|From low potential to high value|
|Written by Joseph Kimeli|
AIM’s Media Director, Jason Boyd, spoke to Joseph Kimeli about how a rural development project has transformed peoples’ lives in Kenya’s Kerio Valley, 25 years after an AIM missionary helped to start it.
When so many projects in Africa fail, the AIC Cheptebo Rural Development Centre, situated in Kenya’s Kerio Valley, is an example of one that has not only survived the test of time, but succeeded in a way no one could have imagined. When it started there were only two churches in the valley, but today there are over 13, in large part to the strong Gospel witness at Cheptebo.
The 100 bed conference centre, which employs 24 staff, was built in 1986 at a time when the area was considered worthless. Its goal was to provide a facility where people could learn agricultural skills that would allow them to provide for themselves, but ‘starting from scratch’ had its challenges. Joseph Kimeli, now the centre’s Director, was also one of its early adoptors: “Initially, because Bill [Rettie] started the programme and he was a white person, they thought, ‘This is not possible in our area’, but thank God some of the local people actually started to take the concept. I was one of the first people to take one of the cows from the project. People came and saw the animal surviving in my farm and said, ‘If it can work for Joseph, why not for me?’ It was a challenge, but people eventually started learning from the locals who had taken the idea from the programme.”
1986 Bill helps on the new site for the conference centre
2011 The centre is now a valuable resource to the valley
Drought was, and still is, a serious problem, which meant that there was very little water available to irrigate the fields. Joseph recalled: “The people climbed the mountains to pray to a god that they did not understand.” Looking at the problem, AIM’s Bill Rettie, who managed the project at the time, organised the construction of a four kilometre pipeline down the side of the hill to allow rainwater to reach the valley and irrigate the farms, and the pipe is still there today.
One AIM missionary
Joseph stressed Bill’s importance in the whole process: “His coming was a blessing to many people in the community and it actually enabled the project to be started: the agricultural demonstrations, bringing the water from the hills, starting the conference facility, introducing the livestock, and more so, starting the youth camps for the youth to come and hear the Word. So, his coming has enabled many people to come and know the Lord Jesus Christ, and now you can see many churches have actually started, and grown, in the community as a result. People thought ‘He’s here to help us learn about agriculture’ but through that many people have come to know the love of God.”
The big picture
Yet, Bill is very quick to point out that he was simply one small piece in a much larger picture. He said: “It wasn’t my idea. There was a pastor in that area who was studying in Moorelands [College], and he had this idea of helping his own people. He had contact with Tearfund, got back to the community and the community got together and gave 50 acres of land to the church for a programme. So, they had land, and it had the promise of funding from Tearfund, but one condition was that they had a manager to manage it. So, at that time I was in contact with AIM and things just came together. The Lord drew a number of things together, including, I believe, myself.”
Many churches have started to grow as a result of the centre
From those humble beginnings, one of the biggest encouragements to Bill has been the changes in peoples’ lives over the years: “The national government had said ‘This is a low potential area; we don’t really expect anything out of here; we’re not going to put anything in here’, and by implication, low potential people: ‘We are poor people; we can’t do anything.’ That was 25 years ago, with people saying ‘Come and give us food’. If you go there today people are saying ‘Come and see my farm; come and see my animal’ and that is the difference. But, if you look behind that, the people who are saying that are almost always Christian people. It’s the transforming power of the Gospel, changing individuals and changing a community.” The irony is that Bill only ever expected to serve in the Kerio Valley for four years as an AIM short-termer, but God had a different plan.
With its success, Joseph plans to expand Cheptebo further down the valley to help those struggling in other farmlands and to show them the love of God.