Just As You Are

Posted Dec 29, 2009 by 3 Comments

When I sat down to do an interview with my friend John Ogonda, I introduced him by saying he lives in Nairobi, but he wanted to be more specific: he lives in “Kibera, the largest slum in Africa.”  That’s the kind of boldness and transparency that characterizes John.  And that’s why it’s so exciting to hear him tell his story – he’s a man without money or a high school diploma, motivated by his past and his faith to found a non-profit organization, the Resource Center for Slums.

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WND:  Thank you for sharing your story with us.  I would like to hear first a bit about how you came from Nyanza Province to Nairobi.

JO:  I came to Nairobi first to look for a job, because in the rural areas, there are no jobs.  I came to Nairobi to look for a job where I can support myself.

WND: How long ago did you come?  Did you find a job?

JO: I came in the year 1990, and when I came, I got some small jobs on contract whereby you can work for 2 days, one week, it ends, and you go for another one.  Then I came to find a job as houseboy.  Then I joined the security firms as a security guard.  After that, is when I got saved.  I met a missionary from Canada who was here in Kenya.  We became friends.  Many times he came where I was working at Yaya Centre.  We talked, he encouraged me, he bought me a Bible.  The Bible he bought me, unfortunately by that time I was still not saved, I sold it and drank with it.  That Bible did not help me.

As the time went, he kept on ministering to me.  One time, when I was coming from my job, I found people in open-air prayer.  On that day, I was already drunk.  As the pastor was saying, “Those who would like to give their lives to come,” I went up and he prayed for me.  I went home when I was drunk and said, “Praise the Lord,” telling my wife I am saved, she can go to the church, any church she would like.

[Before], I did not like anything concerning the church.  When I married her I told her, “Here in our home, there is nothing like going to the church.”

Kibera truly is the largest slum in Africa, home to almost 1 million people.

Kibera truly is the largest slum in Africa, home to almost 1 million people.


WND
: Why did you not like the church?

JO: I did not like the way the church was behaving, how they were talking, how they were living.  There was no difference between an unbeliever and a believer.  You’ll find the church members were the worst prostitutes.  We find a pastor with the church members’ wives.  Even the abusive speech comes from their mouths.  And also people go to ask for something from them, [but] they cannot help you.  What I also hated was when people were talking about the tithe.  Every Sunday you hear, “You should tithe, you should tithe, you should tithe.”  So I took it as a business place.  How can a person go to tithe, and yet, sometimes, he doesn’t even have food to eat?  So those were the things that caused me to hate the Christians – the way they were living.

WND: After you became a Christian, what did you do in response to those concerns?

JO: When I came to be a Christian, I saw that these things could also make some other people like me not to love the church.  So I thought we should start something whereby church leaders can come together, and we minister to them on the way we can walk as Christians.  I thought we could have a group of Bible studies, but God had a big plan with it.  It became bigger than what I was expecting, until it became bigger than me alone.

I got a tour of the Resource Center and this outdoor classroom that was recently added on to the building.

I got a tour of the Resource Center and this outdoor classroom that was recently added on to the building.

I started including other people, looking for the people who have knowledge.  Because I had the wisdom, but knowledge I didn’t have.  So I approached some other people like my senior pastor.  I told him I need support, people with knowledge, to come to the board.

WND: And that’s when you founded the Resource Center for Slums.  Tell me about the Resource Center.  What do you do?

JO: Our main objective is to see the transformation in Kibera.  Kibera’s been known all over the world as a place where there is poverty, there is ignorance, a place that is very dirty.  But I believe that we can transform Kibera.  Since it’s very big, we have to start by transforming the leaders.  If we transform the church leaders, in the way they walk with the Lord, they will be able to direct what they have learned at the Resource Center to their church members.  Their church members will be able to take that to their neighbors.  And at long last, people will be coming to the church because they will be eager to be like their neighbors.

WND: So how are these churches transforming Kibera right now?

Pastor’s training

JO: So far we have trained about 38 people, those who have graduated.  And they are doing well.  We get the report that the membership in their churches is increasing.  How I measure how well I have met my goal is to see many churches built, to see the churches that we started with opening up other branches because there are too many people to be accommodated in their churches.

Self-sustaining Churches

We also encourage every church to have at least one income-generating activity that can bring money for the church.  They will be able to pay their day to day running costs, they will be able to pay the pastor.  You will find the church is locked Monday to Sunday and is used for 3 hours during services.  They should make use of that.  For example, if they put a tailoring training school at an affordable cost, they will give people spiritual knowledge, and also economic empowerment, and at the same time, they will get something to run the church.  So about the tithing, “you have to tithe,” will be a history for them, because they will have something on the ground that supports them.  They can make the church empower the community.

Following his God-given vision brings John more joy than any diploma could.

Following his God-given vision brings John more joy than any diploma could.

Empowering the Youth

The youth also must be empowered because they are the leaders of tomorrow.  We have 25 youth, [helping] them not to be involved with activities that can spoil their life.  We already bought for them a cart so they supply the water to residents and the residents pay them.  At least it keeps them busy and they can get their daily bread.  Also as we do that, we minister to them about the Lord.

AIDS patients

Also we do empower the people dealing with HIV/AIDS.  These people, you find they feel that people have neglected them.  Somebody can go commit suicide because he sees that nobody cares.  But in the Resource Center, we are trying to empower them and to show love to them, by eating with them together, serving them together.  At the same time, we are empowering them to sell things, the work from their hands.  They shall also teach [other] people how to get money so they can support themselves, rather than depend on the Resource Center.

WND:  When people hear that you are training people, people more educated than you, are they surprised to hear that you have not yet finished high school?

JO: Yes, the staff I used to work with, all of them were more educated than me, even the security guards.  And the pastors being trained are more educated than me, but what they have to know is that there is a wisdom from the Lord, and what the Lord has put, it is not easy to remove.  So they are bearing with me and we are working together.  Everybody must feel that this thing is part of him.  You, as a leader, should also ask the watchman about the ideas, and go and ask the community, “How do you see these things?  What area can we improve?”  You try to make everyone know that he’s part of that organization, because you are just a leader.  You can’t work without them.  Everybody has got a part to do.  So that has really helped me because everything at the Resource Center runs so well that nobody can realize that the person who is running it is not educated.  Because we combine all our minds together, it becomes one, and it is very strong because all of us contributed.

WND: And you are getting a chance to continue your own education, right?

JO: Yes, I found that it is really needed, education, and when the board came, I told them that my problem is education.  I need somebody that can take over for me, with the vision as the managing director, because I found that sometimes they need paperwork.

In John’s view, everyone has a part to play in bringing transformation.

In John’s view, everyone has a part to play in bringing transformation.

Then they advised me that we should go to school.  I was really very much excited to.  I went with my wife and we joined the school at an older age.  I’ll finish, God willing, and I can go and get my degrees in management and administration.  It will be a true transformation to inspire people, to tell them there is nothing impossible.  “If John and his wife did, why don’t we?  John was just a houseboy, he was a watchman, and now he has a degree.” And, “If John started the Resource Center without education, and he managed, what am I doing?  I’ve learned, I’m a young man, and John’s not a young man.  What can I do to start something, and give out what I’ve learned?”

WND: What advice do you have for someone in the States who has a vision to start something or do something bigger than them?

JO: If God gives you a vision, don’t hide it.  Even if you don’t have money, put it on the table, start what you can, then say, “God, here is where I am.”  So the next step, leave it to God.  Start something as you are, and let people come and see you how you are.  For example, if you have a school, let the person come and find the children in the school, and they are sitting on the floor.  Maybe she will be touched and say, “Oh the immediate need is chairs.”  And she will buy you the chairs, and after buying the chairs, somebody will come again and say, “Now we need to buy the blackboard for them whereby they can read.”  But don’t wait until you get the chairs.  Start with what you have.

Also, be ready to be led.  Most of the people say, “I can’t bring many people [on board] because they are going to overpower me.”  Just forget about overpower.  Do not stick on it, “this is me, this is mine.”  Yeah, you are just a founder.  Just like somebody asking, “Can you tell me the way to go to the supermarket?” and you just tell them, “This is the way.”  But you do not own it.  It is not yours.  It is for the community.  Let it be for everybody, everybody feels that I am part of this thing.  And you will see the Lord is working.

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Next Steps
    • John would love to hear from you! Send him an encouraging note at jogose2002@yahoo.com.
    • Find out more about the Resource Center for Slums and ways you can be a partner with them: www.rcfs.or.ke.
    Next Steps

About the Author: Jessica Shewan is a journalist with World Next Door. She graduated in 2009 from The University of Evansville with a bachelor's degree in History. She loves making new international friends and is passionate about seeing the global church pursue justice and peace!

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Comments

  1. Jim M. said... 

    Reply

    December 30th, 2009 at 12:28 am  

    Jess,
    Thanks for this story. How many times do we hear believers living their faith say “If God gives you a vision, don’t hide it. Even if you don’t have money, put it on the table, start what you can, then say, “God, here is where I am.” So the next step, leave it to God.”…. This “let God work through me” story is woven through the souls of men and women who are servant leaders. It is in my experience a universal trait of those who live to serve our Lord. Anyone looking for evidence of the Spirit need look no further than your written words here. Awesome WND installment.

  2. rob yonan said... 

    Reply

    January 5th, 2010 at 11:22 pm  

    He’s far more ‘educated’ than most! I’d say he’s living out the best degree of all: a Masters in Kingdomology.

  3. Breanna Sipple said... 

    Reply

    February 21st, 2011 at 1:10 am  

    Wow, I loved this. What an awesome testimony, and transformation God has done! I love the vision of what happens through the Resource Center for Slums and how God is using that as a ministry of His body, the church. Praying before I go to bed tonight that God will continue to provide for them!

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