In the spirit of transparency, I start with a disclosure.
I am a card-carrying member of the Citam Church. I have been attending service at the church for over three decades, and was in the group of 83 formally admitted members at Citam, Karen, on November 24, 2002, at a function presided over by then-senior pastor and now Presiding Bishop David Oginde.
In obedience to Christ’s teaching that “let the children come to me”, on November 17, 2011, I took my sons, Ngotho and Koigi, for dedication at the same church.
As a member of Citam, I try my best to keep on the straight and narrow, but unfortunately, most of the time the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. End of my testimony.
Today’s story is about a special friend of Citam, retired President Daniel arap Moi.
I say special friend because the former President is otherwise African Inland Church (AIC) damu. AIC, formerly the African Inland Mission (AIM), isn’t just a faith to Mzee Moi but his surrogate family.
At the age of 10, when he was known only as Kapkorios Toroitich, he walked to the AIM church in his home village of Kabartonjo, Baringo County, to be received by the couple of Erik and Arthur Barnet, for whom his home town, Kabarnet, is named. The church was his first contact with Western modernity.
The missionaries baptised him Daniel, a name he choose from a hymn they sang at the mission, “Dare to be a Daniel, dare to stand alone …” in praise of the biblical Daniel who was thrown into a den of starved lions but came out unscathed.
It was at the AIM centre that young Moi would pick up many of the habits that define his character to this day.
The Barnets loved boiled maize, millet, and traditional vegetables, which to this day remain valued items in the retired President’s menu, and partly explains why he has lived to be 95 and counting.
By the way, Moi’s elder brother, Paulo Tuitoek, lived to be 104 and his sister Rebecca Chelimo clocked 100 years. So, paired with his siblings, Moi is still a “young” man.
The missionaries also encouraged the future President to keep fit. His beloved sport was football and had been nicknamed “wheelbarrow” because of his strong legs, which either ran away with the ball or wreaked havoc on the ankles and toes of those he tackled on the field.
To cap it all, at the mission he met the girl who would be the mother of his children, Lena Bomett.
For some reason, even with all his deep roots in the AIC, President Moi developed a special liking for Citam.
Whenever the weekend found him in the city — most of the weekends he was in Nakuru — he would attend service at Citam on Valley Road, though the main AIC church in Milimani is not far from his private residence on Kabarnet Road.
On the days he came, his press service and other media would be there. But unknown by many, there are other times when he came incognito and quietly left without many in the congregation getting to know he had been there.
I knew it one day in 1997 when I pulled up in my ramshackle at the Valley Road Citam’s main entrance but was motioned to pull aside by two mean-looking men.
From their demeanour I could tell the pair had not come for worship and weren’t used to sharing a roof with the Holy Spirit.
Before I figured out who they were, a police car whizzed past, followed by a private registration Volkswagen Kombi and another police car.
My journalistic antennae now up, I quickly recognised the man in the front passenger seat of the Kombi to be the President.
At the parking I saw him escorted by just two bodyguards and enter through the rear door to a reserved seat at the front.
There was no mention at all that the President was in the house, and at the end of the preaching the presiding pastor quietly escorted him to his vehicle and off he was gone. Many congregants never got to know he had been there that Sunday.
But one President’s visit that surprised even the few who got to know about it came on a Wednesday evening in the second week of January 1987.
It began on the Sunday, January 11, when the President came for service at Citam, Valley Road.
That day the media was present and the Nation carried a photograph of him leaving the church. The speaker of the day was a visiting preacher from Canada, Rev David Forrest.
He gave a moving sermon about God’s miracles that surpass human understanding.
He gave the example of his wife, who had been admitted to hospital with a cancerous growth and doctors lost hope.
But a lady who heard about it went to the hospital and prayed for the pastor’s wife. Suddenly, the cancerous growth disappeared and the doctors confirmed as much.
Word spread and doctors from other hospitals came to witness the unbelievable that had happened.
But even as the doctors confirmed the healing, they cautioned it was almost impossible the pastor’s wife would ever conceive.
But she went on to do so and the couple had two healthy children. The congregation at Valley Road was so moved by the testimony that some shed tears.
As he sat down, the visiting preacher asked those who needed prayers for whatever reason to come back for evening service on Tuesday.
Not many turned up, since it was a working day and also because it was a special service for those who needed prayers.
As the prayers went on, President Moi quietly dropped in and sat with the congregation. Noting the presence of the head of state and with darkness setting in, the pastor hurriedly concluded the service and said only those who needed individual prayers remain.
Those who wished to leave did so, but the President remained seated. The preacher embarked on praying for individuals with special requests, but seeing the President wasn’t leaving, he stopped and announced another prayer session the next day.
Come Wednesday, as the prayer was going on, again the President suddenly dropped in and sat with the congregation.
Once again, the pastor hurriedly concluded the service and asked only those to be prayed for to remain.
Those who wished to leave did so, but about 60 remained and moved to the front benches for the pastor to take turns praying for every individual.
Still the President wouldn’t move even after the pastor whispered something in his ear.
The head of state stayed until everybody was prayed for. Since it was dark, the presidential escort had to get extra security. He did not appear bothered or in a hurry to leave.
It wasn’t the first time the President was showing up for prayers at Citam. On the first Sunday after the August 1, 1982 military coup attempt, President Moi came to Citam, Valley Road, for a special service to thank God for saving Kenya from the disaster of military rule.
About a year later, he happened to pass by the church but his motorcade was blocked because the roadside had been turned into a parking lot by worshippers.
At the time, Citam, Valley Road, had limited parking. Concerned, he invited the church leadership to State House and asked how he could help resolve the parking crisis.
He did help by talking to a hotel owner next to the church, who agreed to sell his plot and relocate the hotel to an alternative plot the President helped him acquire.
In the 1985 commemoration of President Jomo Kenyatta’s death, President Moi convinced the Kenyatta family to hold the memorial service at Citam, Valley Road, and not at the traditional Holy Family Basilica.
It also happened to be the year young Uhuru Kenyatta had just returned from college in the US and was being welcomed home by the family.
The sermon of the day was “Beginning of pathway to greatness”, taken from Matthew 18:1-5.
It could as well have been a prophetic moment for Uhuru as President Moi would pick him as his successor 17 years later — failing to take over in 2002 but becoming President 11 years later.
A few weeks before President Moi left office in December 2002, he came to Citam, Valley Road, to say goodbye.
Unlike the day of handing over at Uhuru Park when he was booed and mud balls thrown at his motorcade, the church wildly cheered him and prayed for happiness and good health in his retirement.
He spoke with grace and promised to maintain friendship with the congregation, which he said had become part of him.
Best wishes to good old friend of Citam. God willing the church looks forward to your 100th birthday on September 2, 2024.