Nairobi — In the early years of the 20th century, different denominations were locked in rivalry in their quest to win souls in Africa.
Bishop Nathan Kamolo Ngala founder of the African Brotherhood Church, which he led for 65 years. Photo/BOB ODALO
Missionaries often created "no-go zones" in which preachers from other denominations were not allowed to venture.
These battles did not go down well with Mr Nathan Kamolo Ngala. At the time, he was in his twenties and wondered why the different churches were fighting against one another yet all were Christians.
In those days, areas "conquered" by the Salvation Army became no-go zones for Catholics or the African Church Mission. The "strongholds" of these churches too were also not open to their rivals.
In 1930s, Mr Ngala met a group of like-minded Christians who came up with an idea of forming a gathering of believers opposed to the wrangling and the missionaries' tactics.
This led to the birth the Akamba Christian Brotherhood.
In 1945, this movement was transformed into a church - the African Brotherhood Church - with its headquarters in Mitaboni location, Kathiani division of Machakos District.
At 65 years, it is today among the oldest indigenous churches in Kenya, with more than 1.5 million followers in East Africa.
Sadly, the man who founded the church died last week aged 100 years.
Bishop Nathan Ngala died on Monday night at 11.00 pm after leading the church for 65 years and serving as bishop for 55 years. At the time of his death, he was oldest church leader in Kenya.
The bishop had been ailing for a few years and last year the church appointed his deputy, the Rev Timothy Ndambuki, to steer the church.
"The last few weeks were trying for the bishop, he struggled to live but when his condition deteriorated he was admitted to the Shalom hospital," said Mr Sam Mutisya, who has worked for many years as a development manager for the church's social wing.
One last sigh
The bishop's minder, Mr Mutisya Kithuku, said the clergyman died in his sleep. "He had difficulties breathing, then he breathed one last sigh and he was gone," he said.
In past interviews with the Nation, Bishop Ngala said: "My urge and desire was to encourage people to employ their own initiatives in managing their affairs, leading to self reliance, hence improve their standards of living". According to him, the church was committed to supporting the disadvantaged in the society.
Bishop Ngala, who is survived by a widow and seven children, had achieved most of his dreams by the time of his death. Today, the contribution of his church is visible in many aspects of life especially in Ukambani where its influence has continued to thrive.
The church has contributed to the pursuit of the Millennium Development Goals in line with Government policies.
"The initiatives are seen in the field of education, health, food security, HIV and Aids, micro-credit, disaster management, skills development and church leadership development among others," said the church's secretary-general, Mr Daniel Yumbya.
The church leader had been on an official engagement in Uganda but flew back to Kenya last week for a special governing council meeting in Machakos.
The meeting resolved that the Rev Timothy Ndambuki should take over the church leadership with immediate effect.
"This has been done to ensure that there is no leadership gap. The Constitution of the church was followed and all present endorsed the move," Mr Yumbya said.
At present, the church has about 1.5 million followers in 670 congregations. Besides Ukambani, it has other branches at the Coast, Nairobi, Central, Rift Valley and Western provinces. It also has 15 outreach and missions stations in Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Born in 1897 in Mukaa Location, Kilome division, Makueni District, Bishop Ngala engaged in small businesses before joining the then Ukamba Bible Institute for a three-year course in theology.
Christians who interacted with him described him as a charismatic, selfless and visionary churchman.
Today the brotherhood church sponsors six Bible colleges, 175 nursery schools, 52 primary and 54 secondary schools with 8,980 students. It also has 30 polytechnics, four special unit schools and 12 health centres and clinics.
The church has a development partnership with the Canadian Baptist Ministries and the Canadian International Development Agency.
Together, they run a host of successful programmes on water development, food security, environmental conservation and disaster management and mitigation.
Other programmes jointly run by the three bodies include a micro-credit scheme to improve business ownership and skills development for employment creation.
Among the prominent members of the church are Cabinet minister Joseph Munyao, who once said the ABC headquarters in Machakos was his Vatican; retired chief of general staff Jackson Mulinge and assistant minister Peter Kyalo Kaindi among many others.
President Kibaki visited the church's headquarters in 2005 and was impressed by its social projects. He directed the minister for Lands to give the church five acres of land.
On December 15, 2000, the Carey Theological College conferred Bishop Ngala with an honorary Doctor in Divinity degree in recognition of his contribution to society.
The following citation was read to the congregation in Nairobi during the presentation: "To the glory of God and in response to our Lord Saviour, you have served faithfully the church of Jesus Christ. The call of the living God on your life was responded to by willingly undertaking the leadership within the body of Christ, His church.
"Your life-long commitment of the education and equipping of leaders for the church should not be understated... This spirit of self help and self direction forged strength for the Africa Brotherhood Church. Yet, at the same time, you have always had openness to new ideas, to modernisation and to improving the welfare of the individual all for the Glory of God...."