Dad, in 1948 you saw the face of this earth. You were given as a gift to your mother Patricia and your dad Okanya Onguka. You are the 11th son but only the second child to live after your 10 siblings had died in infancy. I do not know how it felt to your parents when you were born after only one of their children survived the demise of infant mortality.
While you were in 7th grade your father died suddenly while on a business trip in Tanzania. His untimely death dashed all your dreams of an education and set the stage for a difficult and challenging life for you. You had no choice but to drop out of school to take care of your mother and your two younger siblings in your older brother’s absentia. You became the man of the home; the responsible one but you were only a child.
You worked hard on the garden and ensured that your mother and two siblings did not go hungry. You had no choice but to grow up and became the family protector. As a result, no one dared to mess with you or with your younger siblings (your mother could take care of her self J). You became well known as a fighter, and fierce defender of the family. A narrative of loss, abandonment and survival shaped you as a young man.
You became a tough guy but deep inside you were a little boy crying out for love, protection and a need to be just a youth in the village. You protected your family but no one protected you. When time came to find a wife, unlike many young men in your village, life had denied you the luxury of being given cows by your father for dowry but you did not despair. When you met the love of your life, my mother you went all out and went beyond the expected dowry and gave over 30 cows that you got by your own hard work, what a man! While attending a village dance and incidence occurred that shook you to the core.
You almost lost your life in an altercation with another guy when he swung a knife at you. You felt the urgency to leave the event and headed back home and that night you had a dream that altered forever your narrative and hence your life’s trajectory. You were woken up from a deep sleep and instructed to read 1 Cor. 13. You lit the paraffin lamp and read it without much understanding.
You did not give up and went to an elder at the Mennonite Church the next day. This church had just been planted by some Mennonite Missionaries in your village. When the church elder challenged you to go to church and change your sinful ways you accepted the challenge. You encountered Christ and his love and you became a new man. The villagers still bear testimony to this transformation. You accepted a narrative that has a power that is stronger than any wounding force! And your life forever changed!
You left the village to look for a job in the city like many African men soon after Kenya’s independence. You did not get a job and your cousin with whom you stayed gave you a bus fare to go back home to the village. You knew that such a move would be detrimental to your young family and to your mother and two siblings. You stayed in Nairobi hoping against hope that God would open a door for employment.
While still on the job hunt, you were introduced to a Mennonite missionary couple that had been expelled from Somalia and they invited you to their home gave you a temporary shelter for two weeks. It you’re your first time to live in a modern house and live with foreigners whose ways you did not know. By God’s provision you found a job and grew in discipleship.Life’s many opportunities passed you by but you did not give up. Others and my self-included have marveled that anytime an opportunity is offered in church you have a testimony. I know that this comes out of your deep relationship with Jesus and flows out of a life of thankfulness.
You stayed on the same job as an assembly line job technician at the Avon Rubber Company for 27 years. You almost lost your life in a major factory accident when I was in 8th grade and your life story almost got repeated in my life but thanks be to God! God spared your life through excellent medical care at hospital in Nairobi when the doctors had serious doubt that you would make it. I am so thankful that you recovered!
You chose to live in Nairobi’s largest slum for those 27 years in order to save money for my siblings and I to get an education. While I went to college you rented a house for me in a better part of the city so that I had electricity and running water luxuries that you lived without all your working life in Nairobi. When you were retrenched after 27 years of work you made a successful transition to the village, which is not always the norm for many men. You were eventually credentialed by your church and now ride your bicycle 2 hours away to give leadership to the church where you first encountered Christ.
Dad, I can say much about you but this is a blog post and not a book so I will stop here. Now that you are struggling with your health, I feel so far away distance wise but talking with you on the phone on Thursday after your test and initial diagnosis I felt closer even though I could not touch you. I would like you to know dad that I am deeply grateful for the father you are. I am thankful for your selflessness and admire your love for us your children, your generosity and indeed your faith! Happy Father’s day dad!