In December 2018 I travelled to Kapsokwony in Mt. Elgon to attend a daily vacation bible school (DVBS) organized by Mt. Elgon Children Ministries in conjunction with local pastors. I arrived in Kimilili at around 7am and took a boda boda up the mountain.
The ascend from Kimilili to Kapsokwony is a very telling one. Once you get off the tarmac and start climbing on the murram road, you get the feeling of abandonment. Even if no one explains it, you would feel like you are entering a different territory. It is a steep climb just near Kapsokwony. I would later know that the children I saw walking up were going to the DVBS.
I had heard quite a bit about the DVBS but experiencing it for myself was something else, it was like becoming a child again. With children its impossible to hold back, you have to lose your reservations and ‘dignity’ and immerse yourself in a world that gives and gives. You have to pack your struggles and issues at the gate and enter with a free heart, because you are guaranteed to be charmed.
That was my world for the last two days of the DVBS that I attended. I envied the guys who were there for the entire five days.
And it’s as simple as simple gets. Children gather from Monday to Friday 8am to 1pm. They have a procession in the morning, followed by singing, dancing and prayers. They then proceed to their various classes and are taught by teachers who have undergone a training. The material is well thought, simple and taught according to children’s level. Each child gets a printed copy of the entire week’s lesson with a section for exercises. After the lesson, it is craft work, then snacks, then games, then puppetry and the day is done.
But it’s the simplicity, coupled with consistency that has made Mt. Elgon DVBS impactful.
It was first held in December 2013. Ministering to over 1000 children every year, it has become a major event in the lives of children around Kapsokwony. They look forward to it, they bring their friends, and they fully participate.
In the two days that I was there, I could not think of a better way to transform a community than to invest in its children.
And the report is encouraging, as I would be informed by Mirriam Chemayek Wambugu, the founder of Mt. Elgon Children Ministries after the event.
‘The leading child in KCPE in the entire Mt. Elgon district in 2018 was a DVBS child’ said mum Mirriam.
According to the feedback from Pastors and Teachers, school enrollment has improved, children’s minds have been broadened from the interaction with the lessons and the teachers, they have become more confident. Sunday school attendance and participation in churches has gone up making the churches more vibrant.
Early pregnancies, which is a major issue in Mt. Elgon, have gone down attributed to the counselling offered to girls during the DVBS.
The crafts done by children during the DVBS decorate houses around Kapsokwony. The community is touched because children have become more responsible.
‘The community has been very cooperative in releasing their children to come’ says Mirriam. ‘The pastors also release the Sunday school teachers for training and they come to the DVBS to see what is happening.’
The older boys and girls who went through the DVBS have come back to teach or assist in one way or another. One of them Judah, now a form four student at Kapsokwony high school. He is confident, inquisitive, social and a jolly young man, a true symbol of the promise that every child possesses in Mt. Elgon. Judah has attended DBVS since 2013 when he was in class 6.
He shared his personal experience. ‘From the DVBS I learnt to relate well with my parents and my peers. It also helped me to know God more and to serve him as a young person.’
Judah is very quick to recommend the DVBS to all children.
But the real value and impact of reaching out to children in Mt. Elgon is something that, in my opinion, will manifest many years from now. Investing in children spiritually and emotionally is one of those things that may not seem urgent but is very important. This one will be felt many many years to come.
The program has been centered around Kapsokwony but the vision is to have it in the other divisions of Mt. Elgon district as well: Kaptama, Cheptais and Kopsiro.
‘The other divisions need to be reached’ says Mirriam ‘especially Kopsiro which was the epicenter of the war, and where many orphans were left behind, they need more than the word.’
Some of the children saw their parents being slaughtered and there is a great need for counselling as well as material help.
But what prompted Mirriam to start doing all this?
After the atrocities that were committed in Mt. Elgon by the SLDF between 2006 and 2008, the government stepped with the Operation Okoa Maisha. Members of the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC) were going there to find out atrocities that were committed to the community and they approached Mirriam because they needed someone who comes from the community, speaks the language and who is a counselor.
‘My work was to support the victims when they shared their experiences’ Mirriam says.
‘We listened to the atrocities that were committed to the people and my heart was so broken’ she continues ‘I could not imagine a community, one tribe slaughtering each other in that manner just because of land.’
From public meetings to private meetings, heartbreak after heartbreak, tears after tears the people narrated what they had gone through.
After the hearings, Mirriam was touched and she wondered how to help.
‘As a Christian I thought, something must be done with the word of God’ she told herself.
As she thought of what to do, and with a background as a teacher the thing that dropped in her heart was ‘save the children, save the next generation’.
‘I realized that we might not be able to do much with the grown-ups, but if we can talk to the children and change their worldview, maybe they will not have a reason of slaughtering one another because they will have the fear of God in their hearts’ Mirriam thought.
Mirriam also learnt that people in Mt. Elgon had rejected missionaries when they came there to preach the gospel there for the very first time.
‘They were told to go down to the Luhya land which they did, and you find that where they went there was light, because the word of God is light’ says Mirriam.
And that is how Mt. Elgon was left in darkness depending on Laibonis and Orgoiks for sacred matters. Now people go down to Luhya land to seek healthcare and good education in schools and hospitals, most of which were build by the missionaries.
Mirriam thought that ‘if we can start with the children when they are young and give the right values, teach them to respect life, people and God, then they will grow up with those values and they will not do the things we saw between 2006-2008.’
Deliberation, preparation and planning took about 3 years from her visit to Mt. Elgon with TJRC and finally in 2013 she was ready to break the ground.
Mirriam shared her vision with her church in Nairobi, then went to Mt. Elgon to meet the local pastors to seek their support.
‘The pastors were very receptive, very happy, they said they have a gap in children ministry in their churches’ Mirriam recalls.
‘What can we do to help?’ they asked
Mirriam asked for their Sunday school teachers to train.
That training happened in October 2013 and then in December of the same the first DVBS was held at Kapsokwony Primary School. Mirriam appreciates the school leadership for giving the premises for free and supporting the DVBS fully.
‘The first day we had about 300 children, who went on and told others and they kept coming more and more. By the end of the week we had a huge explosion of children, about 1200 of them’ Mirriam remembers.
‘It was very wonderful’ Mirriam exclaims.
From that time Mirriam and her team have held the DVBS every year, because they have seen the fruits and the changes in the lives of the children.
For the DVBS children who have grown are now teenagers, Mirriam is planning for a teens week starting 2019 so that they can be discipled and grounded in the word and work of God.
I wanted to know if Mirriam had dealt with children in any other way before Mt. Elgon DVBS.
‘I am a retired primary school teacher, I had seen the impact of the DVBS in the children in the city, including my own children who are serving God up to now, I realized that it was a very effective tool’ says Mirriam adding that she figured that if the DVBS worked in the city it would probably work in Mt. Elgon.
Mirriam is always in the company of children, she loves them, she missed them so much in retirement that she decided to start a day care.
Walk of faith
Mt. Elgon children ministries depends on charity, there are no official sponsors. Citam missions office has been very supportive of the DVBS since the first year. Other people support here and there to meet the budget. The expenses are mainly training for the local Sunday school teachers, upkeep and transport for the team, materials, snacks and gifts for the children, lunch and snacks for the local teachers.
In the DVBS 2018 the money was just enough to cover all the expenses, Mirriam says. She compares it to the woman who kept pouring oil and as long as there was need the oil never stopped flowing. It was same money as every year, but this time there was no debt, no frustration.
‘I learnt that when it comes to God’s work you are not supposed to fret, just trust God because it is His work and he will provide. He stretched the money, we saw a miracle’ Mirriam is assured.
And the budget is about to get bigger as the DBVS moves to the other divisions of Mt. Elgon.
‘My desire is to first do a training for the Sunday school teachers in the other divisions, give them bibles and materials for every Sunday, do that every Sunday throughout the year the word of God is talk to the children’ Miriam says.
For Mirriam its been walk of faith especially in the past two years. She missed 2017 DVBS because she was in India undergoing treatment. And in 2018 she was admitted for 10 days and discharged a week before the DVBS started.
‘According to the doctor, I was supposed to sit and raise my leg since it was still swollen, and the infection had not cleared’ she says.
She was not sure whether she will make it to Mt. Elgon. Her partner in service Agnes insisted that she has to go. Thankfully God provided a vehicle through one of the team members which picked her from her house in Nairobi up to Kapsokwony and back. The brother would also ferry her from where she was staying to the DVBS venue daily.
‘How did it feel like missing 2017 DVBS?’ I asked.
‘It was a lesson for me, I kept pushing the doctors in India to finish the treatment before December so that I can go home for the DVBS’ she answers.
Because of Mirriam’s age the treatment could not be fast-tracked. There were moments of panic for her and also for the pastors on the ground.
Should we cancel? they asked.
‘If it is my work you can cancel but if its God’s work then it has to go on’ was Mirriam’s response to them. ‘I told them to take charge because it’s not about me.’
Captained by Agnes the team took charge and DVBS 2017 was held successfully.
‘I kept on praying and communicating with the team and getting daily updates, but it wasn’t pleasant not to be there, I felt it, but God wanted to show me that His work can continue without me’ she concludes.
If you love the work that Mt. Elgon children ministries is doing, be sure to reach out to Mirriam (+254722693293) or Agnes (+245721920868) to encourage them and also to support in any way you can.
You can also visit the website https://mtelgonchildrenministries.com/
God bless you.