NAIROBI, Kenya, May 12 – He wore many hats, a World War II veteran, a nationalist, a prolific poet and writer, a theologian, a pan-Africanist and a family man. The list is endless.
But in the preface of his biography – Fan into Flame – The Very Reverend, Dr. John Gatu alludes to the fact that he’d rather be remember as a crusader for Christ.
The 93-year-old renowned reverend breathed his last on Thursday, 11 May 2017 at Karen Hospital where he was receiving treatment for a heart attack since Tuesday, 2 May 2017 when he was admitted for emergency treatment.
“An icon of the Church, Dr. Gatu lived with dignity, preached with passion and worshipped with serenity,” said PCEA Moderator, Rev. Julius Mwamba in a communiqué from the church’s General Assembly.
His only daughter Naomi Njuguna was devastated by the sad news, saying he will be missed by many because “He had a very big heart … always concerned about the welfare of everybody.”
“Over the last decade my father has suffered from a progressive weakening of his knees, hampering his movement,” she recalled, “but this did not stop him from visiting the sick and attending important church functions, armed with an original poem for every occasion. He had just celebrated his 93rd Birthday in March.”
President Uhuru Kenyatta, who received the news in London where he is attending a conference on Somalia, described him as a “committed religious leader who led a life of simplicity and service aided by his strong character and independent mind.”
“In this hour of sorrow, I convey my deepest sympathy and heartfelt condolences to the Presbyterian Church of East Africa, and the family, relatives and friends of the late Reverend John Gatu,” President Kenyatta said in a condolence message sent to newsrooms.
Former President Mwai Kibaki has also sent a message of condolence to the family and friends, of Dr. Gatu.
“For as long as I have known the late Rev. Gatu, which runs into fifty-years, this man of God was always stoic, ever true to his calling to serve fellow mankind without discriminating,” said the former President in a statement to newsrooms.
“What, however, made Rev. Gatu all the more special was his intellectual disposition that gave his preaching of the Word a rare touch of thoughtfulness and finesse,” said Kibaki. “The late Rev. Gatu’s iconic character, presence and authority made him a leader of national repute, not just a man of cloth to a limited congregation.”
As the curtains comes down on the eventful life of a celebrated Kenyan and clergyman, his biography launched less than 6 months ago comes to the fore.
The story of Gatu’s early life as narrated in his biography offers a poignant glimpse of life at the onset of colonial rule. He was born 1925 in Kiambu, the first born of Muthoni and Gachango Gatu who were originally from Nyeri and Murang’a respectively but had settled at the Gospel Missionary Society station in Kambui.
Young Gatu studied at the mission and completed primary school in 1940, he went on the serve at His Majesty’s pleasure during the 2nd World War in Ethiopia and Somaliland. The book tells of his escapades in the army – a notable one is about losing his rifle in drunken stupor, a grievous misdemeanor and almost being dishonourably discharged. Previous conduct and genuine remorse saved the day.
He narrates how he gave his life to Christ in 1950 and began his life as ‘soldier in the army of Christ’. His other books are Joyfully Christian and Truly African, and a collection of Gikuyu poetry, ‘He Gatu Nguhe Kanua’ which loosely translates to, ‘Lend me your Ear, I’ll tell you All’.
Dr. Gatu was the first African Secretary General of Presbyterian Church of East Africa (1963 – 1979) and was among the founders of the World Council of Churches. He remained at the helm of PCEA as Moderator until 1985. He was a pioneer of ecumenical movement in African that led to the birth of All Africa Conference of Churches (AACC).
Propelled by his inclination towards ecumenism, Dr Gatu used his position of leadership in the church to request the government to allocate land for the construction of All Africa Conference of Churches (AACC). The government under Retired President Daniel Arap Moi granted the request to allocate the premises along Waiyaki Way in Westlands, Nairobi where the offices are housed to date.
“Though saddened by the death of this great man, we thank God for the time and service of our Church Father. The entire PCEA send our heartfelt condolences to the family and friends of our departed hero, mentor and father,” said Rev Mwamba.
Family sources say a Memorial service will be held at PCEA Muteero on Sunday, May 14, 2017. Funeral details will be communicated later