Monday, July 10, 2017

Rain falls on the Just and the Unjust

Pastor Johnfred and his wife, Lydia.
I met Pastor Johnfred Ajwang in the spring of 2014, while living at the Africa Theological Seminary in Kitale, Kenya.  Pastor Johnfred was the pastor of a church he planted in Kisumu through Dove Christian Fellowship, and a student studying for his BA in Theology.  I met him because someone had referred him to me for some marketing that we were doing for ATS and he was reportedly a very good writer.  I was immediately captivated by his great smile, his humble attitude, and his servant heart.  I had the opportunity to teach him two courses (Business as Mission and Accounting for Pastors) and found him to be a serious and dedicated student, while also having a unique gift of bringing warmth into a room and helping people feel comfortable.
Pastor Johnfred (right) was the first to show me Lake Victoria.
Pastor Johnfred was very excited about Discipling Marketplace Leaders and eagerly looked forward to bringing this ministry to Kisumu.  He became a trainer, and then brought a number of church members (business people and church leaders) to also become trainers.  Even though Kisumu was the fourth city we opened for DML in Kenya (after Kitale, Kakamega, and Eldoret), it quickly took the lead in a number of areas because of Pastor Johnfred's passion and energy.  He organized meetings with pastors and business people, and had us back a number of times to do workshops and trainings.  Pastor Johnfred was the first to show me Lake Victoria, as seen in the picture (he is on the right).

I so believed in Pastor Johnfred and the work he was doing that last year Michael and I asked if we could be "members" of his church.  We are members of our church in Grand Rapids but I wanted to be able to go a little deeper with a couple of churches and not always feel like a guest when traveling, so last year we joined his church and one other church.  I have been privileged to watch as a member about the growth and challenges of Pastor Johnfred's church.

But on Saturday, July 1, Pastor Johnfred Ajwang lost his life on this earth after a very brief illness.  He preached the Sunday before on suffering for Christ.  On Monday began to feel sick with some stomach issues.  On Friday they planned to move him to a different hospital that could better address his issues, but early on Saturday, he passed away.  I am told the confusing story that often comes out of health care in developing countries - something was happening to his liver which caused bile to be released into his stomach and bloodstream.  To me this sounds more like a ruptured gallbladder but that is what the family has been told.  As is often the case, it doesn't matter much as it doesn't change the reality.

He leaves behind a wife, Lydia, and four children:  a son aged 14, a son aged 13, and twins (boy and girl) aged 8.  His wife is a primary school teacher in a rural school (which usually means very little pay).  They did not have health insurance or life insurance, and have been left with bills totaling $4500 USD.  The church is struggling to raise some of that money, and I imagine the extended family has been called upon to raise some of it as well.  But my heart goes out to this widow, with four young children, left on her own, so suddenly.  It is heartbreaking.

His death hit me hard on many levels that are obvious (a friend, my pastor, a DML partner, knowing a little of what his wife and children are going through, dealing with a poor health care system, etc).  But it also hit hard as I had been sick with stomach issues for the past six weeks.  I have health insurance, had access to every test (that insurance would allow), and had very good care.  I know I didn't have what Pastor Johnfred had, but I wonder if he would have lived had he been in the US.  And I wonder about the justice of the random chance of where we are born.  And it makes me feel guilty, it makes me want to be more stewardly with my resources, and it makes me want to work harder to end poverty.

Please remember this family in your prayers.  His wife's name is Lydia.  Their children are Shem, Enoch, Ruth, and Japheth - such Biblical names! 

If you would like to give a gift that can be put toward his hospital and funeral expenses, or toward an education fund for his children, please go to, select Discipling Marketplace Leaders from the dropdown, and put "Johnfred Ajwang" in the comment section.

As for me, I am mostly back to normal.  I will most likely never know what it was that I had but I am thankful that it seems to be behind me.  To those who prayed and sent encouraging notes, I am thankful.