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0000017c-83f8-d4f8-a77d-b3fd0d820000Just before the pandemic shut everything down, WNIN's Steve Burger traveled to East Africa to learn more about a deep and lasting connection between Evansville and the people of Kenya. This story has many layers, inlcuding an unlikely meeting in the dead of winter in Chicago, Aldersgate United Methodist Church, Signature School and the village of Ekerenyo in Southwestern Kenya.Thanks to a partnership with the Youth Cafe in Nairobi, producer Angela Noi also contributed to this series.

The Amani Connection- An Unlikely Meeting in Chicago

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A 2003 meeting on a bitterly cold day in Chicago has made all the difference for thousands in East Africa.

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To date, retired Aldersgate United Methodist Church pastor Lynn Renne has made 19 trips in support of the Amani Center, located in the southwestern region of Kenya in East Africa.

That’s a lot of trips, especially considering that the Amani Center was almost frozen out of existence before it ever began by a Chicago cold snap in February of 2003.

Lynn said, “My life has changed because of that one experience and it almost didn’t happen. I went to do interviews for our conference for the board of ordained ministries. They wanted me to interview students and I said, ‘sure’, but why don’t I take Garrett (Theological Seminary at Northwestern University)  because my daughter just had a baby. I’ll just stay with her up in Chicago and I’ll go and interview the students, we had maybe five students there. I went to be with my daughter.”

The morning of the interviews, the wind chills reached twenty below zero. Lynn said she just wanted to stay where it was warm, with her new granddaughter. "But, something told me just go, just do it.”

So she went out and started her freezing car and finally got to Garrett and, “Nobody showed up for the interviews, except Peter Mageto (Maiko)."

Lynn continued, “ I said, 'Who is this? He’s not on the list.' They just said he heard you were coming and asked to meet with you.”

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Kenyan producer Angela Noi and I talked with Peter Mageto Maiko during the height of the coronavirus pandemic in late March over Zoom from Zimbabwe where he is now a top administrator at Africa University. He continued the story of the unlikely beginning of his friendship with Lynn Renne that has changed the lives of thousands in east Africa.

“I walked into the room and introduced myself and said this is who I am, and she introduced herself. We talked about the plans I had, I was looking for a congregation where I could serve as a missionary in residence and keep writing my dissertation. That’s what happened, just one morning. And the discussion started from there, As we talked. That was really the beginning. I didn’t know her. She didn’t know me. That was the first meeting in that room where she was seeing all UMC students.”

Lynn said, “I thought it was pretty gutsy for him to ask to meet with me. He wasn’t from our conference, our Indiana conference. He was so in need of a place to stay for his family when he graduated to go work on his doctoral dissertation, that he tried everyone. He tried the Illinois conference, Southern Methodist Church, he tried our bishop in the Indiana conference, and said, ‘Look, I just need a place to go and be a student pastor.’ Our bishop told him no, the Illinois conference told him no. He’s real, he’s obviously very bright, he had an incredible story, which is probably the biggest thing that made me want to get to know him better and get our people to know him.”

Steve: “I’m going to guess that you have run into bright and courageous people before. What was different?”

Lynn said,  “But not from the hills of Kenya, who grew up in a tribal religion doing animal sacrifices and suddenly found himself in America, doing his doctoral dissertation at a seminary. I just thought we can help this person out, give him and his family a place to live while he’s writing his doctoral thesis, that was it. Give ‘em a house.”

Steve: “But that has changed.”

Lynn replied, “It has changed. I had no idea it would change so much.”

Steve: “How close were we to this never happening?’

Peter replied, “Oh, it was very close. She just needed to say, no I am sorry, thank you for your story, I’ll pray for you but there’s nothing I can do and it would have ended there.”

Steve: “But it did not.”

Peter replied, “It did not. It started a new journey with her saying ‘let me see what I can do.' Lynn always says, ‘let me see what I can do.' Our willingness to share openly then led to what you see now in 2020.”

By the time Peter Mageto arrived at Garrett Theological Seminary, he had made it through primary school, high school, college and ordination as a United Methodist minister in Kenya, all while having very little access to books.

He said, “First time I went to seminary, I didn’t know that clergy trained. I thought they were spirit-filled only. I didn’t know they needed also training, I didn’t know that there were degrees. So, it was a surprise for me to know that you needed to go to college to train to be clergy.”

On arriving at Garrett in 1998 to begin his post graduate work, there was another surprise.

Steve: “You said the first time you saw a library was at Garrett, what was that like?”

Peter recalled, “I was shocked. I was scared because now I understood what  a master’s degree would look like. Are you telling me I have to read all this? I looked like I had not been to school. That’s how I felt. My wife can tell you I would spend up until one a.m.reading, I would sleep only three hours. There was excitement of access to resources that I had not seen before.”

Something else happened with books while Peter was at Garrett. “I’ll always remember Northwestern University students who lived around us, any time they were breaking for graduation, they would be trashing, just taking books and trash.”

The young man from Ekerenyo had trouble accepting that fate for the items that had become his lifeline to knowledge and inner peace.

Peter continued, “I grew up going to school without books, I finished high schools without a text book, so it was shocking to see books thrown away, you know.”

That point in time is where Peter’s dream began for the project that has grown into a learning and medical center affecting the lives of thousands in Southwestern Kenya.

Peter finished his recollection of what led to the Amani Center. “And so, from the trash can, I decided to start picking those books, because at some point I would make use of them. That’s why I describe what you saw (the Amani Learning Center) as a faith journey. It began at an apartment in Chicago. I requested a basement so I could store the books. I didn’t know what I would do with them, but I knew I wanted to send them to the village. How, that’s a different story all together! But, that why I say it’s a faith journey. It started in an apartment in Chicago.”

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