Resonate’s Peterson Wang’ombe works for social and spiritual renewal in Kenya
In Kenya, the Prosperity Gospel is a “heresy that attracts poor people,” Pastor Dr. Wang’ombe says, “but it doesn’t base its plan on any work ethic. Rather it tells people to pray and just wait for results. Worse, it exploits the poor by requiring them to ‘plant seeds,’ [which] really means, ‘give to enrich a few leaders.’ We need to give hope to oppressed people who need to see biblically sound values of God’s Kingdom in practice.”
For 17 years Resonate Global Mission has been developing “Transformational Network” (TN) ministries in large urban centres across North America and overseas. These networks link various national Christian organizations in order to train pastors, teachers, community organizers and more. Originally begun by North American missionaries, in recent years national directors have taken the reins for these “Centers for Transformational Ministry” in Guatemala City, Managua, Santo Domingo and Nairobi, to name a few.
Recently, Dr. Peterson Waihura Wang’ombe, a Kenyan, became the first national directly employed by Resonate for network development in Nairobi. Peterson comes to his new position after a variety of training and work.
Peterson Waihura Wang’ombe in church in Nairobi, Kenya.
He was born in a village of 500 people near Mount Kenya. Wang’ombe means “cattle owner” in the Kikuyu language. True to their name, Peterson’s family of seven siblings and their single mother kept a few sheep and goats. As second eldest, Peterson helped support the family by working on farms in the region. Becoming a Christian as a teenager, he later graduated in 1988 as a veterinarian from the University of Nairobi. After working for two years as a vet, he moved to Nairobi, eventually becoming chair of Fellowship of Christian Unions (FOCUS), the local chapter of the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students (IFES), known in North America as InterVarsity Christian Fellowship.
While attending IFES’s 1987 World Assembly in Bogota, Colombia, Peterson saw presentations of black and white South Africans and Palestinians and Jews working together. This form of fellowship across ethnic and racial lines profoundly impacted his life.
“Then and there I saw God’s hand in my life pushing me into Christian ministry.” He currently serves half-time as Pastor of Deliverance Church in Nairobi and half-time with Resonate, while also in Calvin Seminary’s distance Master of Divinity program. In early March while in Burlington, Dr. Wang’ombe gave the following interview to James Dekker.
Christian Courier: Peterson, how did you become associated with the Christian Reformed Church and Resonate?
Peterson Waihura Wang’ombe: This is the latest job in my pastoral calling. I’ve been pastor of Deliverance Church for 14 years. Several years ago my current supervisor, Dr. Mwaya Wa Kitavi, came to church one Sunday but then disappeared. Later, after some church shopping, he and his wife Munyiva returned and became members. Soon he invited me to visit his workplace, where he introduced me to Timothy Leadership Training [TLT, the international organization training Christian leaders and pastors].
CC: How did that introduction bear fruit?
Wang’ombe: I immediately was impressed and took TLT’s various modules, which I then introduced to our congregation. In addition, our church has organized GEMS and BEMS (Boys Everywhere Meeting the Saviour) instead of Cadets; that sounds too military. We’ve also established The School of Preaching, an offshoot of TLT’s Biblical Preaching module. We invite leaders and preachers to this seminar. This year Calvin Seminary’s Scott Hoezee will teach “Preaching through the Gospels.”
CC: How did you become involved with Transformational Networks?
Wang’ombe: After Joel Huyser and Mike Ribbens – from South Africa – visited, Mwaya declared that we needed TN in Nairobi. Nairobi has much wealth, but [also] some of the world’s largest poverty-ridden slums, such as Kibera and Mathare. Sixty percent of their residents live below the poverty line. It needs the social and spiritual renewal that TN offers.
CC: Why did you decide to work in Nairobi?
Wang’ombe: It’s fast-growing metropolitan area of 6.5 million people. As well, it’s a business hub and hosts the UN Environmental Programme. All in all, it’s a relatively peaceful entry point to East Africa.
CC: What are some key ideas behind TN Nairobi?
Wang’ombe: We seek to develop support networks of people serving the city. We identify people of good will and Christian leaders around issues to help people deal with poverty, conflict resolution, prostitution, crime and more to develop civil leadership and political action for the glory of God and the good of people. For example, in environmental stewardship, we look for people in government and encourage them to set policy and develop programs to produce safe water, a clean environment.
CC: Please describe the biblical and theological foundations of your work.
Wang’ombe: In the letter to the exiles that Jeremiah writes in chapter 29, the Lord promises, “If the city prospers, you too will prosper.” As well, we take seriously God’s final response to Jonah in 4:29, “Should I not be concerned about that great city Nineveh?” We imagine, “What would the Kingdom of God look like in this city now?” As we seek shalom for the city, we yearn to develop our motto “Nairobi – A City Famous for God.” As a starting point, we recently published “The Social-Spiritual Status of the City of Nairobi.” We seek to create a healthy gospel environment to enhance spiritual renewal with contextualized mission. Tim Keller’s book Center Church is our guiding text.
CC: How do you build a “network of networks”?
Wang’ombe: No one can do this alone. With our surveys, we identify churches – Anglican, Presbyterian, Catholic and fast-growing independent congregations – and seek members and people of good will in governmental organizations interested in making positive changes and rally them around each other.
CC: Is there rivalry among churches?
Wang’ombe: Not so much rivalry as lack of communication and connection, as we found in our study. We want to help existing churches work with each other. For example, if two churches are around the corner from each other, we look for projects in which to cooperate, not work independently.
CC: What are your biggest challenges?
Wang’ombe: Church disunity is the biggest. If we can overcome that, the cooperative work will blossom. Ethnic identity and tribalism are also two large social obstacles. These tie closely to political and church leadership, as most leaders favour their own ethnic backgrounds. So our goals are healing and reconciliation.
Also in relation to poverty, it’s necessary to change peoples’ attitudes from one of perpetual poverty to one of potential abundance. We have seen mismanagement and corruption by agencies and national leaders. Africa has many resources such as oil and gemstones that have been ripped off by partners from the West.
CC: Have you faced opposition?
Wang’ombe: No, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we would. When we deal with governance and corruption, we’re threatening a source of illicit living for some. That’s why we like to work alongside people of good will as well as Christians in government agencies, but they are few. We aim to follow Tim Keller’s Center Church model in which he encourages establishing a “tipping point.” That point is reached when the percentage of Christians in leadership and influence in government reach the same proportion as in the general population.