Poverty, hunger, disease, violence, political instability, corruption, exploitation of natural resources – Kenyan Dan Kidha sees all these woes confronting Africa, plus he sees the underlying causes that Westerners don’t hear about on the news. As a pastor, he has pondered how to serve an “incurably religious,” but beleaguered people.
“You cannot just say, ‘Read the Bible and pray every day,’” concluded the 41-year-old Kidha. A transforming Christian ministry, he said, must be broad. While he points to the ultimate glories in the new heaven and new Earth, he also must answer the question “How does our faith relate to our present life challenges here today?”
After studying theology, philosophy, ethics, and public policy, and after working in local government, education, and the church, Kidha came to Palm Beach Atlantic to earn the Ph.D. in Practical Theology, a framework “putting this all together” to help champion transformational leadership in Africa.
He completed his first semester in the program last fall, presenting a paper entitled “Toward a Theology of Hope? Mamlaka Hill Chapel and the Contemporary African Dilemma.” Mamlaka Hill Chapel is the church he served in Kenya. That church’s response to the pandemic crisis provides fruitful ground for Kidha’s Ph.D. research.
Mamlaka Hill Chapel is an evangelical community of believers within the University of Nairobi and was one of the few Kenyan churches already online when COVID-19 struck. Kidha recalled that the church:
- allocated staff to phone members to learn how they were doing;
- expanded its food pantry to help those who lost their jobs because of the pandemic;
- rallied members to bring resources together for outreach to the disadvantaged;
- became an outspoken voice urging people to get tested for COVID, hosting forums where medical specialists spoke about the reality of the disease, combatting disinformation;
- partnered with the government and other institutions to have vaccination done in church facilities.
“The church has to be in the forefront” in such urgent, practical matters, Kidha said. Now he is researching how successful these efforts were. “How did people respond? Did meaningful change take place? How well did we mitigate suffering? Did we give hope?”
After Kidha evaluates his church’s response to the unique crisis of COVID-19, he will study how those lessons learned can provide a model for approaching other critical problems in Africa, including the painful legacies of colonialism. He quoted the saying, “The Europeans came to Africa with Bibles and told us, ‘Close your eyes and pray.’ And when we opened our eyes, we had the Bible in our hands, and they had the land in their hands.”
The Christianity “imported” to Africa remains embedded with many colonial imperialist nuances, Kidha said. And education in the continent traditionally has been geared toward “creating puppets for other people,” rather than developing Africans to think independently. He yearns for the Christian Church to help Africans deal with the past, unite in solidarity with those who have suffered, and provide hope for justice and a better Africa.
“I am convinced that Dan Kidha will make a deep contribution to the church in Africa as a result of his Ph.D. research at PBA,” said Dr. Victor Copan, chair of the Ministry Leadership Studies Department in the School of Ministry. As Copan led one of the Ph.D. program seminars, he found Kidha’s contributions “always thoughtful and intriguing.” Those insights “come from Dan’s diverse academic training and broad experience,” Copan said, “and they also find their roots in where Dan was born.”
The Ph.D. in Practical Theology program has enrolled men and women from 13 countries. The beauty of the program’s seminar-style learning, Copan said, “lies in the international perspective that the participants receive in these discussions.”
Kidha and his fellow students represent 17 Christian denominations. “From that vast ecclesial background,” Kidha said, “we sit in class as equals, learning from each other, united in purpose. And that gives me hope for the Church.”
He previously earned master’s degrees in applied ethics and in management consulting and organization leadership. The Ph.D. program, he said, has proven to be his toughest schooling, but also “by far the most exciting.” And from the faculty, Kidha said, he’s found “amazing grace,” with appropriately doctoral academic rigor “but no intellectual academic arrogance.”
Kidha took a step of faith, coming to Palm Beach Atlantic from Kenya with his wife and their three children and limited resources. “I’ve met generous people,” he said, “and the collegiality and camaraderie have been great.” He recalled gratefully how his Ph.D. classmate Jeremy Morse helped him settle into a West Palm Beach apartment.
The Ph.D. is not just an academic exercise for Kidha and his cohort. “It’s also a journey of faith and a journey of transformation.” He cited Dr. Bryan Froehle, program director, in “helping us see the significance of the practicality of the Christian faith: how livable it is in the broad sense, and how we’ve been called to give of ourselves.”