Incredible Journey – Kathy Kiuna went from a humble secretary to one of Kenya’s most charismatic preachers. She tells Damaris Irungu how it came about
The hand-written birthday poem on the wall of Pastor Kathy Kiuna’s office is sentimental, something a man would write to his bride of perhaps a year. But Pastor Allan Kiuna wrote these words last year, when they had already been married for 17 years. Allan Kiuna is one romantic man, and Kathy is one lucky woman, as she readily admits. “I have a man who is not afraid to express himself,” she says. “I don’t take that lightly.”
Kathy Kiuna is wearing a pair of stylish black jeans and a long blue sweater that matches her stilettos. After greeting me with a warm hug, she takes me to her spacious office, furnished with black leather chairs and baby pink cushions. A pink rug on the floor completes the look. Kathy Kiuna is a senior pastor at Jubilee Christian Church in Nairobi. Her husband is the general overseer of the church. Unlike many women of the clergy who become known simply as “the pastor’s wife”, Kathy is a pastor and spiritual leader in her own right. How does that gel with the fact that she is married to a pastor?
“I know my place – I am second,” she explains. “My husband is the head of the home. Whenever there are decisions to be made, we discuss them. Sometimes we agree to disagree, but his word is final.”
Kathy counters these arguably old-fashioned sentiments with a thought-provoking reminder: “However, for women to rise, the man has to support her, lift her up. It is the husband’s duty to raise his wife.”
Kathy and Allan, who never shy away from showing their affection in public, met in an interesting way.
“He was at a phone booth, having a conversation with his mother (that’s what he told me!), and I passed by on my way to church. He told his mum to hang on a sec, then called out to me, asking me to give him a minute as he wanted to speak to me. The only reason I stopped was because he had called me by my name. After ending his conversation with his mum, he told me straight up that he wanted to get to know me and asked if he could buy me lunch.
I turned him down, saying I was busy. I was in fact busy as I was headed to join the praise and worship team for the lunch time service. But this did not deter him and he pursued me relentlessly.
On our first date he made it clear that he wanted to get married. That was in January. By December the same year I said ‘I do’, and became Mrs Kiuna. I was 25 and he was 27.”
Kathy’s spiritual journey started when she was 22. She was something of a wild child in high school (CGHU Parklands).
“I was the cheeky girl, the party girl, the totally crazy chic, not the kind of girl you would have picked for salvation,” she laughs. “My friends from high school got the shocker when they heard I got saved.”
After high school, she went to Queensway Secretarial College. She was working as a secretary and singing in the worship team at Faith Evangelist Ministries under Teresia Wairimu when she met Allan, also a member of the church. At that point, there was nothing to tell her that great things were about to happen.
The newlyweds opened a printing business, but it did not do well, and they were forced to close.
“God took us through a gruesome experience,” she says of those days.
“Then came the day that changed our lives. In September 1998, God sent His prophet, a man named Macdonald, to preach at Teresia Wairimu’s church. He called us to the front of the church and began to prophesy. He told my husband that God was going to give him an office, a big office where he was going to raise leaders. He told me that I was going to be a psalmist, that I was going to write songs that touch lives.”
“We were surprised and shocked. How was God going to do this? But we took his word for it and waited. One day, God spoke, telling us to start a church on 17 January 1999.”
Looking back, Kathy remembers how some of their friends trashed them when they invited them to come to their church.
“They blatantly told us that they were not going to join us and become part of the mockery, but this did not stop us. God had put in us such a passion that nothing was going to shake us, but the doubt came sometimes as we wondered how we were going to start a church without a single coin to our name.”
But the couple was determined to obey God.
First, they needed premises.
“We found it at Temus Restaurant, owned by Terry Mungai of Ashley’s, who was gracious enough to let us use it for Ksh3,700 a month. At the time, it sounded like Ksh3.7 million! But God had a plan and soon we started getting volunteers: someone offered to print fliers free of charge and one pastor gave us an envelope with Ksh 10,000. That was indeed a miracle! We had found our budget plus extra to give the congregation biscuits and tea after church.”
Sunday, 17 January 1999 arrived, and the 40-seater venue was filled to capacity with friends, family and curious spectators. The Kiunas were thoroughly pleased – but the following Sunday, they had a congregation of only six.
“Our friends and family had come to support us for the premier of the church, but they moved on to their respective churches after that first Sunday. It was shocking to see just six people, but we kept the faith and over the months the numbers fluctuated from eight people to five to ten … and today Jubilee Christian Church boasts a congregation of five thousand regular attendees.”
In the early days, Kathy would lead worship and Allan would preach. With the growth of their church, duties are divided differently today, but Kathy still mostly leads the choir. She is a talented musician who has released four albums, three with friends and one solo album, In the Fullness of Time, which chronicles some of the darker times of their spiritual journey.
From secretary to praise and worship leader … this would be enough for most women. But more was to come.
“My husband told me that I should become a woman’s pastor and should lead a ministry for women,” she recalls. “He had seen what I had gone through when we were down and out, when I couldn’t even afford a sanitary towel, and he knew I could connect with women and encourage them. Another pastor confirmed my husband’s vision.”
“God gave me a passion for women,” Kathy says. “I want to see women change for good, to believe in themselves, to fulfill their destinies. A lot of women are so beautiful but they don’t see it, they let men belittle them and tell them what to do.”
Not content with being co-founder of a busy church, Kathy has also found time to write. She has authored Celebrate Yourself “and Woman Without Limits, and a third book will be out soon. Oh, and she designs clothes for fun!
Kathy Kiuna is no stranger to controversy. Recently, pictures of their house circulated on social media, followed by outraged comments that pastors who serve God should not live extravagant lives. Kathy has no apologies.
“Those who talk only know the ‘after’; they should have seen the ‘before’ to appreciate the work of God,” she says. “He has raised us up in the church and the church is as good as its flock – if the flock is walking in poverty, so will the church.
Many in our congregation are living well; this is just the tip of the iceberg, we are only warming up, we are coming. We were called by God to raise leaders and that is exactly what we are doing – raising people to be the best they can be, and as they grow, so do we. Besides, you can never pay a pastor enough.”
So is Jubilee Christian Church preaching the prosperity gospel?
“We serve a prosperity God,” Kathy counters. “God wants us to be prosperous in every single way. His desire for us is to walk in abundance. I am praying for church people to show the likes of Bill Gates dust!”
Kathy is in her early 40s but looks several years younger. How does she do it?
“I work out every single day, and my husband recently persuaded me to play golf. At first I was very reluctant, ‘Where is the fun in walking after a ball?’ I asked, but the minute I started getting the ball into the holes I was hooked, and now I love it.”
This couple keeps their church and private lives separate.
“We don’t let anything come in between us, not even ministry. We have boundaries which we expect the congregation to respect. Our house is not for fellowship, and we don’t move our kids from bedroom to bedroom to give room to believers.
We have offices at the church where we can discuss church matters. Some church people allow the flock to take over their private lives and end up with no home; this just strains family relationships.”
A normal day for Kathy starts at 6am.
“Between 6-8am we share in prayer, then hit the gym to exercise. Monday is our day off so we go off to play some golf.
Tuesday we have counselling sessions at the church, Wednesday is prayer meetings for Daughters of Zion, Thursday we are busy at the mentorship school at JCC, Friday we usually have overnight prayers at the church so we start preparing for that and also the Sunday service. In the evening we try as much as possible to spend it as family.”
The Kiunas are blessed with three children: Vanessa, 21, who is studying law in Australia, Stephanie, 16, who is in high school, and Jeremy, 11, their “miracle” baby.
“Jeremy was born prematurely at six months, weighing just 1.1 kilograms. He has cerebral palsy, but is so bright and intelligent. The only thing he cannot do is walk by himself; he walks with the support of a stick. But we are trusting God to get him to walk.”
“He was born when I was in the US. He was checked from head to toe, but doctors found nothing amiss. It was only when he was a year and half and still not walking that we realised something was wrong. A neurosurgeon eventually made the diagnosis.”
“Emotionally sometimes we get deflated, waiting on God to do something, make him walk. A year comes and goes, then another, and in my prayers I’m like, ‘God, I never expected You to take this long!’ But we know God is preparing a testimony for Jeremy; Jeremy has made us know God more, helped us realise that he is still a miracle.”
In church, Kathy’s husband often refers to her as his “darling wife” and uses sweet names when addressing her in public. Romance is clearly part and parcel of this happy marriage, but what is the glue that keeps them together?
“Love and respect for each other is crucial, but the focus must be on God,” Kathy says.
“Every person has flaws but you can only get past the flaws with Christ in your life. A wife should respect and honour her husband and the husband should respect and love his wife. He must support her in her dreams so she can become the best that she can be.
Wives, also remember your place in the home: it is not first, but second, regardless of the circumstances. When a man is comfortable in his place, he will let you be comfortable in yours.”
So how does this woman of God feel about divorce?
“What God has put together let no man put asunder … but some marriages God did not put together. There are some marriages where couples cannot stand each other; they are tired of each other and are always happier when apart.
To those I would say, ‘Move on if you must, maybe it wasn’t God after all.’ But first you need to ask yourself, did I give the marriage my all? Could the fault lie with me, rather than him? Try your level best so that if Jesus returned today, He wouldn’t hold it against you, because you will have done your 100%.”
The Kiunas attribute the phenomenal growth of their church – they have branches in Kenya, the US, the UK and South Africa – to “great mentors” such as Teresia Wairimu and Pastor TD Jakes. During the interview, Kathy tells me that they are going to Miami in the US in October to preach and meet Pastor Jakes. “We are raising leaders and sending them forth.”
Kathy seems to have her hands full, so how does she keep a balance? “Actually, I purpose to have the balance: I have my me-time, get into the Jacuzzi and relax, go out with some girls and have a good laugh, I purpose to find the time to do all these things, even to read.”
Her final words end on a typically positive note: “As a woman you should love yourself and be a go-getter. Many women are looking outside for fulfilment, but that is wrong. Whatever you need to fulfil yourself is on the inside. Don’t limit yourself to what you can become – find yourself as a woman and go up!”