By DENNIS LUBANGA and MERCY KABUI
The church is tucked behind a small forest
Charles Ndirangu clenches her fist as he traverses the picturesque landscape of the Rift valley before entering a pentagon shaped church at the slopes of the Rift valley.
This catholic church named the “Travelers Chapel” is the smallest church in the country with dimensions measuring 15 by 8 feet and is a sacred place that is mostly used by the truck drivers on transit who normally transport goods from Mombasa to the central African nations since most of these countries are land locked. It can accommodate 12 people.
This Roman Catholic church was built in 1942 by Italian Prisoners Of War (POW) under the strict supervision of British colonialists.
The pentagon-like shaped church is located on the busy Maai Mahiu-Rironi road and is made up of red tiles, stones, wood and even metal.
The interior has four small wooden pews, an alter with a pulpit and measures approximately 15ft x 8 ft. It has also three normal doors for access.
It is among the smallest churches in the world which also includes Our Lady of the Pines that accommodates 12 people and measures 12 x 12 feet which is in the United States .
The inside walls are covered with Latin words scrawled on the upper end of the walls and reads, Venite Ad Memone (Come to me my people), Haec Est Victoria Quae Vincit Mundum Tides Mustra (This is the victory that has won the world by our faith), Benedicite Coeli Domino Benedicite (Blessed be the sky and blessed again) and finally Universa Germinatia In Terra Domino which translates to, everything will germinate in the sky and also on the earth.
The caretaker, Miss Nyakio
The picture behind the altar according to Nyakio is of baby Jesus and his parents Mary and Joseph surrounded by the angels drawn in early 1943 by Navitatis N.D.J.C and it symbolizes the victory achieved by the religion across the world. This is just part of many other Latin words and symbols decorated around and inside the church.
According to Miss Nyakio, a caretaker,the three stairs at the church entrance symbolizes The Holy Trinity; The Father, The Son and The Holy Spirit and it also has two crosses on the roof which has a compass and it symbolizes that, the church will stay as long as the world will turn around it.
“The main reason for the constuction of the church was because, the Italians were Catholics and the British were Anglicans so the former needed their own place of worship.The British allocated them a small piece of land where they started building the church in groups during breaks from road construction,” says Nyakio.
She further tells us on how many Italians succumbed to diseases and attacks from wild animals which included poisonous snakes that are allegedly live in the area to date.
“The Italians who worked here died due to malaria and some were attacked by wild animals.This area has so many poisonous snakes and other animals like leopards,” adds Nyakio.
There are graves outside the church where the deceased were laid to rest and a mausoleum has also been erected in form of a cemented cross courtesy of Mrs. Christine Nyagitha,a well wisher in honor of the fallen Italians.
Mrs Nyagitha who is the wife to Justice Miller also financed the construction of a new pillar at the church’s entrance gate last year which is expected to house anyone wishing to conduct private prayers.
This tiny church only has 4 pews
Today the church is under management of the Italian Embassy, the Kenyan government and well wishers are also pumping in their resources to conserve this religious scenic feature which is open to all members of the public for free. Christians and Hindus are allowed to worship but Muslims can only visit. The doors are open as early as 6 am and close at 5pm in the evening since it has no power supply.
The place is commonly referred to as “Msikiti” (Kiswahili for mosque) by locals according to Nyakio since it resembles a mosque.
“Area residents refer this place as “msikiti” because the church resembles a mosque and also people used to worship while on their knees before the four pews were brought in. Different communities and dominions conduct their prayers here as well as weddings and even photo shoots reflecting its rich magnificent beauty,” explained Nyakio.
People who visit the church for prayers are at liberty to come along with their own Bibles since the Italian ones that were there was stolen some few years back when robbers broke in and made away with some valuables including a clock, gate and windows.
Today, the Italian Bible has been replaced by an African bible which has been put on the altar together with two candles that flicker during prayers and a stature of Jesus Christ. The two new windows are made up of small broken bottle pieces, supported by cement and metals.
The signboard hails the year the church was born
Nyakio who hails from the vast Nakuru County, Naivasha constituency is also a farmer back home and says that the offerings is used to buy fresh flowers to decorate the church interior or taken to a nearby orphanage.
“The offerings we receive here from visitors and worshipers is used for buying fresh flowers that we put on the pulpit and the rest is taken to the Valley Light Children Home in Maai Mahiu town,” says Nyakio,the middle aged single mother of a form one boy.
Nyakio has been working at the church as a volunteer for the last 13 years assisted by two other people namely: Timothy Michero and Pius Maina but today they are paid by a well wisher one Mr.Francis Mburu who has pledged to support the sanctuary till the end.
A regular worshiper at the church, Mr Charles Ndirangu says that the church is not only a place of worship but also a tourist attraction site.
“Most local and foreign tourists make a stop here to worship or take photos so that they can share them with their family members, relatives and friends back home. Truck drivers who use the busy road also stop here for a word of prayer or visit,” said Ndirangu.
The church is next to a police post and an office of the County Council of Nakuru where Mr Ndirangu works.
Ndirangu, Nyakio and the rest are full of hope that soon, many people will start flocking to this holy place to experience the true African beauty and worship and praise of God.
“Anyone who wants to pray at the slopes devoid of the hustles and bustles of the city center should come to this place,” notes Miss Nyakio.