A ‘chance’ encounter opened the door for a Kenyan pastor to study at MTS so he could launch a free pastor training school in his homeland
Written by Jeff Smith | ~ 8-minute read
As Joseph Wainaina watched the latest class of pastors celebrate their graduation from the Word of Truth Center in Maai-Mahiu, Kenya, he couldn’t help but smile in amazement at the sight unfolding before him.
Thanks to the free tuition Word of Truth provided, a total of 160 pastors from across Kenya had earned diplomas or certificates in Bible and theology since the ministry opened in 2016. This was nothing short of a miracle in Kenya, where Bible training is scarce and most pastors can’t afford any form of higher education. Word of Truth had quickly become an oasis in a nation where many pastors hold the same level of limited Bible knowledge as members of their congregation.
The fact that 160 Kenyan churches are now shepherded by formally trained pastors didn’t seem remotely possible 13 years ago—when Joseph received the unexpected offer of a lifetime.
In 2009 Joseph was a student at Moffat Bible College in Kijabe, Kenya, when Al and Marsha McCarty happened to hear his impassioned recitation of the poem “My King” during a ceremony at the school. The McCartys, residents of Dowling, Michigan, were visiting Moffat with African Inland Mission on a mission trip to Kenya.
The couple had been sensing that God wanted them to bring a Kenyan pastor to the US for seminary training. Weeks after their mission trip, Marsha called Moffat about sponsoring one of their students to enroll at a seminary near the McCartys’ home. The employee answering Marsha’s call was Joseph, an administrative assistant studying at Moffat.
Marsha recognized Joseph’s voice and asked if he was the student who recently recited “My King” at Moffat, sending him a photo she had taken during his performance. He said he was, and the two struck up a conversation.
As they built a relationship with Joseph, seeing him again on a second mission trip to Kenya in 2010, the McCartys eventually broached an idea to him. Would Joseph be interested in traveling with his new wife, Jane, to the US to attend seminary?
At first Joseph declined. Having lived in abject poverty his whole life, Joseph was concerned that he couldn’t afford the extravagant trappings of America. But, as he discussed plans with the McCartys and believed God was calling him to organize a unique ministry offering free pastor training in Kenya, he warmed to the invitation. After applying to Moody Theological Seminary in Plymouth, Michigan, the school offered him a full-tuition Timothy Scholarship. Under the scholarship, the McCartys, MTS, and Pleasant View Family Church each contributed a third of the tuition costs.
The McCartys and Dick and Bobbi Oestreicher, faithful donors to MTS, said Joseph and Jane could live in their homes free of charge while Joseph was a student. Joseph would stay with the Oestreichers, who resided near MTS, three nights a week and would live with the McCartys, whose home was over 90 minutes from MTS, for the other four nights a week. Jane would stay with the McCartys full time.
Dick and Bobbi Oestreicher (above) cohosted Joseph and his wife, Jane, while Joseph attended Moody Theological Seminary in Michigan.
Coming to America
In August of 2011 Joseph and Jane boarded an airplane for the first time in their lives so Joseph could pursue an MDiv at Moody Theological Seminary in Plymouth. (“We held hands on the plane the whole way from Nairobi to Rome where we had a layover; we were so nervous,” Joseph laughed.)
From the time the Wainainas’ plane touched down at Detroit Metropolitan Airport, life in Michigan was a culture shock. A native of Nakuru, Kenya, Joseph, his parents and his nine siblings lived in a small, crude home equipped with well water, a firewood stove in the yard for a kitchen, and three bedrooms. He shared a bedroom with his two brothers, and his seven sisters shared another room. His family had to walk everywhere, including five miles round trip to church each Sunday. When he wasn’t in school, Joseph and his siblings were usually on their family’s one-acre farm raising corn, beans, and potatoes.
When the McCartys began driving Joseph and Jane from the airport to the McCartys’ home in Dowling, the interstate traffic took Joseph by surprise.
“I couldn’t see people walking on the highway. Where are the people?” Joseph wondered. “In Kenya we walked wherever we would go. We don’t drive. It never dawned on me there are so many cars in America and there are at most one or two people in each car.”
Joseph also had to learn how to drive on the right side of the road and in heavier traffic than Kenya while adjusting to the cooler temperatures in the northern US. “Even in September, for him 60 degrees was very cold,” Marsha laughed. “We would find him in his office with a stocking cap and his coat and gloves on while we’re in shorts. It was a bit difficult for him to acclimate to our climate.”
The biggest shock for Joseph was the sight of snow for the first time in his life. Joseph still chuckles at his first encounter with snow as he drove home from MTS in December of 2011.
“I said, ‘Wow, you mean the snow comes from the sky?” he laughed. “It had never occurred to me that the snow came from the sky. I thought it would come up from the ground. I would usually take two hours to get to their home. With the snow it took four hours. I was so scared to drive in snow. I could see cars stuck on the side of the road. Other cars were passing me like nobody’s business.”
Al and Marsha McCarty cohosted Joseph and Jane Wainaina while Joseph attended MTS Michigan.
Starting a thriving family and education
In spite of having to construct a whole new life from scratch in Michigan, Joseph and Jane quickly adapted to their new surroundings and objectives. The couple started a family, with their son David born in 2012 and their daughter Grace in 2015. They immediately hit it off with their host families, the Oestreichers and McCartys.
“They fit in so well with us. We never had a single argument,” Marsha said. “Everybody who meets Joseph loves him: his kindness, his wisdom, and his leadership.”
Joseph also connected with local churches to share his vision for free pastoral training in Kenya, and several churches agreed to support the ministry he was preparing to launch. Holding a degree in Bible and Theology from Moffit, he even accepted a role as interim pastor at nearby Delton Community Church during his years at MTS. He later served a pastoral internship at Pleasant View Family Church.
Joseph’s transition to MTS was equally smooth. Joseph fell in love with the seminary, its faculty, and the family-like atmosphere of the small, close-knit campus. He dove headlong into his Master of Divinity studies from the outset.
“Joseph was a very diligent and focused student,” said Eric W. Moore, professor and field chair of Applied Theology and Global Church Ministries at MTS. “Joseph would drive 90 minutes several times a week to attend class or meet with other students, professors, or with me. He never complained and was always excited about the possibility of learning something more that might help him in serving the Lord.”
Dr. Moore played a key part in Joseph’s orientation to life in seminary and America. He stepped up to mentor Joseph shortly after he first arrived on campus.
“While I was on a mission trip that August in Uganda, I realized the importance of community in the African culture,” Dr. Moore said. “I had told the Lord that ‘if’ He brought African students to our campus that I would fully embrace them. I had no idea that the Lord had Joseph waiting for me back in Michigan. So I embraced him fully. He has eaten at our home. He has preached at our church. I have counseled him regarding ministry in the US and in Kenya.”
Joseph and his family at Joseph's graduation from MTS in 2015, and Joseph in class at MTS.
Keeping his eyes fixed on Kenya
Some students who visit the US on a visa decide to remain in America permanently. But Joseph said he and Jane never wavered on their commitment to return to their homeland after Joseph earned his MDiv from MTS. Joseph couldn’t wait to fulfill the dream God planted in his heart to form a free pastor training school in Kenya.
“He realized that there was a temptation to enjoy the luxuries of the United States and not return back to Kenya. For that reason, he lived a disciplined life while here,” Dr. Moore said. “He did not want to fall in love with America and forget why he came here. The Lord brought him here to learn and take that learning back to Kenya.”
Joseph graduated Summa Cum Laude from MTS in May 2015. Joseph and Jane found it difficult to leave MTS and the families, churches, professors, and students that made them feel at home. (“David especially found it hard to go, and we were losing our grandbabies,” Marsha said.) But they looked forward to going back to Kenya and following God’s next steps for their family.
Meeting a critical need for Kenyan pastors
Buttressed by the financial giving of sending churches like Pleasant View Family Church and working under the care and support of Partners in Evangelism International (PIEI), Joseph launched Word of Truth Christian Resource & Training Center on January 16, 2016. The center was housed in a building on a half-acre of property in Maai-Mahiu courtesy of a 15-year interest-free loan that a Word of Truth board member had voluntarily supplied.
The first year of the certificate program attracted 26 pastors. They were hungry for collegiate Bible training that would empower them to shepherd their churches and reach their community with the gospel. A handful of the pastors were from cultic churches; they came to saving faith in Christ over the course of the program and then planted new Bible-believing churches after graduation.
Word of Truth tailored its curriculum schedule to fit the pastors’ needs. Pastors took 40 hours of classes one week per month for 11 months, graduating in December. This allowed them to return home to their families and churches for the remaining three weeks of each month.
The goal of the curriculum is to train pastors in how to properly handle God’s Word and enable them to equip and train members of their church. The program focuses on teaching biblical truths, principles, and concepts that also enhance pastors’ spiritual maturity. And unlike most seminaries and Bible colleges, traditional measuring devices like exams, term papers, and grade point averages aren’t deployed.
“The pastors who attend Word of Truth are already motivated by a personal desire to learn and grow and be equipped to lead their church,” Joseph said.
Joseph speaking during a class at Word of Truth pastor training center, and graduates at one of Word of Truth's most recent graduations.
An unexpected counseling program
The program grew in such high demand that Word of Truth began offering a four-year degree program in 2021 and has added courses to its certificate curriculum. Word of Truth even hired a pastor trained in biblical counseling to start a Christian counseling program during the COVID-19 pandemic; 47 students earned counseling certificates from Word of Truth in 2021.
“When COVID hit, people came to us for solutions. Their children had committed suicide. Some didn’t have food because they lost their job. They were devastated,” Joseph said. “We saw a need for counselors who could provide counseling for people going through these hard issues. We’ve received a lot of interest in our classes. We attracted high school and primary school teachers and community leaders for the training. The need for Christian counselors is just so huge.”
Pastors from across Kenya attend a class at Word of Truth.
Just getting started
Kenya is slightly larger in land mass than California, making it challenging for pastors to travel hundreds of miles to study at Word of Truth’s campus. Joseph believes Word of Truth’s next step is to take its curriculum to pastors.
“How about we as Word of Truth take our training to where the pastors are?” Joseph said. “How about we train our teachers, equip them, get them to know the material well, and send them to the towns where pastors cannot come to us?”
Joseph said he will always be grateful to the McCartys, the Oestreichers, and MTS for the firm theological and biblical foundation he built in seminary. It has allowed God to use him to fill a crucial vacuum of pastoral training in his beloved country.
“My heart is for seeing every church in Kenya led by a pastor who is trained well in the Word of God to lead his church,” Joseph said. “Kenya is about 80% Christian. But many people here have faith that is a mile wide and only a foot deep. Bible training and discipleship is what we need to change the tribal culture. Heresy is an issue in the church. There are not enough trained pastors leading our churches. When pastors are properly trained in God’s Word, their churches will grow, and the good news will reach their communities.”
Joseph speaks at a recent graduation ceremony, and the graduate processional enters the ceremony.