12-13 November 2011 Talk on Small Christian Communities in Africa

“Reconciliation, Justice and Peace throughout Africa”

Breakout Sessions

Ignatian Family Teach-in for Justice (IFTJ)

Georgetown Hotel and Convention Center

Washington DC, USA

Saturday evening, 12 November, 2011 and Sunday afternoon, 12 November, 2011  

Small Christian Communities in Africa

By Joseph Healey, MM

I am delighted to join you this evening/this afternoon. I am an American Maryknoll missionary priest who has served in Eastern Africa for 43 years. I teach courses on Small Christian Communities at the Catholic University campuses in Nairobi, Kenya including the Jesuit College called Hekima College. I am 73 years old. At the first class the students started calling me Mzee (the Swahili word for “elder”) as a title of respect. But I said, “No. Not yet. Please give me another name.” So the next day they started calling me “a youth from a long ago” (in Swahili it is kijana wa zamani). So during these three days of our conference I hope we are all youth. You students of Jesuit colleges and high schools are the youth of today. And I am a youth from a long time ago.

My topic is Small Christian Communities (SCCs) that goes by many different names:[1] Small Faith-sharing Communities, Small Church Communities, Basic Christian Communities, Basic Ecclesial Communities, Christian Base Communities, Bible Study Groups, House Churches, Cell Groups, RENEW Group. On many Jesuit campuses the Jesuit model of SCCs is Christian Life Communities (CLCs). There are 120,000 SCCs in Eastern Africa (including specific Youth SCCs and Online SCCs) and over 45,000 SCCs in the USA that are trying to be agents of change and transformation.  

My main credibility is that I am an ordinary member of the St. Kizito Small Christian Community in the Waruku Section of St. Austin’s Parish in Nairobi Archdiocese in Nairobi, Kenya in East Africa. My official cap says “A Member of St. Kizito” and is a sign of my identity [SHOW HAT]. The leaders of our SCC are lay people. I am happy to be a student, a learner. I am also happy to be learning from you college and high school students during the talks and breaks of our conference. I am inspired by your commitment to social justice and your involvement in many outreach projects including starting NGOs.

            My specific topic tonight/this afternoon is “How SCCs Promote Reconciliation, Justice and Peace in Africa” that is Chapter 5 in this new Orbis book Reconciliation, Justice and Peace – the Second African Synod[2] [SHOW BOOK] that we are launching this weekend. This is connected to how we are implementing the results and recommendations of the Second African Synod on the theme “Reconciliation, Justice and Peace.”

I am a storyteller…so here are two true stories that came out of the violence and killing in Kenya in 2008. A political, economic, and humanitarian crisis erupted in Kenya after incumbent President Mwai Kibaki was declared the winner of the presidential election held on December 27, 2007. Over 1,300 people were killed in the clashes and over 300,000 people were displaced. As further background the Kikuyu and the Luo Ethnic Groups (formerly called “tribes”) are two of the biggest groups in Kenya. Tensions between these two ethnic groups in Kenya are long standing.

For an example of an inspiring, real story about women involved in peacemaking in SCCs in Eastern Africa, listen to “I Am a Christian First:”

After the post December, 2007 election crisis and the resulting tribalism-related violence in Kenya in early 2008, a Catholic woman in a St. Paul Chaplaincy Center Prayer Group (a type of Small Christian Community) in Nairobi said: "I am a Christian first, a Kenyan second and a Kikuyu third.”[3]

Another story is “Pray for Me to Forgive President Mwai Kibaki:”

During a meeting of the St. Jude South Small Christian Community (SCC) near the main highway going to Uganda in Yala Parish in Kisumu Archdiocese in Kenya in March, 2008 the members reflected on the Gospel passage from John 20:23: "If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained." Speaking from the heart one Luo man emotionally asked the SCC members to pray for him. He said: "Pray for me to forgive President Mwai Kibaki." During the post-election crisis period in Kenya he said that every time he saw the Kikuyu president on TV he got upset and angry and so he needed healing. The other SCCs members were deeply touched and feelingly prayed for him and laid hands on him. He said that he felt peaceful again.[4]

These two short, powerful stories are a ringing challenge to overcome tribalism and negative ethnicity and can be the starting point of an African Theology of Reconciliation and Peace.

Now I want to talk about us, and specifically YOU. How can we in our various small communities and small groups make a difference in our lives, our schools, our local communities, our American society? I am reminded of the well-known quotation of Margaret Mead, the famous cultural anthropologist, who said: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” When we go out on Monday to participate in Advocacy Programs here in Washington DC, let’s remember this quotation.  “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” Yes, and let’s remember that one person can make a difference too. Recall the South African proverb that says, If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping in a closed room with a mosquito.

Now I want to suggest some “takeaways.” Some African-related issues on social justice that we can be involved in on Monday and later in our schools and local communities. Some of the burning issues of Africa are:

  1. Refugees: those in Lodwar, Northwest Kenya; the 1,500 refugees arriving in Nairobi every day; and the thousands of Somalis in the Dadaab Camp in Northeast Kenya.
  1. Internally Displaced People (IDPs) – connected to our ministry of helping homeless people: Kenya and South Sudan.
  1. Human Trafficking: an increasing problem in Naivasha, Kenya and Mombasa, Kenya. I am personally interested in how members of our Small Christian Communities (SCCs) in Kenya can get involved on the grassroots.
  1. Eliminating malaria. Are we involved in the various campaigns such as Malaria No More, Nothing but Nets and Project Anidaso in Ghana that we heard about in the plenary session? For $10 we can buy a treated mosquito net for Africa and save lives.
  1. Promoting fair trade goods to help African farmers get a fair profit. I am delighted to visit college campuses in the USA and find that fair trade coffee, tea and chocolate are served in the dining rooms and cafeterias. On our Display Table we have Fair Trade and Equal Exchange Coffee from Ethiopia and tea from Kenya. I went to the cafeteria here in the center and brought fair trade coffee from Costa Rica that I am drinking right now [SHOW CUP].

As we reach out in advocacy let us THINK OUTSIDE THE BOX. Let us take risks. Let us play our part in changing the world.

I close by teaching you one word in Swahili, the major language of Eastern and Central Africa. The word is oyee that means “hooray” or “cheers.” Let’s try it. Oyee! In Africa we say that "SCCs are not a program or project, but a way of life.” To celebrate this pastoral priority we have a slogan or cheer that is inculturated in different African languages. “Small Christian Communities, Oyee.”  Let’s try it. “Small Christian Communities, Oyee!” I can’t hear you. Again: “Small Christian Communities, Oyee!

Rev. Joseph G. Healey, M.M. (on safari)
Maryknoll Society
P.O. Box 43058
00100 Nairobi, Kenya
Telkom Orange Wireless: 057-2522977


[1] A background paper for the “International Consultation on Rediscovering Community” at Notre Dame, Indiana, USA in 1991 compiled over 3,500 different names, titles, terms and expressions for SCCs/BCCs. What is important is the best name for the local situation, the local context.


[2] The English-speaking African Edition is published by Acton Publishers and the French Edition will be co-published by CERAP and Khartala.

[3] Story No. 175 in the “African Stories Database”, African Proverbs, Sayings and Stories Website, retrieved 8 March, 2011, 


This order does not diminish the importance of positive ethnicity and the values of African cultural roots but expresses priorities. In the genuine dialogue between Christian Faith and African culture it is both/and rather than either/or.

[4] Story No. 332 in the “African Stories Database”, African Proverbs, Sayings and Stories Website, retrieved 5 October, 2011, 




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