Year Two – New Life for Nakuru
From the beginning, Trinity Vineyard Church Nakuru has been about jumping into the center of the local culture – a culture that most in the west don’t even know exists. When our friends and family think of Kenya, they think about exotic animals, tribal people, mud huts, and (because they’re good, moral people) the very, very poor.
To be sure, there are poor people here, and the standard of living for many Kenyans is so far below the U.S. poverty line that it’s almost unfathomable to the western mind. Ask any of the non-profits and faith-based organizations working here and they will tell story after story of people legitimately suffering to survive. But that’s not everyone’s story.
It is a revelation to many in the west that over 93% of Kenyans (yes, even the very poor) have a cell phone and that 73% use that phone for mobile money transactions. Or that 1 in 3 Africans have entered the middle class within the past decade. Or that, anecdotally, I see more Mercedes and Land Rovers per capita in our city of Nakuru than I ever saw in our wealthy suburb outside of Houston, TX.
So, while much-needed money and resources continue to pour into Kenya to help the poor, the church has largely ignored the rapidly growing middle class. Of those churches who have taken notice of this new wealth, the vast majority are going after the dollars, rather than seeking to bring life to the people who hold those dollars.
So, we thought, what if we did church a little differently? What if we sought to engage people in a way that affected every day of their lives, even if they didn’t join us on a Sunday? What if we could be good news to everyone in the city?
One year ago, we launched Trinity Vineyard Church Nakuru – a church designed to do just that. After just four preview gatherings, our funky little church was born on February 15, 2015 in the grassy area behind a local school. We set up rented tents and chairs on a borrowed property and prayed that someone would show up.
They did. That week and every week since, dozens have shown up on Sundays to this unusual upstart church which has now become known around town as “the jeans church”. Average attendance has grown from around 50 people in the beginning to over 80 on Sundays now. Our celebrations are flanked by a growing group of kids, fully engaged youth and young adults, and the kind of energy and life those groups bring to a community like ours.
One thing we learned about starting a church here (and many other places, I suppose) is that the one question you get asked most often is, “So where’s your building?” Starting off, of course, there was no building. The second question that followed was, “So, are you going to build a church building?”
Our answer was always the same: We don’t want to build a church building. We want to have a community hub – a place that brings life to our community seven days a week. We began sharing the vision for something we called Agora.
Agora is a word borrowed from ancient Greece, where cities would have a central hub of activity – a place for commerce, entertainment, arts, social gathering, and more. Many major cities of ancient Greece had an agora. We thought maybe Nakuru needed one.
These are ideas we talked about three or four years ago over chips and queso back in Houston, but once we moved to Kenya, we became even more convinced of the need for this kind of space in Nakuru. We asked people in our community how a church like ours could bring life to this city. We dreamed about what that might look like. We began to cast vision for Agora long before we had a place we could call Agora.
In September of last year, we found that place. After over a year of searching (with a few properties we almost secured) we were connected with the owners of a student hostile who were looking to get out of the hostile business. Their property – three quarters of an acre in a prime location on a main road – included a 3,200 square foot building built over 50 years ago and renovated so many times that it probably has rooms we don’t even know about!
The monthly rental rate on the facility was reasonable, but the place needed work. The initial needs were mostly cosmetic. We cleaned and painted and made minor repairs for about 10 weeks, all the while continuing to cast the vision for this thing called Agora.
Even as we were preparing the building, we had to explain that, in some ways, not much would change for our Sunday gatherings. The adults would still have to meet outside in rented tents because none of the rooms were large enough for our main gathering. We would still have to set up and tear down each week (because, you know, the tents). The biggest beneficiaries of this new space, we explained, wouldn’t be the Trinity regulars. Instead, it would be the people of our city.
Of course, when you tell people that you want to put the local community first, it sounds like a good idea, but when you rent a 3,200 square foot facility, then ask people to sit outside, it puts the idea to the test!
However, our Trinity family gets it. They have been enthusiastic supporters of our efforts, and have contributed their resources and energy to make Agora a reality.
As I write, we are about four weeks from opening one of the key pieces of Agora – a coworking space for our community. For those unfamiliar with coworking, think of it this way: combine the energy and vibrance of a coffee shop, the intentionality and focus of an office environment, and the collaboration of an online workgroup. That’s what coworking is.
It is partially a place where work happens, but even more, it is a community of people working together, supporting each other, encouraging progress in our city, even as they work to achieve their own career and business goals.
For our church, this coworking space represents an opportunity to help a growing group of young entrepreneurs, community developers, and business people get their ideas off the ground, while simultaneously providing opportunities for relational engagement which are sorely lacking in Nakuru.
In addition to our facility, in the past year, we added our first staff member – a young Kenyan pastor and worship leader named Edgar King. Edgar is a key part of our team and has brought such vibrance and leadership (not to mention musicality) to our church that we thank God every day for him. It is rare to find Edgar’s brand of passion, maturity, and commitment in one person, let alone a 25 year old who has multiple career options, but feels compelled to serve God in the church environment (and live with the financial realities that commitment brings).
The coming months will see even more developments for our church community and Agora.
In addition to the opening of the coworking space, we will begin construction this week of a new 40ft x 60ft “semi-permanent” meeting space (AKA, a nicer tent). This is the space we’ll use for our adult gatherings on Sunday, but as part of our vision for Agora, it will also be a space for community events, business training, martial arts and dance classes, and anything else we can fit in there.
As a pastor friend once told us, a building is just a box. It doesn’t have to be beautiful, it just needs to be used.
But wait, there’s more! As if the coworking space and large gathering space weren’t enough, we have also just been thrust into an exciting new project that will help us round out our offerings at Agora.
What began with a brief introduction a few weeks ago is turning into something truly beautiful. The long story will have to wait for another day, but the short story is that we will be partnering with two other organizations here in Nakuru to provide a another quality experience for Agora visitors, while also providing career training for young people, and helping give the gift of sight to countless people in our region. (Look for an official announcement with more details soon!)
To say that it has been an eventful year is an understatement. Our projects are ongoing and the energy required to complete them and sustain the individual components is not something we take lightly. We are fortunate to have a great staff (more will be joining our team soon) and capable partners to carry the load.
Still, we ask your prayers as we press on through this “start-up” phase. Starting anything new is hard. Starting new things in East Africa has some unique challenges. Starting multiple new things at once in East Africa could be a recipe for disaster, but God has a way of seeing these things through, and he has been faithful beyond explanation as we seek to follow his lead in Nakuru.
Thank you for your prayers and support as we move into Year Two of Trinity Vineyard Church Nakuru!