If you live in Jamhuri and you go to town early in the morning, between 6 and 6.30am, you have probably seen Rachael (we call her Rakel, aka the highly favoured). She is the lady who prays in the first bus that goes to town from Jamhuri, a Citi Hoppa bus labeled 461. This is the unique story of how she started to pray in the bus and it is nothing like the image you may have about bus preachers. It is a story about hearing God, purpose, obedience, consistency and all the struggles that come with starting to do it.
We go to the same neighbourhood bible study group with Rakel. A few months ago, after the bible study, people mentioned their prayer needs so we could pray together. Rakel had a thanksgiving. ‘It has been one and a half years since I started the bus ministry and I would like to thank God for that’ she said. It came so simply, almost casually as if it was just another ordinary occurrence. I decided then that I would like to sit down with her, hear her story and God willing write about it.
Our meeting plans never seemed to materialise for a few months until last Sunday. We met after church; she looked sleepy because she had attended a kesha on Friday and had had a busy Saturday. She was eager to catch some sleep but once she started talking about praying in the bus, she was transformed, passion just oozed out of her.
I wanted to know the genesis of all this. How does one just start praying in the bus? ‘About two years ago I was stirred up by the preaching in the mission month’ Rakel begins. ‘At the same time I was trusting God for something big, a global opportunity. I was actually ‘blackmailing’ God, that if you give me this opportunity, I will be a missionary for you.’
‘Start, let me see what you can do where you are’ that seemed to be the answer from God whenever Rakel prayed for the opportunity she very much longed for. The bus no. 461 is where she was. Rakel used to board the bus every morning and was really put off by what people discussed in the bus, divisive politics. Yes, even at 6am politics is discussed in this country.
‘I felt the holy spirit tell me that you can change the atmosphere and climate of this bus’ Rakel says.
She struggled with that and it just kept bothering her. ‘One of the things I was really scared of was meeting people from my past, especially my university mates, who knew me as the party girl I was then. I used to drink quite a lot and could stay in the dance floor the whole night’ she confesses. ‘Me….. what? Stand up in a bus and pray, those people seeing me, no way, no way’ she declared as she covered her head in her hands, as if she was reliving the shame that she felt then.
She decided to approach someone about it; the first one did not go well. ‘I was discouraged by people I knew. A believer friend told me that I could pray for the people in the bus but I didn’t have to do it publicly.’
I remember very well the day Rakel came to the bible study and said that she felt God was calling her to start a bus ministry. There were many opinions that were shared that evening but Rakel remembers one vividly, it came from George, who was acting as our patron then. He told her that people will be watching to see whether she pulls it through or she gives up on the way, but if God is the one who has called her, then He will sustain her.
Encouraged, fired up and sure it was from God, Rakel knew she had to do it but still wondered. ‘How will I start, how will I stand, what will people think of me, what if people from my university see me?’
Rakel used to say hi to people in the bus not knowing it would help her later. The day she went and asked the conductor if she could pray in the bus, she was really hoping for a no.
‘Niaje, enda ambia dere, mimi naona tuombange kwa hii basi kila siku’ she told the conductor. Some passengers overheard the conversation and they said that was an awesome idea. They even remarked that she should have begun even earlier.
‘I’m finished!’ Rakel thought to herself.
It was official, all paper work was in and the next day would be the debut. She prepared at home, but preparing for prayer only means praying. And that is what she did, ‘Lord I don’t know how I found myself here, I don’t know if it is right or it’s my emotions, how am I going to do this? But if it’s yours, establish it and glorify yourself in it, please let it stand, give me what to pray for and let me see some transformation. Show me signs that you are in it.’
The word difficult doesn’t even begin to describe her first week praying in the bus. She would get in the bus in the morning; scan around hoping to see no one from her past. She would say hi and pray as quickly as she could. People used to look at her from top to bottom making her wonder what was going on in their minds.
The first six months were really tough for her. ‘My best days were when I travelled out of town’ she insists on this point by laughing. Whenever she wanted to oversleep she couldn’t, she would just find herself waking up. God really put a burden on her.
Then the regular bus people started calling her when she wasn’t there on time, even reserved a seat for her. They started longing for the prayers. At this point she didn’t see any impact at all. ‘At times I think we want to see results before we even start’ Rakel warns. We treat ministry like a business plan, complete with projections, with margins pointing in the right direction.
The thing that Rakel had dreaded the most happened one day. One of her former university mates boarded the bus. The lady was shocked; she had to ask Rakel about finding salvation and starting the bus ministry, to which she gladly shared her story and testimony.
‘Never be ashamed of Jesus Christ and never let your past keep taking you behind. I am sure some school mates of mine will just collapse if they hear that I do this’ Rakel says with emphasis to every word, a testimony of the God’s work in her.
‘It reached a point I got really tired of it so I asked God for a sign….again……that He was part of this and that I was not just doing my own thing’ she says. God did, actually overdid. God showed her many signs that she had to remind Him that she just needed one. People started inviting Rakel to their homes, sharing with her their issues and asking her to pray for them.
This is the point that she knew God was in it and her confidence grew. And now, as she trusts God to go to places and meet all kinds of people, she knows she can stand up and proclaim Jesus without fear.
Giving yourself out to a godly cause always has a personal effect on you. There is the transformation that happens inside you that people cannot see, the inward fruit. This could be the confidence to stand before people, fear being replaced with boldness, a deeper understanding of who you are in Christ, and building your relationship with the father.
But there is also the transformation that happens out there for everyone to see, the outward fruit. After about a year of praying she started seeing some fruits. People started coming to her thanking her for the prayers, saying things were getting better in their families and jobs. She started getting invitations to their homes to fellowship and pray with them. Even married couples would invite her.
In December 2015, the passengers got together and bought Christmas vouchers to appreciate the conductor and the driver.
Following the loss of her dad recently; people from the bus supported her immensely. The day before we met, they had visited her. The conductor, driver, the former conductor and 9 passengers came to her home and condoled with her. Rakel says she was overwhelmed.
The genuine love and bond among them is one thing that they have challenged Rakel with. Rakel keeps praying for them. They are planning a getaway at the end of the year.
Rakel has made friends and she even found courage to evangelise to her family that led to her dad giving his life to Christ last year. And now, another lady also prays in the bus.
‘Everyone responds to genuine love’ Rakel says, ‘that’s just what they want to see.’
On Monday, I decided to take a ride in this bus. I am not a morning person and so I had to summon all alarms to make sure am awake and in Jamhuri by 6.15 am. I got there before Rakel and the bus. As I waited for Rakel, the bus arrived, made a slow U-turn to park where it picks passengers. I saw the no. 461 behind and just wondered how many lives have been touched in the bus just by conductor and driver agreeing to Rakel’s request to pray.
How many homes have been restored? How many workplaces are now better? How many people found hope? How many people got courage to face their fears? How many wounds healed? How many blessings received?
I entered and sat near the door waiting for Rakel. People entered the bus one by one. Rakel finally arrived and greeted the conductor, driver and a few other people she knows. As the bus almost got getting full, the conductor signalled Rakel. She got up, greeted us all and asked that we bow for prayer.
In her prayers she praised God, acknowledged Him as our God and father, she committed the day to the lord, prayed for a safe journey, asked for blessings for our families, prayed for our jobs that God will give us favour and victory, prayed for Kenya, its leaders and people; she presented many other requests to God.
She then sat, turned to me smiling and said, ‘You see, just as simple as that.’ She is modest like that but we all know that there is nothing simple about praying for people in a bus consistently for almost 2 years.
‘I have gotten to a point where I never want to be in a group where people are so comfortable.’ Rakel says. I could feel the seriousness in her words. ‘Comfort can be really bad. It is good to serve each other as believers but how long shall we keep doing that while there are many people out there who desire for us to reach out to them, I’d rather be reaching out to the lost.’ That struck a chord in me.
And I thought; it’s nearer to us than we would care to admit, our eyes are wide open and we see the needs around us every day. Those orphans, that homeless man, those street kids, those elderly people, those school children, those friends, that neighbour, that family member and yes, even that bus.
We often complain about the mess around us, but you know what? It’s a good thing; it is a sign that we see the need. We just need to transform that complaint into compassion and ask God for wisdom and strength to make a difference.
The keys to transform our societies are with us Christians, not because we are better than anyone else but because the one who can open all doors lives in us. Rakel understands this. By saying yes to the calling and allowing God to use her she has managed to connect Jamhuri’s number one bus to the one who holds all the keys. Doors are opening and I believe many more will.
Comments, questions to Rakel are welcome in the comment section. If you know anyone who is doing simple, amazing, godly stuff outside church, kindly share in the comments. Godly stories need to be written too.