In Thogoto, aka ‘Scotland’, Christianity offers false hope to supposedly sinful women who sell sex

Women who are beaten, raped and abused in Kenya still believe in a loving God

What is it about organised religion that always ends in a horror story? That was a rhetorical question. I am in Kenya at the moment, once home to many ancient tribal religions and cultures. Most of them monotheistic, I am surprised to learn, but all happy not to insist that my God is the best God and must become your God and worshipped in my way, on pain of death or worse.

People had a much more direct relationship with God – he frequently stayed at the top of a nearby mountain – which is handy. There was also a close relationship with the spirits of your dead ancestors. And deep regard for all living creatures. Those Gods never told them: “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.” Big, if you don't mind my saying so, mistake.

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But it seemed to be his bag, giving his people massive gifts of stuff that wasn't his to give. And look where that has got us in the Middle East! Joshua 1:4 has Jaweh handing out other people's territory like sweeties, and so the ancient Israelites got the land “from the Negev wilderness in the south to the Lebanon mountains in the north, from the Euphrates River in the east to the Mediterranean Sea in the west, including all the land of the Hittites”. He obviously just did not think all this through.

Faith in Christianity is strong in Kenya (Picture: Yasuyoshi Chiba/AFP via Getty Images)Faith in Christianity is strong in Kenya (Picture: Yasuyoshi Chiba/AFP via Getty Images)
Faith in Christianity is strong in Kenya (Picture: Yasuyoshi Chiba/AFP via Getty Images)
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Another Scotland

All this occurs to me as we pass through a place called Thogoto, outside Nairobi. Thogoto is the local Kikuyu people’s word for Scotland. I was rather hoping that some jolly Glaswegians came over and set up Kenya's first Scotch Pie Company and bothy here. Sadly, no. We brought our religion. Eventually education. But mainly religion.

In 1891, the Imperial British East Africa Company (and how much does that sound like something you'd run a mile from?) decided this area needed the Church of Scotland's fun-filled care and conversion skills. Six missionaries came from Scotland in the next year and fairly soon five of them died of malaria. God not doing the best job of protecting his own there. The one remaining minister went to the Kikuyu and set up the Church of Scotland mission on 30 acres of land given by the son of a local chief.

To be fair, Presbyterianism does not ask much from its followers other than eschewing all fun and sitting in a church on Sundays being told by a wee man in black that we are all sinners. That, at least, is my experience of it at Sherwood Church, Paisley, where the Rev Yuill was, now I think of it, almost like something out of Hogwarts.

Bad medicine

Nowadays Kenya has all shades of Christianity from happy-clappy to Orthodox. And you never see a thin pastor. Some 85.5 per cent of the population is Christian.

It was Victorian Christian colonialists who imposed their strict gender and sexual mores on the local populations. Many tribes in East Africa not only embraced transsexuals – generally trans women – but accorded them positions of religious importance. The colonists were quick to put the kibosh on that.

I genuinely find it very strange that, were you ill or in pain and someone gave you a pill and said “take this, it will make you better” and you did, but it didn't, then you would know that this pill just does not work. Or that the person was lying.

But the poorest people here go to church, sing the songs, pray the prayers and believe the rhetoric no matter how many, many times all of it still leaves them mired in pain, poverty and exclusion. I have a few health problems – OK, I am a bit of a wreck – and am still waiting, as I have been promised countless times, to be “healed in Jesus’s name”.

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A positive day out

The thousands of women we rescue from unbelievable abuses and privations all reassure me that God will bless me. Surely it would be a much more efficient use of the Almighty's powers simply to bypass me and go straight to blessing them? With a life where they are not beaten, sold, raped and mutilated? Just a thought.

We do, I should say, have an incredibly positive day out in Thogoto. As my social media feeds fill up with promotional flotsam and jetsam pushing Edinburgh Fringe shows performed by comics who want brownie points because they now “feel comfortable” talking about some aspect of themselves, I meet a group of women who really have things to feel uncomfortable about. And those things are exacerbated by the fact that Christianity tells them they are sinful.

One moment remains with me particularly. Most of these ladies work on the streets or in bars. Nowadays, the going rate for what I shall refer to as the 'full nasty' with one of them is about 35 of our British pence. With a bit of casual violence thrown in.

One of the businesses we funded for a group of 15 women was the sale of thorn melons (healthy stuff, although less than delicious IMHO). One of the larger thorn melon sells for a little over two of our British pounds. Interesting arithmetical conundrum there, but we will change it. Although the ladies still want God to bless me.

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