The outbreak of Coronavirus that is rapidly spreading all over the world has worried many. Most people on earth today have never faced such an existential threat as they are now, hence panicking. To make matters worse we are not sure to what extent the disease will spread both locally and globally or even when an effective cure or a vaccine will be readily available. As we watch the events unfold, one thing that is evident is that the world as it is today is not a premium place to live, and the idea that the world is not our home is reinforced even further.
This is a world of pain and suffering evidently proved by a major share of problems and dangers we have experienced just within the first quarter of the year 2020, including: global and national conflicts, locusts invasion in Kenya and other parts of East Africa, political fights, earthquakes, and now the current outbreak of Corona Virus disease. It feels like the world is no longer a safe place to live.
A world of plagues
What we should put in mind is that this is neither the first nor the last time the world will face an existential threat in form of a disease.
Just slightly over 100 years ago, the Spanish Flu swept through the world, infecting about 500 million people (or 25% of the world population then). While the world was way much different than it is now in terms of globalization, the Flu was able to make its way around the world fueled by the First World War, with cases reported even here in Kenya.
Back in the 14th Century, The Black Death swept through Asia and Europe and it should be the deadliest pandemic ever reported. In Europe, it is estimated that it caused deaths of 30 – 60% of the entire population.
Going back earlier to the 3rd Century, a pandemic swept through the Roman Empire in the years 249-262 AD, christened the Plague of Cyprian after the Bishop of Carthage who witnessed and documented the plague, it is not clear what it could have been, and at some point, it was causing more than 5,000 deaths every day in Rome!
There are many more plagues that have taken place. Here in Africa, we may not have a good record of how things were in the Congo basin in the year 1020, but we know from stories and folklore that humanity has often faced similar threats to COVID-19.
Responding to COVID-19
If COVID-19 makes human beings recognize that they are under threat from millions of viruses that exist on earth but have not jumped into the human body yet, then, in some way, it is reminding us of a vital reality; we are nothing without God. The world today needs hope, and it is found in God alone.
God wants to use you and me to bring that hope to the world. We can use this moment to offer a lasting hope that is pegged not on material things or anything that can perish, but on God. This pain and suffering should move people to turn to God. In the Bible, we see people turning to God whenever a calamity struck (book of Judges).
It would be wise for those who have never considered the Christian world view to now give it a chance. As C.S Lewis puts it, “Pain is God’s megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” This COVID-19 pandemic has compelled us to reflect more about death and eternity.
The Big Picture
The world is fallen, but in the end, God has promised to make everything new once again. Not just in the future, but starting from now. He has called us to be part of his grand plan to restore the world back to him, and this is an ongoing plan which we are part of as believers, and will culminate in the glorious day when Christ’s reign will be restored.
I concur with CS Lewis when he says that “Our world today is an enemy-occupied territory.” and that “Christianity is the story of how the rightful king has landed; you might say landed in disguise, and is calling us to take part in a great campaign of sabotage.”
As we sabotage the work of the enemy and his agents, we should expect that the enemy will fight back. We should, therefore, act in wisdom, seizing every moment for the glory of God (Eph 5:15-16). As believers in the marketplace and institutions of higher learning, we need to be responsive and act. We need to show people how the Gospel is relevant to the questions they are asking. We must do it with gentleness and love. We must be on the frontline, as ambassadors of Christ especially when circumstances call for urgency to share hope in the Good News of our Lord and Savior.
“August 7th, 2018, we left our motherland for a 10-month exchange program in Norway that would see us participate in student ministry work with the Norwegian International Fellowship of Evangelical Students movement called LAGET. The Norwegian word ‘laget’ means team. We got to Oslo; Norway’s capital on the morning of 8th August 2018 and were treated to a very pleasant surprise of meeting a Kenyan working at the airport. He helped us know our way around the busy Gardermoen airport.
On arrival at Kristiansand, we were received by 3 trainees from HALD Internasjonale Senter. This would be our home for 6 weeks as we take a course in Cross-Cultural Communication and International Work. HALD is without a doubt a multi-cultural haven, with students and volunteers from across the world.
We continue to make the most out of the rather rare opportunities to share the gospel. We met a Kenyan man who lives near HALD. He has lived here for about 6 years. Besides getting to share the gospel with him, we were glad to benefit from his hospitality which included the much-missed Kenyan food- pilau. He has taken time off his busy schedule and dropped by HALD several times to check on us. Even though he has heard the gospel, he has not believed it yet and we hope to keep sharing it with him and praying for him. We also share the gospel in many small talks we have with students here at HALD. Caleb, for instance, had a rare opportunity of hiking with two students who shared their story with him.
We had a gospel conversation with another student who grew up in a Christian family but later decided to be agnostic. By God’s grace, we were able to put meaning to many of the questions he asked, notably, the authenticity of the Bible. We agreed he would think about the perfect sacrifice of Christ on the cross and hopefully, start reading the Bible together. He is going on exchange to Uganda though, we hope this will be possible despite the distance. Pray for utterance for us as we seek to make known the mystery of the gospel and for him, that God would be pleased to draw him to Christ for salvation.
The context of Christianity is a bit different from that one at home. The stand of many Christians on some critical discipleship questions is interesting, at times worrying. We settled at being intentionally available in the common places and have conversations with our fellow students. Pray for us, that these opportunities will bear fruit.
On Friday 28th September, we moved to Bergen, a city on the southwestern coast of Norway where we are working with LAGET for 6 months. We are putting in efforts in introducing the work of LAGET to immigrant/international churches with the aim of having as many youths as possible participating in LAGET programs especially at school.” Caleb Lemayain and Ancent Mutua are the immediate former STEM SM staff. We continue to pray for strength as Ancent and Caleb continue with their mission in Norway.
FOCUS Leadership development strategy is strengthened by several partnerships with like-minded organizations. The Norwegian Christian Student Ministry (NKSS) is one of those organization that has enriched FOCUS Kenya’s work through an exchange program that has existed for 20 years. Through the partnership, At least 40 participants from Kenya have gone through the training in Norway with the same number of Norwegians in Kenya.
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“Sweet hour of prayer, Sweet hour of prayer…” When I think of this hymn, I find immense joy as being drawn nearer to God and reminded of prayer.
Many Christians testify of the answered prayers more than those yet to be answered. Well, I testify of an unanswered prayer for I have faith that God will surely answer in the fullness of time. I have been praying and trusting God for healing for a long time. I have had back pain since 2016, which rendered me immobile sometimes. At other times, the pain would not allow me to sit through a lecture. I yearned to honour God so I continued praying. However, with time, I grew weary of praying and resolved not to pray anymore for I felt that God had heard enough from me.
However, my resolve did not work as I found myself still praying for healing. I had not given up on God, so I chose to be persistent in prayer. I got reminded of the all-powerful God through His word: reading and meditating on it. Going through my journals reminded me of God’s faithfulness and got me motivated to continue praying. I constantly share my journey with my close friends who are always praying with me spurring me to hold on.
I have witnessed God’s faithfulness. The back pains have now subsided, and I can sit through a lecture unlike before. It has been a long journey but I still trust God for total healing. I’m certain that my full healing is underway, I’ll still hold on. The Lord is faithful, and though it tarries it will surely come to pass.
This experience has taught me to be steadfast in prayer; opening up to Him and finding satisfaction in Him. I find fulfilment in praying for others suffering from long-term illness. But the greatest lesson of all is learning how to exalt God amidst suffering. His name is Emmanuel: God with us, and even in our sufferings, He’s with us.
By Mercy Lena Nekesa Sunguti, Karatina University
The events of April 2nd 2015 in Garrisa University College when terrorists attacked the Christian Students will forever be engraved in the hearts of many, particularly those who experienced them first hand. The healing process for the students has not been an easy journey for them, and those around them too. FOCUS has continued to walk with the students, supporting their healing. Together with the students, FOCUS led by the Deputy National Director and the North Rift Region staff held a thanksgiving service on the 27th July 2018 at the Moi University-Main Campus to celebrate God’s faithfulness.
The students’ counsellor, Mary Magugu recalled the day the students arrived at the campus to continue with their academic journey. It was a day filled not only with mixed emotions and feelings of doubt but with hope too. The students joined Moi University wounded; mentally and physically, and ahead of them was a long journey towards healing. Three years later, the first group of finalists completes their studies. They leave the university better, more optimistic about life and what the future holds for them. Many attest that the journey towards healing has not been an easy one, but God has been and is faithful. He brought His people to walk with the students on their journey, sharing in their pain, and struggles.
On this day, the 27th of July 2018, the survivors celebrated God’s faithfulness. Their songs of thanksgiving, tears of joy culminated into infectious smiles and hopeful laughter. They have risen up despite the pain and aches and won against anger, nightmares, feelings of forgiveness and painful flashbacks … all not easy. ‘Every struggle that comes our way should make us stronger and more resilient.’ As Ms Magugu would assert during the meeting.
Our desire is that these students will continue to testify of God’s faithfulness. To help appreciate the past offer a considered appraisal of the present and an informed march into the future, FOCUS published a book recounting the events of the day and aftermath of the Garissa University College attack, When the Sparrows Fell. You can obtain a copy of the book from the FOCUS bookstall. We continue to pray with the survivors and the families of the sparrows that fell and for the Nation that God may bring about an enduring peace.
In the past decade, 1st of March would find most of the public university students revising for their end-of-second-semester exams. Soon after, the first year students would enjoy a four months’ recess while the senior students would be busy in their industrial attachment. Such stories sound like old tales to the current crop of varsity learners. For two years in a row, the university students have been subjected hugely to disrupted learning. Consequently, students on campus have been like sheep without a shepherd because of the ongoing University Lecturers’ strike. Cumulatively, University learning halted for 142 days and counting for the past one and half years.
It is now a blame game between the government and the dons. As they say, when two bulls fight, it is the grass that suffers. In the case of the perpetual lecturers’ strikes, the university students have become the highest casualties. Their agony ranges from uncertainty, fear, financial strain, emotional torture, to despair. The parents and guardians of these students bear the pain and the painful effects as well.
According to an online survey conducted among students in Fellowship of Christian Unions with a few outliers who are likely to complete a four-year course in six or seven years, nearly half of the students will complete their university education at least a year later than the anticipated time.
The implications of these strikes are graver than the face value effects frequently discussed on the media. To begin with, many students have expressed fear on when they will ever complete school. Most of the universities so far have never issued memos for closing the universities, even when learning is not happening. This makes the students be in conflict whether to go home or stay on campus. Therefore, students have been forced to spend “money for upkeep in school without any serious learning going on. The assumption is that students are in session!” laments a student at Moi University College of Health Science. His pain is shared across the board by the university students. The confusion among students is compounded by misrepresentation of the reality. For example, recently, a memo was issued by the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (Main Campus), informing the students that lectures were to resume on Monday 16th April 2018. Some of the students who had traveled home had to come back to the university only to find the issue of strike fully unresolved.
The stress levels as a result of these uncertainties are on the rise. Many students live on the little pocket money provided by their parents or guardians. Others hardly have enough resources for the semester, let alone paying for an extra month beyond the semester. A number of the students have admitted undergoing psychological torture: “It is frustrating, being that it is our final year of school and now it might not even be. I wonder what my purpose is if I can’t even finish school and graduate in time and start pursuing my dreams!” a bewildered student at the University of Nairobi wonders. To this end, besides the infamous “return-to-work formula” UASU should agitate for a strengthened counseling department in the Universities to debrief the students when normalcy is resumed. This article may not highlight some vices resulting from the idle and stressed students, but if the social media is anything to go by, revelry among the students might be the “interim university curriculum.” Once, when some students were interviewed on national television over the issue of strike, many echoed the phrase, “an idle mind is the devil’s workshop”, pointing to the psychological and social implications of such prolonged disruptions. The prolonged strike may lead to production of “half-baked” graduates. Already, there is debate on the quality of our education. The disruptions might as well entrench the claim of minimum standards in implementation of education.
From history, the universities have tended to adopt the crash program to mitigate against time lost due to disruptions. Adopting a crash program by itself flies in the face of certain standards. For example, it downplays the ideals in learning with regard to contact hours, learning activities, assignments, and research. Each learning activity is supposed to build upon another within a specified period. When the learning momentum is interfered with, the desired learning goal is distorted.
Many students interviewed agree that it is always challenging to gain momentum once the learning tempo has been slowed down. Unfortunately, under the prevailing circumstances, the lecturers and the students alike will be concerned about passing the exams more than anything else. At times lecturers have casually responded to students concerns over uncovered syllabi with “do not worry about that, it won’t be covered in the exams” attitude. Those running photocopying businesses are likely to enjoy a boom, thanks to the many handouts and past papers likely to be recommended by the lecturers. With that kind of teaching, we are not likely to restore confidence in our education.
Economically, we shall never recover the loss. “The strike is a waste of time. For example, some students have other siblings still in primary or secondary school and the parents have always kept in mind the day their son or daughter would graduate to give way for the young ones, but due to the strike, the time increases,” a student from Moi University Annex narrates. Students could have lost career opportunities such as scholarships, internships, industrial attachments, and possible employment.
Resources have been wasted as a result of the strikes. Let us make some reserved estimation of house rent and food that has gone to waste. In 2017 and 2018 alone, cumulatively, at least four months have been lost. The average expenditure for a student on rent, food and upkeep are Ksh. 7000-10000. Considering the current university population of at least 500, 000 students, approximately, Ksh. 14-20 Billion has gone to waste on rent and food alone; money enough to build 60 of the just-completed Ultra-Modern Eye and Dental Centre at Tenwek Hospital. Or better still money enough to pay the lecturers and have change!
It is unfair for the students and parents when the dons will go smiling all the way to the bank yet no one is talking about compensating the other affected stakeholders. Of course, it is not possible to recover time lost; time cannot be renewed unless NATO discovers a way to rotate the earth anti-clockwise to reverse time. Extending the semester’s dates is not recovering the time lost. That is why we need to move away from the industrial strikes; they only lead to unrecoverable losses. Could it be time we went the United Kingdom way, where University Students Union Leaders demanded compensation for the wasted resources?(https://www.theguardian.com/higher-education-network/2018/feb/07/students-demand-compensation-from-universities-over-lecturer-strikes).
Luckily, some students have taken advantage of the time to develop in other skills. Some have enrolled in short courses while others have considered part-time jobs. A number of them are enjoying quality time with their parents and friends. A few are taking a breather from the otherwise busy academic schedule to read other materials other than academically related work. However, these are the minority of the student’s population.
Business cannot be as usual when learning is paralyzed in our institutions of higher learning. This could be the surest way of destroying Kenya. If a lasting solution is not found, we are in for trouble. More stray surgeries are on the way; and more buildings and bridges are yet to collapse if a solution is not found soon. Let us arrest the situation before we get to the point of no return. The government together with UASU must listen and act. Everyone must rise towards finding a lasting solution because the effects though invisible now, will affect everyone.
BY LUCIA KATILE: A student of Karatina University
Does the Lord speak? It was at Ezra Conference 2016 held at Kabarak University organized by FOCUS Kenya I got an opportunity to interact more with the Lord through the Word of the Lord and prayer. It has taken me a couple of months requesting God for peace of the heart but during this conference on 30th December 2016 during the seminar, Inner healing, the Lord spoke to my situation.
Anngladys Gichuhi, the facilitator of the seminar handled it in a way that I felt she was really talking to me. The seminar was meant for me specifically and as she was speaking I could hear the voice of the Lord saying, “Daughter your sorrow has turned into joy, your mourning has come to an end,” in my heart I was troubled until the end of the seminar when I had to do nothing else but rush to the prayer room with tears I asked God to confirm this. When I came out of the prayer room I had peace than I had requested God. I felt that my heart was healed I knew that my past was gone and the Lord has given me a new beginning.
My lack of peace began after a series of events which burned in my life and I felt that I had no reason to live. I loved to be alone and when around friends I could just make a lot of note jokes and keep on laughing that no one could understand what I was going through. I slept most of the time because I thought my bed could give me comfort and it understood me better than human beings could, sometimes I could think about committing suicide because I the thought that live had no meaning to me but I thank the Lord because He is my comforter.
I thank God because of Anngladys Gichuhi because of making an impact in my life. May the Lord bless you and increase your boundaries. I’m also grateful to FOCUS Kenya for organizing this great conference. It has made a great impact in my life. I have seen the purpose for me to live and not only living, but standing out as Micah did in his time. my desire is that I will study the law of the Lord, practice it and teach it (Ezra 7:10).
I have learnt that mourning may endure for a night but joy will forever come in the morning. The Lord has taught me to be patient and stand still. Let us all keep your trust in the Lord but not in men (Jer. 13:7-8). The Lord understands our hearts.
Thank you God, thank you FOCUS Kenya.