In Profile: Archbishop Jackson Ole Sapit
Zambian journalist Bellah Zulu travelled to Kenya for ACNS and interviewed Jackson Ole Sapit the day before his enthronement as Archbishop and Primate of Kenya. The interview covered a number of issues ranging from Bishop Jackson’s upbringing to his motivation to follow Christ and his subsequent election as Archbishop of Kenya.
Can you share with us your background and upbringing and how it contributed to who you’re today?
I was born in 1964 in a large and polygamous family. My father, considered one of the richest men in his area, had 11 wives and my mother was the 7th. Unfortunately he passed away in 1969 when I was only four years old. Around the time my father died agriculture also began to be a new way of life in Masai culture and so land acquired new meaning and economic value. My step brothers saw this as an opportunity and sent away my father’s younger wives, including my mother, so that we don’t inherit the land.
That is how we went to live with my mother’s relatives in another part of Masai land, where I grew up with basically nothing. Through a World Vision initiative, and because of lacking support, I was taken up for sponsorship through my primary and secondary education. This is something which impacted my life a lot. When I finished my secondary education 1984 I moved back to the village where I was made a member of a group ranch. It was here that I had my first interaction with the Anglican Church when I met a missionary from England who was running a mobile clinic and also established a small Anglican Church.” She took me in as an interpreter for her messages from English to Masai, and I also taught her a bit of Masai language. Around the same time, I also started cattle trading where we had to walk animals from the village to Nairobi; a journey that would take us about seven to eight days.
Other than being identified as an evangelist I was also part of a group that invited the government to establish a school in my community which gave me an opportunity to teach young Masai warriors how to read and write when they were back from heading cattle in the evening. This was the beginning of my passion to see other people grow and improve.
What are some of the most important leadership lessons that you have learnt in your journey as a Christian especially in the twelve years as Bishop of Kericho Diocese?
I learnt a lot of things but most importantly is that to lead an institution you have to build a strong human resource base, because you can’t manage alone. We need people with the right skills and passion to help make things happen. As Bishop of Kericho, I always put human capacity at the very centre because people are the ones who will build the infrastructure and even take advantage of the natural resources and transform them into something that will propel the mission of church. I also learnt the need for clear management principles, policies and guidelines, among others.
Another key lesson is that it possible to create and move something from invisible to visible. In faith I have seen people achieve things just because they have the right vision. Already the Province has capacity but we still need to assess the see gaps. There might be need to revisit a few things such as the content of our liturgy and how it resonates with the changing world. I will also be looking at specific skills such as facilitation and communication which are key in putting our messages across.
How did you feel when you were finally announced as 6th Archbishop of the Anglican Church of Kenya?
Although I somehow expected it, it was mixed feeling – shock and excitement. It wasn’t the kind of excitement that makes you want to jump but rather a realisation that I would be leading a great church in this country. A shiver run through my system and I even got a bit scared at some point when finally the doors of the cathedral were opened and I was led through to give my acceptance speech. When I saw all those media houses from around the world waiting to hear my speech, I realised that I had a heavy load on my shoulders and that people have a lot of expectations from this office, especially that the Anglican church occupies an important and crucial space in this country.
What will be some of your key priority areas as you begin this important job of leading the Anglican Church in Kenya?
Children and the youth will be key areas of focus because of my passion for a better future for this country and the world. If we’re to create that future, we need to pay special attention to our children through moulding and training. Young people in this country and the world at large are facing a lot of challenges such as alcohol and drug abuse which is ruining the fabric of our society. In addition the emergence of other cultures due to globalisation entail a growing need to come up with programmes which give young people proper focus in life. After all, they’re the leadership in waiting and our future depends on how we mentor them.
How did your family take the prospect of you becoming the Archbishop of Kenya?
Before my name was finally submitted for consideration I decided to pray with my wife because she also wasn’t very keen to come to Nairobi. We’re used to life in the rural areas and felt that we might be overwhelmed by life in the big city especially that we have young children. But when we decided to share with our children about this big call, I was surprised when they responded that they want to experience life in the city instead of being limited to Kericho. That helped us to make the decision to submit my name and also overcome the fear of moving to Nairobi.
What do you think is the future of the Anglican Church in Kenya and Africa as a whole?
The Anglican Church has a bright future. We have been having a lot of leadership changes with new, younger and energetic primates so we expect vibrancy and new life to be injected into the life of the church. Of course, we have a lot of challenges especially in the area of sexuality with the issue of marriage and homosexuality which is one dividing aspect. My take is that marriage, as we read in the word of God, is always between male and female and ours is to present the institution of marriage as it is written in the scripture. But we also have an opportunity not to brand or hate others, but to love them and continue to have an outreach mechanism and fellowship of listening to one another. I don’t see a complete division in the Anglican Communion but I see there is hope of a journey towards understanding each other.
Besides the mission of preaching the gospel, the church has also an opportunity to transform society through social development and sustainable learning. Jesus summed up the reason why he came when he said “I came that they may have and enjoy life, and have it in abundance.” If Jesus stood for a life that has food security, physical and spiritual health, then that is what the church in Africa should focus on. If the local church becomes the convener where the community is invited and discussions about human and spiritual development are held, then we have an opportunity because we’re present across the country.
What is your final word to Anglicans in Kenya as you begin this new journey together?
Let us all look to the future in great anticipation because God is going to do greater things. This is a journey of growth and faith. I want us to grow from where the church is, to a greater church of love and faith. A church that’s going to love and care for the community, and also one that will be passionate about moving our country forward in terms of mobilising communities for social development.
This encouraging report of an interview with the new Archbishop of Kenya, the Rt.Revd. Jackson Ole Sapit, reveals the distinct possibility of a sea-change from the regime of his predecessor, Dr Eliud Wabukala, whose Chairmanship of the GAFCON group led to an estrangement from TEC and the Anglican Church of Canada and other Western Provinces of the Anglican Communion, on issues of sexuality and biblical literalism. Hints of a more approachable stance on these issues are provided by this extract from the interview:
” My take is that marriage, as we read in the word of God, is always between male and female and ours is to present the institution of marriage as it is written in the scripture. But we also have an opportunity not to brand or hate others, but to love them and continue to have an outreach mechanism and fellowship of listening to one another. I don’t see a complete division in the Anglican Communion but I see there is hope of a journey towards understanding each other.”
Although his stance on marriage, for instance (being reserved for heterosexual couples, is similar to that taken by other provinces of the Anglican Communion, the new Archbishop’s eirenic attitude towards ‘others’ who do not so believe is to not ‘hate’ such people, but rather reach out towards and listen to them. This is distinctly different from the ideas of his predecessor, whose specific intent was to demonise homosexuals and to collude in their criminalisation and punishment.
As a child of a polygamous marriage, it is probable that Archbishop Jackson’s cultural and spiritual insights into matters of sexuality are in advance of those of Dr Eliud Wabukala, whose repressive attitude towards sexual minorities has been one of the marks of his leadership of the Kenyan Anglican Church and, in his chairmanship of Gafcon, of his tendency towards splitting the worldwide Anglican Communion on such issues.
May God richly bless this new Primate and Archbishop of Kenya and may his leadership help the Churches of the Anglican Communion to be more open to listening to one another, agreeing to disagree on those aspects of pastoral accommodation currently dividing us, in ways that will lead to a more inclusive and open Anglican Communion.
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand