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News for middle of August 2002

Visiting Jerusalem 'Jerusalem' is the name given to the settlement of 600 people at the home of the late founder of Legio Maria Simeon Ondeto in South Nyanza, Western Kenya. It was a privilege to visit this community of the religious committed, living closely in a scattering of huts around a church and compound. In the centre of the compound is a large cross for the dedicated to approach in prayer along a route marked by white stones. We were invited to remove our shoes and gather with a small group of Cardinals and Bishops. After some discussion the Pope himself was informed of our presence and agreed to spend 10 minutes greeting us. We were then shown around the rows of huts that were the residences of this holy place.

The cardinals of this church, that claims to have two million members, were apologetic. "We are not the way people say we are" they assured us repeatedly. Many people have little respect for the Legio Maria church. Yet here was something approaching a genuine African Christianity. I was reminded at once of the crowds of committed people I had found at the ancient Orthodox churches I have visited in Ethiopia. The atmosphere was heavy with religious commitment. Here were African people who had given their lives in poverty to God's service.

I asked "who do you believe Ondeto (the late founder of the Legio Maria) to be?" "He is Jesus" responded our host-Cardinal. The Legio believe the Jesus known by other Christians is the Saviour of white men. Ondeto is Messiah of blacks.

There is great irony. It appears to be this false doctrine, by deterring western missionaries and philanthropists, that enables the Legio Maria to be so truly indigenously African in their life and practice.

Biggest Funeral so far My British guests were surprised to find that not only were we immediately taken to the front row at the burial service of this renowned Kenyan politician, but then later were removed from the queue for food and given our own privileged eating spot. Our hosts wanted to make sure that the only Whites in the crowd of black faces received honoured treatment. The names that testified at this funeral, conducted almost entirelly in English, were those of the rich and famous in Kenya. It was interesting to see and hear in close proximity the people I regularly read of in the newspaper. Less honourable was the behaviour of university students who arrived by the bus load and stole food, created riots as they pushed their way to the front of the funeral, and heckled the politicians as they spoke. To cap all the other experiences that marked this unique day was a helicopter bearing a top Kenyan politician that circled around the burial site before landing in front of my house, just a few hundred yards away.

24 in one go Another highlight of Jim and Nicky Collin's stay was the privilege of visiting and praying for people in 24 houses in turn on the last day of our stay with the Mennonite church of Kenya! This took 6 1/2 hours of walking from hut to hut in the hot sun. It was a privilege to be able to share, albeit briefly, with so many people. This marked the end of a total of 6 days of Christian testimony to these rural Luo people.

Jim Harries