The oldest pupil in the world took a leap of faith on Sunday after he was baptised Stephen.
Mr Kimani Maruge, 89, took this major step at the Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Kariobangi, Nairobi.
In Greek, the name Stephen means “the crowned one”. But Mr Maruge chose the name to remember the first Christian martyr who was stoned to death for his faith.
“I read the Bible and came across the name Stephen,” Mr Maruge said when asked why he chose the name. “I learnt that he was killed because of his Christian faith. Hiyo ni ya watu wenye wamevumilia kama mimi (The name is for people who persevere like me).”
Clad in a brown suit, Maruge sat in a wheelchair for his turn to be baptised, and nodded his head as the choir sang.
The church’s Sunday Mass is usually well attended, but not to the maximum capacity witnessed yesterday, according to an usher who told the Nation team that there were no seats left.
“You should have come earlier. A lot of people came after they heard that the old man (Maruge) was going to be baptised,” she said as we tried to squeeze into the church.
Worshippers started arriving as early as 8am for the ceremony that was to start at 11am. Almost all the seats were occupied when Mr Maruge and his sponsor, Mr John Kimani, arrived.
Mr Maruge grabbed world headlines in 2004 when he arrived at Kapkenduiywo Primary School in Eldoret one morning to begin school at the age of 84 after the government introduced free primary education.
After being displaced in the 2008 post-election violence, he joined a school in Kariobangi, Nairobi. The class seven pupil, who is set to sit his final primary school examinations in a year, said that he chose to be baptised so that he could lead a new life.
Mr Maruge said that although he has forgiven those who forced him to flee from his Eldoret home during the violence that broke out following the disputed presidential election, he will never forget what happened.
The violence saw more than 1,133 people killed and more 300000 displaced countrywide.
The 2008 violence was worse than the Mau Mau war he fought, he said.
“This was worse... in my life I have known only two wars,” he said, adding “Mau Mau and the 1992 clashes, but none can be compared to what happened in 2007”. “I have forgiven those who killed innocent people, but I will not return to Eldoret,” he added.
According to Father Paulino Mondo, Mzee Maruge would have been baptised some 90 years ago had he wished.
“The education he has received has helped him understand the Bible and he passed all his catechism tests,” he said.
The clergyman said Mr Maruge was fast in reading the Bible and always answered the questions well, hence his baptism.
At Cheshire home for the aged in Kariobangi, where he stays and is confined to a wheelchair, Mr Maruge said he is unwell as his knees cannot allow him to stand.
The old man said he fears for his education because of his poor health.
Mr Maruge said he is bitter about how the government is handling internally displaced people.
“They have been forgotten and these people are only crying for power (politicians),” he said “If it was not for the church where would I be today?”
He uses every opportunity to proudly demonstrate to anyone who cares to listen the tremendous progress he has so far made in his seven years of study.
He is glad that going to school has opened to him a world of unlimited opportunities, many of which he never imagined in all his life.
“I never thought that I would ever board a plane and go to a foreign country,” he said, “but it has happened because of my going to school.”
His son James Murage, who had travelled from Eldoret with other six family members, said he was happy that the church had invited them to their father’s baptism.
He said they had always been locked out in everything going on about him to only read it in the newspapers.
Sr Domitila Ekuyi of Cheshire home said Maruge teaches fellow elders at the home.