Albert Kathenya’s heart burns with a deep desire for his Kenyan community to have more of God. This former leader of the Tharaka New Testament translation team now leads a Bible school. But early on, no one would have imagined his life could take such a path.
As a child, Albert missed school frequently, and he spent time in the hospital during secondary school because of an eye problem. A very large and debilitating cataract in one eye brought him very close to complete blindness.
When Albert was struggling with his sight, he came across some books written by T. L. Osborn that changed the course of his life. He remembers it as if it were yesterday.
“[Osborn] was talking about hearing from Christ. After [I read] that book, God healed me miraculously,” he explains, then adding, “Imagine my surprise that now—even at my age—I don’t wear glasses.”
A Fresh Perspective
And with new eyes, Albert gained new vision.
While working as the headmaster of a primary school, he felt the call to full-time ministry. He chose to attend Pan Africa Christian University to complete his bachelor’s degree. The general secretary of Bible Translation and Literacy (BTL) at that time shared about translation work with students during chapel. Following that service, a teacher told the general secretary that Albert was a native speaker.
“He asked me, ‘Would you be interested in helping your people translate the Bible?’” Albert remembers. He immediately replied yes.
“God’s Word is so important in our first language because when you receive it in [your] mother tongue, you don’t question the meaning,” Albert says. “Tharaka is self-explanatory to Tharaka readers. In the mother tongue, God’s Word touches your heart. You clearly and immediately understand what the Bible says.”
Meeting the Needs of the Community
Albert served on the translation team for the Tharaka New Testament as the project leader from 1988 to 2001. After the Tharaka New Testament was dedicated on August 26, 2001, he went to Africa International University, where he completed a master’s degree in Christian education in July 2006. He immediately began to teach in churches. The Tharaka New Testament was a grounding force for all denominations.
“We share the common faith in Christianity,” Albert says. “We only come together through the Bible. The Word of God is God himself. What he says is true.”
Pastors, teachers, priests, and ministers came together to read and share the New Testament. Having God’s Word in a language they could understand left little room for misunderstandings.
“We had never experienced that kind of forum before, where all the denominations sat down together and shared [Scripture]. And as we went through that transition period, some theological questions arose. One of the pastors, when we presented to him the Gospel of Mark, asked, ‘The Bible says, in the book of Revelation, you should not subtract or add anything to the Bible. Why do you bring us a portion and not a complete Bible?’”
Albert began praying that translation work would begin on the Old Testament so that, ultimately, his people would have the full counsel of God (Acts 20:27).
Unity of Faith and a Bible School
When Albert retired from his work on the translation, he followed the next call of God on his heart: to begin a Bible school. He and his colleagues realized that pastors need a theological education, so he purchased property for the school. Albert stressed the importance of classes being taught in the Tharaka language. “Pastors are ministering to their locals. There are no foreigners in the villages,” he says.
The school’s diploma is now recognized and accepted by all churches as coming from an accredited interdenominational Bible school. To date, they have celebrated the accomplishments of 48 graduates.
Vision Becomes Reality
In all the time Albert spent building and launching the school, he never stopped praying for all Tharaka people to have the full Bible in their heart language.
“The Old Testament is very important because, without the old, there is no new. The complete Bible is the whole story,” Albert says.
His prayer became reality when the Tharaka Old Testament was dedicated on June 13, 2019. As chairman of the planning committee, Albert could hardly contain his joy. He remembers how he felt while reflecting on the celebration a few days after the event:
“I thank God that I was able to see it [completed] and participate in the dedication. Now we have the complete Bible in Tharaka. In previous times, I used the Tharaka New Testament without the Old Testament. Now I can teach from Genesis to Revelation.”