This is a country of contrasts. Turning off the ‘Nairobi super highway’ onto ordinary roads which may or may be tarmacked, you need to watch out for potholes lest they wreck your suspension. Minibuses known as matatu provide local transport. Passengers are packed in like sardines, often hanging out of the open door is the conductor whose main task seems to be pushing in yet more passengers.
Driving through town to St Andrew’s Cathedral to renew the covenant between our three dioceses and for me to preach at a gathering of the diocesan clergy, we passed lines of street vendors, people sitting patiently at the roadside selling their wares: vegetables, watermelon, brightly-coloured clothes. There are shopping malls for the middle-classes where you can eat at KFC in comfort. Meanwhile in other communities the so-called shops are no more than shacks with a room tucked behind where the family lives.
It is difficult to know how to define poverty. I’m told that even the poorest families will borrow many times their income to have a television. Mobile phones are essential for everyday life here, not simply for communication but for paying bills, finding work and access to the internet. In terms of technology Kenya leads the world in mobile money – sending money via the mobile phone, giving capacity to those who would not otherwise have access to financial services. Kenya, like many African countries relies heavily on mobile telephones rather than landlines as the infrastructure for the latter is poor.
Bishop Julius summons his clergy to the cathedral once a month for teaching, fellowship and reflection. There are 99 of them, of whom (amazingly) only three are in their 60s. The vast majority, both men and women, are in their 30s and 40s. This is a young country and their energy reflects it. The average age of the British population is 40 and of our congregations in the Church of England 62.3. The average age of the Kenyan population is 19. Yet another contrast.
This afternoon the bishop invited a specialist from St Paul’s University to address us on the state of Christian-Muslim relations in Kenya. I was shocked to learn from Bishop Julius that the majority of churches in his diocese now employ a guard to protect the congregation(s) from the threat of suicide bombers. Al Shabab has burnt out three churches in the area and he takes his duty of protecting the flock of Christ with utmost seriousness. But security measures need to go hand-in-hand with dialogue and building friendship across religious divides and indeed tribal divides. Conversations required in Thika are no different to what is required in England if we are to live in peace as brothers and sisters in one world, under the sovereignty of the one God who hates nothing that he has made and loves all his children.