By Caroline Chebet and Yvonne Chepkwony
It is the legendary ‘Little Brown Church in the Vale’, devoid of the luxury of cushy seats but simple pews backed up with an array of musical instruments.
Soft, slow, well-choreographed hymns that soothe one's soul are synonymous to AIC Kabarak Chapel. It is home to rich, doctrinal hymns and old worship songs.
It is here that former President Daniel Moi’s favourite hymns - Amazing Love, take time to be Holy, and forever with the Lord - have been repeated thousands of times. It is also the chapel where Moi taught congregants the importance of keeping time, respect and humility. This, he did every Sunday whenever he was at Kabarak.
“Former President Daniel Moi was always punctual, and once inside the church, the doors were closed. This virtue, to date, has remained unchanged. Those worshipping here keep time and no one comes in late,” says Reverend Dr Paul Ombati, Kabarak High School chaplain.
Perhaps it is the humbling nature of the chapel, or maybe the pin-drop silence, or the rich smell of ancient Bibles that make the chapel, which even on ordinary Sunday seats about 2,000 congregants, stand out.
The wide array of instruments on the pulpit, tell of rich tales of music that has grown over the years, giving the school a cutting edge, an unrivalled gigantic position for its churning out of charming hymns.
The chapel, built-in 1991, tells the history of morals, the spiritual growth and value of biblical teachings and hymns among 1,400 students in the high school.
“To date, it is just discipline, morals and respect that guide the students. They stick to the rules and do not come in a minute late,” Dr Ombati says.
Congregants do not come to the chapel with indecent clothing nor are they allowed to sing any song simply because it is classified as gospel. Music is vetted and only those approved are sung, and those are mainly hymns.
“We value morals, as Mzee Moi taught us and do not allow anything that will compromise the values of what we teach. When Kabarak schools were started, it was aimed at boosting both academic and spiritual growth and nourishment among the students to enhance moral uprightness and that is why we stick to it,” Dr Ombati said.
Only songs that sound theologically right and fit into the doctrines of the church are allowed to be sung.
“There are so many songs that do not conform to the doctrines of the church and that also fail to meet theological criteria. Most hymns, however, do not have misleading interpretations. Hymns also promote the beautiful rich sounds that promote quality,” he said.
Stressing on the quality of hymns, Dr Ombati says, this is a way of preserving the former president's love for music.
“Mzee Moi always loved hymns and he always said he wanted the school to remain mixed because he valued the combination of voices to produce quality music, more so the hymns,” Dr Ombati explains.
Over the years, the evolution of hymns in the church has earned the chapel unrivalled respect.
According to 74-year-old Reverend David Ndung’u, the idea of setting up Kabarak Chapel was borne under a tree one afternoon after a Bible study session, which they normally had with the former head of state.
“After a church service at Bondeni AIC, we would proceed with Moi to his home at Kabarak and after a meal, we would have Bible study with not only students but also the locals,” recalls Ndung’u.
Due to the overwhelming number of people who attended the Bible study, Moi sought for suggestions on what they would do to accommodate the growing population.
“When Moi sought my opinion, I proposed the fish shape for a new building. I got this idea from the Bible and even made a sketch of how it would look like. To my surprise, he really liked it,” said Ndung’u.
After presenting the proposal and the site to build the chapel, Moi informed his architect to build the church.