Church takes up role of initiating youth to adulthood
By Kirubi Maina and Boniface Gikandi ("The Standard," December 7, 2008)
Nairobi, Kenya - As Mungiki recruits youths to its ranks in Central Province, churches have gone a step ahead to win hearts of young people.
Across the province, denominations have organised boys in groups, with church elders and priests offering counselling sessions.
In Murang’a, church elders say the move is aimed at keeping boys away from the notorious Mungiki gangs, which have been recruiting children.
As soon as schools close, parents surrender their children to churches, which take them for circumcision and guidance sessions in church compounds and schools.
Most of the boys sat their Kenya Certificate of Primary Education examinations.
"The church is no longer a place where people only go for worship on Sundays. It is now a home to the youth," says Mr Eston Wahome, caretaker of 87 boy initiates at St Mary’s Immaculate Catholic Church, Nyahururu.
Church leaders reckon that parents are too busy to find time for their children.
In traditional African setting, circumcision marked initiation into adulthood.
Boys were taken to camps and advised on life skills. That is no longer the case.
"We are trying to fill the gap," says Mr Harun Ngere, the Nyahururu Presbyterian Church of East Africa (PCEA) moderator.
Ngere says that with modernity gripping society, the church has stood up to ensure the cultural gap is filled and morality ensured.
"We offer topics important to the growing child," says Mr Martin Njenga, the parish priest in charge of Ngarua Holy Family Catholic Church, Kinamba, in Laikipia West District.
In Murang’a, some leaders, who asked not to be named, said they wanted to save boys from joining Mungiki.
The area is the epicentre of Mungiki, and students in primary and secondary schools are said to have been forced to join the sect.
The Rev Arthur Mwangi of Anglican Church, Kahuhia, said the sessions are informative.
Mwangi, who is also the principal of Kamacharia Secondary School in Mathioya, says he counsels on HIV at Shalom Centre which has 75 boys drawn from the district.
Another preacher, the Rev Timothy Gichere of Kahuhia ACK Church says the church has taken the lead to save the youth.
"Most parents have much work load due to high cost of living and have little time for their children. The church has to fill the gap," he said.
Mr James Mburu, whose son, Gerald Mugo, is at Shalom, says this is the best thing that ever happened to the youth.
Another parent, Ms Margaret Njoki, said the services were in high demand, and parents book early for vacancies.
Mr Absalom Githinji, a caretaker in charge of 18 initiates at the Nyahururu AIC church, says spiritual initiation is given precedence as the boys are moulded to fear the Lord and respect their parents.
Ngere, the Nyahururu PCEA moderator, says the effects of urbanisation have made the church seek an alternative form of initiation.