Nehemia Lenoi Kilanka, a Maasai preacher and gospel singer, spoke to The Nairobian about the challenges of being a Maasai reverend.
Where did you grow up?
I am Rev John Mpidaki, the lead pastor at Pefa Church, Kumpa. I was born in Kumpa sub-location, Purko Ward, Kajiado County. I am also a family man with two lovely kids.
I was raised in a single-parent home after my dad passed away when I was still so young. Our mother who was a housewife didn’t have any source of income when my dad died. We could go without food and many other basic needs that a child need when growing up. We slept hungry for so many nights.
How do you sing so fluently in Swahili and English?
I am an educated Maasai. I went to school in a cosmopolitan institution, which shaped my language proficiency. I can also say it is due to experience since I started singing at a young age. While in school, my teachers could give me an opportunity to sing during assemblies or religious events, and many a time, I was given an opportunity to sing in churches…This really shaped my career.
When did you start recording your music?
I started recording my music at a small studio called Mopotune in Kajiado town. However, contrary to my expectations, I found the journey in the music industry to be so rough due to lack of money. Sometimes, you need to go somewhere to entertain people but a lack of resources constrains you. At first, the going was tough but it taught me patience.
What is the greatest challenge you have faced in the music industry?
Most of the time, we Maasais have to wear our shukas. However, sometimes people will not recognize or appreciate you the way you appear and that could make one to give up. Lack of money is another great challenge for upcoming artists. Personally, I could be invited to a crusade or concert but fail to attend due to lack of fare. Yet I know my songs could have blessed many people.
You are so passionate about philanthropy. What is your motivation?
When I was young, there were several times we slept on an empty stomach. That made me totally hate hunger.
You run a feeding foundation in your community; is this what motivated you to start one?
Absolutely yes! As someone who has slept hungry several times and with firsthand experience of what being poor means, I felt the urge to start a programme in my community that focuses on putting something on the table for the poor members of the community. I have a clear picture of the poverty situation of my community members and I wouldn’t want a situation where individuals and children cry on end because of hunger.
My feeding foundation is called Mepukori Self-Help Group, which means we cannot live without food. I started it in 2019 in partnership with friends and well-wishers from Enroi Children’s Home who encouraged and empowered me in different ways. When I flashback on how hard our nights were after we went to bed hungry, I decided to not let any other child go through that.
Where do you get the resources to run this programme?
Mostly, I get the resources from friends, well-wishers, and organisations but sometimes I have to dig deep into my pockets to ensure the foundation does what it was meant to do. Every three months, my organisation purposes to reach more than 200 families.
What future plan do you have for this foundation?
My dream is to reach millions and inspire hope in them. If you can’t feed 100, feed one and we change the whole world – that is my life’s mantra.
What have you learned from this experience and how has this changed your life?
The day I started to share whatever I have; I have indeed seen a big change in my life and my family God is providing for us in a big way. We are not rich but if you compare our life today from the day I started to share, there is a big difference because now, there is something we share with others. I have learnt that when you share what you have with others, God gives you more.
What memorable event can you recall from your charity events?
I remember one day, I and my friends were on the way to see a family. We were going to give them some food we had carried. I remember we went to one family and gave them 6kg of maize and the moment we gave the mother the maize, the mother started to cry: “My sons, you’re sent by God; imagine we have gone for three good days without having anything.” That makes me feel that what I am doing is noble.
Why is it that many gospel musicians are against one another’s progress?
It is sad that many of those who call themselves gospel ministers are involved in scandals day in and day out. They are not concerned about those who don’t have anything to eat or wear but their own interests. In fact, some of them are thieves while others are full of jealousy.
What is your message to upcoming artists?
I would like to call on everybody with a talent to never give up. There is a time for every person in this world. There is a time you will shine no matter what. You may initially find it rough because a of lack of money but your sacrifices and efforts will finally pay off.