A pastor with disabilities breaks barriers for others


RNS photo by Fredrick Nzwili / Pastor Dawn Gikandi, center, speaks with her mother, Purity, right, alongside some of the women at the Bahati Martyrs’ Church in Nairobi.

By Fredrick Nzwili

NAIROBI, Kenya (RNS) – On a Sunday at the Presbyterian church in the Bahati neighborhood, a young woman haltingly approaches the pulpit with a walking cane in one hand and a Bible in the other. Somewhere in her pocket is a mobile phone, which she uses to send out at least 400 Bible quotes a day to Christians across the city.

The Rev. Dawn Gikandi, 31, is a rarity here — a pastor who is a woman, a theologian, a social media devotee and a disabled person in a country that stigmatizes people who are physically impaired.

In April, the Presbyterian Church of East Africa ordained Gikandi and sent her to her first post, Bahati Martyrs’ Church, where she and another pastor care for more than 4,000 congregants.

Since then, the news of her ordination has spread and become an inspiration to Kenya’s disabled community, where few such people get a chance to attend school, access good medical care and receive emotional support, let alone professional advancement.

Here, disability is perceived as a curse. Stereotyping and social exclusion are some of the major problems facing people with disabilities, whether at home, school or work, said Anjeline Okola of the Ecumenical Disability Advocates Network.