Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Other Sheep: Interdenominational Group Supports Kenyan Priest's Work with LGBT Community

Other Sheep is an interdenominational, multicultural ministry to sexual minorities. Its story began in Latin America, the brain child of the Rev. Dr. Tom Hanks, a Presbyterian missionary from St. Louis (he jokingly refers to himself as "the Original Tom Hanks). It is focused on bringing the message of inclusion to areas of the world where it has not been heard.

Today Other Sheep works with existing LGBT ministries and helps to form new ones, particularly where none exist. The organization helps connect people and organizations to strengthen them through networking and information sharing. It operates 74 resource centers in the developing world, where it provides positive material related to sexual diversity, the Bible and Christian life. A team of theological scholars, including Hanks, writes and teaches in English and Spanish about the subject of sexuality in the Bible. Men and women who feel called to ministry but are unable to fulfill that call within their own denomination, or who feel called to work with sexual minorities, are sought out, mentored and encouraged.

Steve Parelli, (Other Sheep's Executive Director and himself a former Baptist minister) and his partner José Ortiz met the Rev. Michael Nzuki Kimindu during a missionary trip to Africa in 2007. Rev. Kimindu is an Anglican priest in Nairobi, Kenya. A married heterosexual man with children who spent nearly 20 years as a chaplain in the Kenyan military, Rev. Kimindu is an unlikely advocate for the rights of LGBT people. During his military chaplaincy, he counseled a chronically-depressed young serviceman whom no-one could seem to help. Through their conversations, the young man revealed his attraction to other men. Kimindu's acceptance and encouragement turned the young man's life around.

Kimindu wrote a scholarly paper about his observations about human sexuality within military culture. Having retired with the rank of Major, he organized and leads a weekly fellowship for LGBT people in his home and monthly meetings of P-FLAG. Upon learning about Other Sheep's visit to Kenya from a colleague they encountered at Nairobi's Anglican cathedral, he eagerly reached out to Steve & José, anxious to meet Christians who shared his beliefs in LGBT inclusion. Steve's recollection of that encounter is here.

Today Rev. Kimindu is the Other Sheep Coordinator for East Africa. Upon learning of Kimindu's involvement with a LGBT organization, the Archbishop of Kenya (the Most Rev. Benjamin M. Nzimbi) inhibited him from his leadership duties at St. Luke's Church, where he is resident. He also received a cut in pay, but was determined to continue his important work for this vulnerable population. He is exploring the possibility of affiliating with the LGBT-majority Metropolitan Community Church. He has also attracted the attention and support of Changing Attitudes, the organization, led by Davis Mac-Iyalla, that is working towards acceptance of LGBT people within Africa's Anglican churches.

In October, Steve and Jose met with members of The Oasis Commission to discuss the needs of this fledgling ministry, which include a digital camera and a more current computer so that Rev. Kimindu can share information more easily with the rest of the organization and help tell the story of LGBT people in Kenya. The Oasis is considering contributing toward the purchase and donation of both items.

Meanwhile, on November 10th, Rev. Kimindu was expelled from the clergy chapter meeting at Nairobi's cathedral, according to the Anglican LGBT support group in Africa, Changing Attitudes. This despite what appears to be a softening stance towards his work by the Archbishop of Kenya, according to the Changing Attitudes article.