I was there because every Sunday as part of their programme, KIPE hosts the St Sebastian Community, a Christian group which worships at 12noon to 1pm every Sunday. The service is held in the open air under awnings, centred on a table with a lighted red candle. This morning, over 35 people were present for the service.
Fred Odinga is an Anglican who worships at his local church before coming to KIPE to lead the St Sebastian service. Fred is a university student, gay, 22 years old, and is one of the most remarkable of many remarkable people I have met this week. His father, now deceased, was an Anglican priest, but was very homophobic. Fred has been a peer counsellor and human rights defender since the age of 17, but it wasn’t until he was 19 that he realised he is gay. He is confident, praying “to be the head and not the tail” and is playing a leading role in transforming the lives of LGBTI people in Kisumu. Michael Kimindu, Daniel from NYAWEK, Fred and myself have spent 2 hours since the lunch following the service concluded, sharing stories and ideas and discussing how the spiritual health of LGBTI people here can be nurtured and enhanced.
The service follows a set pattern every Sunday, with an introduction and song, a period of sharing news and experiences from the week (and today, finance and safety were issues for many), leading into a Bible reading and what is effectively a sermon from Fred. Today he had chosen Mark 1.40-end, Jesus healing the leper. He drew out comparisons in the story between Jesus’ encounter with the leper and the experience of LGBTI people. It was one of the most profound examples of biblical exegesis and exposition of the gospel that I have heard. People at St John’s Devizes and across the UK would be astonished that a man of such young years could preach to a group of 35 LGBTI people with such wisdom and authority.
He invited people to contribute their own reflections, often naming people as an encouragement for them to speak. Those who contributed added their own layers of wisdom, often from personal experience.
More songs were sung, and during a time of prayerful reflection, people came forward to light a candle and pray openly for particular issues. The service concluded by saying the Lord’s Prayer together and then standing and holding hands while we said the community prayer together and exchanged the peace. An hour and a half had passed and as soon as we had finished, platefuls of food were being produced.
God is blessing this part of Africa with leaders, mostly local at the moment, who are blessed with great wisdom and self-knowledge and a confidence to engage their own LGBTI community and the wider community in which they live with great confidence and an ability to lead and inspire.
I feel more and more that a corner has been turned. The Anglican Communion now has to engage with local LGBTI Christians who are unafraid and unapologetic of their identity, not only in Kenya but across Africa. The more significant development here in Kisumu is that at the workshop on Friday morning, the doors of the church were opened to the LGBTI community.
Fred’s activist experience
After the service, Fred told us that in February two gay men had been murdered in Kisumu by a mob and Victor, another HIV+ gay man, had hanged himself. At the local polytechnic, a student had been murdered in the local guest house at Kondele.
He has also been involved with the police on several occasions and Dan reported that there is now an LGBTI violations desk at the local police station following education and sensitization. Prior to that, the local CID had been tracing and prosecuting people thought to be gay via Facebook.
One gay man went to Kakamega to meet someone he had dated on Facebook. On arrival 3 men who turned out to be police officers met him. They arrested and handcuffed him, took him to the police station and then sent him to the local prison. In prison he was sexually abused by police officers, prison guards and other prisoners. Fred went to the police in Kakamega with bail money, acted as the man’s guardian and secured his release. There were more stories of this kind.
The abuse and murder of gay men in Kenya happens because the churches, and the Anglican Church in particular, preached hatred and prejudice against LGBTI people. My encounters in Kenya have shown me that the anti-gay teaching and preaching has to stop, wherever it comes from (and I’m thinking of those who claim to be open orthodox conservatives. There is now no alternative to a radical change of teaching in the Anglican Communion, and if the House of Bishop’s group which is about to begin its work fails to propose radical reform, they will be contributing the homophobic murder and abuse of gay Kenyans.