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Kenyan police chaplain connects communities (UM News)

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April 1, 2022

When the Rev. Eliud Kahanya Karanja graduated from Bethany Christian College in Mathare, Kenya, in 1994, he knew God was calling him to ministry. 

Believing that the traditional pastorate wasn’t the path for him at the time, Karanja established a United Methodist chaplaincy ministry for law-enforcement personnel at the General Service Unit headquarters. 

He worked as a general service officer before his transfer to the Kenya Airport Police Unit in Embakasi, where he served until retiring in December. His work has led to a new chapel and school serving airport police and their families. 

Reflecting on his journey, Karanja said chaplaincy opened unique opportunities to minister to a wide range of people, many of whom might not walk through the doors of a church. 

“With a keen attention to police and community culture,” he said, “I’ve been the balancer, providing support for police officers and civilians in need.”

Offering prayers while visiting with sick or injured members of the police department at their home or in the hospital has been part of Karanja’s role as a chaplain. He highlighted the importance of offering comfort, counsel and referrals to those in need. 

Chaplaincy ministry has a long history in The United Methodist Church. Kenyan law-enforcement practices, often linked to violence and abuse of power, present unique challenges to chaplaincy, said Boniface Mukii, a police constable with the General Service Unit. Mukii is a theological student at Wesleyan United Methodist Training College in Nairobi.

For police, spiritual support is vital to combating stress, he said.

Karanja strived to change the culture in positive ways through ministries with law-enforcement agencies. 

In 2000, he gathered resources and established the first chaplaincy unit. He went on to help build a church for uniformed officers at the general headquarters, followed by a chapel at the Kenya Airport Police Unit. He received funding support from partners at Bethany United Methodist Church in South Korea.

In addition to starting the chaplaincy unit, Karanja founded the Kenya Airport Police Unit Chapel Academy, a Christian-Muslim school, in 2021. 

The school was started to fill a need for the 600 police officers and their families whose only educational option was an overcrowded primary school a few miles away. The airport-police chapel congregation and well-wishers funded the academy. 

The school encourages Christian and Muslim students to learn and work together. 

Head teacher Janet Rotich said the church school values diversity among its employees and believes that learning from diversity leads to successful coexistence.

“Every morning,” she said, “teachers spend time emphasizing citizenship values and encouraging coexistence and tolerance among students.”

Karanja agreed. “It’s not just about meeting the demands of Christians and Muslims. It’s also about providing better education … that transcends the constraints of religious beliefs and social constructions to foster peace and promote education for all.”

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