By Fiona Imbali
Archbishop Barnabas Njeru Wambugu, the immediate former General Secretary (G.S) of the OAIC, served as the G.S for 11 years from August 1995 to December 2006. In many circles, he is known as an educationist per excellence. He is remembered and cherished by many and described as an educationist who loved to teach and a kind spirit as he extended his hand to help many people around him. He is praised for taking care of his parents, his family as well as contributing greatly to help the church grow.
On 4th June 2018, Arch. Wambugu’s family, National Independent Church of Africa (NICA) and OAIC held a memorial service at NICA Kasarani to mark 10 years since his demise. Archbishop Stephen Marete the head of NICA church who presided over the ceremony stated that he was grateful for the works that the late Wambugu had engaged in as this was evidently reflected in the NICA’s church strong standing.
To Mrs. Wambugu, the late Arch. Wambugu was a friend and a loving husband. Having met him in 1967 while he was a teacher at Panafric Secondary School, they got married the same year but formalised their wedding in 1971. “Wambugu was a dedicated father. We were blessed with 4 children 2 boys and 2 girls and 6 grand children. We gave the children a solid christian foundation, his heart was kind and true and was always there for his family. The hardest part was not losing him but learning to live without him. Our children are missing a fatherly figure. I am grateful to OAIC for supporting us spiritually and financially.”
Rev. Nicta Lubaale, the OAIC G.S noted that Arch. Wambugu dedicated his life to ensure that OAIC thrived. “In November 2018, OAIC will be celebrating 40 years since its formation. In every phase, the organisation has come through a lot of challenges. Arch. Wambugu led OAIC to be recognised as an organisation that differently engaged in development. He loved education and ensured that those who were at OAIC got higher education. He strongly emphasised on civic education to the AICs, whilst he and leaders of his generation emphasised on the vision of AICs and the need for good governance in the AICs,” noted Rev. Nicta.
He further noted that Arch. Wambugu worked hard to sustain the founding vision of AICs at a time when AICs were struggling. Quoting Psalms 68.31 which says Africans will raise her hand to God; Ethiopia will raise her hand to God, Rev. Nicta noted that AICs saw the liberation of Africans coming through the African Spirit. That despite a myriad of challenges afflicting the continent from runaway corruption, negative ethnicity as well as gender based violence, unacceptable vices should be shunned noting that Wambugu led the AICs to show that Africans can live in dignity by building communities of purpose. With over 80 million AICs around the world, the church should be a resource to recognise Africa’s usefulness.
He further urged AICs to break barriers and empower everyone to be in the mission of God. That following in Arch. Wambugu’s footsteps would ensure that AICs are uncomfortable with the abnormal. ‘The spirit of God calls upon us to gain courage to face issues on our day to day lives. The rising deaths of women while giving birth in Africa is unacceptable. While in Sweden 4/100,000 women die during child birth, in Kenya 510 die, Burundi 700 die, Uganda 400. We need to confront these issues. East Africa is the most hungry region in Africa, over 25 per cent of the children experience stunting. When the spirit of God is upon us, we preach, lives are transformed, we condemn corruption that robs our future generations their inheritance. Africa has to think about the place of young people. By 2050. 50% will be young people. AICs should think about these generations as the World Bank says if we don’t take caution, 9 out of 10 Africans will be poor. Our founders didn’t lament, they got out and built churches schools and organised themselves. We should stop being self-centred and think about how we live in society and how it glorifies God. We should engage institutions in this continent for the well being of the Church.”
Professor Thomas Oduro, a member of the OAIC Executive Committee who knew and worked with him for years noted that he had a clear understanding on what AICs were all about and had clear-cut strategies of what needed to be done to achieve the goals of the AICs. “As he traveled to Africa and beyond, engaging AIC leaders, members and scholars who have researched the AICs in conversation, he became convinced that certain aspects of the past glories of the AICs- such as education, youth training, financial sustainability, theological education, community development, women’s development, and ecumenical influence – have either been lost or scrambled by other Christian communities. Therefore, he began a conscientisation campaign among leaders and potential leaders of AICs,” noted Prof. Oduro.
“The clarion call of his conscientisation campaign was “Let’s reclaim our space.” Reclaiming the religious space of the AICs was touted by the Archbishop wherever he went, particularly, when he met with AIC leaders and members. Three major strategies he devised were education, training and structural organisation. In his report to the Executive Committee meeting on 18th September 2004, he stated inter alia “One of the major assets of any organization is staff hence the need to make sure that the staff is adequately equipped. This we have done by seeking scholarships to train our staff.” Beneficiaries of the scholarship were – Dr. John Padwick (Ph.D. Theology), Mr. Nicta Lubaale (MA, Development), Rev. John Gichimu (MA, Theology), Ms. Teresa Ntarara (Diploma in Management), Mrs. Rose Okello (Full Secretarial Course), Mr. Arthur Wekesa (CPA II), Fr. Michael (Master’s in Theology), Jane Nkrumah (Diploma in Management) and Rev. Daniel Oguso (Master’s in Theology),” added Prof.
That he ensured all the structural programmes engaged in educational programmes to create awareness of AIC leaders and members of the need to work hard to reclaim their lost glory in African Christian terrain. Reclaiming space of AICs also meant rubbing minds with members of global ecumenical bodies. During his time, OAIC became an associate of the World Council of Churches (WCC), All Africa Conference of Churches (AACC), World Alliance of Reformed Churches (WARC) and a member of World Conference for Religion and Peace (WCRP). “If there is one that posterity need not forget about the late Archbishop Njeru Wambugu, it is his clarion call of “Let’s reclaim our space,” noted Prof. Oduro.
Ven. John Gichimu, the coordinator for the Programme of Theology and Ministerial Formation recalled his encounter with Arch.Wambugu in the early 80’s and in the 90’s as he became Wambugu’s Chaplain. “I lived and worked with Wambugu. He did a lot for churches in Kenya and globally. Let’s remember that our actions when we’re alive will follow us. We’re here 10 years later to remember him. We need to reflect on our lives and ask ourselves what we shall be remembered for. Let’s continue to pray for his family,” he stated.
Ambassador Dickson Ireri Kathambaga, a cousin to Arch. Wambugu representing the family of the late Wambugu, recounted the distinguished work that Wambugu had undertaken. “Wambugu and I grew up together. The people gathered here today to celebrate the life of Wambugu is an indication that he did a good job worth remembering. It’s gratifying that Wambugu served the community with determination and dedication. When he was born in the 40’s, NICA was his church and our fathers were dedicated members of NICA. In the early days NICA was started to ensure that Africans got their dignity and this spread in Mount Kenya. NICA connected Africans and the struggle for independence and at one time the church was burnt, preachers detained and the church went underground . It was however, re-born in 1963. Arch. Wambugu went through all that. Despite these struggles, Wambugu’s hard working nature catapulted him to great heights.”
Fr. Joseph Mutie, the G.S Kenya chapter noted that the late Arch. Wambugu left a strong foundation for the NICA which has become an established church emulatable by other AICs.