In Nairobi, Kenya, the majority of people (75% of the population) is under 29 years old. Curtis Reed has been ministering to this large population of Kenyan youth for the past 12 years. In that time, he has seen a disconnect between Christianity and the Kenyan population at large.
What is the reason for the disconnect between Kenyans and the church? Modern Kenya has been influenced by a colonial past. Essentially, Curtis says, “[Y]oung people are struggling with the dynamic relationship between faith and culture, between being Christian and African.”
Curtis has used his ministry to bridge the gap between Kenyan youths and Christianity. He teaches a “Hip Hop and the Bible” class, organizes gospel concerts, and creates other opportunities to connect with young adults where they are at and in their interests. He says of his ministries, “I’ve learned that a new and fuller vision of Jesus emerges when He is spoken of in terms that are understood through one’s daily environment.”
While Curtis’ ministries have been beyond successful, he realized that these ministries do not completely remedy this attitude. Throughout many years of ministry in Kenya, Curtis gradually became aware that this disconnect is not necessarily a personal one, but a disconnect with the Christian Church at large.
“I have grown increasingly challenged by Kenyan youth telling me that they feel like their African culture is a mistress that they must leave at home whenever they enter a church.” Evidence of this attitude is easy to find. In fact, it was found that only 7% of Nairobians attend church on a regular basis.
How can Kenyans have a complete picture of God, when they do not experience His beloved creation for His followers: His bride, the Church?
Many Kenyans do not feel that they are truly accepted in traditional churches. As Curtis said, they do not feel they can be Christian and African in this setting.
Create a new type of church—a church where they can be both.
Curtis realized that God was calling Him to bring this kind of Church to the people of Kenya.
For the next three months, Curtis will be on sabbatical. He is taking a step back from his existing ministry and preparing for a new step forward—stepping into a church planting role.
“I never really wanted to start a church… I’ve never been a church kind of dude,” Curtis admits. “But it’s not about me—it’s about God’s Kingdom.” Curtis did not enter a church until he was 18 years old. But perhaps this makes him specifically qualified to create a church for this un-churched generation.
Through Curtis’ studies and previous ministry, God has continually prepared him for this new venture. He feels called to create a church unlike most traditional churches that leave many Kenyans uncomfortable.
The proposed church would be set up like a house church, meeting in homes and containing only 15-20 members. It would be a church that incorporates hip hop, social justice, and the spirit world, which are significant subjects to Kenyans and Africans alike. Curtis says, “The young generation is primed for a church like this.”
Curtis suspects that those who desire to attend would outnumber the 15-20 person capacity. In that case, some of the people he has previously mentored will branch other church plants, which is a clear example of how his past ministry has equipped him for this time.
This is a new church and a new model of church for many, but it will not reject or condemn the models of traditional churches. In fact, the name of this church will be “Sankofa” which is also the name of Curtis’ youth ministries. Sankofa means, “reaching back to pick up the teachings of those before”. The goal is not to entirely discard traditional church practices, but instead to learn from them, embrace their healthy practices, and to grow from there. The same mindset will be used to address their “African-ness” in the church. Curtis is aware that African culture and Christianity must have an authentic dialogue. He says, “The church, essentially, will address the question: ‘What does it mean to be an African Christian in the 21st century?”.
As Curtis and his family prepare for this endeavor, they are praying for guidance in their transition, for God’s leading and direction in strategy, and for focus and commitment to the original intent for this church—a church in which young Nairobians, do not feel they must set aside their African-ness in order to pick up their Christianity, but instead, is a place where they can embrace being both—both Christian and African.