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Equipping to Serve: Through Education

By Robert J. Wafula

I became a committed Christian and accepted Jesus Christ as my personal savior at age 10. My parents recognized and respected this spiritual change in my life and allowed me to go to Sunday school. I remember I became curious as to why we closed our eyes whenever we prayed. I asked my father, “Papa, why do we have to close our eyes when we pray?” With his 4th grade level of formal education, my father was upfront with me: “Whenever we close our eyes in prayer,” he said, “God comes down and stands in our midst.” So, I became quite curious to see the face of God! I made several attempts to catch a glimpse of God standing in our midst through my spread fingers as I pretended to have my eyes closed. As I grew older, I was able to reflect on my father’s understanding of God’s immanence. My theological framework may have become more sophisticated, but my dad’s confidence in the presence of God became the central theme of my spiritual life as a seeker after God’s face.

In 1978, when I was 16 years of age, I recognized my calling into ministry. I was a sophomore in high school, and during the holidays I preached my first sermon. It was in a Kenyan rural Friends meeting in what is now Bungoma County in Kenya. When we got home my mother looked at me and said, “You did a good job son. I never knew you could preach. Keep it up. God is going to use you in a much bigger way.”

My dreams were dashed when I couldn’t go back to school after Christmas recess. My father had sold the last of our cattle and exhausted his resources. I borrowed books from my friends and continued studying privately. My father got some money to register me for the Kenya Junior Secondary Examination (KJSE), which I completed and passed in 1979. That certificate turned out to be the key that would unlock many doors into my academic world.

In 1982, I participated in Theological Education by Extension (TEE) that was facilitated by two FTC students and was launched in my local meeting. My performance impressed one of the facilitators who asked me if I would consider applying to FTC. I said, “I would love to, but I don’t know how.” She brought me application forms the following weekend, and I applied.

I entered FTC two weeks late. My local meeting did not have enough money to facilitate my admission because they were already paying for one student who was in his final year. Luckily enough, my father’s one acre sugar cane plantation had just been harvested and sold to Nzoia Sugar Company. My father invested the whole check into my FTC education, and in turn, I invested my whole life into my studies. I knew FTC was my lifeline. During my second year, 1984, I was sent home to obtain fees. The previous year my father had given all he had. My local meeting gave me a whole year’s collection from the treasury, but still it was not enough. Had it not been for the John Sarrin scholarship, I would not have completed my program of study at FTC. I graduated in 1985 and proceeded to St. Paul’s United Theological College for further theological studies on the same scholarship.

I graduated from St. Paul’s in 1989, and went back to teach at FTC for one year before going to Friends International Centre in Nairobi for the next six great years as pastoral minister and warden. I gained admission into Earlham School of Religion (ESR) on the Cooper and John Sarrin scholarships.

FTC was a major point of reference throughout my studies at ESR. While at ESR, two deans on separate occasions asked me similar questions. First, in September 1996, Andy Grannell posed a question to me “What are you going to do with the ESR degree after you graduate?” I looked at him and without hesitation I said, “I will go back to teach at FTC.” After taking over from Andy, Jay Marshall, current Dean, congratulated me for completing the program and asked me the same question at the baccalaureate on May 8, 1999: “Wafula . . . what are your plans after ESR?” My response to him was somewhat similar to Andy’s, “I’m going to Ohio University for further graduate study and then go back to Kenya to teach at FTC.” Yes, that may have just been a routine question, but to me, it was fundamental. Many years have passed but the dream and my love for FTC lives on.

When I think of FTC, I think of my 75-year-old mother. She was widowed in 1988 and has never had a stable income. I love her dearly. She relies on me, my wife Nancy, and my siblings and their families for support. She gave us so much, over so many years. It brings me joy to be able to give something back to her now that she depends on us for her survival. Like my mother, FTC gave me a strong foundation for a lifetime of ministry. But, unlike my mother, FTC is neither widowed nor orphaned. FTC has produced many sons and daughters. It has fathers, mothers, uncles and aunts in the name of yearly meetings and other Quaker organizations that come together under the umbrella of Friends United Meeting (FUM). In essence, we are the relatives this college looks to for support. We, who have gained so much, can now take joy and pride in giving back to our college.

Friends, now that I am going back to FTC please join me in celebrating my recent appointment as principal. I feel honored to represent global Quakers in this position.

I humbly invite you to make a commitment to pray for me and to support my ministry with your finances. With the gracious fulfillment of all pledges, my ministry account will be maintained and fully funded.

Thank you.

Robert J. Wafula

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