A Long Walk towards Faith and Excellence
When I was growing up, my mother was the laughing stock of not just my family but of my entire community because she had given birth to three girls and no boy. I grew up watching my own mother being openly mocked for giving birth to me and my sisters, a fact that deeply saddened me. Her status within our community finally changed when, after a long time, she gave birth to two boys. I then vowed that my life would help to destroy the stigma of being a girl, and enhance the status of women giving birth to girls, by forging against all odds a positive narrative for girl children and their potential.
As the second child of a family of three girls and two boys I was born and raised in a small village located in the lower Eastern part of Kenya called Botela, in Kibwezi – Makueni County. It was very much a patriarchal setting where girls and women were seen as beings of lesser value.
For years my mom was disgusted with herself because she was only giving birth to girls. “This will be a bad day,” my grandpa would exclaim occasionally which puzzled me at first until I found out that it was related to my sisters and my sneezing early in the morning. I vividly remember my grandpa repeatedly reminding us that our sneezing in the morning was a bad omen and forbidden as girls were not supposed to sneeze before boys did. Other similar cultural beliefs included the idea that meeting a girl or woman at the beginning of a journey was a bad omen that signaled danger, while meeting a man in the same context was a sign of success and satisfaction to come.
Growing up as a girl within a patriarchal society made things worse for us after the death of my father. It became difficult and challenging to get our inheritance from my father’s assets, and since my brothers were too young to legally have control of them, my mother had to struggle to pay for my fees. My stepbrothers who managed my father’s wealth didn’t believe that girls needed to be educated. “Vai vata wakusomethya mwiitu akatwawa,” they would repeatedly say, which meant “no need to educate a girl who eventually will just get married.”
I thank God for my mother who did not give up, and made many sacrifices so that I could pursue my education. She vowed that none of her daughters would suffer what she had gone through as a girl. Even at a young age, I was fiercely determined to break the cultural barriers I faced within my patriarchal society as a girl child.
My journey as a girl child seeking excellence through education was akin to a long walk through the desert: painful, challenging, difficult and filled with twists and turns as well as daunting obstacles. Despite some health issues that I had to manage, I excelled in my studies and ranked at the top of my class. My school performance earned me honors and distinctions. It also unfortunately incited the resentment and persecution of many boys at my mixed school who strongly felt that girls should not be outperforming them and should not be appointed to leadership positions. “A girl shouldn’t and couldn’t be a leader,” they would say.
While I was bullied at school, I also faced constant opposition within my extended family as some of my kinsmen (despite my stellar academic performance) continued to feel that money spent on my education was a waste because I was a girl. At one point, my mother ran out of money and I had to miss two semesters of school and remain at home as a candidate. In a desperate attempt to help me sit for the official high school exam to earn the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education that I needed to graduate, my mother walked 15 kilometers with me to the nearest market and convinced a bus driver to let us ride for free. After alighting from the bus it took us another 26 kilometer walk to reach the exam location. I remember sitting in the exam room, praying to God desperately and asking my defunct father to wake up to help us pay for my education.
“Alluta continua,” thus the struggle continued even as the lord called me and I started off as an evangelist with the Church of Province of Kenya, then and currently, with the Anglican Church of Kenya. This was also not easy because for a long time, our society believed that only men should be pastors. I ignored the naysayers and joined Berea Theological College for my diploma in theology despite the fact that my path was unclear, since our diocese was not ordaining women then.
I was only the second lady to attend a theological college from my Diocese as most members of the faith communities questioned women’s right to attend. “How could a woman be ordained, for what purpose?” many would ask. “What would happen when she got married, had children and would go on maternity leave?” Despite this climate of opposition, I became the second woman to be ordained after Venerable Florence Musila in Machakos Diocese in 1999. As a woman wearing a clerical collar, I would often be the butt of the jokes of people in the street, from passersby to taxi drivers. “Father” they would call me jokingly. I would quickly correct them: “I am not a father, but a mother in the lord.”
Pathfinders and trailblazers never have it easy. For me as a woman, ministry wasn’t easy. I had to deal with constant derision and humiliations as some would even refuse the Holy Communion just because I, a female, ministered it. But slowly this became a reality, and not only ministering Holy Communion — I was also licensed to celebrate marriages under the provision of African Christian and Marriage and Divorce Act in 2005. God’s calling was strong and I persisted. By the grace of God, I am now in my 22nd year as a clergy member and God has blessed me. I am married to Rev. January Kimuli and together we have two children, Caleb (18 years) and Hope (8 years). The lord has used me to prove that women can make it in ministry just like men.
I am proud to say that in my 22 years in ministry I have grown from an evangelist to a Venerable in charge of an archdeaconry. Scholar, the little girl who was held back from school because her extended family refused to pay for her education is currently a lecturer at St. Paul’s University and an international speaker, a proud mother and a lovely wife.
My search for excellence continued as I managed to get a scholarship from Crosslink to earn my Bachelor of Divinity at St. Paul’s University. I graduated in 2010 at the top of my class. When an accident disabled me for two years, I heard the voice of God through Professor Esther Mombo, the Deputy Vice Chancellor of Academic Affairs at St. Paul’s, then I was awarded a scholarship to pursue my masters at the same University. All went well and I attained my master’s degree in 2013 and went back to the Parish. This little girl has travelled far and wide to the glory of God.
Things were changing day by day and the Rt. Rev Joseph Mutungi appointed me an Archdeacon of Mwala Archdeaconry in Machakos Diocese in the same year 2013 making me the first woman archdeacon in Machakos Diocese and in lower Eastern region attaining the title Venerable. Praise God! After completing my masters, I became an adjunct lecturer in the St.Paul’s University. As I continued serving as a vicar and archdeacon of Mwala I registered for a PhD in 2015. In 2017, I was recruited to teach at St. Paul’s University. Currently I am a PhD Candidate and sooner or later I will be addressed as the Ven. Dr. Scholar, “for it is not by might nor by power but by the Spirit of God…” says the Lord in Zachariah 4:6. The reality of my name has come true: Scholar, the power of naming. Thank you mummy and all who have meant life and been meaningful to me. Thank you God, the Lord is EBENEZAR Amen and Amen. Much more is coming for the sky is the Limit.
I, Scholar, the girl child who was believed unworthy of education, am now training ministers from different denominations and nationalities. God willing, it is my wish and prayer that I and many other women leaders joining the clergy, will be able to influence and impact many male pastors as well as many communities, and help them see girls and women as children of God, full of potential and made to God’s image just like their brothers. As I conclude my long walk towards faith and excellence I owe a debt of gratitude to My mother Lydia Mukeli, My husband Rev. Judah January, My children Caleb Mbai and Hope Mbai, my siblings Christine, Naomi, Simon, and Jonathan, my father-in-law Rtd. LR Michael Kimuli, My late Dad Lazarus Kiilu, and my late mother in- law Loise Ndue. Thanks Prof. Esther Mombo my mentor, all my spiritual fathers and mothers, all members of Aggressive Wonderful Women Self Help Group, St.Paul’s University, ACK Machakos and Makueni Dioceses, Crosslink, Mr. and Mrs. Muindi, Mr. and Mrs. Njagi, James Mutinda and all friends and relatives who met me on the way and encouraged me in this journey. I also want to thank Mr. and Mrs. Abednego Munyao for encouraging me to write this story — the dream has come true. Last but not the least, I thank the Girl Child Long Walk Team: Emily, Dominic, Marie-Rose, and Sonya for giving me this space to share my Girl Child story.
Ven. Scholar Wayua Kiilu Mbai is a clergy member and archdeacon of the ACK Diocese of Machakos. She serves and has served in many roles, including Coordinator for the Centre for Christian-Muslim Relations in Eastleigh, Woman Representative at the National Council of Churches of Kenya, and as a member of Circle for Concerned Women Theologians, among others. She is an international speaker and presenter.