The unwritten with Pastor Isaac Murage: Marriage is not for everyone

Pastor Isaac Murage

A friend asked me to work on interviewing a pastor, a priest, a teacher, and or a doctor. She asked this of me thrice.

Before she could ask a fourth time, I gave in and said, alright, let’s see who we can find. The first person we found was Pastor Isaac Murage, of Mamlaka Hill Chapel.

Albeit I wasn’t sure what to expect with this interview, I agreed to do it for a number of reasons.

I agreed to do it because my friend asked; because I’d now been sold to the idea of talking to a pastor; and because, when I thought about it, I realised I actually didn’t know too much about how churches operate behind the scenes.

A perfectly embarrassing illustration of this fact was when, as Pastor Isaac and I were in his office creating rapport, he told me what a long day it had been for him. And how it wasn’t about to end yet.

I paused, looked at him, then carefully and calmly asked, “You’ve been here all day? What exactly have you been doing at church all day?”

Pastor Isaac looked at me and broke out in laughter. I laughed too. The rapport was sealed.

He wasn’t just at church that day; Pastor Isaac works at the church four days of the standard working week and preaches on Sundays. And I suspect has to occasionally pop in on some Saturdays. Mondays are his off-days. It’s a full-time job.

Before Pastor Isaac became one of the lead pastors at Mamlaka Hill Chapel, he was a teacher at St. George’s Primary School. He taught and nurtured many wide-eyed youngins, who must now be in their 20s and above.

Personality-wise, Pastor Isaac is progressively-minded,  and delightful, and the soul of courtesy.

Before we finally got to do the interview, we’d had to do a last-minute postponement, due to a sudden and unfortunate incident. I was gutted, saddened and quite regretful of this turn of events.

But Pastor Isaac was none of that, he was kind, and caring, and understanding. He sent messages to follow up on updates. He called to make check-ins.

I was ready for this interview. I was ready to finally have a conversation, and to get to know more about this man, who had proven to be so unpretentiously kind.

Although my worries in the beginning had also consisted of wondering whether I was going to get ‘church-y,’  ‘preachy,’ public-relations-like, kind of answers; finally sitting across Pastor Isaac and listening to his responses, I wished I had known better.

Pastor Isaac’s responses were sincere, and they were based on what he’s been through as an individual, on what he understands as a pastor, and on what he knows, of the church. Listening to him was like drinking from a well of unlimited wisdom.

The conversation was also quite fun, so much so, that at the end of it, we looked at our watches and both instantly stood up, in panic. We’d gone over the time we’d allocated for the session.

As he walked me out, I apologised for taking up his time that afternoon, to which Pastor Isaac replied, smiling, “What are you talking about? Time flies when you’re having constructive fun. You can’t apologise for that. And you shouldn’t.”

Ah, see what I mean? Delightful!

Here’s what I found out about Pastor Isaac Murage:

***

Thank you for coming through with this Pastor Isaac.

Sure thing. No worries. Did you manage to find parking?

Oh,  good one. I see you read Irungu Houghton’s story.

(Laughs) Yes, I did. (Laughs again) It was great.

Raila Odinga’s also, that one… (shakes head). I thought one would need to have such great skill, to be able to get all those answers, out of someone like him, in such a short time.

And Patricia Kihoro’s too, I read it and thought, only a professional with lots of tact, would be able to handle that interview the way you did. Incredible work. Just, incredible.

Pastor Isaac Murage

Oh wow, I didn’t see that coming. That’s very observant, thank you.

Sure.

So, before we get into it, here’s a slight confession, I’m not too sure of how to address you. As a teacher, it would be, “Mr. Murage.” As a pastor, it would be, “Pastor Isaac.” And as a guest, it could just be, “Isaac,” but that feels a bit uncomfortable. How would you prefer to be addressed?

(Smiles) “Pastor Isaac,” is fine.

Okay, great. How did you end up working as a teacher? Did you always want to be a teacher?

(Smiles) No, I stumbled into teaching. Back in the day, the deal was that you left high school, and hoped to get a job. So one day my father returned home with two letters: one was for me to join the Kenya Polytechnic, and the other was for me to join a Teacher Training College.

With the Teacher Training College, one was guaranteed to get a job after the training. I said yes to it. Fast. (Laughs)

And that’s how it all started?

Yes, (Laughs) that’s how it started. I think teaching chose me.

Right. Is there anything you miss about being a teacher?

The students. I miss the students. Imparting knowledge in them and seeing them grow and become. That was extremely fulfilling.

And, what don’t you miss about being a teacher?

The salary, that’s for sure. (Laughs out aloud.) I don’t miss that. At all. Oh, gosh, I don’t miss it Yvonne. (Laughs again)

But also, because one would always be teaching the same syllabus year after year, the job could get a bit a monotonous and repetitive. That was a challenge sometimes.

Would you ever go back to teaching?

Like, as a primary school teacher? No, I don’t think so. I evolved into something else, and became a pastor. It’s working out great, I love it.

But I could teach what I do now, things to do with pastoral work. That would be nice.

Speaking of pastors, I understand what you do on Sundays, but, what exactly do you do during the week?

(Laughs) Perhaps we should start by saying, that there’s more to Sundays than meets the eye.

So, depending on the church, the pastors could, for example, be working out the programs for the week, plan out details for the next service, chair committees for the lay people, organise and co-ordinate retreats, that kind of thing.

And then, you know, for me, on unique days like these, I also wait to do an interview with you. (Laughs)

Ah, thank you.

(Smiles) But look, you sort of have to really be in it, in the church, to get to see how it all runs. There’s a lot that goes on behind the scenes.

Which reminds me, you had previously mentioned, that Mamlaka has a HR department? Why does a church need a HR department?

(Laughs) The church has a very corporate side to it, and this is something many people are not aware of.

Pastor Isaac Murage

Okay?

The HR department does literally what it’s supposed to do.

For example, (Takes his wallet, starts picking out his cards one by one) I have a national health insurance card, HR takes care of that. I have a personal medical card, HR takes care of that.

I’m paid a salary, HR handles that. I have to do tax returns, HR deals with that. I need working tools, that’s HR. We need functional desks, we need lights, all those things are taken care of by HR.

Right, I see what you mean.

(Nods and smiles) Again, there’s a lot that goes on in the church than ordinarily meets the eye.

While we are still on how the church works, I’ve heard stories of people being, “kicked out” of churches, because of misconduct and the like…I’ve never quite understood this concept. Why does this happen? Isn’t the church supposed to be a place where all who are flawed are welcome?

It depends, did these people have an influential role in the church? Or, were they active in church?

I’m not following

If they have certain roles in the church, whether big or small, and there’s a behavioural issue that is wanting, then this would need to be addressed.

And, more often than not, you’ll find that they were just asked to, “step aside.” They were not actually, “kicked out.”

Okay?

Stepping aside means: let’s take a step back, let’s address this, let’s understand what happened, let’s unpack the situation before we move forward.

And what you’ll find, is that many of the people who find themselves in these situations, are not ready to deal with the issues at hand. And this creates bitterness at times, and that’s how the talk of being, “kicked out,” arises.

Alright, so what you’re also saying is that with whatever roles they have, if their behaviour is not addressed, then others in the church could start thinking it’s okay to do the same, and possibly take up that kind of behaviour too?

Precisely. Leadership, any kind of leadership, comes with responsibilities. And the church, like any other institution, is required to have standards through which people operate by.

Okay, now I get it. What do you wish, we the lay people, understood about pastors?

That pastors are normal everyday people, they have passions and interests just like any other person.

Also, many pastors are not out to get your money. (Laughs)

Okay.

(Still laughing.) They are not. Just because some people do it, doesn’t mean we all do.

Do you enjoy being a public figure, in the way that being a pastor makes you one?

I do, mainly because I’m a people-person. I think that’s why my transition from teaching to being a pastor was relatively smooth. The commonality was that I was still dealing with people, and I love it.

The downside to that, however, is that pastors can, and are often put on very high pedestals. This job, and calling, can be extremely unforgiving on pastors who slip up. This is not a job for the faint-hearted. You have to be sure it’s something that’s truly meant for you.

What are some of the saddest things you encounter as a pastor?

I’ve never gotten used to burying people, despite having buried countless. (Pauses)

Another issue that saddens me, is the fact that the Kenyan family is under a lot of stress, and strain. Many relationships are struggling. And sadly, a lot of people don’t know how to reach out for help, and they only come to church when things get really thick.

When it comes to relationships, I’ve heard this said before, that there are many married couples, who look around and all they see are seemingly very happy singles; and on the other hand, there are many single people, who look around and all they see are seemingly happy married couples. How does one find contentment in whatever stage of life they are in?

Oh my goodness. That’s such a beautiful question. Beautiful. (Pauses)

I think, what we first have to realise, is that what you see on the outside, is not always what is.

For example, a lot of marriages have some interesting things that go on behind the scenes. Just because you see two people walking together, and smiling and laughing, doesn’t mean all is well. Those are just outward appearances, people, being human, like to show up at their best.

There are many times where what you see is just a facade, but you wouldn’t know it. So the trick is to be satisfied with where you are as an individual, because you don’t really know what goes on behind closed doors.

Right.

There have been so many individuals, and we continue to see this even today,  who get married out of pressure and later on realise their lives were much better when they were single. It’s important to also acknowledge that marriage is not for everyone.

Wait, what? Did you say marriage is not for everyone?

It’s not. Why?

I’m just quite surprised. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a leader of a church, in the local context especially, openly admit to this. And be non-judgmental about it.

And that’s one of the biggest problems we have. Society keeps putting these pressures on people.

What then happens, is, someone joins a church with the best of intentions, but suddenly, all everyone wants to know is when they’re getting married, and why they’re not married, and how can we find them someone to marry. Marriage is a beautiful institution, but it’s not for everyone. Some people are not fit for marriage, and that’s okay. It’s fine.

Wow.

Look, the sooner we start living authentic lives, the better for everyone.

And I think that’s one of the other keys to contentment. Be grateful for where you are. When you’re single, have a blast. Do whatever you want to do with your time. Explore new things, travel to wherever you want to go, try different business ventures, impact the world in whatever way you can. This time you have, is for that.

Being single gives you the time and freedom to do some great things. Don’t sit there, miserable, waiting to walk down an aisle. No, live your life, and do the best you can with it.

And when you’re married?

Enjoy that too. Learn everything you can about one another. Go through life’s season’s together. Support one another. Enjoy each other’s company. Again, do it all.

Pastor Isaac, when things go wrong for you, do you question God like the rest of us do?

Yes, I do. It’s okay to question God. And you should. It’s allowed.

And when things go wrong for others, and they come to you for solace and answers, do you always have the answers?

No, not always. And I never claim to have all the answers.

So if someone comes and tells you, for example, that they’ve just been diagnosed with cancer, how would you deal with it?

I’d listen to them. And pray for them. And do what I can.

I have, with time, also learnt not to tell people things like, “Everything will be okay.”

Because everything might not be okay.

Is there anything that’s happened in your life, that you’ve never quite been able to get over?

My father’s passing away. (Long pause) I think about him a lot. He died from something called CKD.

Chronic kidney disease?

Yes. They didn’t know much about how to handle the illness in his time, and public healthcare was quite wanting back then. (Pauses again) My heart still gets heavy when I think about him.

Looking back at your 20s and 30s, is there anything you wish you did differently?

I wish I’d saved more. (Smiles) That, I wish I did.

Is there anything you haven’t done yet, that you wish you would have?

(Smiles) I once got denied a visa to go to the US. (Shakes head)  I’ve never been to the US, I’d really like to visit it one day. I don’t want to stay there, I just want to visit. I’d like to do a coast to coast road trip, from the East Coast to the West Coast. I fantasise about that a lot. (Smiles)

What encouragement would you give to young people, who are feeling the pressure to succeed, fast, based on how posh they see everyone looking on social media?

Don’t believe the hype.

Sometimes, as we’ve already mentioned, people tend to live different lives. There’s the actual life. And there’s the life that people create for show. And what I’ve noticed is that, there comes a time where these two lives clash, and when they do, they clash spectacularly.

Don’t fall into that trap. And don’t dwell on what other people are doing. Just live your life.

Any last words, to someone who looks up to you?

I’m an imperfect man, who is  loved by a perfect saviour. I’m going to disappoint you, badly, if you look up to me in totality. So, don’t fully and completely look up to me. Be the best version of you.

Yvonne Aoll is a writer and freelance journalist. You can read more of her work here www.yvonneaoll.com


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