Would you be willing to stand up for a minority group that you weren’t a part of? What if it cost you your reputation? Your job? Maybe even your life?
In Nairobi we met with two extraordinary individuals, Reverend Michael Kimindu, and Reverend John Makokha who run Other Sheep Africa and Other Sheep Afrika-Kenya, respectively. They are two straight men, both with female partners and children, who feel called on a mission to fight religious based homophobia.
Rev Makokha tells us, “Our mission at Other Sheep is to hold educational awareness seminars. We sit down and dialogue with religious leaders looking at what the Bible says and doesn’t say about human sexuality. We also look at human rights, international statues, and our own constitution.” They work in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Zimbabwee, Burundi, and Rwanda.
Rev. Makokha tells us, “We know the danger is religion. Most of our religious leaders use the holy books, the Biblical and Koranic texts to clobber the LGBT community. Most of our LGBTI persons are living in the closet in fear, spiritually dead because of what they normally hear from religious leaders.”
Where does this hate come from? Rev. Makokha says, “The curriculum in theological schools [in East Africa] at undergraduate, masters, and doctorate levels is homophobic. It’s been designed by sponsors from the West, especially America. They are the ones who bring in the money and decide what is taught in these schools. The professors are teaching that being gay is an abomination.”
Speaking out against this teaching has come at great cost to both Reverands. Reverand Mokokha lost his congregation with the United Methodist church. Rev. Kimindu, an Anglican priest, became a target after the local newspaper named him the “Gay priest” after preaching a message of acceptance during the International Day Against Homophobia. The consequence? He says, “The archbishop though I was satanic, encouraging sin, and living in sin. He believed if you are a sympathizer with homosexuals, you must be one of them.”
After more than 25 years of service with the church, Rev. Kimindu (pictured right) lost his parish position, his 400 person congregation, and many friends. He tells us, “Even my landlord wanted to kick me out, saying that I was not a good person. I also received texts messages on my phone threatening to kill me and my family. They accused me of recruiting their children for homosexuality. I’ve become very lonely as others don’t want to be associated with me.”
So why continue on this work when these Reverends aren’t even gay? Rev. Kimindu did his training in the States where his first friend in the seminary happened to be a lesbian. He says, “History from other countries tells us that this is a struggle like any other struggle. Some people used the Bible to justify slavery and the exclusion of women. It’s only a matter of time, so I should not fear to be a pioneer.”
Rev. Makokha feels confident that Other Sheep makes a difference. He says, “We’re breaking the ice. We’re getting 30 people to sit around the table without throwing stones to dialogue about spirituality and faith.” They also have changed the lives of individuals, with one gay man living in their office after her church-attending parents kicked him out of the home. Makokha says, “We don’t want our office to turn into a safe house. But sometimes we receive cases that are beyond our imagination. We have no choice.”
Reverand Makakha founded Riruta Hope Community Church, an all inclusive church with a mixed congregation. Rev. Kimindu also has his own church geared toward LGBT members. He says, “Looking back, it was a blessing in disguise to lose my congregation. It gave me more time with the LGBT people. We came up with a MCC church [Metropolitan Community Church] here in Nairobi. We started meeting in my living room in 2007 and now meet at the GALCK center [Gay and Lesbian Coalition of Kenya].”
Jenni and I attend Rev. Kimndu’s service a the GALCK center on Sunday. Only one other person came. Kimindu tells us while as many as several hundred people have flowed through his congregation over the years, there are only usually 3-6 people who come weekly. We ask the other attendee, Sam, an educated and faithful 29-year old, how Rev. Kimindu has influenced his life. He tells us point blank, “I would have killed myself if I hadn’t met the Reverend. I saw the Rev’s picture in the newspaper and contacted him. When I met him, this was the beginning of the process of healing through the years of self-hate and depression.”
With such a rewarding impact on individuals, who needs a 400-person congregation? At the end of the day Rev. Kimindu feels satisfied with his ministry. He says, “Can the church outreach to these people? Yes. Would Jesus outreach to these people? Yes. If we can overcome religious based homophobia, the politicians would just fall into place.”
By Lisa on
Source – Out & Around