High school ministry grows amid pandemic

Joseph Odingo is the general secretary of the Kenya Students Christian Fellowship (KSCF), an apex body for high school ministry in the country. Here are excerpts from an interview about how the organisation has been coping with the changes caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

KSCF General Secretary Joseph Odingo during a national convention.

How has coronavirus changed the way you do things?

At first we really didn’t know what to do because schools closed and students and teachers were at home. After some time, we launched mass prayers and prepared a prayer guide that we distributed to our networks – students, teachers and any associates we could reach. One of the prayer items was that God would give us understanding on how to handle the situation. We realised we could use our Facebook, YouTube and WhatsApp platforms. With the help of our associates (those who ascribe to the vision of KSCF; we have about 2,000 associates across the country), we started Online Gospel to encourage members who were at home. On this forum, leaders and pastors share five-minute sermons daily. We then post the sermons on Facebook and WhatsApp groups. We developed 44 topics and distributed them among the leaders and pastors.

What criteria did you use to determine which topics to tackle?

We mainly chose topics in line with the prevailing circumstances. We developed topics that would strengthen the faith of believers to understand the times. The economy was breaking down, lives were being shattered and children were at home. We picked topics that would teach people how to bear suffering and loss, and stand as Christians. By September, we had posted clips on 77 topics.

What are some examples?

When Covid-19 started, there were many prophecies going around and we didn’t know which ones were true and which ones were false. Our main focus was to train members how to evaluate prophecies.

Your ministry targets students who have been at home for months. How have you been able to reach them during the pandemic?

We developed what we call Peer Share to help students share and discuss questions with their peers. We asked our associates in the counties to look for students, get their phone numbers or the numbers of their parents and put them on WhatsApp groups. One challenge was that some parents did not have smartphones but we decided not to focus on those without smartphones. Up to now, we have about 50 WhatsApp groups through which we are reaching about 6,000 students at any one time. Our goal is to reach 10,000 students. Getting the students has been difficult because some schools don’t have student contacts. In the Peer Share, we develop content in three areas: Bible study, which we post on Mondays, peer-to-peer ministry on Wednesdays and personal devotion training on Fridays. We design all this content and pass it to them in Google form then we share the links. Once they open the links, they answer questions (usually three) and share what they have learnt on WhatsApp. At the end of it all, the associates give direction on the questions or discussions.

We have also been reaching students through a 30-minute programme on MBCI TV, which gave us the slot as a way of supporting KSCF work every Saturday. We decided to give the slot to students, who encourage and speak to fellow students at home. Some of them have testified how the Lord delivered them from drugs and other vices. So far, we have had students from Kakamega, Nyeri and Siaya counties. Students have come to like the TV programme and are calling in to ask questions. Parents are also calling to ask how their children can participate. It has made us realise that there is still hope.

What is the impact of this new way of doing student ministry?

We have done much more than we would have if Covid-19 had not happened. We have been able to speak to the nation daily through recorded videos, which we post on Facebook and WhatsApp groups. We have not conducted research on the impact this has had on individuals but for us, reaching that population is quite an achievement. Secondly, we are reaching 6,000 students daily. If schools were open, we would not reach that number in a week. We would be waiting to reach them on a Sunday. We have been receiving encouraging testimonies from students on WhatsApp. One student told of how he formed a small WhatsApp group through which he is discipling his fellow students. We are seeing instant results in that students from different schools are being monitored by associates in the group who answer questions. We hope that when these students go back to school, they will continue with the mentorship in their respective Christian Unions. We have also seen leaders and associates embrace the ministry even more. For the last six months, the money that has sustained the office has come from our members in the counties. By September, they had given about Sh2 million, a record amount compared to the way things used to be.

What is the one thing in KSCF work that has been greatly affected by Covid-19?

KSCF survives mainly on physical meetings. One thing that was affected in April was our national convention. Covid-19 came when we had prepared everything – venues and supplies, and students were ready to come. Covid stopped us.

Secondly, in August last year, we held 40 camps in the counties. That could not happen this year. We don’t see it happening in December. That is a major setback on the work of KSCF. The other thing is that some of our partners lost businesses and jobs. Some churches that used to donate money to support our work stopped because they were also affected since their members have been hit by the pandemic.

What aspect of your operations do you think might not resume even if things get back to normal?

We don’t know whether the government will allow students to gather in camps when things get back to normal.

Joseph Ondigo

How are you prepared for post-Covid?

I think we will still go to schools. In case we are not allowed to have major conventions, we might break them into smaller county conventions. We want to continue training our members, mainly teachers, on how to reach students within the schools because they might not be able to invite speakers from outside.

What is the greatest need for student Christian ministry in Kenya at the moment?

The greatest need now, and it has always been the need, is developing ministers from the student body. We need to get to a level where students are able to run evangelism, discipleship and prayer programmes as well as organise Sunday services even if the teacher is present. Secondly, not many people have singled out high school ministry as a calling. So you find that in a school the teacher, who is a Christian and a CU patron, does not see his or her role as a minister. They still want to go to a local church and minister there. The few we have must adopt a new strategy – making the students ministers through peer-to-peer strategy.

What difference do you think the high school student ministry could make on Christianity in the country?

The biggest impact is that it is a platform for creating future leaders. If you want strong and faithful church members, you must develop them in their formative years. And high school ministry provides that. Barna Research Institute said in a study that 71 per cent of Christians who died saved gave their lives to the Lord before the age of 21. If you really want to have Christians who know their God, we must focus on building faith and Christian culture in the lives of children. High school ministry should also prepare Christians for the workplace. The only way to eradicate corruption is to inculcate the values of honesty and integrity in people while they are still young and in school.

How did you get into student ministry?

I was a leader in church as a young man, teaching a young converts class. I was also a leader of a Bible study group in my local church. But I felt I needed to do something beyond the church. So I prayed for God to show me where to serve. One day, a man called Paul Kimani, who was doing KSCF work in Kisumu, shared with me what they were doing and I felt in my heart that was what I should be doing. He directed me to the KSCF office where I joined the Nairobi team. My journey with KSCF began there. That was in 1999. I became the general secretary in 2013.