Called to worship is a segment on my blog that highlights the lives and ministries of worship leaders who are making an impact in Kenya, Africa and beyond. The idea is to interact with worship leaders whose faith and stories inspire us to be better ministers. Here is my interview with Reverend Tom Otieno on- The life of a pioneer.
I believe that in every generation, God uses some as pioneers to break ground for the next. What looks seemingly impossible to do in a certain area now becomes the norm and many benefit greatly from the prayers and sacrifices of individuals who have a vision from God and run with it to full-term. This month I was honored to interview one such pioneer- whose passion for Spirit-led worship has opened doors to different expressions of worship in the Anglican Church in Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda. Here is my interview with Reverend Tom Otieno of Lavington United Church.
Nita: How long have you been a worship leader?
I have led worship for the past 30 years.
Nita: How did you know you were called to this ministry?
Initially, it began as a default mode. I was part of the youth choir and some people discovered that I had a singing voice and I was given songs to lead. The more I led, the more I grew in confidence. In 1987 I was established as a worship leader in my church.
Nita: What challenges have you faced as a worship leader?
My greatest challenge has been staying pure in relationships with women. I come from a family where that was a weakness. I had strongholds to deal with and it became an active battle. Music comes with attention and it was a struggle, especially back then when I was not married. My mind had to stay on guard…even when I got married.
Secondly, trying to lead worship in a context that did not originally embrace it. The Anglican Church was not keen on it when I start leading worship in the mid 80’s at All Saints Cathedral Church. It was viewed as a “Pentecostal” thing. Breaking barriers was a huge learning process and I’m glad I stayed on to confront it because it’s now main stream. All Saints Cathedral is a place of influence for the Anglican Church; what happens there can happen anywhere else in the country.
When people saw me leading worship, asking them to raise their hands in an Anglican service, it stayed in their minds. There are people who hated it and there were those who loved it. For those who were looking for models, they could take this back to their churches saying “If all saints does it, so can we.” It was a point of inspiring the praise and worship movement in the Anglican Church…and making it a legitimate expression of Anglican worship. The idea was not to take away hymn books, but to introduce a new expression without getting rid of the old. I always believed they could co-exist. What I did was challenge the status quo and systems as much as possible and created discussions that the church was not having at that time.
Eventually, this was instituted all through the Anglican Church in Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania.
Thirdly was convincing people to invest in musical instruments. It was a running battle for many years, close to 18 years of talking.
Nita: What contribution did you make to the next generation?
Mentoring, role modeling and inspiring people to authenticity.
I have always been averse to worship that is just music based. I’ve always leaned towards Holy Spirit led worship that is based on the word of God. And that’s how I ended up going into healing because I realized that you cannot have a wounded worshipper. For us to worship, we must be whole and the process of healing makes you a worshiper that is deep and who understands the heart of God. The heart of God is discovered as it is experienced. As we give ourselves to Him, he gives himself to us. There is a depth that comes when we break open and begin to let him into those places that were guarded. When you find people who are so guarded, so sensitive, so touchy, they are guarding wounds. The Lord began to convict me that the more we open up our issues, then He takes away our shame, pain, bitterness, rejection and we are left with a sweet smelling aroma of his healing and love.
Nita: You are a proponent of inner healing, how did this journey begin for you?
My father had six wives and my mother was the fifth, which means that we were many; we were in excess of fifty. Our family was a happy family until my parents disagreed when I was 8 years old. My dad wanted us to settle in Kisumu but my mum was opposed to it because she did not want us to school there. It was a big contention between them. My dad went on to stay in Kisumu and my mum here with us in Nairobi.
My mum was a housewife who couldn’t find a job. That became our Achilles heel, our undoing, because we were vulnerable. We didn’t have food a lot of times. We didn’t have fees and things began to go really wrong. Because we lacked school fees, my three elder sisters dropped out and went the family way…it was hard.
Though I didn’t have school fees, I kept going back to school. A neighbor helped me to get money as did my headmaster at the school and All Saint’s Cathedral Church.
At this point, things were really thick and we did anything to survive, including selling bhangi and chang’aa. One day there was a swoop, and my mum and cousin were arrested and that was the end of that trade. We became even more vulnerable because mum was in remand and there was just us children in the house. That overwhelmed me. At that point I was a leader in the Christian union and at church. One day I broke down in front of the youth leaders. They just let me cry. Afterward, they had an intervention and I told them what was going on. All Saint’s Cathedral got involved and my family was taken care of.
Nita: How did you heal from all this?
After the news of my family situation broke out at All Saint’s the then Provost Rev. Peter Njenga became a father figure to me. He was very keen about my issues and eventually gave my mother a job at the church. I finally got a father figure in my life who spoke into the issues of my life, who looked out for me and ensured that someone spoke up for me in places I couldn’t speak for myself. I would like to thank him. He had the eyes that people did not have. He could see what God was doing in me and gave me a platform, even when he was under pressure to not let that “boy with a guitar” come back to do Sunday school things in church.
In addition, Dr. Maathai from Daystar University became an important part as he seemed to have answers where I had none. He taught me to do healing and deliverance in a way that I had never learned…helping me to understand inner healing, engaging it, and teaching it.
Nita: What would you advise worship leaders who’ve been wounded?
I would advise them to go to the Lord and find people with whom they can walk. Healing is a journey that you don’t walk alone. Sometimes it’s also easier to walk with people who don’t know you because you are able to tell them your shame, things you’d otherwise be judged for at your place of ministry.
Secondly, forgive those who have wounded you. Thirdly, learn to accept that you will be misunderstood and when that time comes, go to God for healing. Lastly, don’t let music define you, or your success or achievements, God defines you.
What is on your playlist now?
Terry Macalmon, Paul Wilbur, Don Moen…
What books are you reading?
Smite the enemy and he will flee: Daniel Olukoya, The bait of Satan: John Bevere, Forgotten Factors: Roy Hession…
For more details on how you can contact Reverend Tom Otieno for inner healing sessions, kindly write a note in the comment section. I will not publish your comment. You can also read more on how to begin walking in healing here and here