulations!—plus several other vernacular tongues. “We made it! God is so good!” God is faithful once again.
Felicien, a former Muslim, now a passionate follower of Jesus Christ and a pastor of a growing church in Bujumbura, Burundi, has been both my student in quite a number of classes and a member of the discipleship group I led for the last two years. Graduating with a Master of Arts in Leadership Studies, he was one of the elected student body leaders, and he also won the top award for best all-around student, for scholarship, community service and leadership.
Some time ago Felicien and his wife decided that they did not want to succumb to the temptation, as too many pastors do, to use the church to enrich themselves, or to be vulnerable to any such accusation—so as they began a new church, they determined to not receive any salary from the church. Instead, they invested in two cars, hired two drivers, and have been running the cars as taxis, providing the support for their growing family as well as fees for the master's program in Kenya. Meanwhile they proceeded with the construction of a 1,500-seat sanctuary in Bujumbura and the establishment of an English Language Center there.
During Felicien’s two years in Nairobi at NIST, he and his wife continued to lead the church in Burundi and plant new churches in surrounding areas and countries. His wife and children stayed in Bujumbura and worked with their ministry team there. Felicien would travel home every few months (a very long bus ride!) to assist and to have time with his family. At the same time, as a student in Nairobi, he began meeting young men and boys in a nearby informal settlement (slum), and one by one shared the gospel with them. Together, they created a football (soccer) team called “Young Tremors.” They meet Monday to Friday to read the Word of God, fellowship and play soccer. In addition they are in the process of moving into poultry-raising to provide a means of economic sustenance.
Felicien’s future plans include building a secondary school (high school) and a vocational school in Bujumbura to enable especially those severely affected by the war to gain training and skills to assist in building the country. His primary passion, however, is to continue growing the church in his role as senior pastor. As he summarized in his graduation speech, “Put vision into practice…!” He is one who models the way, dreaming big and implementing the dreams with faith and energy in spite of the many setbacks and challenges.
On the family front:
As I wrap up the academic year at NIST/ILU, I have already started advising several M.A. theses for the coming year. We have moved forward in the process of becoming a fully chartered university in Kenya, with a second site visit by the Commission of Higher Education in May, and the acceptance of two more programs for accreditation. The kids continue to work hard and be involved in various activities. Imani (turning 12 in a few weeks!) was captain of her school House this year, and also won five gold medals for swimming in just one day at the national swimming competition for Kenyan schools last month. She is fast and has beautiful form, if I may say so myself! Justin (age 13) continues to enjoy playing drums, piano, soccer and rugby, and is a strong student. I continue to be impressed by his self-discipline in preparing diligently for exams, and committing consistent time for reading. Steven (foster son, age 24) is working hard on a diploma in computer science and is home almost every weekend, which is a joy.
As a family, we have a good adventure ahead as we prepare to spend 11 months in the United States, starting this August 2011. We will be based at the Overseas Mission Study Center in New Haven, Conn., where the kids will be in a local school for the year, and I will be speaking and teaching in numerous churches and also hopefully making some time for renewal, reading and writing—many pending projects are vying for my attention! Please pray with us as we prepare to be away from Nairobi for the 11 months, for all the logistics on both sides, for the adjustment of being in an American school system for the kids, and for a fruitful time of ministry and service while we are there throughout. We then expect to return to Nairobi in June 2012, to continue on in the same house, schools, relationships and ministry at NIST/ILU.
Thank you so much for your ongoing support, in prayer, finances and encouragement in so many ways!
By God’s grace,
Marta Bennett, Nairobi
The 2011 Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 59