Singing hymns to God in our church
We recently had the absolute pleasure of speaking with Reverend Tom from Kenya. Reverend Tom has been diligently serving the older people in his church and wider community throughout this challenging time of lockdown and was kind enough to share with us about the work he has been doing.
Kenya has a very large elderly population. ‘Kenya has about 1.2 million people over 65 years of age in a population of 38.6 million […] However, Kenya has no long-term care public insurance scheme for older people and access to private health insurance is very limited. Care for older people with disabilities and chronic health problems is mainly undertaken by family members and only about 16 facilities for residential care are available in the country.
There is therefore substantial unmet need for both long and short-term care for older people in Kenya’. – The Conversation, read more here.
As with the rest of the world, loneliness and isolation has skyrocketed in Kenya, particularly amongst older people during this time. Thankfully, Kenya’s lockdown is beginning to lift. Schools are expected to resume within the next two weeks, and everything is beginning to open again slowly. However, everyone is still required to stay at home from 9pm at night until 4am in the morning – even in the bigger cities.
Helping people in our community
Reverend Tom is a pastor with the Africa Inland Church located in Western Kenya, near Lake Victoria. It is an area outside of the city. Most of the residents here are farmers, either growing rice fields or farming livestock. The pace of life is slower and less busy than in the cities. However, as the area is close to the lake, it is a flood zone and so, often experiences significant flooding, particularly during the stormy season.
Reverend Tom has been a pastor now for more than 20 years, working with people of all ages and from all stages of life. For many years, Reverend Tom prioritised the younger generations within his church, leading a Sunday school for kids and really helping engage them in the service.
However, it was in 2015 that God really ignited his heart for the older people and over the years he has become more seriously devoted to serving them. Today, he spends a lot of time serving the older people in his congregation and wider community.
“The older people are the backbone of the church,” he told us, “they are a treasure. They are archives. They help us to know where we are coming from and where we are going. They are mentors for the younger people. They are archives for the younger generations.”
Rev Ochuka wearing a mask to stay safe before reaching out to the elderly
Much of the care for older people in Kenya falls on the shoulders of the communities in which they live and most of the care is carried out by religious organisations. Kenya has a very different culture to the UK, as Reverend Tom shared with us; “There is a very different culture here. Much of our service to older people is built on that culture. There are rules – do’s and don’ts. If I visit an older woman in her home, another female must go with me.
I engage specific groups to help with their needs. So, if someone is struggling with hygiene, I have a team of people who can bathe them and provide the support they need. If I have people who can help with their economy status, looking at whether they have health insurance ready for if they get sick. I also invite social services to come and talk to them about their needs. Some of the older people have had horrible things happen to them in their lives and they need a professional to help talk them through this and understand how to process it. I connect them with the right services.”
There are many things Reverend Tom carefully considers in his care for older people. He looks at their living environment; is it safe, is it hygienic, is it good for them? He looks at ways he can serve their spiritual needs. He learns how he and his team can care for their bodies and their physical health. He takes time to learn how to support their mental health. He engages the young people in the church in going out and sourcing sweets and bread that can be delivered to their homes. But most importantly, he makes time for them.
“It all comes back to culture,” he told us, “I identify with them that ‘I am with you, I am your son, I am your brother, I am your grandson’. Older people want us to identify with them. If they don’t feel that, there is a gap between you and them. I give them hope by being alert and listening. They have stories to tell and things to share. Some are still mourning, some are still regretting. I have to give ears to everybody. They look for that.”
“Covid 19 has made life Different Here within our ministry.”
Reverend Tom is also very deliberate in creating time for people. As he told us, “I create time for them. They know when you are too busy for them. I make visits to their homes. Here we don’t have homes in the city for older people. We don’t have care homes. I make contact with them individually inside their homes.”
At the beginning of lockdown, Reverend Tom quickly went and sanitised the home of each old person in his community. He used sanitiser from the sugar factories and had the young people from his church help clean and sanitise everyone’s homes. In addition, he checked all their temperatures regularly, made sure to avoid the crowds, and held services for them inside their homes. He also checked that they had maize to eat, sugar, and water. If they did not have these things, he would provide food and water for them. He did this every day.
“I thank God we did not lose anybody,” he told us. “We did this for about 100 people. I had a team of people helping me.”
Reverend Tom is a beacon of hope to his community, carrying out God’s work faithfully in these challenging times. Serving their spiritual needs during this time, he has seen many people grow into a deeper understanding of God. He told us, “they want to walk with God every day. They are also beginning to have a different view on God. They often ask me, ‘if God is real, why am I suffering? Why am I like this?’ We need to support their fellowship with God. We need to invest in them, we need to show the heart of God.”
As part of his spiritual ministry to older people, Reverend Tom teaches regularly from the Bible. He often uses the book of proverbs because it is full of wisdom and the book of psalms because it is full of praise. He speaks on the book of Peter, especially Peter in his old age. He also shares the life of Abraham and the lives of Ruth and Naomi. They pray together and he gives each person the chance to share about their life, to be heard, and to feel accepted. “They are so joyful,” he told us, “to be part of something again and to have people care about them in this way.”
To serve the Lord can be difficult but often brings with it an immense sense of joy. We were so encouraged to hear of Reverend Tom’s incredible ministry. The work he is doing in Kenya is transforming lives one by one with the truth of the gospel, the knowledge of God and His love for His people.
Like many of us, Reverend Tom desires to see older people successfully integrated back into and accepted in churches, he desires to see them listened to and loved, but most of all desires that they know the Lord. We ask that you keep Reverend Tom, his team, his congregation, and his wider community in your prayers as they continue to spread the love of the Lord throughout Kenya.
“But let all who take refuge in you rejoice; let them sing for joy, and spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may exult in you.” – Psalm 5:11