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Notebook Houses of God
The sleepy village of Rachar in Asembo, near Lake Victoria in western Kenya, has nothing spectacular to write home about. In the mornings those who have animals with young calves are milking. The peasant farmers are busy on their land while the rest are trying to make ends meet. Villagers fetch water from the river and graze their animals in the afternoons. Schools are important and children are encouraged to go—some with bare feet and others with empty stomachs.
Near the village water source lies Holy Trinity Church, a basic building of old materials that's newly influential.
Evangelist Mama Monica Sonye planted the tin-roofed, mud-walled structure with its thin outer cement coat in 2004. She had a passion to reach the village with the love and freedom found in Christ and to disciple villagers, especially women, in the ways of God and in life skills.
After professing her faith in Christ in 1965, Mama Monica served as an evangelist in the lakeside town of Kisumu. She planted a church on her farm (many churches in East Africa are led by women), where the men and women in the church referred to her as a "soldier of Jesus Christ." She challenged repugnant cultural practices such as wife inheritance (where a widow becomes the automatic wife of her husband's brother or next of kin) and encouraged young widows not to succumb to them.
Widowed herself in 1977, Mama Monica refused to be inherited and her clan ostracized her, yet she fought glaring poverty and those cultural barriers to educate her children.
Before her death at 76 in January 2011, Mama Monica called the church leaders to encourage them: "The church must not die." At her funeral, mourners packed her home, including Kenya's former minister for foreign affairs Wilson Ndolo Ayah. Great men and poor widows spoke of how she influenced their lives and led them to believe in Jesus Christ. Many villagers, especially the women, learned to serve God wholeheartedly, knowing that their labor is not in vain. Since Mama Monica's death, a family has volunteered to fund the construction and maintenance of Asembo Holy Trinity Church so that its work may continue.
David Sonye is a journalist living in Kenya and a 2012 World Journalism Institute Africa Fellow