Leonita Mugofwa will be presenting the evening service, entitled “Joyfully Believing,” at the USFWI/QMI 45th Triennial Conference this July. In anticipation, Minga Claggett-Borne sent us this story about Leonita’s work that she wrote several years ago. She interviewed Leonita in 2012.—ed.
“You are the earth’s salt. But if the salt should become tasteless, what can make it salt again? It is completely useless and can only be thrown out of doors and stamped under foot.
“You are the world’s light – it is impossible to hide a town built on the top of a hill. Men do not light a lamp and put it under a bucket. They put it on a lamp-stand and it gives light for everybody in the house.
“Let your light shine like that in the sight of men. Let them see the good things you do and praise your Father in Heaven.”
A Quaker school in Vihiga, Kenya was born out of violence and the breath of prayer.
“Actually,” Leonita explained, “after such terrible violence, I was devastated. I would never have been able to start the Light and Salt School. It could only be a miracle.” Leonita is a 70 year old Quaker teacher from Kenya. She told me her story in 2012 while I visited her family and the school in Kenya.
“After suffering something new is born,” Leonita sighs. “Like Hannah who wept and grieved in her old age for years before she birthed Samuel, the prophet.”
The story of Light and Salt is revealing because of current events in Africa. In three of Kenyan presidential elections, the country erupted into violence—1992,1997, and again in 2007. Uganda’s recent 2017 elections had much violence and likewise in Burundi. How can we learn from the past as Kenya prepares for another election? Leonita Mugofwa’s story gives us insights. In 1992, just before the re-election of Daniel Arap Moi, the Mugofwa’s family suffered traumatic disruption and then recovered. She currently directs the K-8 Quaker school called Light and Salt.
Michael and Leonita Mugofwa were born and married in Mahanga Kenya. “We then bought 15 acres of farmland in another region, Eldoret, in the 1970s.” Eldoret is the home of the Kalenjin, also the tribe of President Moi. Land there was excellent and plenty of rain fell in this part of the Rift Valley. The Mugofwas lived there for seventeen years, with dreams of retiring in Eldoret.
“My family had 15 dairy cows. We grew maize and beans and sold them.” But one night changed everything.
“In 1992 Moi was fighting for re-election in Kenya. That August night in 1992, our family, including four children and one grandchild, were attacked. We were well-known community leaders.We had been merchants, officers in our Friends church. We had many friends.”
Leonita admitted quietly, “We had heard bad rumors of attacks of those not Kalenjin, but we were hoping they would spare us.”
The raid in the middle of the night was surprising. Leonita had founded a primary school in Eldoret. Michael was a civil engineer. The pumped water system that Eldoret citizens enjoyed, Michael had engineered.
“That night ten lorries prowled around Eldoret filled with burlap bags of sugar and salt.” Fear pulsed over the countryside. “We heard the lorry coming and that alerted us. Kalenjin men squirted petrol over those bags which made them flammable. They sprayed our house with the petrol. The sprayed our guesthouse, the barns, everywhere. They lit the bags on fire and threw them on our house. Sugar and salt burn very fast. As they were shooting at us, we tore out of the house. We started running, mad and confused wearing only our pajamas. We just flew in all directions.The house burned as we ran.
As new grandparents, the Mugofwas were caring for a disabled grandchild, Ivan. They ran carrying Ivan toward Eldoret town so as to take refuge in the church. “Ivan was just two. We fell into thorn bushes and stepped on top of barbed wire, going wherever to escape the mayhem. Our bodies were bruised and bloody.
“We managed to escape into town, stranded on the street with Ivan. Our 4 children (all young adults) had run safely to friends’ homes. The national Christian Church of Kenya put us up in Eldoret with a tent and food.
“I was completely disoriented. My common sense had disappeared. I didn’t know how to eat. Friends told me to change out of my pajamas and I asked, ‘What for? I’m not going to put on any clothes.’ I was in shock. My mind was screaming, on fire. We had lost our house, cattle, car, everything. We had no social security. Maybe it was deep despair, I don’t know.
“Two days after the attack, my husband, Michael went back. The remains of our house were still smoking. We found out how much havoc had occured: the Kalenjins had filled that clean water well with stones. They had chopped trees and ruined the orchards. These barbarians didn’t value anything. Our neighborhood had been a mixed community of Luyha, Luo, and Kikuyu. All of our neighbor’s were driven away except the Kalenjin. Many friends were killed. All that we had attained in our lifetime was destroyed within minutes.
“These barbarian soldiers even burned the school. It was K to class 2. After my retirement in the late 1980s, I started a primary school in Eldoret. It was unbelievable. How did the Kalenjin come to be so hateful at that time?
“In 1992 many feared that Kenya was turning towards dictatorship. Thousands of houses were burned then, all of them non-Kalenjin. At that time 1,500 Kenyans were killed and 300,000 were displaced [very similar to the electoral violence in 2007-8]. Men acted like bandits roving the countryside labeling certain people.
“They called us cockroaches–Moi started that language. ‘We have bedbugs among us. What are we going to do with them? Shall we spray these cockroaches to death?’
“They wanted to get rid of us who are of mixed race in the Rift Valley. Any spouses that weren’t Kalenjin had to separate. Any people who didn’t trace back to the Kalenjin were in danger. We were faintly aware that they planned to get rid of all newly established residents, but it was hard to believe. It seemed like gossip considering how peacefully we had lived without a trace of ethnic hatred.” Leonita explained how the climate was prepared to accept the raids. The advantages were huge for a select group. After ethnic cleansing, only Kalenjin owned land in that area of the rich Rift Valley.
Leonita was in crisis, spiritual and physical. “Those first weeks if I put food in my mouth, I would often spit it out without swallowing. I was very bitter.” Leonita understands now that others were trying to help her. She refused help—she suffered from psychological trauma.
“You know, God spoke to me a few nights before the attack. I heard a voice from Him. It was terrible because I had been speaker at a large Quaker women’s gathering in December 1990 before this violence. Someone at the conference told me that we might be attacked. I mentioned the possibility to Michael but he said it will never happen. Then in this dream, God’s voice called to me, ‘Do you remember Noah? I destroyed the whole world—nothing but the Ark was left. Leonita, I’m going to destroy all that you have and spare only you and your family like I saved Noah. I will carry you on my back. I will protect you throughout the destruction.’ That dream was a comfort to me.
“For more than a year, we were in a small tent and served a bit of food. People saw us as outcasts. No one wanted to take us in the house, because they thought we would bring bad luck, maybe the house that sheltered us would be attacked. We were hunted animals—aliens in our own home.” Leonita developed severe ulcers, and didn’t eat properly. Michael later confessed that he feared that his spouse would not survive. Michael would cry, weeping late into the night, making groans during his restless sleep. Leonita stated in a tremulous voice, “The light had gone out of us. None of my old friends recognized me.”
“At first I hated the Kalenjins. I even prayed for Moi to die. I relished the fantasy, going so far as imagining our happiness after his downfall. We will feast on the biggest bull, celebrating his demise.” She shook her head. “I was too angry to eat. My mama came to help me. She has strong faith and told me, “Life is better than property. Don’t look back. If you have your life, you will obtain other things.”
“It took many years for me to recover. Slowly, I regained my footing. We resettled back in our hometown of Mahanga in Vihiga district. And do you know who were the first to visit me when our family were IDPs (internally displaced persons) in Mahanga? Surprisingly, it was not the Friends. In fact, the Friends shunned us at first.
“The Kalenjin Christians came to me in my shack in the Mahanga market. They came all the way from Eldoret (4 hours away). The first women to come visit were the women who were labeled as our enemies. When those women made the effort to pray with me, that was a big turning point.
“We were never compensated for our loss, but we started to recover. In Mahanga, we were IDPs for five years. After a while, the Quakers accepted us. It took years before we could rebuild a home. By 1999 or so, we had a new house and our shamba (Swahili for farm.) Then in 2001, after our house was established, we started the school, Light and Salt.
“I understand suffering so I can show and tell these young ones about hope.”
“This school came out of my experience as a victim of violence, to serve orphans and people who had suffered like I had. I thought by teaching I could transform my anger into something productive. I understand suffering so I can show and tell these young ones about hope. I especially wanted to assist the children to prevent further ethnic violence. From then on my healing was steady.”
The pitch of Leonita’s voice changed, showing calmness and surrender, a sense of peace that gracefully overcomes hatred. She had not only rebuilt her life, but she had decided togive back to her community.
Could this be an answer to the riddle of how to thrive after acts of violence? Many peace programs in Kenya, initiated by Friends, sprang to life in 2008. Could the recovery from violence lead to a stronger society based on loving and supporting the destitute?
In 2012, I visited Light and Salt, a successful school with 200+ students. The students were bright, and academically successful. Leonita sees the enterprise as a charitable institution: many parents can’t pay tuition. She, along with Michael Mugofwa, the business manager, accepts refugees and disabled children in the school.
“With courage, living in Christ, we can be transformed. God is stronger than the hate of Kalenjins (or any enemies). The old has passed and we are made anew in the Lord. We have tremendous dreams if we can believe in Christ. Now I see that because of those heinous attacks I have made a firm promise. My resolve is stronger than ever to give back to these struggling families. This school is the miracle born out of fire and hate. Thanks be to God.”