James Mbugua is a tall, dark man, hailing from one of Kenya’s 42 tribes, the Kikuyu.
The Kikuyu rose to power after Kenyan independence in the 1960s, receiving desirable jobs and prized land throughout the country, including the fertile Rift Valley. Animosity toward them lingered, however, due to jealousy from other groups, especially the Kalenjin, who believed the prized Rift Valley land belonged to them.
Pastor Mbugua shepherds a Pentecostal church in the slum of a small town predominantly occupied by Kalenjins. When ethnic violence broke out in Kenya’s 2008 presidential election, Mbugua’s minority family became a target.
Thieves ransacked his 9-acre farm, destroying his house, cornfields, and tilapia pond – his entire livelihood. Further, Kalenjin pastors from the church he founded, confronted him and asked him to step down! Mbugua, his wife and kids, became outcasts, fleeing to a nearby refugee camp, where they lived for several months.
Tragically, his wife and son lost their lives as a result of the ongoing violence.
As I laid flowers at their graves in 2012, the pastor’s story shook me. How could Christian brothers stand in church one week, proclaiming unity in Christ, then literally attack each other the next, solely because of race or tribe?
We easily condemn these warring tribes, yet our nation is no different. Black Lives Matter. Blue Lives Matter. All Lives Matter. Democrats. Republicans. We see so much bias, trauma, and pain.
Yet, the beauty and hope of Advent is that Christ came to reconcile. In his book With Justice for All, Christian Author, John Perkins punctuates this truth, stating “A gospel that doesn’t reconcile is not a Christian gospel at all.”
Consider during this sacred season what it means for you to be an agent of reconciliation, as the Apostle Paul challenges us in 2 Corinthians 5. How might people be restored to God and to one another through you?
As for Pastor James, he returned to his hometown and chose to forgive.
In thick, British-African English, he said “What I decided is, as one of the verses in the Bible says, that your enemy – you can forgive the enemy. So when I was looking, who is the enemy, I found that the one who wanted to kill me is my enemy. Better I love him so that I can change him and bring him to Jesus again…So I forgave them.”
Jesus is the Great Reconciler. May we be instruments of reconciliation today, for His glory.