By Muthoni King’ori
As a young boy, he grew up feeling rejected and hopeless and entered into adulthood waiting for the day he would have the power to fight for the land that his stepbrothers had taken away from his family. But that was until 1985, when a decision to give his life to Christ, would utterly change his purpose in life.
The Most Rev. Jackson Ole Sapit would embark on a spiritual journey that would see him become a pillar of reconciliation in his family; a journey that has led him to the helm of the leadership of the Anglican Church of Kenya.
He narrates his childhood as one that had plenty of hardship, especially after the death of his father when he was only four years old. Shortly after, his stepbrothers would chase him, his mother and his sisters from the family land.
As the only son among his mother’s four children, it was expected that when he became an adult he would fight to get back the land. “My father had eleven wives. My mother was wife number seven. I have three sisters,” the Archbishop says.
Becoming a Christian
The Archbishop recounts his conversion vividly: “I was walking home through the forest one morning, when I remembered a composition we had been asked to write in class six. The composition was about a spider rebuilding a web. I began asking myself how I could rebuild my broken life.”
As he sat in the forest, he remembers feeling dejected and lost when he recalled his father’s death and the loss of the family land. “I also felt sad because I hadn’t gone to college and here I was in the village merely surviving by helping a missionary lady translate Bible verses into Maasai language,” he says.
“I sat there asking myself how I would get out of the desperation. And that is when the Bible verse: ‘Come unto me, all ye that labour who are heavy laden, and I will give you rest’ came into my mind,” the reverend narrates. “That is when I asked Jesus into my life and asked him to heal my brokenness,” he says.
“When I got home and tried to explain my spiritual encounter to my mother, she thought I had met one of my stepbrothers on the way and had been bewitched. She thought I was running mad,” he recounts.
After his conversion, he decided not to pursue the land his stepbrothers had taken from his family, deciding instead to leave the matter to God. His mother and the clan were not happy with that decision.
“I cannot say that I had an upbringing where I had somebody that could have mentored me to be the kind of person I am today,” the Archbishop explains. The Archbishop grew up in his uncle’s home and could have ended up without education if government officials had not come to his village and used the Chief’s Act to force the Maasai to take their children to school.
“At the time all we knew is that you grew up and became a Moran and that you could increase your wealth by carrying out cattle raids,” the Archbishop says. In 1975, World Vision began sponsoring children’s education in Narok and he became one of the sponsored pupils. World Vision exposed the Archbishop and other children to Christian camps.
Becoming a clergyman
The reverend describes his rise to the position of Archbishop as a miracle. As a young adult, all he wanted was to serve in a small way in church and be a good farmer until a pastor in his local church persuaded him to become an evangelist as he was the only person in the village who had attained high school education at the time.
“Because of my upbringing as a Maasai which involved taking care of cattle, I thought I should do some courses in farm management so that I would later become a good farmer,” he says. The Archbishop explains his initial reluctance to agree to his pastor’s suggestion to consider going for training for ministry in Berea Theological College.
“I was very hesitant to become a clergyman. I had seen the pastor lead prayers during national celebrations, something I dreaded. I did not know how I could stand in front of the crowds to offer prayers. I had also seen him presiding over burials, another thing I feared because at that age of 24, I hadn’t seen any dead people until I turned 20. How was I going to become a clergyman and end up seeing dead bodies?” the Archbishop asks.
The Archbishop describes attending an interview for the Berea college application intending to answer questions in a sloppy way so that he would fail. He also felt the other applicants would beat him as they had higher qualifications. However, to his surprise he passed the interview.
He asked the college to give him three months to prepare and think about whether he really wanted to study for ministry. However, when he got back home, the pastor and the other congregants were so happy that he had passed the interview. “Their joy changed my mind, and I said okay, I think it’s a good thing,” says the Archbishop.
The reverend did a Certificate and a Diploma in Berea and later joined St. Paul’s University in 1994 and studied for a Bachelor of Divinity, graduating in 1997. From 2002 to 2003, he was at the University of Reading in the UK where he studied for his Master’s degree in Social Development and Sustainable Livelihoods.
He describes the enormous changes that have occurred in St. Paul’s now compared to his days as a student, when the institution was a theological college. “The most amazing changes are infrastructural development and the size of the number of students. We used to be just about 130 to 134 students from all over the continent during my studies at SPU,” he says.
Reconciliation with his brothers
The Archbishop says his stepbrothers have since reconciled with him. “When my brothers’ saw that I was now a pastor, I was married and that God had blessed me immensely, they came back and sought reconciliation. They have even surrendered a piece of land where we will build a church at my childhood home. I have forgiven them. All I want is for them to experience Christ,” he says.
He reveals that God has restored back his inheritance through one of his brother-in-laws who was one of the owners of a group ranch. He says owners of the ranch invited him to lead the subdivision of the land and then offered him an equal share of 60 acres.
“God has restored back everything that was stolen from me in my childhood,” he says.
His role as chair of the SPU University Council
The Archbishop says he is passionate about educating and empowering the youth and sees church ministry and service to society as intertwined. “Unless we are building sufficient intellectual capacity, we may not be able to transform society and the nation. Mental capacity has to go hand in hand with spiritual capacity,” the Archbishop states.
His vision for the university is that it continues being a centre of excellence and impact the society even more. “This institution has always produced leaders for this country and I would like to see it continue doing so, not just for Kenya but beyond,” he adds.
He advises the university to keep updating content that is taught to ensure that it matches the needs of the market and society.
He says that he wants to see more development in infrastructure and human resource so that the university is able to cater for both private and the government-sponsored students.