Habil Ogola is a Pastor and trained Laboratory Technologist from the Upper Nyakach Plateau of Western Kenya. He practiced as a Laboratory Technologist for 26 years, until his retirement in 2008. In 1998, Pastor Habil founded Bethlehem Home in response to the many orphans and extreme poverty of children and elderly people in the area. Since 1998, Bethlehem Home has become a community of more than 500 people, opened a primary school, initiated many community health and business projects, improving the health and business ventures of the rural Luo community in the Nyanza Province of Western Kenya. Pastor Habil is the heart and brains behind Bethlehem Home, as he knows this community extremely well and is passionate about serving and empowering vulnerable members of the community. Pastor Habil looks forward to overseeing the projects of Bethlehem Home for many years to come.
To learn more about Pastor Habil, read his story below:
Pastor Habil’s story:
My name is Habil Ogola. I was born on the Nyakach Plateau in the Nyakach District of the Nyanza Province of Kenya. My date of birth is February 20, 1954. As I write this, I am 58 years old. When I was born, my parents were very poor. My mother was a housewife and my father was a simple peasant who took small jobs here and there. Soon after I was born, my mother became pregnant again and my younger sibling was born before I even began to walk. In total, there were 12 children in our family. Because our house was very crowded, my grandmother took me to live with her.
I lived with my dear grandmother until she died in 1970, when I was 16 years old. I was overwhelmed by her death because she was like my mother. I felt abandoned and unsure of what I would do. At the time of her death, a principal of the Grace Bible College visited our family to console us. He remained with us for two days and I decided to follow Christ at that time, a few days after my grandmother died.
Following that day, I began to grow in faith and the things of God. I decided to pursue life as a pastor in God’s church. I prayed about this and then applied for training at the Grace Bible College. I was overjoyed when I was accepted to the college. I attended there for two years and began to see the great spiritual needs of the people in my country. In those times, I also saw that God had very big plans for my life and this brought me joy. I graduated from Grace Bible College in 1973 and immediately obtained a job as a pastor. Since that day, I have been a pastor.
Following the death of my grandmother, I went to stay with my parents while I attended the Bible college. My younger siblings were in terrible need of education, food and clothing. My father became sick and died of liver cancer. My mother also became very weak and could not support the children because she was sick. My eldest sister, Dorka, was the first born and she married and moved out of the house. This left me, the second-oldest, as the primary caretaker and provider for the 6 younger siblings. Originally, there had been 12 children, but only 9 remained because there were 3 deaths of measles.
As I began my pastoring work in this community where I lived, I did not make much money. I worked so much and cared for many people but was unable to bring home much money to care for my siblings. I wanted to provide a better life for them. I wanted them to go to school and at least manage their own lives but t hat meant they had to go to school, but there was no money for that. I decided to take a side-job doing clerical work because my grandmother had provided for me to attend secondary school and I excelled in that type of work in my school. I was fortunate to get a job quickly and began to work both as a clerk and a part-time pastor. During that time as a clerk, I received help from a friend named Isaiah. He noticed my skills and suggested that I train as a Laboratory Technologist because I paid very close attention to details. Isaiah helped me obtain the training and I then went to work as a Laboratory Technologist. It was a higher paying job and,with that, I was able to send my siblings to school.
During my time as a Laboratory Technologist, I worked at the New Nyanza Provincial Hospital, I came to marry Queen “Mama Faith”, my wife, in 1977. However, I must tell the story of the events that happened before that and how I came to meet her. Mama Faith is a very Godly woman and is the one God has chosen for me. Initially, Mama Faith lived in our community with her sister. She was a very good person and I admired her much. A friend and I once went to visit Mama Faith and her sister at their home. Unfortunately, Mama Faith did not appear to like me one bit. I left her house very sad about this. Some people in the church that I was pastoring at the time said that there was a nice and humble woman in the village who would be a good wife for me. Her name was Rhoda. I went to speak with her and she agreed to marry me after a very short conversation. We took her dowry and planned the wedding celebration. The wedding was to take pace on Saturday, June 12, 1977.which is now known as the Oginga Odinga Referral Hospital. Ialso worked at the Kisumu District Hospital, the Pap Onditi District Hospital and, lastly, at the Sigoti Health Centre near my home. My favorite work as a Laboratory Technologist involved the departments of Microbiology and Blood Transfusion. I was the youngest qualified staff ember at the Kisumu Oginga Odinga Referral hospital. I had the least amount of experience, but I was one of the favorite members of the staff. I became known as “a man of the sick” because I would not go for my lunch break if there were people still waiting for me to do their laboratory tests and diagnose their sickness from that. I was blessed to be very well-liked by my superiors there.
On the day before the wedding, Friday, my friends and I went to a pre-wedding celebration at Rhoda’s home. However, Rhoda was not there. After I waited for a long time, her parents came and told me with sad eyes that Rhoda had eloped with another man. They had gone to Nairobi to get married. I was overwhelmed with sadness that night. I was left in the darkness and no one could console me. I was in a district away from my family and was unable to contact them because there were no telephones at that time.
The next morning, the scheduled date of my wedding, I left very early for my home. I hoped I would catch my family there before they began to travel to attend the wedding. However, when I arrived, they had already left for the wedding in the other district where I came from. People tell me that everyone arrived at the wedding on time, very excited for us, only to have Rhoda’s parents arrive and sadly tell everyone what had occurred. Meanwhile, I was in our home village alone. The church where I pastored had left for the wedding also. Everyone was gone and I was completely alone. Without thinking much, I walked to the river and prepared to jump in, hoping the river would take me far away. In that moment, I did not care if I drowned. I removed my shoes and my coat, preparing to dive into the raging river. Suddenly, a young woman who was working nearby on the riverbank pulled at my hand and asked why I was about to jump into the river to die. I fell to the ground in tears. After this happened, I went to the house and went to sleep. I became violently ill. When my family returned, they found me in the house. People had come from all around to see me. They thought I would die from grief. After my family came home, my cousins, William Oranga and Richard Okumu, had much concern for me and wanted to find a better woman for me to marry because they cared much for me. They told me that they had found someone in the village who would be a perfect match for me. When I felt better some days later, they brought the woman to our house. To my great surprise, it was Mama Faith! It was the very woman whom I had first wanted to marry! We talked and got to know each other more. I had misjudged her at first interaction and she was actually a wonderful person. We agreed to get married. I was very happy with this for God had provided the lady for me that I had wanted. Mama Faith and I married on July 12, 1977, exactly one month after Rhoda had left. I was very happy with this decision in my life and am very grateful to God.
In my days as a pastor in those years of the 1980s and 1990s, I saw much poverty. There were times when I was of the opinion that I needed to start my own Christian denomination. I thought about this for many years and even dreamed about it. I would call it “Paradiso Church of Africa”. So often I thought of how that church could start. One day, I had a meeting in Homabay and I took a car to that place. All the way to Homabay, I thought about a song about this Paradiso Church. However, before I had time to write down the constitution and doctrines of this church, I received a call from an NGO telling me about a contract job that I would have for a week. I would serve as a translator for some visiting doctors from the USA. I was paired with a doctor named Dr. Lisa Baker. I called her “Mama Lisa”.
I tell you, the group was very lucky to have this compassionate Mama Lisa. For her time there, I worked with her everyday. Mama Lisa was an Americanpediatrician and was not familiar with tropical diseases at that time. With my skills as a Laboratory Technologist and my experience in many clinics, I could help her diagnose these illnesses. We also had many serious cases and wounds that we treated. Between patients and during our breaks, I talked with Mama Lisa and her husband, Dr. Troy Abell, whom I call “Baba Troy”, about many things. They asked me many questions about my life, where I came from and what type of work I did. They were so warmly welcoming to me and I enjoyed their company so much. I saw much of God in these people. One evening, after dinner with the larger group, we stayed talking for a long time and they gave me different gifts. I remember so well that Baba Troy gave me a nice pen with good ink. The pen still works well and I use it to this day.
After the time of work there, Mama Lisa, Baba Troy and their son, Jake, returned to the United States. The following year, 2002, the group returned but Mama Lisa and Baba Troy were not among them. However, there was a woman who approached me and gave me a card from them. It had a gift and an email address so that I could contact them. I was indeed shocked to have a letter from them. I immediately went to the internet cafe in the town and set up an email address. I began to communicate with them immediately. Soon, we began the Bethlehem Home.
Bethlehem was the town where our savior Jesus Christ was born. Our area on the Nyakach Plateau is a very poor place and, like Bethlehem and Nazareth, where Jesus grew up, people say, “What good can come from that place on the Nyakach?” We called our group “Bethlehem Home” because Bethlehem was a place despised by the people around it because of its poverty. Within our place, I began helping the orphans and elders in the area by giving them counseling, if needed, and by praying with them. My relationship with Mama Lisa and Baba Troy grew a lot and their church began to send money to feed the people of Bethlehem Home. When this funding for food began to come, I gave up my dream of starting the Paradiso Church of Africa and instead started an active program of helping the destitute poor and the orphans. This became what is now Bethlehem Home. The community has grown so much since those days and many people are now more healthy, educated and profitable in their work because of it. I am so thankful for that. The people also have more hope in their eyes because of Bethlehem Home.
I have shared my dreams and goals for Bethlehem Home with man people since we had gotten started. To any readers, I will tell you about them now. As I look upon the people in our community, the main problems are:
HEALTH- People are very poor and they cannot access health services easily
EDUCATION- Because of poverty, few people are educated and that makes the people unable to have good jobs. They also always wish that they could have an education because it will help them to get out of poverty and to be happier.
WATER- The community lives on a plateau and there are no springs of water nearby. Many people depend on dirty water for domestic use, including drinking, cooking, bathing and washing clothes. This causes much sickness in our people.
FOOD- Here, many people participate in farming. However, there are frequent droughts and floods. People’s crops die or wash away with the weather. Sometimes, if there is a bad year, people starve because their whole harvest dies. I think that if people learned different methods of farming, perhaps more crops would survive, because our soil is very good.
INCOME-GENERATING ACTIVITIES- The poverty persists here because people are unable to find jobs. The unemployment here in the rural areas is very high. Many years of searching for jobs makes people very depressed and even hopeless because they are willing and able to work, but there is nothing for them to do to make money. People cannot bring money home to their families or put their children through school. This is how the poverty persists here.
My goal for the community is to help them solve these 5 problems. Through work with Straw to Bread in these 5 areas, we are working to help people in the community live better lives.
Out of all of my duties as Founder and Leader of Bethlehem Home, the most important one is to share the word of God with the people. I feed the people here with the word of God, as it is better than bread alone, and I pray for them. Secondly, as the Founder, I oversee all the activities taking place here and I devote my time to make these plans happen. There are many departments at Bethlehem Home and every officer or leader of the department reports to me their success and their concerns. I initiate things that I feel are helpful for the people. I also coordinate the affairs of Bethlehem Home to our friends abroad. I communicate with Mama Lisa frequently and also with other people involved in Straw to Bread that help us year-round. I also monitor the health of the orphans and elders, giving drugs and recommending hospitalization when necessary. I have also worked with the Business Group coordinators to create accounting books and evaluate income and expenditure for the groups.
The work with Bethlehem Home is very involved and requires many areas of expertise. I am very thankful for all of the people in Kenya and in the United States who help us every day. We are so thankful to God above for you. We ask for your prayers in all of the work that we do here. We know that God makes us grow and gives us strength. We need your support through spirit and through the finances. All the five problems I have mentioned earlier in this story are being worked on by the people. We hope that you will see these needs and help us in this effort.
Thank you for your interest in our community. May God bless all of you.
Pastor Habil Ogola
January 2, 2013