Peter Mageto was first success story

EVANSVILLE, Ind. – I never planned to be involved in international mission work. My surprising life change began when I served on the former South Indiana Conference Board of Ordained Ministry in 2002, interviewing our students attending Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, Ill.

Peter Mageto, not on my conference list, was on the schedule. He walked in, sat down across the table from me and said he and his family were looking for a place he could serve as student pastor while writing his doctoral dissertation. Not sure how to answer, I simply said “Tell me your story.”

I was fascinated as he told about growing up in a tiny Ken­yan village, parents practicing tribal religion with animal sacrifices and having no electricity or running water. He told how in secondary school he went with friends to hear missionaries from Scotland and became a Christian. Five years later his parents also became Christian. At 19, he formed a church that began meeting under a tree.

I passed his story immediately to my church, Aldersgate in Evansville, and without hesitation, they invited the Mageto family to move into its vacant parsonage. Peter Mageto served both Aldersgate and Methodist Temple for the next three years, and the family was a blessing to all of us.

Mageto also inspired four high school students when he spoke to their class about life in Kenya. He told them how growing up he never owned a book, and that his dream was a place with books to read in his village. The students’ response was “we can build a library in Kenya, hey – no problem!”

After developing a strategy, they had plans drawn up by an Evansville architectural firm, collected $35,000; and local Kenyans built the brick Amani (Peace) Reading Centre on a hill overlooking a spectacular valley. Aldersgate’s Endowment Fund helped local Kenyans build tables, chairs and book shelves, which were filled with books shipped from Evansville.

Dedicate building

Ten of us from Aldersgate and Methodist Temple went to dedicate the building in July 2006. Hundreds of Kenyans, including children and teachers from seven schools, came to celebrate.

Ever since we have partnered with nearby Riakong’a Methodist Church, the church Mageto began. Projects have included building a roof on the church, a brick wall around the Amani Reading Centre, a water filtering system and a parsonage for the pastor’s family.

A total of 37 people from Indiana and beyond have traveled with me during the course of seven trips to Mageto’s village, painting, planting and conducting medical camps in the Reading Centre, side-by-side with our Kenyan partners.

During the four-day medical camps, we have provided dental care, reading and prescription glasses, medical exams, pharmacy, plus lab testing for HIV, malaria and typhoid, for more than 1,000 people each time. People in the church and community there are true partners in mission. Not only do they help with what we do, but also have said we show the hands and heart of Christ to them. By our commitment to them and our faith, they feel supported in what they are trying to accomplish as a church by bringing the Christian faith to their own community.

Dream keeps growing

We watch with amazement as the initial dream keeps growing, and going in new and unexpected directions. The Rev. Dr. Peter Mageto is in Nairobi, Kenya, now as Dean of the Department of Theology at Daystar University. His wife, Irene, who studied nursing in Evansville with a scholarship from the University of Evansville, is now teaching nursing at Methodist University, also in Nairobi.

At our medical camp in 2010, one of our team members met a girl who had no hope of continuing her education past secondary school, as families with meager funds support a son’s education before a daughter’s. Greatly impacted by this injustice, she went back to Georgia State University, and began a program to help Kenyan girls receive scholarships, raising $65,000 and now sponsoring 11 young Kenyan women in Kenya universities. Their goal is to have a seven-figure endowment for this program.

What started out as a conversation across a table in Evanston, Ill., has taken on a life of its own. I encourage everyone to keep his or her eyes open for hints that God is opening up surprising doors for you and your churches. Don’t be afraid to take that first step! If you’d like to join us in Kenya next July, just send a note to me by email at Expect the unexpected.

Lynn Renne serves as associate pastor of Aldersgate United Methodist Church in Evansville, Ind.

“We can build a library in Kenya, hey – no problem!”