Out of Africa – Corruption, Bishop Obare and the ELCK, by Pr. Rossow

Now that the BJS Annual Conference is past I have time to return to my posts on Africa. In January I spent three weeks in East Africa and a couple of weeks ago I published a list of ten things I learned in Africa. Because of the timely nature of upcoming elections in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Kenya (ELCK) I will jump to point #6 of that list and spend this first follow-up post on corruption, Bishop Obare and the ELCK.

Bishop Obare has called for elections on this coming March 27. It is unclear if this election will take place since the letter announcing the election was not received by all four bishops of the ELCK. This is typical of an Obare-called convention. Three years ago he called an electoral convention on Holy Monday that was to take place on Good Friday of that same week. This violated the mandatory 30 days required for the calling of a convention. Why would you have a synod convention during Holy Week when the buses are booked and pastors are busy in their parishes? Not only that, he also convened this convention in an out of the way place that was difficult for the delegates of his opponents to attend. Keep in mind that this is Africa where people have no discretionary funds for transportation, that it was holy week, that the buses were already booked and that it takes three to four times as long to travel on the very poor road system.

Why should you care and why should you keep reading? There are at least two reasons. First, Kenya and the ELCK have been the darlings of LCMS mission and mercy work for the last several years. For instance, Bishop Obare was chosen by President Harrison to preach the sermon at the Harrison inauguration five years ago. Secondly, the LCMS has also poured millions of dollars into the ELCK over the past several years for mission and mercy work. This money has been at the sole discretion of Bishop Obare and if you talk to the other Bishops and also to many of the pastors of the ELCK you will find that this money has not gone for the purposes it was intended. (The LCMS has curtailed contributions to the ELCK but money is still given by districts. Just this month North Dakota District in convention approved sending money to Kenya. The LCMS is still sending money to Kenya but it goes to a regional director but the bishops and pastors in the ELCK are troubled by this LCMS regional director because he refers to Bishop Obare as “Lord Obare” and the use of the money is still directed by Bishop Obare.)

For years I have heard second hand of the problems in the ELCK but now, after coming out of Africa, I have learned of these problems with face to face meetings with bishops and pastors in the ELCK. I have been given numerous copies of documents that show the corruption of Bishop Walter Obare and last year published a link to a website from ELCK members that contained many of those documents. I have a couple of Facebook friends in the ELCK and when they heard that I was coming to Africa they made arrangements to meet with me. The first meeting took place in Kisii land and when the bishop and pastors around Nairobi heard about the meeting they too asked to meet with me.

I have expressed these concerns about money and the abuses of Obare with LCMS officials for years and have always been told this is simply the result of tribal jealousies. Obare is of the Luo tribe and they are at odds with most of the other tribes. I always figured there was some sense in that explanation but the more than twenty people who met with me to express these concerns were from six different tribes and most of them were from Obare’s own Luo tribe. This is not a matter of tribal factionalism. This is a matter of abuse by one individual, Bishop Obare.

The concerned bishops and pastors from the ELCK verified that Obare uses funds donated by the LCMS to fix elections. He fixes elections by giving money for transportation, food and housing at electoral conventions for those delegates who support him. He also gives them money even beyond their needs for convention attendance. I have a verified recording of a disturbing quote from one delegate at the despicable Holy Week convention. When asked why he supports Obare he said “Obare gives us money. What do you have to give us? You give us no money.”

I could go on and on about the corruption wrought by Bishop Obare. Maybe once I finish the rest of my posts on the more positive things I learned coming out of Africa, I will do so. For now, pray for the leaders who are seeking to unseat Bishop Obare that they be successful, stop sending money to the ELCK until Obare is out of office or repents, and make any Facebook connections you can in the ELCK and encourage them to be strong and stand up for what is right.

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