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PC(USA) global partner dies from COVID-19 in Kenya

Presbyterian Church of East Africa mourns loss of secretary-general

by Kathy Melvin | Presbyterian News Service

The Rev. Peter Kariuki Kaniah was secretary-general of the Presbyterian Church of East Africa. (Contributed photo)

LOUISVILLE — The Rev. Peter Kariuki Kaniah, secretary-general of the Presbyterian Church of East Africa (PCEA), died Sunday of complications from COVID-19 in a Nairobi hospital where he was being treated. He was 54.

He was PCEA’s outgoing secretary-general and had served in various parishes and the Presbyterian Church Men’s Fellowship (PCMF) as its director. He was ordained in 1997 and had served as secretary-general since 2015.

Just two days after the Kenyan government confirmed the first cases of COVID-19 on March 15 and announced a nationwide ban on large gatherings along with the closure of schools and nonessential business, PCEA, under Kaniah’s direction, mobilized 4.5 million church members to provide food and support for families. The “Adopt a Family” initiative fed more than 32,000 families throughout East Africa during April and May. The effort continues.

The Presbyterian Church of East Africa dates back in 1891, when directors of Imperial British East Africa Chartered Company invited a group of missionaries to Kenya and founded a mission among the Kamba and Maasai under the name “The East African Scottish Mission.”

The mission transferred to Kikuyu in 1898. In 1902 another missionary group from The Gospel Missionary Society of USA arrived in Kambui. These two mission groups merged in 1945 to form The Presbyterian Church of East Africa (PCEA).

Adopt a Family volunteers distribute food packages to at-risk families at Presbyterian Church of East Africa’s Kangemi parish in Nairobi, Kenya. (Photo courtesy of the PCEA Mission Department)

Today the total membership of PCEA is about 3 million, including 49 presbyteries with 320 parishes. The church was a pioneer in education and medicine, founding the country’s first hospitals. Currently it maintains three hospitals and health centers, two schools for the deaf and a community for the elderly and for disadvantaged children. It sponsors 700 schools, both primary and secondary, and operates projects such as community centers, rural development projects, weaving and homecraft training, secretarial training for girls, HIV/AIDS control programs, relief efforts and refugee assistance.

The Rev. Debbie Braaksma, World Mission’s coordinator for Africa, lived and served in Kenya.

“Reverend Kaniah was a dedicated church leader who provided inspirational leadership over a church that has experienced tremendous growth, not only in numbers of members, but in depth of commitment to Jesus Christ demonstrated in its community service,” she said. “In response to suffering experienced by families affected by COVID-19 restrictions, Reverend Kaniah quickly mobilized PCEA’s members to provide food for 32,000 families. What a tremendous legacy he leaves,  one which will continue to be a gift to the six PC(USA) presbyteries in partnership with the PCEA as well as the Kenya Mission Network.”

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