Having returned from Kenya late last night, I confess that I was unable to read or even read much around this book. This means that it might be more sacrificial than helpful for you to read this post. Still, I have been paying close attention to the ways in which the Christian leaders I know in Kenya lead transformation in their communities, and those who do not. The Christian religion is saturated in Kenya, and especially around Nairobi. It seemed that more than half the retail shops and service companies use Christian language to promote their businesses, whether or not there is any evidence of Christian values or commitment being practiced in their businesses. There are also many megachurch leaders who grow churches in Kenya through charisma and even prosperity promises (kind of like we saw in Cape Town), but do not do much in the way of community development (a huge need in Kenya and the other half of the gospel). In the opposite manner, there are humanitarian organizations (NGO’s) who do not have religious commitments to provide an understandable (or eschatalogical) reason for doing restorative work. It seems to me that transformation is lacking in both of these scenarios. Where I saw transformation was in the communities where “word and deed” were integrated with the mission of the organization, and in the practice of the leader’s life.
Stephen and Rosemary Mbogo are two transformational leaders. Stephen is CEO of African Evangelistic Enterprise (AEE) and Rosemary is a Dean of Students and department chair at African International University (AIU). What they do in their jobs is transformational enough, but what they do as their “side hustle” is even more compelling. Rosemary grew up in the slum, Mathare North, as the oldest of 10 kids. Her parents died when she was twelve. She raised her siblings, dropped out of high school in order to pay for her siblings to get through school, then she went back and finished. She married Stephen (at the time a leader for AEE, and he led her to Christ, which compelled her to continue studying until she finally completed her PhD at Biola in 2012. When I first visited them in Nairobi in 2005, after doing an evangelistic mission with Stephen and AE in Antananarivo, Madagascar, I learned that they had adopted two kids from Mathare and that Rosemary was beginning to build a “children’s home” (aka orphanage) on the side.
Stephen and Rosemary had provided two kids with a place to stay, but they ran away. When Rosemary and Stephen found them, they asked why they ran away, and the boys said it was because they didn’t need a place to stay as much as they needed a mother and father’s love. So, Stephen and Rosemary heard that and followed by taking them into their home. And then they adopted another, and another, until they had over 35 kids and had to legally declare an orphanage. Rosemary had just begun transforming their house into an orphanage and school while moving to the university to live with Stephen, their two biological kids, and whoever else could legally fit in their house. My family’s foundation has been supporting the building of (what they have called) “ByGrace” since 2005, and now because of their leadership (mostly Rosemary’s), they have a primary school and high school that boards kids who have been orphaned, even as it serves kids who still live with their parents in the slums. There are over 400 kids now at “ByGrace Children’s Home and School” in Ngong. Their teaching not only involves meeting academic requirements, but they also provide trauma recovery, education for parents, and deep and vast Christian instruction for the kids all the way through high school. Even though Stephen and Rosemary live at the university in the next town over (Karen), they are understood to be the parents of all the kids. I preached at the church at ByGrace on Sunday (the kids lead the service every week with a chaplain’s guidance) on my 40th birthday, and all the kids were so happy to see “Mom and Dad” in worship since they are often preaching elsewhere on Sunday mornings.
This past week I got to spend time with the first two kids in the orphanage who had run away. Chris grew up in Mathare and his parents died when he was a toddler, and Alex grew up in a Masai village (almost got stomped on by an elephant when he was 8). They ended up with the Mbogos when they were 10 years old. They are now part of the first generation of graduates from ByGrace and are finishing their bachelors’ degrees at AIU, working their own businesses, and pursuing masters’ level education. At the Mbogo’s home on the university campus, Stephen and Rosemary provide housing and family life for their ByGrace graduates who are now studying at the university. Their home is 1,200 square feet with three bedrooms and a large closet room. There are 18 college kids (ByGrace graduates) who live there, along with Stephen and Rosemary who serve as their parents in addition to their full-time jobs.
Drs. Stephen and Rosemary are transformational leaders with intense moral clarity. Rosemary does high-level organizational work to continue building, expanding, and improving ByGrace, and Stephen serves as an engaged father to these kids who do not know what it means to have a father, and especially one like Stephen.
There is a lot of confusion around masculinity in our American culture today. We speak of “toxic masculinity” because we do not know what healthy masculinity looks like. Stephen is a role model for me in terms of healthy Christian masculinity and fatherhood. He is strong. He leads. He is engaged and not passive. Yet he knows that he cannot control outcomes, so he is able to differentiate himself from the kids’ decisions in adulthood. He suffers when the kids choose wrongly, but he does not control their decisions. He guides them and provides the tools they need. He teaches them directly about sexuality, education, work, and how faith integrates into all of life. The result of this hard work is that these kids who come to ByGrace when they are little, are given attentive guidance all the way into adulthood. It is their life trajectories that are transformed. Dr. Stephen seems to embody the four archetypes of healthy masculinity according to Robert Moore and Douglas Gillette (in the ilk of Carl Jung): the magician, the warrior, the king, and the lover. He can hold together gentleness and strength, courage and compassion, patience and boldness. Most men in North America are drawn to one or the other and as a result, we are confused an unable to lead the kind of transformation we desire. This is also largely why it’s time to look to women like Brene Brown to teach us about the relationship between vulnerability and courage.
Transformational leadership requires engagement over the long haul. As Greg mentioned in his post, it is easy to confuse charismatic leadership with transformational leadership. The reality is that “darkness” is always present, and attentive leaders who have endured the challenges of leading in a developing context like Nairobi are keenly aware of this reality. Like it says in Exodus 17, the Israelites will have to fight Amalek “from generation to generation.” The transformational leader must always be aware of the presence of darkness and its influence, which often manifests as an enlarged ego reveling in success-as-fame over transformation. If leaders want to lead genuine and healthy transformation, we must be aware of the darkness that lives in us and wants to replace transformation with fame. Transformational leadership requires, perhaps more than anything else, the continual formation of virtue in the leader.