On 4th March 2022, 8 days before the start of the DVBS in Mt. Elgon, we gathered at Mama Mirriam’s place to discuss the planning progress. There was palpable anxiety and uncertainty in the room. Sentences were short, responses were measured and updates on the points of action were unsurely muttered. Everyone was thinking about one thing but no one had the courage to say it. Would the DVBS happen or not?
Earlier that week, mama Mirriam, the founder of Mt. Elgon Children ministries had come straight from the prayer mountain and got admitted in hospital. She was feeling weak and dizzy but on investigating no specific illness was found.
At the same time, we were struggling to raise funds. Out of a budget of Kshs. 250,000, we only had 20,000 in the account. And we only had a week to go. The primary sponsors of the DVBS over the years, a church in Nairobi, were not going to assist this time. A combination of bad timing, leadership changes, lack of proper information and covid made that impossible. Typically, they would cover 50-60% of the budget and the rest would come from other institutions and individuals. And they would do it early enough.
But this time we were riding with less than 10% of the budget a week to the event with no visible source of a significant amount of money to make us believe the DVBS would happen. We had not held the VBS in 2020 and 2021 due to covid. We had moved the event from the usual first week of December to March due to the school calendar and prices of almost everything had shot up.
“Do we cancel? Do we postpone?” we finally asked ourselves.
About a month and a half earlier, Mama Mirriam and I had travelled to Mt. Elgon to meet with the local officials. We assembled at a church and laid out plans for the DVBS and Sunday school teachers training. We went to the bank and applied for an Mpesa paybill number so that it can be easier for people to give. We set the ground on motion and came back, worked on a poster and started circulating it.
In 2022 my family and I started going to a new church and we found the Pastor was hammering on about audacious faith based on the book of Joshua. The series had started in January and one of the Sundays in February, he was preaching from Chapter 13 where Joshua spoke to the sun to stand still until they had prevailed over their enemies.
As he was delivering the sermon, accompanied by well-timed humorous injections, he asked a question. “What is your bold prayer for 2022?” He asked again and gave us some time to think about it and write down somewhere. You know that prayer that if God answers, it’s because he has answered and not because of your connections. Those prayers that have no plan Bs, no backdoors and no ideas of how they will happen. Those bold prayers that go beyond our intellect, plans, connections, abilities, knowledge, wisdom and everything we can boast of. Prayers that can only be answered by God.
For the sun to stop, God had to intervene. Joshua couldn’t have done that, although now we know through science that it’s the earth that stopped and not the sun.
I sat there thinking about my bold prayer for 2022. Two came to mind. The first one is personal and the second one was about Mt. Elgon.
The earlier Sunday, the pastor had preached from the passage where children of Israel went around Jericho for 7 days looking like a bunch of hypnotized minions at the behest of a conniving leader. When they were finally instructed to shout on the 7th day, the walls of Jericho came down.
The point of that sermon was that faith is always followed by an action. It’s not faith until you move.
So, I had a bold prayer and I had instruction to do something. I interpreted my ‘faith action’ as letting everyone know about the work in Mt. Elgon. I shared the poster with friends and groups. I wrote emails to juice and bread manufacturers asking for their support. I wrote to churches and organizations that could support us. I called and followed up every week. Other officials were also doing the same.
The result was, 20k in the account 8 days to the event, numerous pledges and a number of ‘next time we will support’.
On that Friday 4th March as we met and contemplated the next steps, I was not in doubt at all that the DVBS would happen. But I needed God to help my unbelief because nothing looked certain. When you are planning an event and there’s no money, it’s like boiling water and there’s no unga for Ugali. It’s like taking steps in the dark. That’s what that Friday felt like. We all agreed on action points but had no motivation to follow through.
On Saturday 5th March, I got a call from Agnes, our treasurer. A friend had sent Kshs. 50,000 through the paybill but as we talked Agnes had to cut the call to confirm that the SMS notification actually said 50,000 and not 5,000.
It was 50k and we were on. It was a perfect injection of life into our planning. We were excited, rejuvenated and we started making calls with more confidence. With 70k in the bank, our spirits were lifted and we knew the DVBS would happen.
The following week was crucial because we had to finalize all plans before the team travelled on Sunday 13th February. We reminded all those who had promised to support and reached out again to institutions and companies. And God surprised us in ways we didn’t imagine.
Excel chemicals gave us up to 15% discount on Quencher juice which was partly (20%) paid by a church.
Kevin Thaiya, one of the organizing members of our ministry helped us get a good discount on bread from Broadways which was paid off by one of our supporters, about Kshs. 40,000.
So, we had bread and juice for the kids.
Kevin’s safari group (home cell group) paid for all stationery. Citam Missions office paid for printing of teaching materials.
We got money for transporting the team to Mt. Elgon, accommodation and food.
Someone sponsored bananas for 1200 children on the last day of the DVBS.
Others sponsored transportation for about 40 children who were coming from Koshok, more than 10km away.
We were so blessed that after the DVBS, we blessed 5 local officials and 20 local teachers with a small amount of money. And we had about 10k remaining in the account.
But the biggest blessing was the impact that we saw. It was beautiful in a way that you just have to be there to experience. Children have a way of bringing out the authentic and the best in us. Being in their presence for 5 days can be physically draining but extremely fulfilling. On the last day, they were lingering around, not wanting to go home, asking why the program couldn’t be longer and when we would come back again.
And it was because of the teachers and helpers. They were exceptional. They were superb. We paired the local teachers with those from Nairobi so each class had both.
I would walk around the classes and find teachers with blackboards full of drawings and illustrations, another one would be focusing on that one child who wasn’t coloring their craft right. Another would be carrying a child who was crying for an older sibling.
They were careful, methodical and really wanted to give their best to the children. There was no following them around. Everyone understood the assignment and they executed it to the best of their ability. The children caught that energy and it made learning easier.
Sometimes you go on a mission with whiners, busy bodies, people out for their own good, who want to do things their own way and complain at the slightest inconvenience. They make you dispense unnecessary energy. Avoid those people.
Thinking more about it, the team was an answered prayer. We had prayed for a team that would serve the children and we got just that.
Of course, it wasn’t all perfect and smooth, but even the bumpy parts were bearable because we were one team.
Mount Elgon Interdenominational Children Ministries was started in 2013. The founder, Mama Mirriam Wambugu Chemayek was part of the TJRC team that went to Mt. Elgon to investigate the atrocities that the SLDF (Sabaot Land Defence Force) and later KDF (Kenya Defence Force) had meted out on the population between 2006 and 2008.
She went as a counselor and an interpreter for the team. As she witnessed the suffering and heard first account stories from the victims, she was moved to do something about it. She came back to Nairobi, prayed over it, consulted her pastor and prayed some more. The Lord laid it in her heart to reach out to the children because they are the future of Mt. Elgon and can transform their generation.
And so, in 2013, the first program was born, the DVBS (Daily Vacation Bible School). It is a 5-day program targeted at primary school going children. They come in the morning at 8am, they have their parade and are arranged by class, they march into the hall, they have praise and worship, then dance, then they do memory work then they go to their respective classes. Each class requires at least two teachers. After their class they have snacks, then games/puppetry/film then a music and dance session then they go back to class for crafts for lower primary and lessons recaps/Q&A for upper classes.
We see feeding as an important part of our work because we know there are children who come hungry and it’s good when they get something to eat at the VBS.
It’s an intensive operation and managing over 1000 children is no small feat. This is why, over the years, the ministry has trained local workers to teach, help in classes and conduct other activities. In 2022 we had about 20 local teachers at the DVBS and about 15 helpers.
The ministry also trains Sunday school teachers and equips them with teaching materials in Mt. Elgon region. So far, pastors and teachers have been trained in Cheptais, Kaptama, Kapsokwony and an affiliate organization has done the same in Kopsiro.
We have also organized medical camps in Mt. Elgon and plan to do more this and the coming years.
Mama Mirriam believes that this ministry is an open door to bring other ministries and organizations to Mt. Elgon to serve the people, and not only children.
So far, we have partnered with Lina Medical services for the medical camps, One Hope and Awana for children’s workers and pastors training. These partnerships will enable us to cover more ministry ground in Mt. Elgon. This year we plan a longer, in-depth training for pastors and children workers. We will also train primary school teachers and equip them with materials for PPI.
We want Mt. Elgon children get structured Christian education in school through PPI and in the Sunday schools in their churches. The DVBS which happens once a year will be a culmination, a celebration of the great work done throughout the year.
In December 2022, we plan to hold the DVBS in Kapsokwony and Kaptama. That means we need about Kshs. 500,000. Yeah, we can dare dream and believe that it will happen, because we have seen that God at work before.