To be a woman in Africa, I was told, you must be strong. Not just the strength needed to balance 20-litre water containers on your head for the long walk home, cook over an open fire or keep your family’s clothes immaculately clean amid ever-present clouds of red dust. Rather, a woman needs the tenacity that’s required to have a vision and make it happen.
At first glance, Martha Kasoi Ndulu and her daughter Esther seemed quiet and a bit shy, rather unlikely examples of such initiative. But then I heard their story.
I met them a few months ago in Nzantani town, on a trip to meet Adventist World Radio (AWR) listeners in central Kenya. When Esther began listening to AWR programs in 2009, she took notes on every program, along with the questions she had about the topics.
Esther soon told her mother about the programs. When the station manager, Pastor Silas Kioko, came to their area, Martha and Esther gathered their whole village to meet with him. They were leaders in their local church and they sternly questioned the pastor about the points they disagreed with.
Although Esther only had a primary school education, she was in the habit of summarising each radio program and sharing the information with the people around her. She and many others began studying Bible lessons. After only two months, 94 people joined a Seventh-day Adventist Church, including Martha and Esther. The church’s regional headquarters purchased land five kilometres from the women’s home and made plans to put up a church building.
But Martha said, “Five kilometres away? How will I make it? I’m not good with motorbikes and at my age I can’t walk far.” So she began to pray. “Lord, I don’t know what to do, but I just feel I have a burden.”
Martha had had two sons, but one had died and the other one had disappeared, so she was living at home alone with Esther. She did have land, however, so she felt impressed to give part of it for a church.
But then her thoughts shifted. She told God, “No, I’m not going to do it. You know I lost one son and I have no idea where my other one is.” However, every time she said “no,” she heard a voice, again and again.
Finally one morning, Martha woke up and said, “OK, Lord, I’ll walk around my piece of land and You’ll show me which part You want me to give You, because I don’t know.” So she started pacing around her small farm. Miraculously, she did hear a voice say, “Here.”
Martha quickly grabbed her phone and called Pastor Kioko: “I want you to come now!”
“What’s happening?” he asked.
“Pastor, just come!”
So the pastor drove 65 kilometres on bad roads until he got to Martha’s house. She said, “I’m going to give a piece of my land here. I’d like to be paid only 100,000 shillings [$AUD1300]. But I’ll just keep 90,000, and the other 10,000 will be for tithe.”
But then Martha added some conditions: “We had better start thinking about building right away. I don’t want to embarrass this new church I have come to. People in my community would not like to sit and worship under a mango tree for too long.” She knew if visitors had to keep meeting under a mango tree, they would soon leave, saying what a shame it was the Adventists couldn’t offer their people something better.
So she kept calling the church leaders of the regional headquarters, saying, “If you don’t do it, I’ll build this church myself.” In the African context, decisions are made by men. But here was this lady and her daughter being very firm.
The church leaders finally decided to proceed with building the church, but soon a new problem arose. The pastor for the district left for another town!
That’s how Martha became the project foreman and single-handedly supervised the entire project. She even spent some of her own savings—another 100,000 shillings—so that the work wouldn’t stop. (The Church did refund her the money.)
At the time of my visit, the structure was complete, but there were still a few unfinished details. Of course, Martha was once again standing firm: “There are no floor tiles yet, so I’m not taking possession of the building. I want a church with tiles, with beautiful plastic chairs, with lighting. There are many, many people who are just waiting for the church to be completed, and they will come.”
Esther continues to be active in sharing the love of God, distributing Bible lessons in the area, and collecting and marking them. Church leaders have talked to her about possibly going back to school and becoming a literature evangelist.
After we toured the church building, took photos and thanked Martha and Esther for their hospitality, we drove off into the twilight.
After a few kilometres, my companion said, “Could I listen to the radio and make such a significant decision that would affect my life? But Martha did it, and today she’s about to open a church with her daughter.”