SALUNGA, Pa. – The EMM Board of Directors has appointed Nelson Okanya as the next President of Eastern Mennonite Missions, beginning October 1, 2011. Okanya succeeds Richard Showalter, who is retiring after 17 years of service as EMM president.
Okanya brings a unique blend of experiences – including theological education, pastoral leadership, and cross-cultural missions – that makes him especially suited for serving EMM and its partners in this leadership role.
“The Board of Eastern Mennonite Missions is delighted and grateful to God for bringing Nelson Okanya to serve as our next president,” said Joe Sherer, chair of the EMM Board of Directors. “Nelson’s strong love for Jesus, his humility, passion for missions, and his cross-cultural experiences, particularly as one who came to faith indirectly through the ministry of EMM, uniquely qualify him for this significant role.”
Okanya said, “I am looking forward to participating in the re-envisioning mission for the next generation. The 21st century mission context brings unique opportunities and challenges; we are ‘going where the church is not . . . yet’ and equipping local churches for serious discipleship. The Anabaptist witness and mission, which comes from a marginalized position rather than from the center, continues to be a model for world mission.”
Keith Weaver, moderator of Lancaster Mennonite Conference, said, “Nelson’s exceptional leadership gifts, combined with his passion for God’s mission through the church and his understanding of the church stateside and globally, make him an excellent fit for the role of leading EMM into the future.” He said, “I look forward to working closely with Nelson to continue building a strong LMC/EMM partnership for missional faithfulness and effectiveness at all levels of the church.”
Born and raised in Kenya, Okanya’s childhood included moving back and forth between the rural village of Migori and the city of Nairobi. From a young age, Okanya interacted with the Kenya Mennonite Church and the EMM mission community in Nairobi. He is fluent in English, Kiswahili, and Luo.
Okanya attended Daystar University in Nairobi, Kenya, where he graduated with a diploma in Christian Ministries and won the University Evangelism Award in 1997. He holds a master’s of Divinity degree from Eastern Mennonite Seminary (Harrisonburg, Va.) and is taking doctoral classes at Catholic University of America (Washington, D.C.). In 2005 he was a member of the adjunct faculty at Eastern Mennonite University in the Bible and Religion Department. He has been awarded the Jennie Calhoun Baker Memorial award for excellence in sermons.
From 1996 to 1999, Okanya served with EMM in short-term assignments: as a Kenya YES team participant (1996), a STAT team co-leader (1997), a Kenya YES team leader (1997-98), and as the Baltimore YES Training Center assistant director and director (1998-99). Okanya also led a cross-cultural team with Virginia Mennonite Board of Missions in 2000. In 2004, Okanya and his wife Jessica served on a one-year GO! assignment with Eastern Mennonite Missions at the Mennonite Theological College of Eastern Africa, where he served as academic dean and Jessica served as the college accountant.
From 2006 to 2010, Okanya served as associate pastor at Capital Christian Fellowship in Maryland, and earlier this year he became the lead pastor. He will conclude his service there in September 2011. Okanya, his wife Jessica, and sons Barak (age 4) and Izak (age 2) live in Bowie, Maryland. They plan to move to Lancaster in the fall 2011.