In the fall of 2016 I received a suspect call on my cell phone from Nairobi, Kenya. I didn’t answer. After all, it would most likely be some scammer trying to convince me that a dead African prince left me a multi-million-dollar inheritance that I could collect as long as I provided my social security number, my mother’s maiden name, and my bank account information. Yeah right! I’m not falling for that. Whoever called didn’t leave a voicemail. Yep, just as I thought. Or was it?
Then I received a message that week through Facebook and an email through our website from someone named John Gathuku Kibunga. He wasn’t claiming to be a representing a dead prince, instead he was trying to contact me about my book “Media Choices: Convictions or Compromise?” to ask for permission to print over a thousand copies for a special youth program. Johnnie (as he is known among friends) runs a ministry in Kenya called Timazi (“Plumbline” in Swahili), which reaches out to students in schools through the Christian magazine “Timazi” dealing with cultural topics from a Biblical worldview.
In 2016, Johnnie was preparing for the 4th annual Readership Challenge and met with other ministry leaders at a Lausanne Movement gathering in Jakarta, Indonesia. He wanted input from others about finding a book for their Readership Challenge that dealt with the subject of media and entertainment from a Biblical worldview. That is how he learned about my book and downloaded the Kindle version from Amazon. What an interesting world we live in that a minister from Africa can meet with people in Indonesia and learn about a book written by an unknown author in America.
I gladly gave him permission and arranged to send him the necessary files. It also occurred to me that it might be beneficial to change the cover and replace the family on the front with an African family. My friend, Matthew Sample, who designed the cover, graciously agreed to make the changes.
The students not only commit to reading the book but they also write an essay on how it impacted them and what steps they took to apply what they learned in their own lives. At the end of the six-month program Timazi holds an awards gala to give out individual and school awards. How exciting! I wish we could pull something like this together in the US!
When John started this reading program several years before, he hoped to have the author come to the gala to speak but it never worked out. Now in the fourth year, they gave up trying so you can imagine their excitement when I asked if it would be alright to come to Kenya and attend the gala to meet Johnnie, his team, and the students. Unbeknownst to me, my willingness to come was an answer to their prayers.
He also wanted to arrange several speaking engagements in churches and schools during my time in Kenya. Mary and I were able to get away for a ten-day trip, our first to Africa. In some ways this felt like a blind date. We didn’t really know them and they didn’t really know us. Usually, a short term mission trip involves working with an organization based in the US and they help you with travel arrangements, visas, fundraising, etc. Not us, we were going solo. On the one hand I had peace about this trip but on the other hand I struggled with moments of doubt and uncertainty, What am I getting into? On June 5th we boarded a plane for Nairobi.
Johnnie and Maggie Gathuku and their children were such a blessing to get to know. We found that we were very like-minded in many ways and their effective ministry in Kenya was very admirable. John is well-respected in Nairobi and it was remarkable how many people we randomly encountered in this large urban setting who personally knew him through ministry connections. When I interviewed staff members and volunteers about their involvement with Timazi, many of them had the same story – Johnnie and Maggie poured into their lives during their teen or young adult years. John is not just an evangelist, he’s also a disciple maker.
Our first few days were spent visiting a few of the schools that participated in the Readership Challenge. I brought a copy of the one-hour version of my documentary Captivated: Finding Freedom in a Media Captive Culture to show. The first stop was a girls’ school outside Nairobi. Long before we entered the meeting hall we could hear the joyous sound of over 500 girls singing praises to God. As we entered the building it was charged with excitement. They knew how to raise the roof with their voices, I felt honored to witness such exuberance in a Christian gathering. After a warm welcome, I briefly shared my testimony about how God had saved me and how I came to start the ministry Media Talk 101. They listened with acute attention and genuine interest. I transitioned to the documentary and for the next hour I watched in amazement how the film transcended cultural and continental boundaries and connected with an African audience for the first time. They were deeply moved and I was deeply grateful for such unexpected enthusiasm. It was truly a powerful moment at the close of the documentary, we could almost feel the thoughtful ponderings of 500 girls and their teachers.
The next scene took me by surprise, girls began lining up with tattered copies of my book to be signed. I had not expected this at all, my heart overflowed with appreciation and a sincere desire to bless them for their kindness to me. This proved to be a predicament because I was determined to write a unique short note to each student with a favorite scripture of mine. It seemed too shallow to just sign my name. On the other hand, it’s a bit time consuming to accomplish unique notes especially when the staff was trying to clear the building to transition to dinner. I couldn’t help myself, I was determined to see it through as long as the students were willing to wait.
The next day we traveled to a school called Joy Town for students with disabilities. The meeting was similar to the night before except that many of the students were in wheelchairs or relied on crutches. At the close of our time together one of the teachers got up to share. She was nearly verklempt and blurted out “It will be really hard to go back to chloroplasts after this!” Again, many students brought their seriously worn copies of my book to be signed.
It was an honor to meet a young man named Humphrey who served as the president of the student Christian Union at Joy Town. He shared his story of being unable to walk due to an accident but one Sunday he believed God was calling him to stay after the church service and pray. He was miraculously healed! My heart rejoiced to see Humphrey a second time at the Awards Gala with other students from Joy Town worshiping and praising the Lord during a time of singing. Their offering to the Lord was one of the most glorious moments Mary and I witnessed during our time in Kenya.
Our visit was also a catalyst for Timazi’s first parenting seminar. One hundred parents showed up for a half day event. There was a notable difference in response from these parents compared with experiences I’ve had giving similar seminars to parents in the US. They seemed more concerned and ready to make changes in the home to set a new trajectory for their families. I witnessed the same softness of heart towards my message in the encounters with students as well.
In addition to the wonderful essays that read, I also heard personal testimonies from teens and adults of how they had become convicted about compromise in their life after reading my book and took to heart the recommended action steps. Praise the Lord for His work in their hearts! May the seeds planted bear much fruit for God’s glory!
The highlight for the week was certainly the awards gala with over 100 schools represented and nearly 1500 in attendance. Words fail to describe the momentous event so hopefully the pictures I have included can fill in what I’m not sure how to express.
We did get one day for sightseeing and enjoyed a country drive with the Gathukus through the Great Rift Valley. We saw beautiful scenery and lots of animals in the wild. John didn’t want us to leave Kenya without having some of their favorite nyama choma (BBQ goat). I must confess that I believe Texas does BBQ better especially since they don’t bother with serving the animals intestines as a side dish.
On our last day I hosted a pizza party for the Timazi staff on behalf of Media Talk 101 and had a neat time of Q & A. Pizza is a treat for them and they all laughed with unbelief when I said that pizza was a staple meal in the US.
We look forward to continued friendship and a new ministry partnership. I brought digital copies of all our resources and seminars to give to Timazi. I learned from John that they wanted to start giving seminars to parents and students on media and entertainment but didn’t know where to begin. We were glad to be witnesses of another prayer answered.