"I was maybe three when I first attended school," my friend Samuel tells me. "We had no building, so we met under a large tree. The schoolmaster was an Anglican Christian fellow. He invited us to come back on Sundays and promised to teach us about God and his son. We learned to pray and sing."
As the first-born son, Samuel's responsibilities grew over the years to be a heavy burden. He took on the task of feeding the family and helping raise his eight brothers and sisters. He did his best while trying to keep up with his own schooling. When he became a Christian, his father threw him out of the house, and "I lived three days in the bush." He tells the story with a smile now, "until my grandmother came and stood up for me to my dad." "You let him stay in the house and you let him be a Christian," grandma demanded though she herself wasn't a believer.
Gracious help along the way allowed his survival and that of the family. His two youngest sisters were married young; sold actually, in exchange for cows. The family was in need and couldn't refuse the offer. One was married to a much older fellow who died after fathering six children by her.
Samuel's studies led him into business and economics, an unlikely path until you hear the story. Once settled into life, marriage, and employment with an income, he felt God was telling him to leave and begin to build the church. He did, and everyone told him he was crazy. (the business he resigned closed their doors a few weeks later)
Build the church. Preach the gospel, do the gospel, feed the hungry, clothe the naked ... and encourage them to pursue the grace of God as they worked together and helped one another. He established small groups, not for bible study but for business study and cooperative effort. They each brought the little they could spare to the group and deposited it in a bank account until there was enough to borrow for a small business attempt. Selling charcoal (went well), selling vegetables (much more difficult), with good results. They continue in their success to give back for the sake of others.
"I'll build you a house," Samuel told the widow. He'd walked the two hours to the village where she lived to meet her. She'd come to the church, walking the two hours each way, so he went to inquire. He found her living under a tree with her children. She'd been driven from her husband's land after he died, sent back to the village she'd come from, but none would take her in. Now living on the bare ground, she had nothing. "What can I do to help," he inquired. "I need a safe place to live with my children."
Samuel and the church raised enough for the framework and built her a modest two-room house. For roofing tin, Samuel gave the roof from his own house to cover her new home, but that's another story.
The community was thrilled. "These people are real; look at the things they've done."
The church reaches out practically and effectively. Sometimes the message is simple; we don't have money but we'll teach you how to live in God's blessing.
"I've no time for being religious," he says with a smile. Bishop Samuel Kazungu Mkambe oversees twenty-one churches in Kenya now, and has established four churches in Burundi. And each one is another story.