PASTOR KITA LOOKED AROUND his small, struggling village of Kanynjre and dreamed of transformation. The congregation of Kanynjre International Church was dwindling, and he realized a shift in paradigm was needed. “Instead of allowing the condition of the church to be a byproduct of the condition of the village,” he says, “I considered that maybe God intended for the church to lead the way. If the church became vibrant and healthy and alive, maybe the community would, too.” He believed that the local church was the village’s only hope. But the church, like the community it served, was in a tailspin. Turning Kanynjre International Church into a thriving force of good would require a miracle.
The crippling combination of poverty, a growing rate of alcoholism, and the breakdown in families had left people disheartened. Pastor Kita began to pray, believing that God’s heart for his village was health, freedom, and life. Suddenly, he had an idea. “Maybe I should start with the children,” he says. In Kanynjre, young children were seen as a nuisance. They often were overlooked, and some were neglected and abused.
“I learned about a program called Awana, a program that teaches kids about Jesus and helps them develop socially, relationally, and spiritually. I realized this was what I’d been praying for,” says Pastor Kita. He arranged for some men and women in his church to be trained as Awana leaders, and in no time, the program was up and running. Awana was a success right away. Every time they gathered together, more and more children showed up. One young girl named Ethel came to Awana simply because she heard the other children singing and laughing in the church all the way from her house down the street. “I had never been in a church before,” she says, “but all the activity and music made me curious, and I decided to check it out on my own.” Like so many children, Ethel responded immediately to the dynamic storytelling, the encouraging atmosphere, and the spirit of fun. After a while, she convinced her little brother to come along, too. Their mother, Anne, who had never been interested in church, noticed a huge difference in her children. “Their behavior was better, and they started doing better in school,” she says. “As they relayed what they were learning at the church, I finally decided it might be worth giving the church a try for myself. And now, I see how God is changing my own heart.”
Pastor Kita’s vision to bring life to the church by starting with the children was working. Engaging the children with stories of God’s love revived the whole church. The church began to grow as the young, tender hearts of Kanynjre found a place to belong, people to count on, and the love of a church that wanted the best for them. In fact, the children were so responsive that many of them, like Ethel, began attending weekend services as well. And just like Anne, many other parents took note and followed suit. Kanynjre International Church is not only alive, it’s thriving. The building itself had to double in size to accommodate the growth. The children now help serve those in greatest need, they are doing better in school, and their families are more connected. Hope for the future has crept back into the heart of the village. And this is exactly how a small, local church can change a community—child by child, family by family.