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Gendia: The birthplace of SDA church in Kenya

Friday August 16 2019

Gendia Seventh Day Adventist Church in Homa Bay

Gendia Seventh Day Adventist Church in Homa Bay County. It is the epicentre of the church in Kenya and the Eastern Africa region. PHOTO | GEORGE ODIWUOR | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

GEORGE ODIWUOR
By GEORGE ODIWUOR
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Gendia is not a new name in south Nyanza, particularly among the Seventh Day Adventist (SDA) church adherents.

It is the epicentre of the church in Kenya and the Eastern Africa region.

The iconic church sits on top of Gendia hill in Kendu Bay town, Homa Bay County.

The SDA church has even nicknamed its hymn book Nyangendia, meaning originally from Gendia.

The denomination is one of the oldest in the world, dating back to the Second Great Awakening, which was a protestant religious revival during the early 19th century in the United States.

The movement began around 1790. Later, SDA anchored its roots in the Millerite movement, who were followers Mr William Miller's teachings in the 1830s.

Some of the prominent figures in the church’s history are Hiram Edson, James Springer White and Joseph Bates.

MISSIONARIES

There was a need to spread the word of God to the whole world, and the first Adventist missionaries decided to come to Kenya in 1906.

They were Arthur Carscallen and Peter Nyambo, from Malawi, who settled near the sandy and rocky Gendia hill after finding out that Islam had dominated the coastal region while other Christian missionaries had already pitched camp in other parts of the country.

After travelling hundreds of kilometres, they settled on a piece of land donated by a local elder, Osumba, from Karachuonyo.

From the scenic location, they could catch a splendid view of Lake Victoria and Kisumu, the country’s third largest city.

Carscallen and Nyambo embarked on building their first church – then-called British East Africa Mission Station – which was a wooden structure with a grass-thatched roof.

GROWTH

Carscallen became the superintendent of the mission. The two managed to learn Dholuo, the local language, within a year.

This enabled them to communicate with ease, spreading the gospel in other places on the eastern shore of Lake Victoria.

They were able to set up stations in Wire Hill, Rusinga Island, Kanyadoto, Karung and Kamagambo in Migori County.

To date, these areas have hundreds of SDA churches and thousands of faithful.

The first Luo converts were baptised in 1911. They included Onyango Obama, the grandfather of former US President Barack Obama.

The missionaries later began publishing articles to spread the gospel. In 1913, Carscallen acquired a small press during a trip to the United States and returned to launch African Herald Publishing at Gendia.

The printing press still produces publications, including lessons and song books – Nyagendia.

OUTREACH

Mr Alvin Eliamani, the general manager of the printing press, says the institution then produced books that were distributed to countries such as Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda, Burundi and Congo.

“We have records of books that were even taken to southern African countries such as Zimbabwe and Malawi. There are also others that are written in languages that we do not understand,” he said.

“We are currently making plans for an archive for keeping the books published by the missionaries.”

Currently, modern technology has taken over operations at the press. Mr Eliamani says some of the old machines used by the missionaries were buried while others were sold as scrap metal.

Meanwhile, the old books have been revised while others have been digitised.

Besides Bible study, the missionaries offered education, medical care and promoted public health among the Luo.

COTTON

A few metres from the church, they built a school and a hospital, Gendia Mission Hospital. These institutions are still operational.

Carscallen was later joined by his fiancée, Helen Thompson, who started growing cotton to make fabric.

Her work promoted cotton growing in the region until 1990 when the sector collapsed.

Pastor Benson Ogayo, Kenya Lake Conference president, says the church has 88,000 regular members in four constituencies of Homa Bay: Karachuonyo, Kasipul, Rangwe and Kabondo Kasipul.

“From the church in Gendia, SDA has grown to have 912 other centres, including 776 churches and 146 Sabbath schools, in the area I represent,” he says.

At the Gendia church, nothing has changed. “We have plans of preserving all the artefacts used by the missionaries in a museum” he says.

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