St. John's and a Connection to Kenya

by Christine Mortlock, minister to children and families

Since November, Eva Mdachi has been visiting her sister Sheila Mdachi, a longtime Roanoke resident and attendee of St. John’s. Eva returns to her home in Nairobi, Kenya, in March. They worship at either the 8 a.m. or 10 a.m. service, while Sheila’s son, Joshua, a first-grader at Roanoke Catholic, participates in St. John’s Sunday School.

During her stay, Eva is volunteering her time to help in our children and family ministry. The Fruits of the Spirit bulletin board on the third floor, with its bright and cheery bananas and lemons, calling for gentleness and kindness, bears Eva’s touch. Sheila, who trained at Eldoret Medical School and worked as a nurse in Kenya, works as a nurse’s aide at Catawba Hospital as she raises her three sons.

Eva and Sheila come from a family of 11 children. Their family is of the Kamba tribe, one of the five main tribes of Kenya’s 43 tribes, and they speak Kiswahili and English fluently, and speak a bit of Kikamba. Their maternal grandfather, Joel Katsivo, hailed from Mombasa, a coastal city in Kenya, and introduced the family to Christianity.

“He was sick for a while and he was almost dying,” says Eva, “and the missionary Johannes Rebmann treated him. They were using traditional herbs and Rebmann advised that they come to stay at the church in Jimba Rabai for medication and good nutrition. When he got well he decided he and his family will be Christian. That’s how he got converted.” Eva and Sheila’s father, James Muthoka Mdachi, a World War II veteran, also converted to Christianity as a young boy, although he grew up in the primarily Muslim town Mariakani near Mombasa.

The Christian church in Kenya began in 1844, when Dr. Krapf, a German Lutheran, was sent by Church Missionary Society (CMS) to Mombasa. The first Anglican service was more than 50 years later, in 1900 in Nairobi, held for railway officials from the Uganda Railway. Today the Anglican Church in Kenya, which works very closely with the government, has 37 dioceses. Kenya, a country of more than 48 million people, is 83 percent Christian and 11.2 percent Muslim. Eva says Muslims and Christians get along in Kenya. “There is a lot of intermarriage of Christians and Muslims in Kenya. We co-exist.” (A recent January attack by Al-Shabab in Nairobi was the work of an extremist group.)

Eva and Sheila were born within the same decade as Kenya’s independence, in 1963. Before independence, Kenya, a British colony, was marked by institutionalized racism, apparent in both transport and worship. Trains reserved first class for whites, second class for Asians and third class for blacks. White Anglicans and black Anglicans worshiped at separate churches; Eva’s church, which is predominantly black now, would not allow blacks to worship prior to independence. After independence, the first Kenyan president, President Jomo Kenyatta, promoted forgiveness to move the country forward.

In Nairobi, Eva worships at All Saints Cathedral, the archdeaconry of the diocese, a vibrant, large church that just celebrated its 100-year anniversary. It is building an expansive teen and children center, and maintains the largest organ in East Africa. It holds several services on Sundays, including Holy Communion, a teen service, a Kiswahili service, a deaf service and Evensong. They have eight ordained clergy, both men and women, trained at institutions such as University of Reading, U.K. and East Africa College. On average, 600 children and 6,000 adults worship every Sunday. The cathedral has a kindergarten and primary school and two parishes in the slum areas of Nairobi, and runs the St. Nicholas Home, which cares for neglected children.

Both Eva and Sheila’s hearts lie in outreach. Eva, after retiring from a career working for Micro-Finance Bank, helping women at a grassroots level with microfinance loans, now chairs evangelism and outreach at her church. She organizes missions within East Africa and she has also participated in missions in places like South Sudan and Congo.

“I feel I have a calling to work with refugees,” says Sheila. In Kenya, she worked as a nurse in a refugee camp in Mombasa. She ministered to a broken people from war-torn and drought-ridden Somalia and Ethiopia, many starving, separated from family members, some with bullet wounds, filled with grief and loss. “I feel like I am a messenger of a hope and bridge connecting people to resources in their community.” As someone who knows Kiswahili and has a master’s degree in emergency management, Sheila has particular gifts for working with refugees.

St. John’s feels like home to Eva and Sheila. Sheila says, “I love it.” Eva doesn’t find it too different from her church. The hymns from the Hymnal 1982, also used at Eva’s church, resonate with her. St. John’s recently sang “Crown Him with Many Crowns,” one of Eva’s favorites. Next time that you see Eva and Sheila in worship, please extend a warm welcome if you have not already!

Photo: Sheila (left) and Eva (right)

To learn more about All Saint’s Cathedral, Nairobi, please visit:

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