Onesmas Muchesia had been particularly busy organizing basic logistics for training workshops at SIL Sudan’s center in Juba, South Sudan, as well as facing unexpected challenges including week-long cuts in city power, a dysfunctional backup generator, a lack of cooking gas in the market and complications to booked accommodations. Nevertheless, Onesmas handled the almost-hourly challenges with grace and professionalism as he put others ahead of himself.
“When people are happy that is my joy,” he said. “When people are not happy, that brings me a lot of sadness. My greatest joy is to see the success of others and to make sure people excel in what they are doing and are comfortable.”
It was not always that way for him. At one point, Onesmas was looking for a way to escape life.
I Can’t Go Back to Christ
Onesmas Muchesia Shilisia was born in 1971 into a Luhya-speaking family in the western Kenyan village of Shinyalu. Onesmas and his five siblings were raised as Christians in the Quaker tradition. When it was time for college and finding his place in the world, Onesmas’ faith soon gave way to more worldly pursuits.
Evangelists often came to the area around Shinyalu to hold open air meetings to share the love of Jesus Christ. At the end of one campaign, the evangelists were gathered with Onesmas and his family. They offered to pray for any in the family who had not yet entrusted their lives to Jesus. Onesmas said yes to the offer. Almost immediately, he sensed something was different.
“I didn’t understand why, all of a sudden, I didn’t feel like smoking, I didn’t feel like drinking. I realized, Maybe those prayers have done something in my life. I told my friends, ‘I think I’m born again.’ They started laughing and said, ‘You!? Born again?’’” he explained.
The initial changes he felt, however, quickly disappeared as no plan existed for discipleship in the village. He moved to Nairobi and lived with his brother, who is a pastor. While his brother prayed for him daily, Onesmas thought, He is wasting his time. I don’t think I can be born again, and I can’t go back to Christ. Onesmas soon was at the point where he decided life was no longer worth living and he went into a nearby forest.
I Just Picked up and Continued
“I went to that forest hoping to die,” he shared. “I was expecting that a vehicle would come, I would jump onto the road, and it would kill me. I waited for about an hour, and I never saw a vehicle on the road. Then I went deep into the forest hoping there would be a snake or a wild animal, and I would just provoke it so I would die. But it never happened.”
Defeated even in his attempt to end his life, Onesmas walked out of the forest and immediately encountered a church group holding a street outreach.
“Until today I cannot explain how I found myself amongst them. When my eyes opened, I wondered: How am I here? Where am I? I didn’t even know what was happening. I found I was surrounded by people praying for me,” he shared.
This time was different. This church had a strong team that continuously surrounded Onesmas with encouragement, fellowship and teaching of the Word.
“From there I just picked up and continued,” he summarized.
In Pursuit of a Vision
Mary Wambui Muchesia was born in September 1977 as the second of five children born to her Kikuyu-speaking parents. She was raised in the urban environment of Nairobi and committed her life to Jesus at the age of 17.
Soon after becoming a Christian, God began to show Mary His plan for her life by sparking a passion in her for sharing the gospel with people groups that had not heard it. While attending college in 1999, Mary had her first exposure to the ministry of Bible translation.
“I was seeking direction on what I wanted to do,” Mary recalled. “Some people [from Bible Translation and Literacy, a Kenyan organization] came to our college to share about Bible translation. I was interested, though I did not make up my mind until 2000.”
In pursuit of that vision, Mary worked on a BA in Bible Translation at Pan Africa Christian College. She then took a two-year break to volunteer with a local Christian organization before starting MA studies in Bible Translation at Nairobi Evangelical Graduate School of Theology (NEGST). During that two-year hiatus between study programs, Mary reached another important milestone. She met a man named Onesmas.
Onesmas, who had studied accounting in college, was working as an accountant for a local organization called Calvary Production (CAPRO), which specialized in gospel outreach to least-reached people groups. Mary discovered that CAPRO’s emphasis was communicating the Good News to people who had never heard it and became interested in joining them. Soon she found herself working alongside Onesmas. He handled the organization’s accounting; Mary was a cashier. They began sharing their vision and then their lives. They married in August 2008, and Mary continued with her Master’s studies at NEGST.
I Just Followed Her to This Place
One day John Bendor-Samuel from Wycliffe came to NEGST to speak to the students about Bible translation. This sparked a deep sense of calling in Mary’s heart to become a part of Wycliffe’s work. She shared this growing passion with Onesmas.
“When I saw her passion was so strong, I said, ‘Let us pray, because my heart is already in missions and this is what you want to do. I don’t know what I would be doing in a Bible translation organization, but let us just pray.’ For me, I thought it was just people coming together to do Bible translation [only]. I didn’t know there were other things people could do,” he recalled.
After Mary completed her MA studies in 2009, things began to fall into place. A series of meetings, letters and emails concluded in their acceptance as members of Wycliffe Africa in February 2010. Just two big questions remained: Where would they serve? What would Onesmas do?
While Wycliffe Africa sought out assignment possibilities, none of them included a way for Mary to be mentored as a Bible translation consultant. Then one day SIL Sudan’s director, Elizabeth Newport, visited Nairobi.
“When Elizabeth came, I think Edwyn Kiptinness [personnel director for Wycliffe Africa] said to her, ‘We have these people. Do you have a place in Sudan for them to go?’ Then Elizabeth said, ‘Yes! Bring them!’” Onesmas remembered.
In the meantime, Onesmas was still in a dilemma. What could he do? How could he contribute? Since Mary’s role was quite clear, he came to a rather unique conclusion.
“I told her, ‘As much as I feel so free in my spirit to work in a Bible translation organization, I don’t know what I’ll be doing. If you go, I think maybe we shall reverse roles. Instead of a lady following a man – a wife following her husband – I am going to follow you.’ I just followed her to this place,” he shared.
Heartfelt Desires in God’s Hands
After their arrival in Juba in September 2010, Onesmas and SIL began to explore job options. SIL gave him plenty of room to try different roles to see how they fit with his gifts and skills. Two areas of service emerged: language programs management and coordination of Luke Partnership workshops in half a dozen languages of South Sudan.
“The first (workshop) I did, by the grace of God, was very successful, and the administration felt that now I can fit in,” he said about coordinating the logistics for his first Luke Partnership session.
“I find fulfillment when I see people holding and reading Scripture in their language and this motivates me,” Mary shared.
The success of others. People holding and reading Scripture in their language. These are two people’s heartfelt desires that can be multiplied and maximized in God’s hands. He who called Onesmas and Mary into His family is blessing their service for the benefit of the people of South Sudan—and for His glory.