The Rev. Michael Fonner and Leslie Weed-Fonner have recently become ELCA missionaries in Kenya. Michael is the new pastor of the Nairobi International Lutheran Congregation. Here are some of their thoughts from a recent newsletter. To support Michael and Leslie, or another of the ELCA’s over 200 missionaries, go to www.ELCA.org/missionarysponsorship.
The Nairobi International Lutheran Congregation serves the international and Kenyan community in Nairobi. There are two services, one in English and the other in Kiswahili, the Kenyan national language. Both services are well attended and have wonderful, lively music and sometimes dancing.
The English language service draws from Tanzanian, Cameroonian, Eritrean, Ethiopian, South Sudanese and American, among other communities of Nairobi as well as many Kenyans. The Kiswahili service attracts residents from the local community as well as Kenyans from the greater Nairobi area. One of the highlights of each Sunday is the number of children who gather for the children’s sermon, a blessing, and then attend Sunday school. This is true in both English and Kiswahili worships.
As we have been settling in, we have been visiting members in their homes; some homes are very nice and some are quite humble. All members have been hospitable — chai (tea), snacks, and meals have been offered and enjoyed! We have been struck that no matter how small the home, there is always a place for several people to sit, chat, eat, enjoy each other’s company and pray. Often neighbors and extended family members join us.
We are learning about the lives, families, hopes and struggles of the members of our congregation. A number of our members have attended university and are accomplished in their fields. Some members have lived or studied overseas and have family members who still live overseas. At the same time many of our members live in small quarters with no electricity and no running water; some work at daily jobs and others are unemployed. These disparities are true not only in our congregation, but throughout Nairobi and Kenya. We are learning from members what they think contributes to these disparities and how they affect the congregation as a whole.
Mike and I talk about a ministry of presence here — being present, listening, learning and looking ahead together with members. We are appreciative of the hospitality, openness and sharing of our members as we get to know each other and think about our future together.