Walter Rutto is CEO of Transformational Compassion Network (TCN). He explains why the local church is best placed to work alongside rural Kenyan communities to address sensitive cultural issues and gender-based violence and promote sustainable development.
Transmara South sub-County is a part of Narok County. Located towards the south of the Great Rift Valley in Kenya, it is home to Maasai, Kalenjin, Gusii and Kuira ethnic groups. It is an area famous for its wildlife and rich cultural heritage. Traditional culture in rural Transmara remains deep rooted. Rhythmic music and call-and-response songs echo under the guidance of a song-leader. Boys are sent out with the calves and lambs as soon as they can walk.
Several ethnic groups here continue to practice circumcision on young boys and girls as a rite of passage into adulthood.
In Maasai villages, for example, young men and women undergo ‘emorata’ when they come of age. Girls experience female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) as part of an elaborate ritual before entering early arranged marriages. Boys must endure the operation in silence or be shamed.
Men normally take several wives. Traditionally, when a woman gets married, it is understood that she has also married the other men in her husband’s generational group as well as her husband.
Across Transmara, we estimate that there are more than 30 different church denominations and networks ranging from the older Anglican and Catholic churches to new indigenous local groups and congregations.
The local church is the best place to address the challenges facing young people in this part of Kenya. Churches are where young girls shelter and seek protection especially during ‘circumcision season’ in early December. Girls prefer church-run safe houses to those run and funded by international organisations. Despite the church’s poverty, the girls know and trust Christian leaders. Only pastors have the power of persuasion needed to facilitate reconciliation between rescued girls and their families.
Although pastors have the spiritual authority to tackle FGM/C in local village communities, few have received higher education or proper theological training. Most, especially those serving in smaller church networks, dropped out of formal education before even finishing primary school.
At TCN, we are working in partnership with the Kenya Highlands Evangelical University and Kaboson Pastors’ Training College to support rural pastors across Transmara. The training is giving pastors Bible knowledge and is equipping them to think theologically about their culture. We believe that the Bible in the hands of a well-trained pastor is the key tool that is needed to address damaging practices like FGM/C.
Climate change is making rainfall less predictable and less frequent. This and overgrazing mean the economic outlook is challenging. It has led to ethnic conflict, cattle rustling and land disputes. We therefore also train pastors as peacemakers and teach them to lead sustainable development projects that reduce environmental degradation and improve food security. We never lecture but use a ‘flipped classroom’ approach where learning is achieved through discovery, discussion and reflection.
Thank you for supporting TCN as we work together to empower leaders for community transformation in Transmara.
”My pastor called the people from here and told them there was a kid he was bringing whose father wants her to get circumcised, but she doesn’t want… I slept at the pastor’s place. The next morning… he took me to a certain office and registered me. There was a file he filled, so he talked with the people of this rescue centre and we came.17 year old girl from Narok County.Quote from Population Council report ‘Tracing Change in FGM/C’, December 2018. Church leaders play a key role in facilitating rescue from FGM/C and reconciliation between rescued girls and their families.
Give thanks for Walter Rutto and the work of TCN in rural Kenya. Pray for him as he works to support the mission of local churches and equip village pastors.
Pray for local village pastors working to protect girls and young women from FGM/C. Pray that God would strengthen them and protect girls at risk.