Religious representatives in Kenya are applauding the recent appointment of Samuel Kobia, a Methodist Minister from Kenya, as the new head of the World Council of Churches.
Rev. Kobia's appointment as secretary-general of the Geneva-based ecumenical body is being hailed as a victory for Africa.
The ordained minister from the Methodist Church in Kenya is the first African to head the organization, which represents 400 million Christians from 340 Protestant and Orthodox churches, denominations, and church fellowships in more than 100 countries and territories. The organization's goal is to build and promote Christian unity.
The secretary-general of the All Africa Conference of Churches, Bishop Hamilton Dandala, describes the appointment as a powerful statement of confidence that the world church has on the witness of the church in Africa.
Bishop Dandala says the African church has been receiving a lot from the world Christian community, and can now reciprocate.
"For the world ecumenical movement to recognize Sam Kobia in this way is, in a sense, a powerful statement that says: Africa, we may not have listened to you as much as we should have done," he said. "Maybe now it is time that we helped you to have your voice, to share what you have to share with the world church."
Among the lessons that Africa can give the worldwide ecumenical movement, according to Bishop Dandala, is how to build personal relationships in an era of materialism, how to share and how to build strong families.
"To appoint an African at this time presupposes that we will have more emphasis on human relationships that should be definitive of life," he said. "I think that this is a great opportunity for the world to rally around values that have sustained Africa for so long, but at the same time have a powerful relevance for the world."
For the chairman of the Kenya chapter of the multi-faith World Conference on Religion and Peace, Yussuf Murigu, Rev. Kobia's appointment sends a clear message to those who are tempted to stereotype Africa and its people.
"It is high time people started recognizing that; that you are an African does not reduce you in any way," he said. "You can perform as well as everybody else. I am happy that maybe those who had doubts about Africans being able to perform well, they will see it in Kobia that we have good people."
Mr. Murigu says Rev. Kobia has the reputation for respecting others, and will therefore be successful in reaching out to followers of Islam and other faiths.
Those who know Rev. Kobia personally say he has the skills to lead the organization through the quagmire of relations among churches with different theological and practical approaches to contemporary issues.
The co-facilitator of the Methodist Church of Kenya, Rev. Wellington Sanga, describes some of Rev. Kobia's skills. "Kobia is quite an outgoing person," he said. "He has the capacity to reach out, to be able to talk to people, people of different faiths, people who may be controversial in their own thinking."
Rev. Sanga says Rev. Kobia will have to expand his world view to embrace churches in both East and West, in addition to those in Africa. He says unifying the churches will be a big challenge.
Rev. Kobia, 56, has diplomas from St. Paul's United Theological College in Kenya and from the McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago. He also has a master's degree in city planning from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
He served as the secretary-general of the National Council of Churches of Kenya and helped reorganize the Zimbabwe Christian Council after independence. He is the author of several books on Africa.
Currently, Rev. Kobia is the World Council of Church's special representative for Africa. He takes over from Rev. Konrad Raiser in January.