From grass to grace
The Most Rev Benjamin Nzimbi’s humility, compassion and service to others is founded on his humble beginnings. Interestingly as he goes about his work, his wife is permanently by his side and this has earned the couple the nickname ‘the inseparables’, writes NICHOLAS ASEGO.
The Most Reverend Benjamin Nzimbi, the Primate and Archbishop of Anglican Church
|Archbishop Nzimbi says his wife Alice’s constant presence by his side is a sign of a true marriage. [PHOTOs: Mbugua Kibera/Standard]|
of Kenya (ACK) has created a profile that will linger on long after he has left the ACK hierarchy.
To many people, the Bishop of All Saints Cathedral is a man of many faces. His voice was full of pain and compassion when he joined other clergymen in calling for peace following chaos that rocked the country after the disputed national elections early this year.
Yet, he was forthright and uncompromising when he stated the church’s stand against the ordination of gay bishops in the church. He has never shied away from calling on the Government officials to be more accountable in discharging their services to the citizenry.
Yet away from the glare of the cameras and the pulpit, Nzimbi, is a simple man, who loves eating fish and ugali with his hands, forget modern cutlery.
This, he says is how people ought to see him.
“I’m just a simple evangelist, called by the Lord to serve his people in the community and church,” he says with a disarming smile.
Born to Paul Nzimbi Munuve and Martha Ndili at Kanuti village in Ithookwe Sub-location, Tunguti Location in Kitui District in 1945, Nzimbi’s early life was one characterised by simplicity and compassion for others.
“We were eight children and there was never enough to eat. We lived in a simple shelter and everything around us showed struggle,” he recalls.
As a result of these struggles in his formative years, Nzimbi came to appreciate what it meant to be poor.
“I knew what it meant to sleep on the cold floor or on sacks on good days, walking barefoot the whole day, struggling with jiggers and with lice.”
Despite the hardships, one thing that his evangelist father taught them was the value of serving others and sharing whatever they had with others, however, little. Though the Bible encouraged the love for others as oneself there were times when Nzimbi felt that his father loved others more than his family.
Value of education
He recalls one day, his father had bought flour for the family’s supper. On his way home, he met a woman who had nothing for her family. Touched by her plight he surrendered the flour.
“Martha, I have seen another family that was more needy,” he told his wife when he got home.
Right from an early stage, the family learnt the importance of God’s word and the value education.
“We were taught that education was one of the ways in which we would improve the economic and social status of our family,” he says.
Throughout his years at Ithookwe Primary, Mulutu Intermediate and Kitui Secondary schools, Nzimbi was consumed by a desire to succeed and lift up the status of his family. He wanted to follow in the footsteps of one of his brothers who had proceeded on to Makerere.
He later joined Kenyatta University where he graduated with a bachelors degree in education in the early 1970s with majors in religion and Kiswahili. He was then posted as lecturer at Machakos Teachers Training College.
It was here that the call of God to serve His people tugged at his heart. He was then trained and ordained as the college chaplain.
“I was made in charge of the Christian Union meetings and college services and fellowships,” he recalls.
He was also in charge of Bible studies.
This was in addition to his teaching responsibilities at the college, where he was the dean of students and head of social studies.
At this time his heart was torn between teaching and church work, both of which he loved. However, church service won the battle for his heart and Nzimbi resigned his teaching job to join full time ministry.
Training for priesthood
His decision opened the door for many firsts in his life. When he left teaching, he studied priesthood at the Trinity and St Francis College in Karen in 1984 before he was elected as the first bishop of the new Machakos See.
Nzimbi served as a bishop in Machakos for 10 years before he was sent to Kitui, a new diocese, becoming its first bishop in 1995. In 2002, he was elected the fourth archbishop of the ACK.
Married to Alice Kavula, the couple have five children. He is full of praise for his wife.
“She has been my pillar in the course of my work which can be very demanding.”
A teacher by profession, Alice was forced to resign and join her husband in the ministry.
“She worked with women groups, helping to train them in organising a homestead, governance, and health matters,” he says.
However, after six years, she resigned in 1994 to help her husband and take care of their children. She has since been by his side everywhere he goes, earning them the nickname ‘the inseparables’, something he has no qualms about.
“This to me is what makes a true marriage,” he says happily.
Three of their children are married and the Nzimbis have two grandchildren. The grandchildren, interestingly named Benzi (Benjamin Nzimbi) and Alika (Alice Kavula), remain the joy of the couple in their twilight years.
For the last five years, the family has been gathering for ‘Special Mondays’, a weekly dinner date.
“We have several courses in a posh affair complete with napkins and cutlery,” Nzimbi says of the expensive venture he has no problems with.
“The madam caters for the financial aspect of it,” he says with a smile.
During the dinner they discuss matters that affect the family and it is also a time to know what every member of the family has been up to.
One thing that Nzimbi would want to be remembered for, however, is his simplicity.
“I want to be looked at as the man who was most accessible and could be approached easily especially by the poor,” he says.
His desire is to continue working with the less privileged in the society and this is why he is involved in teaching the people in Ukambani how to harvest water and make water tanks.
His tireless efforts to serve his community have seen him receive many awards as well as serve on many boards and commissions.
“I’m not bragging, but last month I was made the President of the Church Army Africa, an organisation of Anglican evangelists, missionaries and pioneering change agents seeking to transform Africa through the power of the Gospel,” he says with humility.
Early this year, he was awarded Doctor of Divinity in recognition of his work in the church by Nashotah Seminary, Wisconsin, USA.
Locally, Nzimbi has not been short of awards, in 2006, he was the recipient of the prestigious Moran of the Burning Spear (MBS) award because of his work relating to HIV and Aids in Kenya and beyond.
“I’m currently the chairman of the HIV/Aids committee that covers over 10 countries in Eastern Africa as well as a member of the Commission on HIV/Aids and Governance in Africa,” he adds.
Nzimbi has been at the forefront on matters on education and this has made him a member of various educational boards.
“I’m the chairman of St Paul’s University Council as well as a Council member at Kenyatta University (KU) and Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT),” he says.
Back home in Kitui, he is working closely with the University campus of Kitui, which is under KU and has started a library in Kitui town.
“Recently we donated four tonnes of books to the library,” he adds.
Nzimbi, who is also the chairman of Kitui Secondary School, wants to help build a girls’ school in the area. “Though I support many schools, I’m biased towards Archbishop Nzimbi Secondary School in Kitui,” he says with a light touch.
A church’s hoarse voice
Nzimbi acknowledges that there was a time that Church was regarded as a force to be reckoned with. Things, however, have changed but this is not because the church has failed, he states.
“During the one party system, the regime enjoyed total power. The only opposition was the church,” he says. This changed with the advent of the multi-party democracy leaving the church with little to talk about,” he explains.
Hence, today the church still champions matters on morality and shares advocacy with the civil society.
The church, he acknowledges, has suffered from the onslaught of modernism and the wind of change has been impossible to ignore.
“The church can no longer afford to be rigid. For example, today we allow dancing, playing of instruments and rap music. This was never done before,” he notes.
While decrying the declining level of morality in the society, Nzimbi believes that this can be arrested by the use of a proper school curriculum to include spirituality.
“This will add onto certain values that are healthy for the society,” he says.
The society, and especially the church, needs moral re-armament of sorts.
“Gone are the days when serving God was a divine calling, today many look at it as a finance making venture,” he says with concern.
This, he believes, is the drive behind the emergence of the ‘gospel of prosperity’
Refernce to The Standard