If the Spirit of God himself truly lives in us born-again believers, shouldn’t our impact in this world be tremendous? These are the thoughts of Founder and Director of New Dawn Educational Centre, Irene Tongoi. “We, the Church, are barely scratch¬ing the surface in our impact on this world,” she adds.
Over 20 years ago, Irene Tongoi served alongside her husband, Dennis Tongoi, who was then the Director of The Naviga¬tors-Kenya. She noticed that the Kenyan church had received a gospel that wasn’t whole. All that congregants were charged to do was grow in their personal spiritual journey as they await the streets of gold on-high. Many preachers taught salvation as a means to heaven. Period. There was nothing much to do with living out that salvation here on earth. She points out Isaiah 61:1–11 and Isaiah 58: 1 -8 as clear scriptures with this earthly mandate. She admits that she too focused a lot of her energies in having campus Bible-studies and quiet times with new believers and felt it was sufficient. She was safe reaching out to intellectuals. After so many prayer meetings and working so hard leading Bible Studies and raising others to lead Bible Studies for so many years, she admits that she and Dennis were disillusioned. Surely this was not the whole of God’s agenda for His world!
It wasn’t until she attended what has now become known as a Vision Conference in the year 2000, that she really woke up to the work that God was calling her to. The Vision Conference consists of materials written by two men, Darrow Miller and Bob Moffitt. Darrow Miller’s thrust is The Creation Mandate (Genesis 1&2) and Bob’s burning passion is to awaken every local church to its full potential as God’s development agent that addresses the bro¬kenness that plagues the world due to sin’s impact. Jesus’ own development as recorded in Luke 2:52: “And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in fa¬vour with God and man.” (NIV) is the blueprint for individuals, families and nations. This truth came alive to Irene so powerfully when she realised that as a member of her local church Karura Commu¬nity Chapel in Runda, they were God’s tool for the development of communities around them. How were these four areas of human development of Huruma/Githog¬oro informal settlements in Run¬da’s vicinity to be addressed? She wondered why Jesus’ own life had so much more to it while here on Earth while the core of the lives of the poor in these informal set¬tlements were hopeless even after hearing the Good News preached by the Church: “Be saved and go to heaven!” What about the here and now? How and when was their poverty (mental, physical so¬cial & spiritual) and dungeon-like existence going to be addressed?
“Many people do not understand God’s whole agenda,” Irene says. “His growth in wisdom, stature and favour with man were aspects needed for his life on earth. I came to realize that if I was lacking growth in many of these four areas, I needed a change-agent; some¬one who would help me develop in these areas. Between now and heaven- here on earth- God has an agenda for our lives. That is to do the works He prepared in advance for us to do according to Ephesians 2:8-10. Becoming Christ-like is to be fitted, furnished and equipped for the works prepared for us in ad¬vance. There is work to do here on Earth; that is why Jesus taught us to pray ‘Your will be done on Earth as it is in heaven.’ The Church is to be a regent of God in His World which is currently broken by sin. God’s will on earth will be enforced as it is in heaven only if the church car¬ries out its Creation mandate. The church is God’s only tool for trans¬forming the brokenness within and around it. After all, doesn’t the Church have all she needs ac¬cording to 2 Peter 1:3 “His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and vir¬tue.”(NKJV)?”
Of the four aspects in Luke 2:52, none had more discomforting impact for Irene as the social as¬pect. Her focus in ministry had been the upper-class women in society; both in Eldoret and Nai¬robi where they served with The Navigators. She enjoyed the high teas and classy get-togethers. Meanwhile, her husband Dennis was comfortable reaching out to the materially poor whom he in¬vited freely to their home when they lived in Eldoret. Irene now laughs as she admits she couldn’t stand the idea of how the poor people had not been her kind. Didn’t they make her Western toilet dirty and her carpets muddy? They couldn’t speak proper English and they were always so needy and they did not fit in her social-class mould! They were to blame for being poor, she believed.
They moved back to Nairobi in 1995 and became a part of the Karura Community Chapel (church plant of The Nairobi Chapel), in the lush Runda. The LORD was not done with Irene. At Karura, the very poor people in society started attending their church. It was as if they were haunting her. When the Women’s Ministry in Karura Community Chap¬el was compelled by the plight of the poor women in the neighbourhood who attended their services, they planned a visit to Huruma Village. Irene joined the visit begrudgingly. She says she parked her nice car a long distance off, fearing any potential theft. On that day she saw human beings, made in God’s image living in absolute squalid conditions. The mothers spoke of their children’s inability to access Secondary education due to lack of money. Their sons and husbands wasted away in illicit brewing activities and consumption. The LORD asked her, “What is in your hand?” Irene explains that God uses what is in our hand and may take us out of the familiar. He did that with Moses, Daniel and Paul among others while using what they already had. It was here that the LORD revealed to her that her idea of being relevant in ministry and thereby interact¬ing only with “her kind” was a mask for exclusivity; locking out the people God is burdened for while concentrating our efforts in our comfort zone. It hit her hard that the dogs in the leafy estates she preferred to minis¬ter in were full but the human children in the nearby slums were starving.
The LORD slowly began to change Irene’s heart. She be¬gan to see the materially poor not as social misfits but rather as precious people- God’s im¬age bearers! She left her comfortable ministry and went out to respond to the women in the Huruma in¬formal settlement to whom her heart went out. With the support of a local congregation known as the In¬ter Christian Church Denomination (ICCD) and the local Catholic congregation, she started educating about 80 youth (ages 14 to 30) in the church halls. When the churches could not contain the students, Irene worked to get plots of land in the Village and erected The New Dawn Educational Centre using steel shipping containers. New Dawn Educational Centre was birthed. Over time, the local brewery dens ran out of business because the local youth were now focused on education. The adults had a chance out of poverty because hope was re-ignit-ed and men and women sought employment in the vicinity. Irene didn’t solicit for donor support; do¬nors found her working there using what she had. Parents paid whatever little in form of school fees (initially they were required to pay KES. 300 per term). The children now have a stepping stone out of poverty. The parents’ conditions have gradually changed too. Hope for generations has been inspired by the presence of New Dawn Educational Centre where discipleship is part of the offerings. The com¬munity has changed. The road that was once littered with drunk men and women now has the very men rising up looking for work to do.
We visited New Dawn and witnessed its great growth over the years. The school has its own farm and even supplies the local Muthaiga Mini Market. The centre has employed many locals who now earn a living. When we visited, students from Ross¬lyn High School were at the school in the Huruma Village painting walls, cooking meals and helping in the cleaning. Rosslyn, a school that one would undoubtedly say is for the rich, has its students in¬teracting seamlessly with New Dawn students, who are from the poor of the poor. The students at New Dawn school not only receive healthy and plenty of spiritual nourishment but holistic disciple¬ship that focuses on all the facets of Luke 2:52. The sixth Core val¬ue of The Navigators-Kenya is “The dignity and value of every person.” The poor, of whom Jesus said will always be with us, have dignity and value. This Core value is being actualized in an exempla¬ry way by one Christian who ac¬cepted to leave the comfort zone, believing that the Body of Christ is God’s tool for transformation. If one in the army of God can route a slum for the Kingdom of Heaven, how much more can the entire Body of Christ in our nation do? The Kingdom heroes must rise!