The Africa Inland Church (AIC) Missionary College in Eldoret, Kenya, is dedicated to training cross-cultural church planters for Africa. It was opened in 1986 at the request of the AIC (the church founded by the Africa Inland Mission), for the purpose of cross-cultural training for pastors and their wives. It began with three expatriate couples and one Kenyan couple on staff. Twenty years later, the school is headed by Rev. Ally K. Chepkwony, who, along with his wife Ruth, was in the first graduating class. The staff also includes two expatriate couples, a single person, and two Kenyan couples.
Although Kenya is very much a “reached” nation and is strategically placed with (in spite of recent events): (1) a relatively stable economy and government that welcomes missionaries and (2) a population that is high in English speakers, over twenty tribal communities remain unreached due to challenges of Islam and/or remoteness and nomadism. To the northwest in Sudan, there is presently an open door where numerous unreached tribes await the gospel.
The missionary college has over 250 graduates. Over fifty percent of these people are in cross-cultural ministries. The AIC has great untapped potential, as there are well over one million members in Kenya. Our goal is to encourage the mobilization of the Church in Kenya (including all evangelical denominations) to make Kenya a powerful missionary-sending nation.
Currently, the program at the college is at diploma and certificate levels and is designed for those who have a diploma from Bible school and two years of ministry experience. Many students have only an eighth grade education before attending Bible school. Student families live in duplex clusters, where they cook for themselves. When students come from mixed communities, they begin to experience cultural differences with one another.
The college is located in the breadbasket of Kenya, and over fifty percent of the income is generated within the college itself from its farm, dairy cattle, and small conference center. About twenty-five percent is from student fees. The remaining income is from donations, most of which are from within Kenya.
The school year follows the Kenyan school system and begins in January. Each term is twelve weeks, and there are three terms in a year. The students spend the first four terms on campus and are taught key subjects such as:
- cultural anthropology,
- missionary family life,
- cross-cultural church planting,
- chronological Bible storying, and
- anguage learning.
Other subjects include:
- health and first aid,
- dryland agriculture,
- community development, and
- practical courses for survival in remote areas.
In addition, there are various week-long seminars for other practical topics.
Term Out: Experiences in a Cross-cultural Environment
The highlight of the program is the 5-month “Term Out” experience. Students go as a family to a cross-cultural environment to either help a fledgling church or to plant a new one. They are placed at the request of the AIC administrative units with the understanding that the region or district will follow up the new church plant. They must also provide housing for the students by either renting an existing house or building a structure that is typical of the people of the area.
If the missionary family has children, they are assigned near a public school. The educational level in these areas is usually very low, and parents are encouraged to help their children keep up with their studies.
During Term Out, the students do research on the social organization, leadership patterns, community development, and history of the area. They begin to learn the local language and evangelize by storying the gospel from creation to the ascension of Christ.
They start discipleship as people are converted and keep daily journals and send weekly reports to the college. Staff members visit them once a month to encourage them and help them with writing up their data.
After the Term Out, students return to the college for one term to debrief with staff and to record and analyze what they have experienced. Graduation culminates the 2-year program. The missionaries then apply to their churches to be sent out as missionaries. Since sending missionaries from Africa is still a new idea in Kenya, graduates may spend as many as two years pastoring while raising mission awareness in their home areas.
Immersed in Cross-cultural Training
The strength of the missionary college program is that students are immersed in a strong cross-cultural emphasis. Many people—both African and non-African—are surprised that Africans need this cross-cultural training. However, when one considers the persistence of tribalism in Africa today—and the differences between African cultures and the animosity that exists—it is obvious this perspective is greatly needed. It should also be remembered that almost every African nation has many different tribes—Kenya alone has over forty distinct ethnic groups.
People tend to look down on those outside their group, and when they plant churches, it seems “right” to them that these churches must look and act like their own home church instead of allowing a contextualized church of the host culture. Furthermore, there are many in Kenya who consider Muslims to be unreachable.
Challenge #1: Mission organizations sending out graduates do not require them to do rigorous research and language learning of their new host audiences. Without the explicit expectation that they will learn the language and culture to contextualize the gospel, the new missionaries often fall back into their old ethnocentric ways. There is also the tendency in remote areas to attract people of their own tribe (who may be there either as employees of the government or as non-governmental organizations) instead of taking the intentional step to reach the dominant people group of the area.
The AIC Missionary Board (AICMB) has now sent three graduate families to work with TIMO (Training In Ministry Outreach) teams with AIM. The TIMO program sends their teams to unreached areas with a team leader to mentor and guide them for two years. They follow a curriculum in the field that is similar to that of our college, starting with a language and culture learning module, followed by modules in spiritual warfare, cross-cultural evangelism and discipleship, and storying.
The missionary college students have both learned from and taught their expatriate co-workers on these teams about doing missions. It is the goal of AICMB that Kenyans who have gone through the TIMO program will develop a Kenyan-based TIMO program in the near future.
Although the TIMO teams lead a very simplified lifestyle that is close to the living standard of the local people, the Kenyan AICMB leaders believe that Kenyan teams could live even more simply and inexpensively.
Challenge #2: There is a slow rate of producing missionaries and a low number of students. Classes in recent years have averaged about ten students, including wives. The number of Kenyans desiring to be missionaries is low. Furthermore, Kenyans with higher education who could learn the material more quickly must also give up potential worldly success.
As staff of the missionary college, we recently read a book that has made us think about how to train church planters more effectively: Breaking Tradition to Accomplish Vision: Training Leaders for a Church-Planting Movement: A Case from India by Dr. Paul (Bobby) Gupta and Dr. Sherwood Lingenfelter.1 We are now looking for more creative training models.
Challenge #3: The Kenyan Church struggles to follow the Western model of supporting missionaries. Although the Church should continue to learn to give sacrificially for the support of missions, the financial resources in Kenya will not be able to support enough church planters for the task that needs to be done.
How can this support bottleneck be overcome? Another book has helped us see a way through: The Final Chapter of World Missions: Releasing the Hosts of the 11th Hour by Beat Jost.2 According to Jost, tentmaking is one obvious solution.
What We Are Working Toward
We are challenging Christians in Kenyan civil service (particularly in education and health care) to request assignments in remote, unreached (and undesirable) areas of the country. Our part would be to provide in-service training for them in cross-cultural church planting. This training would consist of short courses, and we believe that they would be even more effective if taught in regional centers of unreached areas such as in northern Kenya or in Sudan.
There is an urgent need for trainers. We are looking for AIC Missionary College graduates with the potential to be future teaching staff. Students often tell us that they benefit most from teachers who have experienced the rigors of missionary life and raised their families as missionaries.
We are also seeking to network with other groups who are now doing missionary training in Africa or other non-Western countries. Our founder networked with the founder of Nigeria Evangelical Missionary Institute in the 1980s, and we have benefitted from the textbooks their staff have written. AIM in Chad sent a Chadian couple to AICMC in the 1990s who have since run a missionary training center in that country with the goal of reaching the unreached communities in northern Chad. We look forward to interacting with others about indigenous training as a result of this article.
1. 2006. Winona Lake, Indiana, USA: BMH Books
2. 2005. Pasadena, California, USA: William Carey Library.