History of East African Missions at Quaker

A Fresh Wind in East Africa: A History of East African Missions at Quaker Avenue


Some will remember Kip Keno, the great Olympian runner from Kenya. Kip Keno’s nephew, Willie Sang, was similarly gifted. Willie longed to go to a university in America and his ticket was a track scholarship. While trying to find a school to give him a scholarship, he was directed to Hugh Rhodes, track coach at Lubbock Christian College (now University). Willie enrolled at LCC in the fall of 1975. That same semester another young man enrolled at LCC. His name was James Johnson; son of a well known preacher in San Angelo, Texas. He and Willie were assigned to the same dorm room and became good friends. James took Willie home with him for holidays and, perhaps more importantly, to church with him at Quaker Avenue.

It was not long after this that Ellmore Johnson accepted the call to move from San Angelo to work with the Quaker Avenue Church. His solid teaching and reputation among brethren throughout the country assisted the church to recover from a rather low point in its history. But perhaps equally important, Willie Sang, who had by this time become well known and loved by the congregation, began to encourage the church to send someone to his home in Kenya and establish a church “just like this one.” No one thought much about his proposal at first, but eventually Ellmore and the elders began to think the Lord might be calling the church to this new mission point.

In 1980, it was agreed that Ellmore and Marie, along with a team of others interested in missions, would go to Kenya and survey the prospects for an evangelistic effort. The team included the Johnson’s son, Tim, Rolland and Jessie McLean, Larry and Reba Branum and Willie Sang. They went to northwestern Kenya, visited with Willie’s parents and with local officials, and met with surprising crowds of people who, wherever they went, listened enthusiastically to the gospel message. The team returned with a glowing report of prospects, and a recommendation that the church at Quaker Avenue assume responsibility to send missionaries to Kenya.

The Quaker Avenue elders accepted the report and enlisted the congregation’s prayers for discernment of the Lord’s will. About six months were spent in rather intensive prayer before the congregation voted unanimously to enlist missionaries and raised their support for entry into this mission field. At the time the Quaker Avenue church was doing little more than meeting their budget for local ministry and they knew that if the Kenya project was the Lord’s will, he would have to provide the support needed.

Letters were sent to area churches and individuals, detailing the plans and soliciting their partnership in this new venture. At the same time, the Quaker Avenue elders began the process of identifying missionaries to send. A number of couples applied, any of which might have made good missionaries, but the elders finally selected veteran preacher Rolland McLean and his wife, Jessie, and recent Farmers Branch Training Work graduates Shawn and Linda Tyler. The McLeans committed for three years, to establish the work, and the Tylers for ten years.

Support was pledged from a variety of area churches and individuals and sufficient funds were gathered to begin the project. From the beginning, the Lord has seen to it that funds were available to support all necessary expenses. Over the years, the Quaker Avenue church has provided about one-third of the necessary funds, the rest coming from other churches and individuals. (Approximately a dozen churches and some twenty individuals have been faithful partners over the years.) The elders through all of this learned a very important lesson: for whatever the Lord calls his people to do, he provides the resources necessary for the task. There were times when some anxiety prevailed over having enough funds to continue, but, without fail, the Lord has provided.

missionaries enter kenya

In August 1981, the McLeans and Tylers departed for Kenya (see African map on page 15 of booklet). They settled in Nairobi to spend about four months in culture and language study. In December, they moved about 200 miles northwest to Kitale, at the foot of Mt. Elgon, near the Uganda border. (Kitale is Willie Sang’s hometown.) Following instructions from their sending elders, they began evangelizing in Kitale and surrounding villages. They found the people quite receptive and before long they had baptized scores of people and established a number of churches. All the prospects for a great work appeared strong and we were all encouraged.

However, during the third year of the work in Kitale, a tragedy occurred that for a time seemed to jeopardize hopes for the long-term success of the mission. In December 1983, the Tylers’ little daughter, Melanie, was killed when she toddled behind a car that was backing out of the yard. When word reached the grandparents and the supporting congregation there was overwhelming grief and despair. For a time, the Tylers considered whether they should stay on the field. The supporting brotherhood was informed and there was a spontaneous outpouring of sympathy and support. As we look back, we see that this tragic incident brought us all closer together and solidified support for the work. The Tylers, encouraged by this support, decided to stay in Kenya with even greater commitment to their mission. As we look back, we can see that “in all things, God works for the good of those who love him.”

The missionaries soon realized that they could not reach and disciple new converts in all the villages that welcomed their work, so they decided to establish a training program for church leaders in Kitale. Their facility was a cleaned-up chicken house on the back of the property on which the Tylers lived. But the Kenyan leaders came and studied with a will to learn, carrying their knowledge back into their villages. The work progressed rapidly, with daily baptisms and requests for help in additional villages. After three years the McLeans returned to the States, having rendered invaluable service in the initial stages of the work. Kirk and Susan Hayes were selected as their replacements. Kirk had served as a youth minister at Quaker Avenue while completing his degree at Lubbock Christian College. He had become interested in Susan SoRelle, a speech therapist in the Abilene area, and they married shortly before departing for Kenya. This probably would have occurred anyway, but the elders had told Kirk, when interviewing him for the work, that they did not intend to send a single man to the field. He reported that he did not think that would be a problem as he had plans for remedying his singlehood. The Tylers and Hayes became good working partners and the work continued to progress beyond anyone’s expectations. In 1986, missionaries from the Christian Churches, who were working in the general area, came to our missionaries and asked to work with them and under their official registration. The Tylers and Hayes both welcomed them, but insisted that they would need to consult with their supporting elders. Later in 1986, Mike and Karolyn Schrage came to Lubbock while on furlough to discuss with the elders the proposed cooperation. After exploring the possibilities and possible problems, the elders could see no reason why such cooperation ought not be encouraged and they gave their blessing. In 1988 Dan and Traci Harrod, friends of the Schrages, joined the Kitale team and for the rest of the time the missionaries were in Kenya the four families worked together harmoniously, exhibiting a unity that has often been seen as an example of what might be accomplished in the states.

Within five years from the initiation of the work, there had been approximately 5,000 baptisms and more than fifty congregations established. In 1990, plans were developed for a childrens home and the Church of Christ in Welch, Texas, spear-headed the raising of approximately $120,000 to build a facility for the care of some forty-four children. This development gave credence to our interest in the general welfare of the people, beyond mere evangelism. Marvin and Shirley Brandt of Florida (associated with Reformed Churches of America) came to supervise the construction of one of the nicest buildings in Kitale. Marvin Forkner of Missouri also came to help. The Home has become a major source of pride for the community and the church (as well as the children) has benefited from this development.

The original plan of the elders was that the missionaries would stay in the Kitale area for ten years, then move on to other unevangelized locations, leaving churches that could continue on their own. But near the end of the ten years, the team assessed the situation and concluded that it would be best to stay another three years beyond the planned decade. They made a careful study report for supporting churches, detailing the history, successes and continuing needs of the work. In 1990, The Quaker Avenue elders called a meeting of all supporting churches and individuals, at Vernon, Texas, a location rather central to most of the supporters.

The Vernon meeting was well attended. The elders presented the missionaries’ proposal and the group fully considered the entire mission program. After much discussion and prayer, the assembly indicated its approval, without dissent, of the proposed three-year extension. The meeting was a gratifying declaration of support for missions and all seemed to be quite pleased with the success of a project they had supported. The Quaker Avenue elders had previously held other meetings for supporters, in Tulia and in Stanton, to provide updates and seek input from all concerned. But the meeting at Vernon was especially significant in that it called on supporters to assist in making a significant decision regarding major changes in the mission program.

One thing highlighted by the missionaries’ report may be highly significant. From the beginning, the Kenya work focused on preaching the gospel to all tribal groups. This was contrary to current missiological theory, which advocates working with one tribe or language group and learning their culture intimately. The Report says: “while concentrating on one tribal group only may allow missionaries the ability to understand the cultural differences more deeply and the heart language more thoroughly, the Kitale team has realized great benefits from a multi-tribal work. A mono-tribal work may develop an inward perspective in evangelism while a multi-tribal effort gives a clearer picture of going to ‘all nations’ and peoples. The Kitale Team’s use of Swahili, the national language, has allowed a greater ministry through the Swahili publication of ‘Mkristo,’ greater support of national meetings, and the ability to plant a multi-faceted church nationally.” Missionaries working in the heart language of a people recognized that use of a trade language could be very effective.

During the final three years of the missionaries’ work in Western Kenya, special emphasis was placed on ordaining elders in as many churches as feasible and by the end of the period several churches had designated leaders. The missionaries felt that this action was not only called for by scriptural concerns but provided model churches for the many other congregations that were not yet sufficiently developed to have elders and deacons. By the time of withdrawal of the missionaries from Western Kenya, an estimated 7,000 souls had been baptized and more that 120 churches had been established. In addition, a thriving children’s home had been built to serve the needs of the area and it continued with a full complement of children. House parents and other needs were from the beginning faithfully supported by Christian Relief Fund in Amarillo.

a transition in the mission work

The missionaries at this point were faced with the decision concerning the next stage of their lives. Kirk and Susan were invited to join the Schrages to help establish the new African center of Good News Productions in Nairobi, the director, Ziden Nutt, having consulted the Quaker Avenue elders about the prospect. This international mission service headquartered in Joplin, Missouri and supported primarily by churches and individuals in the Independent Christian Churches, had earned a worldwide reputation for the development of video and other materials for missionaries. Mike Schrage, son-in-law to Nutt, who had been working with the team in Kitale, would move to Nairobi to head the development of the new All-Africa Center and Kirk would become an important support person in the new project. The Farmers Branch Church assisted greatly in the oversight of the Hayes family in this new work.

a new work in mbale, uganda

Shawn Tyler had visited Uganda previously, surveying the condition of churches in the aftermath of the Idi Amin regime and became quite familiar with the prospects and needs of evangelism in this country. He, in fact, led the way in developing the charter for the work of Churches of Christ in the newly liberated country. As the work in Western Kenya was adjacent to the Uganda border, some of the Christians had friends and relatives who lived in Uganda. It seemed to Shawn and Linda that the Lord would have them consider Eastern Uganda as a new base of operations. After consulting with the Quaker Avenue elders and much prayer, a decision was made to enter this new field, with a base in Mbale, a good sized town about 150 miles from Kitale. The elders agreed to continue the Tylers’ support in this new location (see Proclamation on page 16).

In 1995, after a furlough in the states, the Tylers moved to Mbale, about 20 miles from the Kenya border and 60 miles north of Lake Victoria. Mbale is a town of about 70,000 people, with relatively well developed services. All of Uganda at this time was recovering from the disasters of the Idi Amin regime. The new President Museveni is a benevolent leader with great plans for the development of his country. His wife is a Christian and the government is quite open to Christian work. All of this, along with the natural beauty of the country, made the prospects for a good mission project quite encouraging.

Almost from the start, Shawn envisioned building the mission team and he began the process of recruiting. Before long, Ian and Danetta Shelburne moved to Uganda under the support of the Northwest Church in Abilene. Several other families, including the David Vicks, supported by a church in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, and the Phil Palmers, sponsored by the 11th and Willis church in Abilene, joined the team, along with Sandi Piek from the Christian Churches. The Vicks and Palmers have since returned to the states. Also, currently on the team are Philip and Laura Shero, supported by the Richland Hills Church in Ft. Worth, and his parents, Mike and Judy Shero, supported by a church in the Dallas area. Each summer, a number of missions interns from Christian universities spend seven weeks with the team.

The work progressed rapidly from the beginning, with a readiness to hear and receive the Good News on the part of Ugandans. Village churches were established as numbers of villagers were baptized and a town church was started in Mbale, which became the center for leadership training. A great boost to the work came with a contribution of $100,000 from an interested couple in Virginia and a new and very attractive facility was built in a strategic location, to be used for worship of the town church and for regular Bible and leadership training courses. The building will hold approximately 200 people and is now normally at capacity. It was dedicated in April, 2000, during a visit from David, Tom and Trent Langford from the Quaker Avenue Church.

mbale church of christ

In the ten years since 1994, nearly 150 churches and preaching points have been started and the number of baptisms has reached several thousand. The missionaries do not emphasize numbers and are not too exact in reporting accessions. But the interest and development has been phenomenal as the work has spread for 100 miles in all directions from Mbale. By comparison, the missionaries report that the growth has been even more remarkable than that in Kenya, which in itself was quite notable.

the messiah theological institute 

It soon became apparent that more facilities were needed. The students coming from great distances within Uganda, and also from Kenya, Sudan and Tanzania, had to sleep on the porch of the church building or on the ground and the use of the building for training sometimes conflicted with the needs of the Mbale church, which continues to grow. The missionaries began to talk about finding additional land to build dormitories and classrooms. They even proposed establishing an Institute, which would eventually become a college serving all of Eastern Africa. But this would require more resources than anyone could envision at the time.

At about this time, the missionaries were approached by the owner of school property adjacent to the church. They had considered this property before but it was thought to be overpriced. But this time the owner made an offer which seemed more reasonable and after consulting with the elders at Quaker Avenue and the inspection of Rolland McLean, who was at that time in Mbale teaching a course, the decision was made to purchase and renovate the property. It was thought that the purchase and renovation would require approximately $65,000, and efforts were made by Shawn and others to solicit funds for the project. Almost $100,000 was collected and the work of renovation was begun. Two couples from the states, the Tom Varnos from Minnesota and Kenneth and Nova Vaughn from Amarillo, spent time on the ground supervising the construction. With the funds contributed, they were able to do more than originally planned and with an additional $62,000 grant from the Betenbough Foundation in Lubbock, a really nice facility was completed for the beginning of coursework in the Fall of 2005.

While funds were collected for renovation, another project was spearheaded by the Quaker Avenue Church and coordinated by Carey Jones, to collect at least 6,000 books for a library. It was later learned that for national certification at college level, at least 10,000 volumes were needed. Carey put out a call for book donations and on June 26, 2004, a crew from the Quaker Avenue Church assembled at the shipping container that had been delivered to Lubbock, and by early afternoon had loaded approximately 14,000 volumes. The loaded container was then carried by semi-truck to Houston and put on a ship for Uganda. The collection included a broad selection of theological works with a complement of history and children’s books. Also on board were some appliances for the missionaries and about 1500 pairs of glasses to be used by George and Diane Franklin of Clovis, New Mexico who had planned to conduct another of their very successful eye clinics among the churches in Uganda and Kenya.

In September, 2004, Caleb McLean from Lockney, Texas, grandson of Rolland McLean, flew to Uganda to work for several months in setting up and cataloguing the library. (The container, shipped in June, finally arrived in Mbale on October 18.) Caleb became one of the number of young folk from Quaker and surrounding area who have gone to Africa to assist in the mission work. These young missionaries started with Ian and Danetta Shelburne and have included Diana Tate, Bethanyanne Hunt, Ashley Adamson, Chris and Stephan Shelburne. Most of these have served as teachers for missionary children. Other young folk from Quaker have gone to other mission fields. Tim and Darla Johnson did pioneering work in Ukraine. Grady Bryan is now serving in Ukraine with his wife Lena, and Chris and Heather Carroll serve in Thailand. Both Tim and Grady were inspired to do mission work by their earlier visits to Kenya. From a time when Quaker Avenue did no significant mission work abroad, the church has become very sensitive to missions and supports them liberally.

Those who have served

In connection with missionaries who have gone to the field and come back, we should mention the Kirk Hayes. After five years with Good News Productions in Nairobi, they decided to return to the states for the education of their three boys. They settled in Lubbock where Kirk is a Bible and Missions teacher and Spiritual Advisor to students at Lubbock Christian University and an elder in the Quaker Avenue congregation. Kirk also chairs the Missions Committee of the church. Susan has taken a job utilizing her skills as a speech therapist in the education systems of the Lubbock area.

Throughout the years, the mission field has been visited periodically by the elders and other supporters. Ellmore and Marie Johnson have made several trips. Whitt and Yvaughn Coor and Truman and Mauriene Hayes of Welch, Texas (Kirk’s grandparents and parents), made several trips. Tonya Hayes (Kirk’s sister) was one of the early visitors. George and Joyce Gray, Pat and Mildred Watkins (Linda’s parents), W. G. and Hazel Tyler (Shawn’s parents), all of Ft. Worth, have gone. Tom and Nellie Langford, L. K. and Barbara Lankford, David and Trent Langford, Kirk and Susan Hayes, from Lubbock, Pat and Jo Andrews from Abilene, and Steve and Caleb McLean from Lockney have all made visits. Also from Lubbock, Rex and Charmaine Adamson, along with his mother and son, Aaron, have been recent visitors. In addition, a number of preachers have gone over to teach courses, including Dan McVey and Wimon Walker of ACU, Steve Meeks of Tennessee, Sam Shewmaker of Harding University and Dennis Webber of Maryland. Such visits are deemed very important by the missionaries, as they are encouraged by folks from home and the nationals observe the commitment of U. S. leaders to the work.

In 2004, a new front opened for work in southern Sudan, just across the border north of Uganda. There have been calls for help from this area for some time. Shawn and Ian visited Nimule in April, 2004, scoping out the need and prospects, and returned again for a leadership course in July with Dan McVey of ACU and Roy Ramsey of Oklahoma. In addition to the natives of the area there are thousands of refugees, displaced by the country’s civil war. A vacant building erected by other missionaries working for Voice of the Martyrs some years ago was donated by the Sudanese government for our future mission work and church meetings. Two evangelists from Kenya, David Bikokwa and Kennedy Obura, who themselves were trained while the missionaries were in Kenya, agreed to move with their families into the area and begin the work. While most of Sudan is Muslim, the southern area is largely Christian in sympathy and very receptive to the gospel. This work will probably develop as an extension of the training program in Mbale, conducted largely by Kenyan and Ugandan evangelists. Prospects are very good for a flourishing work in this area.

the effect of mission work on the church at quaker

This history would be incomplete without some attention to the effect that mission involvement has had on the Quaker Avenue Church, which, at this time is approaching its sixtieth-year anniversary. Throughout most of this time the church showed little interest in foreign missions, choosing rather to help out in numerous stateside efforts, mainly in assistance for construction of church buildings. Even after the church’s move to its new facilities on Quaker Avenue in 1972, the primary interest was in supporting local ministers and paying off the mortgage on the new edifice. No-one seemed particularly concerned that the Lord had commanded his disciples to “go into all the world” with the preaching of the gospel.

It was when the church had suffered considerable decline in membership from internal conflicts that the Lord changed its outlook. It had fallen from an attendance of more than 300 each Sunday to a typical 100. Many of the members were discouraged and wondering what the Lord had in mind for the church. It was without a full-time preacher and its difficulties made some think that it would have difficulty persuading any reputable preacher to move here. At the beginning of the Kenya mission, in 1980, our attendance was at a low point and contributions were barely supporting the local program of work. Currently, attendance is again averaging around 300 and contributions have more than quadrupled. In addition to the Kenya and Uganda work, the church provides regular support to missionaries in Malawi, Ukraine and Thailand. It also spearheaded area support for a very successful effort in the nearby town of Levelland. The church there is now self-supporting and growing steadily. Additionally, the Quaker Avenue Church provides support for the inner-city work of the Central Lubbock church.

Of course, there are other factors involved, but we feel that commitment to take the Great Commission seriously has been the greatest impetus to the growth and health of the congregation. We currently devote approximately 20% of the church budget annually to mission and benevolence projects and the elders recently agreed to increase our annual missions budget each year until we reach at least 30% of the total budget. It is not that we consider missions as more important than other biblical goals of the church, but we feel that it is one of the imperatives of the Scripture, to be taken seriously. And that this should be prominently reflected in the financial records of the church.

We know that there are other churches with a similar commitment to fulfilling the Great Commission, yet we feel that these marching orders from our Commander in heaven have not always had sufficient priority. Our experience over the past twenty-five years has clearly shown that the Lord blesses those who love the lost and work for their salvation. Missions commitment has not cost Quaker Avenue; it has paid rich dividends.

December, 2004

How East African Mission Work Changed Quaker