What if church doesn’t return to ‘normal’?

Without pastors and cell groups readily at hand for prayer and counsel, this is a time for Christians to examine their Sunday habits and assess their personal levels of faith

On a typical Sunday, Hillary Agunda wakes up before 6am and inspects his poultry farm before taking a walk around his homestead to ascertain that everything is alright. Then he goes back to the house for a short morning devotion and Bible Study.

He then helps his wife, Elizabeth, prepare their children for church. They have six biological children aged between three and 20 years, and another 24 orphans and vulnerable children they live with. After breakfast, he embarks on the one-kilometre walk to church, leaving his family to follow.

As a youth patron at Christian Revival Church in Siaya Town, he always aims to be in church before 8am to help the Sunday School teachers and youth service leaders organise the day’s programme. He then joins other worshippers in the main church for the first service, which runs from 7am to 9.30am. The second service starts immediately after and ends at around 1.30pm.

After church, Mr Agunda attends various departmental meetings or joins his pastor and other church leaders on visits to sick members of the congregation or the elderly, or he goes for any other meetings where his presence is required. His day ends when he returns to his house in the evening.

But ever since the Covid-19 pandemic led to the closure of churches, he, along with many other Christians, has had to find other ways of keeping the fire of God burning. The pandemic has been a real spiritual test for those who are used to having their Sundays revolve around church business.

Agunda says before the government ordered churches to stop gathering for worship, they were planning to host a Zambian preacher for a five-day conference starting on March 23. Another plan to host a two-day youth convention from April 17 was also in top gear. But neither meeting took place.

Now he has church in his house with his family, and already a pattern of fellowship has emerged. Every day, except Sunday, no matter what time they go to bed, everyone is required to wake up at 3am for one hour of prayer before going back to bed. A Sunday service in his house usually lasts two hours. The programme includes songs, poems, Bible stories or recitations, and testimonies.

Hillary Agunda (left) in his rural home in Siaya County.

“We make the service general because we have small children as well as older ones and we cannot separate them because we are one family,” he told the SHEPHERD in a phone interview on April 11. “The fellowship has enabled me identify different talents and gifts in everyone.”

Like many other Christians, he misses the Sunday fellowship at his church, where he is able to interact with fellow believers in prayer, singing and listening to sermons from his pastor, other church leaders or visiting ministers. He is, however, in constant communication with his pastor.

But for Rael Atieno, a member of Redeemed Evangelistic Fellowship (REF) in Nairobi, it is difficult to have quality prayer and Bible study time on Sundays because she lives with her grandfather in a single room in Huruma Estate.

“I miss the church services, where I have all the time I need for fellowship and prayers,” she said, referring to Utalii sports grounds where REF holds services. She had gone there on Easter Sunday to take her offerings and tithes.

Ms Atieno’s resolve when things return to normal is to redouble her efforts to serve God and witness for Christ.

“I feel a spiritual fire burning in my heart to do more for Christ. Kumbe hata kuja kanisani ni neema tu! (You mean even coming to church is by God’s grace!). I will never take Sunday service for granted again,” she said.

At home, she has another headache to deal with – scornful neighbours.

“It is very painful when a non-believer asks me where my God is at such a time,” Atieno reveals. “Recently one of my neighbours mocked me, saying, ‘Where are your prophets who prophesied about nearly everything in Kenya? Kwanini hawakuona hii korona inakuja?’ (why didn’t they prophesy about the coronavirus?).”

Regina Wanjiku of Faith Evangelistic Ministry (FEM) believes the things believers are experiencing now are good for their personal spiritual growth.

“Sometimes God wants us to be alone with Him and allows circumstances we never imagined to fulfil that. We should see the positive side of Covid-19,” she said.

The three are among many believers now forced to either watch their pastors on social media platforms or pray and study the Bible on their own at home. But they are optimistic about better days ahead and believe this season is meant to shift, prune and sieve believers in Christ.

“I have now realised that faith is personal,” Agunda said. “Many times we might not realise that we have put our trust in other people until we face a test like this one. This has been a time of soul-searching and a time to cement my relationship with God.”

His only fear is that some believers might fall away depending on how long the churches remain closed. But at the same time he believes others will emerge stronger in their faith.

This is why Bishop David Oginde of Christ is the Answer Ministries has been advising Christians to use this time of uncertainty for some self-reflection and to build a personal relationship with God.

“People are used to doing group worship without assessing their personal relationship with God. They depend on group faith. Now they are being tested and they need to find God on a personal level,” Mr Oginde, the presiding bishop of Citam, was quoted saying recently.