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 Kenya's Spiritual Signs
July 9th, 2010
09:13 AM ET

Spiritual Safari: The Gospel According to Kenyan Cabbies

Editor's Note: Stephen Prothero, a Boston University religion scholar and author of "God is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions that Run the World," is a regular CNN Belief Blog contributor.

By Stephen Prothero, Special to CNN

If you want to tap into the religious spirit of a country, you can go to its churches and mosques and listen to the words of its preachers and imams. But the lived religion of a nation is just as accessible on the streets.

On my recent visit to Kenya, I saw lions and leopards lazing in the Samburu National Reserve and hyenas chomping on flamingo bones at Lake Nakuru, but my spiritual safari was equally intriguing. While touring through the highlands north of the capital city of Nairobi I saw religious fervor on hand-painted street signs ("El Shadai Dressmaker" and "Bismillah Butchery") and the ubiquitous minivan taxis known as matatus (nearly as deadly, I might add, as the crocodile).

Thanks to the rapid growth of the spirit-filled Christian style known as Pentecostalism, Christianity is running wild in Africa, expanding from 9 million to 355 million souls over the course of the twentieth century, and Kenya is no exception.

Here hand-painted signs in even tiny towns announce a half dozen options for Sunday morning worship services—from old stalwarts such as the A.C.K. (Anglican Church of Kenya) and the P.C.E.A. (Presbyterian Church of East Africa) to tin shack upstarts such as the “Maximum Miracle Centre” and the “Shekinah Power Camp; Love Church.”

My favorite was “Jesus Winner Ministry,” outside of Nanyuki in the Kenya Highlands, a micro-church packed on a Sunday morning with Kenyans singing praise songs and literally shaking the makeshift roof.

What really struck me, however, were the religious proclamations that bounced up and down the bumpy roads of Kenya, following me everywhere. In a country where it is not unusual for citizens to walk for miles to pick up or deliver a jug of milk, modes of transport are dear, and many come (like boats in America) with names or mottos. I saw trucks proclaiming “Allahu Akbar” (“God is Great”) and “Rastas Never Die.” 

But the overwhelming majority of these missionaries in motion were preaching the resurrected Christ. Images of Jesus (almost always white) were inescapable. I saw trucks called “Soul Winner,” motorcycles affirming “In God We Trust,” and a bicycle splash guard that said “Obey God.” Matatus, the minivan cabs speeding everywhere in Kenya, were the favorite palette for proclaiming the gospel. One was called "Rapture." Others were named “God’s Chariot,” “Witness,” and “Christitude.”

The Kikuyu people of Kenya, the country’s largest tribe, refer to Mount Kenya as “Where God Lives.” That may be. But God lives too in the rush of wheels across sand and stone.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Stephen Prothero.

- CNN Belief Blog contributor

Filed under: Christianity

soundoff (121 Responses)
  1. MikefromNZ

    It is great that many in Kenya are hearing the good news of the gospel. I guess it is one thing to look at signs and buildings and numbers, but what God does in the hearts of people through the good news of His Son is the important thing and not to easy to see by reading a blog on the subject. It's probably easy to be sceptical especially in America where God and Christianity have become for some just a part of the culture and heritage, but not a living reality. It's great to see by the posters on this site that there are still many who have a genuine faith in and personal relationship with Christ. I pray that this is the case in Kenya too. In Christ, Mike from New Zealand.

    July 9, 2010 at 8:04 pm |
  2. Ireadthis

    Sad Tragedy, I'm no more the architect of my own end than I was the architect of my own beginning. I am also not responsible for any actions taken by those who preceeded me, nor am I obligated by them. And I certainly don't share your self-destructive worldview about the reality of the here and now. If you continue to wallow in your misery and seek to drag everyone else into it, then you will surely find no relief. Now that's sad.

    July 9, 2010 at 6:24 pm |
  3. HeIsGod

    Lovechild, The Roman Catholic Church is just a religious church and they are not Christians. If you read the book of Acts, you will see that the Disciples talks about Christians.

    July 9, 2010 at 6:21 pm |
    • HeReigns

      As a former Catholic, I have to respectfully disagree. Catholics are Christians ....I will the practice does have it's faults (imho) but there are people who happen to be Catholic that truly love Jesus and do their best to glorify God. Such people are the body of Christ as well.
      On the reverse there are people who claim "Christian" for themselves, but know so little of the Word, that they set themselves against God.
      So, Protestant, Catholic, or non-denominational....we may have different perspectives on how to best worship God, but we are all brothers and sisters in Christ.

      July 10, 2010 at 1:24 pm |
    • HeIsGod

      @ HeReigns – You are right, I really forgot about that, I apologize. I have met Catholic Christians that don't practice what Roman Catholics do. We, nondenominational Christians, forget that. We are not into worshiping any idols, as the Lord has commanded us not to.

      Bless you! Thanks for reminding me! We all need to remember your comment.

      ; – )

      July 10, 2010 at 6:37 pm |
  4. Lovechild

    The christ was Jewish, and he probably spoke Hebrew. What color was he? For sure he was not white. The Christi anity did not come about until decades after his death. While Jesus was alive there was no Christian Church. The Romans who murdered him then became the Holy Roman Catholic Church, they saw his power and wanted some for themselves. Wow, and powerful they are!

    July 9, 2010 at 6:05 pm |
    • dd

      "The christ was Jewish"
      Then again, Jesus and also King David were both born in Bethlehem, which is in Palestine.

      July 10, 2010 at 3:37 am |
  5. 7RU7H 533K3R

    Yeshua HaMashiah [Jesus Christ] God incarnate is "THE TRUTH THE WAY AND THE LIFE" (John 14:6).
    ALL glory & honor & power to God The Most High.

    July 9, 2010 at 5:52 pm |
    • HeIsGod

      All Glory, Honor, and Praise belongs to Him for He is Forever God Almighty!!

      July 9, 2010 at 8:50 pm |
  6. Sad tragedy

    To: the murderers & their beneficiaries

    europes murderers & mass genociders (aka colonialist & enslavers) typically sent their advance military teams (so called 'missionaries') to win the trust of africans, who would then double cross them to enable capture and enslavement. the old strategy of bible in one hand and gun in the next. with the animal fully trained, there remain no concern about removal of the leash (chains)...mass psychological damage on planets non-europeans to assure centuries of white supremacy will be deemed as "normal or natural"....nice work! hope you proud of your ancestors and the bequests they have made to you all....enjoy as well the global warming, environmental destruction, extinction of species, free continent d/t genocide of american natives and ultimately your own myopic self-extermination. Thanks be to the Divine that you cannot murder the spirit, because it is eternal (including yours), you are within me, i am within you, and we are one (know it or not...it is so). Your myopic reign will not last, as it will end when you end, and you shall be the architect of your own end...maybe then we can live in eternity as one.

    With Love

    July 9, 2010 at 5:36 pm |
    • nasema

      "When the missionaries arrived, the Africans had the Land and the Missionaries had the Bible, They taught us how to pray with our eyes closed. When we opened them, they had the Land and we had the Bible." – Jomo Kenyatta

      August 6, 2010 at 12:32 am |
  7. michelle

    Thanks Stephen, for the article. Go glad to know that the word of GOD is spreading across the country. Jesus is Lord and the whole world will soon know, God bless!!!!!

    July 9, 2010 at 5:19 pm |
    • HeIsGod

      Correction:

      "No, even the most fanciest churches doesn't have the Spirit of God dwelling within it." Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. Many religious churches are missing out on this.

      July 9, 2010 at 5:33 pm |
  8. milly

    Always good to see/read a kenyan article, been so long since ave been home. That describes kenya really well but the best thing is that we are a country that knows God and worships HIM despite the calamities

    July 9, 2010 at 5:14 pm |
  9. Nicole L. Booker

    Finally, some good news about a Nation proclaiming the Name of Christ. Yes, every ear shall hear and every knee shall bow, that Jesus is Lord. AMEN!!!

    July 9, 2010 at 5:10 pm |
    • thes33k3r

      That's right!! Preach on! We need to remember that in Luke 19:27, Jesus said "But those mine enemies, which would not that I should reign over them, bring hither, and slay them before me." Every knee will be on the ground!! Hallelujah!!

      July 11, 2010 at 2:17 pm |
  10. Stephen Prothero

    Oh, and I'm not scoffing. Read the last line!

    July 9, 2010 at 4:54 pm |
    • thes33k3r

      No, no no!! Stephen wasn't scoffing. He would never do any thing that might offend all of us true believers. He is on our side people. He walks next to Jesus in the light. He even said in his piece that "Christianity is running wild in Africa"!! Isn't that wonderful!! We need people like him spreading the word of our true Lord and Savior. Think of all those poor Muslims and those of other faiths who, if they do not accept our Lord Jesus, will be roasted over and over again in the unquenchable fires of hell!! Stephen is one of us....he will be there in heaven with all of us who are truly righteous!!

      July 11, 2010 at 2:11 pm |
  11. Stephen Prothero

    Hi Nancy. Sorry you got that impression. I certainly didn't say ALL African churches are of the micro variety. In fact, I have some great pictures of Kenyan megachurches too, where multistory buildings are rising up alongside revival tents. I'll be doing something with them in another piece.

    July 9, 2010 at 4:54 pm |
    • HeIsGod

      Stephen, it was a true blessing to have you go there and bring back great news! It really blessed me to see that God is pouring out His Spirit upon mankind. Thank you so much for the article!

      July 9, 2010 at 5:30 pm |
    • thes33k3r

      Yeah Stephen, thanks for spreading the word of the one and only true religion...Jesus Christ!! Jesus will reserve a special seat for you in heaven and we can sit and stare into the face of god for all eternity. Too bad every one else doesn't agree with you and me and will have to suffer eternal torment in hell.

      July 11, 2010 at 2:01 pm |
  12. nancy

    I am kenyan and i feel like those pictures send a message that all african churches are run-down and stuff which is absoloutely not true.

    July 9, 2010 at 4:36 pm |
    • kargo

      I'm glad you posted that, Nancy. My father (son of a dairy farmer in southern Mississippi) taught at a British, Roman Catholic secondary school in the 1950's in rural Kenya and lived among the Kikuyu. He had nothing but great memories of that experience and longed to return to teach at the college level, but it never came to be.

      July 9, 2010 at 5:04 pm |
    • HeIsGod

      Those pictures blessed me very much. Does it take a fancy church for one to praise and worship God? No, even the most fanciest churches has the Spirit of God dwelling within it. If I had to attend at church like this picture, so be it. As long as I can gather with my fellow bothers and sisters to Glorify my Father God! The beauty of the church is not the one that mankind builds, but what we give God within our hearts! : – )

      July 9, 2010 at 5:26 pm |
    • HeIsGod

      Correction:

      "No, even the most fanciest churches doesn't have the Spirit of God dwelling within it." Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. Many religious churches are missing out on this.

      July 9, 2010 at 5:37 pm |
  13. Jeremy

    This is a great thing!! But it seems as though this is more of a scoffing column.. Or is it just me?

    July 9, 2010 at 4:29 pm |
    • Buster Bloodvessel

      A bit condescending maybe. Ha ha, those simple innocent black children and their childlike belief in Jesus; it's so refreshing. Send a black guy next time.

      July 9, 2010 at 4:33 pm |
    • nancy

      yea i does to me too

      July 9, 2010 at 4:34 pm |
    • jesse

      Yeah Buster, what color do you think Jesus was? Closer to black then white I am afraid

      July 9, 2010 at 5:00 pm |
    • Gene

      I always picture Jesus as looking like Anwar Sadat.

      July 9, 2010 at 6:17 pm |
  14. Lolrus

    Nooooo they be stealin my Jesus!

    July 9, 2010 at 4:17 pm |
    • nancy

      Jesus is the God of everyone, rich,poor,american, african, everyone. Be glad that more people are worshipping HIM

      July 9, 2010 at 4:33 pm |
    • HeIsGod

      LOL, you are funny! Jesus died for the whole world. We can't be greedy, now, we need Jesus Christ for all mankind!

      GOT TO LOVE HIM!!

      July 9, 2010 at 5:17 pm |
    • thes33k3r

      Oh Jebus is all of our friends!! He is for everyone!! He is both everywhere and nowhere all at the same time!! Bow down all you pathetic sinners!! You better hurry before it is too late!! Jebus could come bustin' thru the clouds any lift me up to perfect heaven and then you will be sorry for not believering!!!!!

      July 10, 2010 at 12:34 am |
  15. Chessnutz of Liverpool NY

    My brother Jesus never intended to worshipped before the one and only God. God showed us the power of unconditional love when he sacrificed his only son for the sins of humanity. Seems humanity only made this sacrifice an even greater sin by twisting it into a business that sells us religon.

    July 9, 2010 at 4:13 pm |
    • jonathan

      at the name of Jesus shall ever knee bow..every tongue shall confess that he is Lord to the glory of God the Father....God gave us Jesus to worship because of our idolotrous nature...but here you are against it..Why? cause you don't understand..So let me tell you again ,,,,God is glorified in his Son Jesus Christ....God was in Christ reconsiling the world to himself..When you are worshipping Jesus you are worshipping God the Father..... the image of Jesus is the same as that of the Father..so go a head ans stretch out your hands toward heaven and say thank you Jesus with all your heart..

      July 10, 2010 at 3:41 pm |
  16. Lyan

    Praise God! All the nations shall hear about Jesus. Its better than the bashing signs of God in America.

    July 9, 2010 at 4:12 pm |
    • Buster Bloodvessel

      Wait, God puts up bashing signs in America? When did this happen?

      July 9, 2010 at 4:31 pm |
    • HeIsGod

      @ Buster Bloodvessel -According to Lyan's comment, she is not stating that God is putting up bashing signs in America, ignorant blind people are...gosh, do you need to have me explain it better to you?

      July 9, 2010 at 5:19 pm |
    • Gene

      At ease, HelsGod, Buster was just being lightly iro... oh, never mind.

      July 9, 2010 at 6:09 pm |
  17. righteous-in-Christ

    Glory to God!!! Christ is the King of kings and Lord of lords!! Forever, He is God!

    I Praise God for pouring out His Spirit upon mankind and I pray that more and more people will come to the feet of Christ and humble themselves, for without Christ, we are lost, nothing! Praise His Holy Name!!! Thank you my King and Savior!!

    July 9, 2010 at 3:54 pm |
    • MikefromNZ

      Amen. Christ indeed is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. May His Name be praised.

      July 9, 2010 at 8:06 pm |
    • thes33k3r

      Oh Jebus!! We all love you Jebus!! Please come back soon and take those of us who believe that the words attributed to you in the book we call the Bible were really spoken by you!! Please hurry and take us to heavenly paradise because we hate this sinful world so much!! Also, please don't forget to send all of those who don't believe in you (Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, atheists etc.) straight to hell so they can suffer eternal torment!! Just think, you Jesus, oh Prince of Peace, grandma and I will be together forever in bliss while those who aren't righteous will be roasting over and over!! Hallelujah!! Praise god and Jebus!!

      July 10, 2010 at 12:25 am |
  18. Mrs. Cathey

    PREACHING THE RESURECTED CHRIST......awesome!!!!

    July 9, 2010 at 3:23 pm |
    • Glorifundel

      All hail zombie jeasus.

      July 9, 2010 at 4:29 pm |
    • thes33k3r

      Oh Jebus is so much love!! He is so wonderful!! Praise all that Jebus does! Praise god and Jebus for ignoring the starving child on 123 Street in Ethiopa and instead helping me to fix my flat tire the other day in the rain when I prayed for a miracle!! Hallelujah!!

      July 10, 2010 at 12:30 am |
    • Dan

      thes33k3r: LOL...Generally "seekers" have to have an open mind. Your name doe not fit you at all.

      July 11, 2010 at 2:55 pm |
    • thes33k3r

      to Dan–you better get right with Jebus befor its to late!! You'll be laughing at the pearly gates when Almighty Lord and Savior asks you why you question his authority!!

      July 12, 2010 at 2:40 pm |
  19. Nk

    Ahh, missing the matatus. Some things will never change in Kenya

    July 9, 2010 at 2:03 pm |
    • Rajiv

      i disagree..like everywhere else..things are changing in kenya too.. number of graduates increasing every year.. i too miss kenya as much! but i have hope! these days matatu's kill half the people it killed last year! lol..
      pole pole.. tutafika!!

      July 14, 2010 at 10:09 am |
  20. chip

    i thought winner Jesus ministry was joel osteen's. satelite campus in kenya?

    July 9, 2010 at 12:55 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.