Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with Armstrong Cheggeh, April 4, 2017

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries
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00:00:02 - Childhood in Kenya

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Partial Transcript: I'm Jack Wilson interviewing Bishop, uh, Armstrong Cheggeh...

Segment Synopsis: He talks about different naming system in Kenya; he is Armstrong Kamau Cheggeh. He describes the diversity of the coastal city of Mombasa where his father had a shop selling vegetables. Cheggeh, however, was born and grew up 300 miles away in their home village of Mbau-Ini in 1956 at the end of the Mau Mau war which eventually won Kenya's independence in 1963. He was the fourth child of his parents, but his mother was pregnant 16 times (7 miscarriages, 5 early deaths and four grown children). Near his home village, American missionaries from African Inland Mission had built at Kijabe a high school, a Bible College, and the hospital where he was born. They also built Rift Valley Academy, still a well-known school for missionary children. His village was famous for having been visited by Theodore Roosevelt when he was hunting. All this created his interest in America. What his father sold were cabbages, potatoes, carrots sent by rail to the coast.

Keywords: African Inland Mission; Family; Father's business; Kijabe; Mau Mau; Mbau-Ini; Missionaries; Mombasa; Naming systems

Subjects: Childhood; Families.; Kenya.; Kenyans.; Missionaries.

GPS: Kijabe (Kenya)
Map Coordinates: -0.945, 36.595
00:09:46 - Education

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Partial Transcript: So you began school in the village.

Segment Synopsis: For his first four years Cheggeh walked five miles each way to a school whose building fund his parents had contributed to. For the last four years of primary school he went to school in his village. He walked 7 or 8 miles each way to Lari High School. After graduation in 1975 he spent a year doing evangelistic work with Kenyan Assemblies of God, associated with Americans. He then went for two years to African Inland Church's Scott Theological College, now Scott Christian University. He talks about his two older brothers who became teachers. His mother did adult education and could write her name. His father could write in Swahili and Kikiyu. (Aside: he talks about use of missionaries as colonial officers.) He also describes differences in tribes -- 48 in Kenya. He talks about Kikuyu, the largest ethnic group in Kenya, and their important values of business, farming/land, and education.

Keywords: Kenyan Assemblies of God; Kikuyu; Kikuyu values; Lari High School; Missionaries; Scott Christian University; Swahili; Tribes

Subjects: Childhood; Education; Families.; Kenya.; Kenyans.; Missionaries.; Religion

GPS: Scott Theological College, now Scott Christian University
Map Coordinates: -1.5, 37.266667
GPS: Kijabe (Kenya)
Map Coordinates: -0.945, 36.595
00:19:54 - Education in America

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Partial Transcript: Okay, you you were saying that you uh--(coughs)--did your primary, secondary education...

Segment Synopsis: Cheggeh had applied to Oral Roberts University in the U.S. and was accepted but couldn't afford to go. He struggled for the next four years before he could go to the U.S. He got married in 1981 and they had their first son in 1982. Some friends helped him apply to Rosedale Bible Institute (Mennonite) near Columbus, Ohio. The month of the very short-lived attempted coup in Kenya in 1982 he came to the U.S. They took his credits from Kenya and in a year he had diplomas in Christian Education and Pastoral Ministries. He went on to Central Bible College (Assemblies of God, now Evangel University) in Missouri and graduated with B.A. in Bible Theology in 1984. He went for a master's degree in Religion at what is now Southern Bible College/Vanguard University in southern California. That year he brought his wife with their son to Pennsylvania for a three year program in Christian Education from which she graduated in 1987. He wrote his thesis in Pennsylvania and their second son was born, but they had very little money so his thesis was not properly finished until 1989. He talks about the value of learning typing in Kenya.

Keywords: Central Bible College; Evangel University; Family; Oral Roberts University; Rosedale Bible College; Rosedale Bible Institute; Southern Bible College; Vanguard University

Subjects: Education; Education, Higher--United States; Emigration and immigration.; Families.; Immigrants; Marriage; Religion

GPS: Vanguard University of Southern California
Map Coordinates: 33.663, -117.9
GPS: Pennsylvania
Map Coordinates: 41, -77.5
00:28:34 - Returning to Kenya and more education

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Partial Transcript: Uh, from, from your youth in, in Kenya, your growing up there and so forth, do you have, uh, a particular story or two...

Segment Synopsis: Cheggeh's family returns to Kenya where they eventually have three more children. He returned to a school connected to Campus Crusade for Christ, Nairobi International School for Theology (now International Leadership University), for another master's degree in Christian Ministries from 1991-1993. That later led to a scholarship for getting a doctorate at Asbury Seminary in Kentucky.

Keywords: Asbury Seminary; Asbury Theological Seminary; Campus Crusade for Christ; Children; International Leadership University; Nairobi International School for Theology

Subjects: Education; Families.; Kenya.; Kenyans.; Missionaries.; Religion

GPS: Kenya.
Map Coordinates: 1, 38
GPS: Asbury Theological Seminary
Map Coordinates: 37.862317, -84.660989
00:30:40 - Stories of childhood: independence, circumcision, and working

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Partial Transcript: Um, well as far as a story of my childhood, uh, probably the one of them I would like to mention...

Segment Synopsis: Cheggeh talks about freedom fighters and he remembers independence songs. He was born in colonial times but now independence was happening and that was exciting. He also remembered male circumcision as a teenager in 1972, for him in a hospital. He also spent school vacation planting, and digging in the garden. He was proud of helping to raise crops, and carrying crops to the railway station.

Keywords: Freedom Fighters; Gardening; Independence; Initiation rites; Male circumcision; Mau Mau Rebellion; Values

Subjects: Childhood; Kenya.; Kenyans.; Traditional farming

GPS: Kijabe (Kenya)
Map Coordinates: -0.945, 36.595
00:37:30 - Adjusting to America

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Partial Transcript: Before we come back to, to your time at Asbury and so forth, if you can, can you remember, uh, what it was like when you first came to the U.S.?

Segment Synopsis: Cheggeh sees himself as privileged for having some experience with Americans before he came to the U.S. His parents and older siblings had grown up in a segregated system with passbooks. His generation grew up with independence. It was a new experience to live with Americans despite being raised near a mission station and having American teachers at Scott University. People were always asking him to repeat himself because they couldn't understand his accent. He found salad and pizza very strange. He talks about retaining African values about marriage -- his family has never experienced divorce. "You get married for life." However, it is different with younger generation. Coming to Bible College meant values were similar. "Mennonite women are like Kikuyu women." He describes two Peace Corps Volunteer teachers when he was in high school.

Keywords: Adjustment; Divorce; Knowledge of Americans; Marriage; Passbook:Mennonites; Peace Corps

Subjects: Acculturation.; Americans; Assimilation (Sociology); Emigration and immigration.; Immigrants; Religion

00:49:25 - Professional work in Kenya

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Partial Transcript: And then you came back here--you went--you didn't say much about that.

Segment Synopsis: Cheggeh's family went back home in 1987 and stayed for 14 years. They lived in Nairobi. He did church planting and youth work. He founded a children's center for orphans for seven years. For ten years he worked with Assemblies of God. In 1998 he established Fountain of Life Churches International with one congregation. Now there are 300 congregations in Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Tanzania, and India. He talks about two trips planned in 2017 to graduate over 300 preachers. By the end of 2017 over 500 will have graduated in east and central Africa. Friends from Georgia have helped with scholarships and Bibles.

Keywords: Assemblies of God Church; Burundi; Establishing churches; Fountain of Life Churches International; Georgia; India; Kenya; Rwanda; Tanzania; Training preachers; Uganda

Subjects: Churches; Kenya.; Kenyans.; Missionaries.; Religion

GPS: Nairobi, Kenya
Map Coordinates: -1.286389, 36.817222
GPS: Kenya.
Map Coordinates: 1, 38
00:53:42 - Doctorate at Asbury Seminary

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Partial Transcript: So you were back for 14 years.

Segment Synopsis: Cheggeh describes Ralph Waldo Beeson's donation to seminaries, including Asbury Seminary, for programs and scholarships in preaching and leadership. He got a full scholarship for doctoral studies and was there from 2001 to 2004.

Keywords: Asbury Theological Seminary; Donations; Ralph Waldo Beeson; Seminaries

Subjects: Education; Education, Higher--United States; Emigration and immigration.; Immigrants--Kentucky; Religion

GPS: Asbury Theological Seminary
Map Coordinates: 37.862317, -84.660989
00:56:58 - Good experiences and bad experiences

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Partial Transcript: Well can you, uh, can you give me an example of, uh, you know, in your time in Kentucky, an example of a really good experience...

Segment Synopsis: Cheggeh talks about meeting a Kentucky businessman who gave him $12,000 to help with a conference for pastors from four countries. He describes people who have talked down to him, who think that if you have an accent you have broken English, "accent means stupid," who don't realize he has more education than they do. He talks about good experiences with his children, including several with masters at UK. He sees his children as successful Americans.

Keywords: Accents; Businessmen; Children; Generosity; Stereotypes; Success

Subjects: Acculturation.; Americans; Assimilation (Sociology); Emigration and immigration.; Families.; Immigrants; Religion

01:04:15 - Why he stayed in America

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Partial Transcript: Uh, tell me how you happened to stay after you came back and did your PhD.

Segment Synopsis: By the time Cheggeh got his doctorate, his children were in school and college and he wanted to give them time to get educated in America. It was mainly the family, but he also realized he could do a lot more for his congregations by staying in the U.S.

Keywords: American churches; Family; Staying in the U.S.

Subjects: Acculturation.; Americans; Assimilation (Sociology); Education; Emigration and immigration.; Families.; Immigrants; Religion

01:07:23 - Structure of his church

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Partial Transcript: And how frequently do you have to go? What kind of structure have you built for the church leadership, um, in those countries?

Segment Synopsis: Cheggeh describes his church structure based on Assemblies of God theologically, Baptists organizationally, (departments for youth, Sunday School), and Kenyan Anglican church hierarchy. He talks about empowering people, and training and going every year to visit. The fundraising is very strenuous. He gives an example of taking a pastor from Ohio with him to Burundi who then provided money for church roofs.

Keywords: Anglican; Assembly of God; Baptist; Burundi; Church structure; Congo; Fundraising; Presiding bishops; Questions

Subjects: Americans; Churches; Emigration and immigration.; Immigrants; Religion

GPS: Republic of Burundi
Map Coordinates: -3.5, 30
01:15:04 - Kentucky support of his church

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Partial Transcript: So the flip side of all of that is, over the years, uh, what do people ask you about living in Kentucky?

Segment Synopsis: Cheggeh talks about Kenyans in the U.S. There are not many in Kentucky. Most Kenyans live in Boston, Atlanta, Dallas, Seattle, and Washington and they wonder why he is in Kentucky. Having been in Kentucky for 16 years, he has friends, preaches twice a year at Revival Tabernacle, and at a church in Richmond which support his ministry. They attend church in Wilmore.

Keywords: Asbury Seminary; Church support; Kentucky; Revival Tabernacle

Subjects: Americans; Churches; Emigration and immigration.; Immigrants--Kentucky; Religion

GPS: Richmond (Ky.)
Map Coordinates: 37.744722, -84.293611
01:17:57 - Identity

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Partial Transcript: Uh, how do you identify yourself when you meet somebody.

Segment Synopsis: Cheggeh says "I am from Kentucky" and gets a puzzled look and has to explain. He talks about four different accents in Kentucky, so his is just one more.

Keywords: Accents; Kentucky; Kenya

Subjects: Acculturation.; Americans; Assimilation (Sociology); Emigration and immigration.; Identity (Psychology); Immigrants--Kentucky

GPS: Kenya
Map Coordinates: 1, 38
GPS: Kentucky
Map Coordinates: 37.5, -85
01:19:14 - Contributions to Kentucky

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Partial Transcript: Uh, you know there're more now--more than thirteen--fourteen thousand, uh, individuals from different African countries who have immigrated to Kentucky.

Segment Synopsis: "We are making Kentucky more what America is." Having international people here will "open minds of the local people to other cultures. It is wonderful to have other people that you can learn from." He explains that refugees will take longer to learn and contribute. The scholars who have come open the minds of Americans. They "think your brain has an accent." These people are "like Americans, they can study, they can do whatever."

Keywords: Accents; Internationalization of Kentucky; Refugees; Scholars

Subjects: Acculturation.; Americans; Assimilation (Sociology); Emigration and immigration.; Immigrants--Kentucky

01:23:23 - Advice to Kentuckians

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Partial Transcript: Well I've taken a lot of your time again this afternoon, uh, but what, what questions haven't I asked you...

Segment Synopsis: Cheggeh offers advice to Kentuckians: Be kind to internationals; they want to learn. He tells a story about people from rural Kenya standing on a toilet in his house in Nairobi because they had never experienced indoor plumbing.

Keywords: Acclimation; Adaptation; Adjustment; Indoor plumbing; Kenyans

Subjects: Acculturation.; Americans; Assimilation (Sociology); Emigration and immigration.; Immigrants

GPS: Nairobi, Kenya
Map Coordinates: -1.286389, 36.817222
01:26:43 - Extended family in Kenya

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Partial Transcript: A, uh, second recording with, uh--about, uh, family that, uh, Armstrong will, uh, do.

Segment Synopsis: Cheggeh talks about polygamy in Kenya. The government now allows four wives. He describes his great-grandfathers and grandfathers and their multiple wives. He describes one uncle who has 19 wives. He describes a party for 300 relatives, and 1000 people coming to his mother's funeral. He makes a point that the first generation immigrants always still talk about "back home." His children travel to Kenya, too.

Keywords: Extended family; Kikuyu; Polygamy

Subjects: Families.; Kenya.; Kenyans.; Polygamy.

GPS: Kenya
Map Coordinates: 1, 38