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Kenyan student follows faith to EMU

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Felix Kioko, a native of Kenya who has a degree in accounting and computers, is studying peacebuilding and development while his wife, Roxy Allen Kioko finishes a doctorate at James Madison University and teaches at Eastern Mennonite University. (Photo by Aaron Dunmore)
Felix Kioko, a native of Kenya who has a degree in accounting and computers, is studying peacebuilding and development while his wife, Roxy Allen Kioko finishes a doctorate at James Madison University and teaches at Eastern Mennonite University. (Photo by Aaron Dunmore)

Anyone who knows sophomore Felix Kioko would be able to tell you that his smile is infectious. He walks around Eastern Mennonite University’s campus and is greeted by many students who have become familiar with him in the short time he has been attending. Though he was initially reluctant to return to a university setting in his 30s, he now feels as though he is exactly where he needs to be.

Kioko grew up in Kenya in the village, surrounded by his older siblings until, one by one, they moved to the city of Nairobi to pursue higher education and careers. His family was deeply rooted in Christianity, and he attended Sunday school every week. He was motivated to arrive early to the classes because the first 10 children would receive candy, a luxury that he could not afford in the village.

Eventually, Kioko moved away from home to attend college so he could study accounting and computers, topics that were not addressed in his prior schooling. Afterwards, he got a job in tourism and helped visitors by setting up accommodations and travel plans.

In Nairobi, he became more serious about his faith and asked God what he needed to do with his life, and he was baptized, receiving the Christian name of Felix.

“Have you ever seen faith in action?” Kioko asks, “It’s like when you pray, and what you pray for… it happens! Sometimes you have to tell God, ‘This year, I’m trusting You for this.’ You have to request and be patient. Sometimes God may not give you something because He looks at you and sees you’re not ready yet. We do things to our own understanding, and we don’t allow God to guide us. We should allow Him to open our spiritual eyes.”

Kioko did just that when it came to finding a wife. In Kenya, there are certain cultural expectations surrounding marriage, and he felt some of that pressure from his mother and the church as he reached his late 20s.

In 2011, he left his workplace and opened his own tourism company where he met his future wife, Roxy. She was working with an organizations that partnered with his company. They dated for two years over long distance before he proposed because she was pursuing her doctoral degree at James Madison University in strategic leadership with a concentration in nonprofit and community leadership. Roxy Allen Kioko, a graduate of the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding, also teaches undergraduatebusiness and economics courses, as well as the Summer Peacebuilding Institute.

Roxy Kioko encouraged him to go back to school because his Kenyan credentials did not qualify him for a job in the United States. Her cousins had attended EMU, and so Kioko applied, asking for God’s help in the process. Within a week, he was accepted and received a scholarship that allowed him to attend.

He is majoring in peacebuilding and development and plans to earn a master’s degree. He and his wife also filed a request for a cross-cultural to Kenya in the summer of 2018. The group would help with the foundation the couple has founded, Go and Light Our World (GLOW) Foundation.

GLOW Foundation helps to empower women in Kenya. In the last two years, they installed a well to bring water to Kioko’s village and also built a greenhouse to be managed by community members. Their next project involves earth care, and they hope to expand to other countries in East Africa, including Tanzania and Uganda.

“Growing up in the village, we didn’t have electricity and didn’t even have access to a library… and now I’m in a good library with WiFi in a great school… To me, that is God,” Kioko states, “I didn’t know this is what would happen. I didn’t know this was what was waiting for me. Anything is possible. When grace is sufficient, you can do it.”

This article is reprinted from the March 24, 2016, issue of The Weather Vane.

Story by Rachel Cardwell/The Weather Vane

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