When Dr Agnes Abuom is done talking to you, you want to do either of two things; punch the air and scream, ‘we shall rise!’ Or sit in a quiet corner and ask yourself; ‘what’s my contribution to humanity?’
She comes bearing a resume with a wide girth. In 2013, she was elected by the World Council of Churches (WCC) 10th Assembly to serve as a moderator for the WCC Central Committee, the first woman and the first African in the position.
he was the African President for the WCC for seven years and has been associated with the All Africa Conference of Churches, National Council of Churches of Kenya and WCC member churches in Africa.
She has a Doctorate in Missiology and has worked in several African countries and abroad. She did a call interview with Jackson Biko recently.
What’s your ingredient of success? How does one get where you have?
(Pause) One needs to be clear in terms of what service they want to offer. What role do you want to play in your community to benefit people? Also, realising that you can’t do it alone and you have to be accountable. Have people who can uphold you in prayer. More importantly, remember that failure does not translate to inability. Draw lessons from that failure.
Be mindful of people who helped you climb up. One day you will climb down. Lastly, to hand over you have to mentor, do not go with your knowledge. Success is shared.
What have you learnt about the church all these years you have worked with it? Has the church changed?
I learnt during this Covid period of confinement that although we have always known that the church is also a family, knowing God and having a personal relationship with Him is important.
I went to a boarding school run by missionaries and we were taught that the church was a very holy place with holy things and people. But we soon realised that the church is made up of people who aren’t saints.
At the university, I was more leftist than most. People said, ‘you can’t mix politics and church.’ But I told them that I’m clear on my standing on justice, human dignity, and inclusivity.
What has changed notably is that the church has taken gender issues more seriously. Now we have women leaders in church than we had before.
If you were to make a sweeping statement would you say the church has gotten better or worse?
Both. In some situations, it’s better in others not so. There are situations where some churches have put money as a primary focus and in that context, the ministry of healing has been problematic. But also look at what’s happening in Asia. South Korea is sending the most number of missionaries into the world, overtaking North America and Europe.
What are you struggling with in your relationship with God?
(Laughs) Interesting question, I must say. (Pause) I’m struggling with understanding how certain structures of injustice that Christ Himself talks against are not resolving. In Luke 4: 18-20, Jesus said that his mission was to set captives free yet many captives, millions of them are still waiting for their justice.
In Amos 5:24, it says ‘Let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream.’ You ask yourself, why are these structures so perennial. Of course, you won’t have an answer. I console my understanding that the world is ruled by satan and that we have to do our best, as we wait for the Lord.
You were imprisoned by the late President Daniel Moi?
(Laughs) Who told you that?
It's online. Were you bitter and if so, has that bitterness gone or do you still carry it?
(Laughs heartily) There is a picture of me at Kamukunji Grounds, the only female standing on the platform. You fight for something that you are true to and that comes with its share of struggle. The issue was Moi was using people in the church as agents, accusing others falsely. For a while, I was angry at Moi and his henchmen, yes, but I was angrier at those of us who proclaimed to be Christians but were party to subjecting people to suffering for the wrong reasons.
There was a time I was seated at Fairview Hotel after leaving prison when some chaps — his people— came to my table and told me, ‘this is our time to eat, don’t cause trouble.’ That made me more rebellious against the system. I was angry with him, not bitter. Angry for the injustices he oversaw.
What did the jail term teach you?
First thing; that those who are actually dehumanising you are dehumanising themselves. I remember long after I had been released from Nyayo House, I ran into a man who worked there. He couldn’t look at me in the eye because he had dehumanised himself by what he did.
Two; that when you go for a struggle and when you have been called by the ministry to serve, expect trials to the point of death. Lastly, I learnt that even in Nyayo House, God had men and women in there who were humane. I could have been raped many times in that dark cell but God protected me through His people.
What are you currently developing within yourself?
I’m trying to acquire skills in the area of trauma and peace-building. I think many of us are traumatised in one way or the other and when we behave in a certain way, we never understand where that is coming from.
The other thing I’m trying to do now is to document the history of women who refused to conform to certain practices and in so doing transformed their communities.
I’m asking the question; what support did they have that is different from the support that we have? I want to draw wisdom from their experiences and use that in my current activities.
What's your greatest regret in life?
I have regrets regarding the participation of the number of people in my generation, dead and alive, who at some point believed in something but when they assumed power and leadership, they forgot. I also regret being a Kenyan where we still treat women as second-class citizens, if the motions passed some years ago are anything to go by.
I regret how we, in leadership, have committed ourselves to live a life of abundance and how we are served by different values. And how, as Kenyans, we worship these leaders who put their selfish interests before ours.
Also, I’m not proud of how as Kenyans we put our ethnicity first. We want to know where someone is from, even their village.
What did you pray for this morning?
(Laughs) It’s the lent period, a great time for prayer and reflection. I prayed for unity, humility and understanding. My prayer was specific to the fact that in this season, we need to do a lot of introspection on rethinking about leadership but also to listen to each other as Kenyans.
How happy are you now as we speak?
(Laughs loudly) Oh boy, I think I’m a 7.