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Kenyan to receive World Methodist Peace Award

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A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose

Bishop Lawi Imathiu (right) participates in the 2001 World Methodist Conference in Brighton, England.
Jan. 18, 2006

By United Methodist News Service*

A Kenyan Methodist bishop who spoke out against the violent regime of former Ugandan dictator Idi Amin is the 2005 recipient of the World Methodist Peace Award.

Bishop Lawi Imathiu will be given the award during a Jan. 29 ceremony at Kenya Methodist University in Meru, Kenya. The presentation will be made by His Eminence Sunday Mbang of Nigeria, chairperson of the World Methodist Council, which sponsors the award.

Imathiu was president of the World Methodist Council from 1986 to 1991, the first African to serve in this capacity. Now retired, he serves as the Africa continent secretary for the council’s Division of World Evangelism.

In 1977, as Idi Amin, a brutal political tyrant, caused upheaval in East Africa, Imathiu was a strong advocate for peace and justice in the region.

When Amin attempted to silence the witness of the church by ordering the death of the Anglican archbishop of Uganda, Imathiu took a courageous stand and called Amin a murderer and an oppressor. Imathiu was serving as a member of the Kenyan Parliament at the time.

The bishop “showed great courage, with a clear voice for peace, reconciliation, salvation and hope for all the people,” noted the Rev. George Freeman, chief executive of the World Methodist Council.

He also took a stand against South Africa’s apartheid system. As council president, Imathiu reinforced the World Methodist Council’s call for the people in South Africa to be set free from apartheid, and he led a delegation that met with President P.W. Botha of South Africa.

As one African to another, Imathiu urged Botha to release Nelson Mandela from prison and to remove the shackles on the people. A second council delegation met with his successor, President F.W. De Klerk, to press again for the release of Mandela and the dismantling of the oppressive apartheid system. Mandela, who was finally released in 1990 and was elected president of South Africa in 1994, received the World Methodist Peace Award in 2000.

Imathiu’s faith journey began with his family. His father became a Christian as a boy in 1910, one of the first Christians among the Meru tribe. The bishop himself attended Methodist mission schools for primary, secondary and teacher college training. After serving as a teacher for a year, he accepted the call to ministry and studied at St. Paul’s Theological College in Nairobi. He completed studies at London University and in Limuru, Kenya.

He also studied at Epworth College in Zimbabwe and received a master of divinity degree from Claremont (Calif.) Theological Seminary. Emory University honored him with a doctor of divinity degree in 1990. He was the first bishop elected to serve the Methodist Church in Kenya, which became autonomous in January 1967.

During his tenure, the Methodist Church in Kenya grew from 8,000 members in 1970 to more than 225,000 in 2000. The denomination also developed mission outreach to the nomadic Boran, Kisii and Masai people in Kenya and started Methodist work in Uganda and Tanzania.

The bishop was instrumental in founding Kenya Methodist University, which trains Christian leaders in business, agriculture, politics and economics as well as theology. Currently, he and other national leaders are working to develop a new constitution for Kenya.

“Lawi Imathiu has given his entire life as a follower of the Lord Jesus Christ and more than 50 years as a courageous, creative advocate for the cause of peace and reconciliation around the world, particularly in the continent of Africa,” the council statement said. “His faithful witness reflects the values of the World Methodist Peace Award and the criteria for receiving the award: courage, creativity and consistency.”

Previous recipients of the World Methodist Peace Award include former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, and Bolivian household-worker-turned activist Casimira Rodriguez Romero.Habitat for Humanity founder Millard Fuller received the award last year.

*The World Methodist Council provided information for this story.

News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or

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