Peering through wire-framed spectacles sitting firmly on his round face, the chaplain smiled broadly and spoke to the congregation at Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti, Dec. 18, 2011.
"If you have faith greater than that of a mustard seed, you can speak to mountains and command them to move," , Kenyan Ministry of State for Defense Chaplain Lieutenant Colonel Harry Ndirangu, Anglican minister and Protestant chaplain, said, referencing the Christian New Testament.
Ndirangu visited for three weeks as part of a program that invites Kenyan chaplains to share best practices with the religious affairs team here. While at Camp Lemonnier, he visited various support organizations – seeing firsthand how U.S. chaplains work with them – shared ideas with other chaplains and spoke with U.S. service members.
The program was developed a year ago by U.S. Navy Chaplain (Captain) Jon Cutler, Combined Joint Task Force – Horn of Africa religious affairs director and Jewish rabbi. To date, Ndirangu is the third Kenyan chaplain to visit as part of the program – the others were Muslim and Roman Catholic. The program focused on strengthening the relationship between Kenyan and U.S. chaplains based on their religious common ground, Cutler said.
"As Christians, Muslims and Jews, we all come from the common ground of Abraham and our belief in the one God," Cutler said. "That is what we ultimately share."
Sharing stories of faith, operational practices and personal observations helped improve relations between the two countries, Cutler said.
U.S. Air Force Chaplain Lieutenant Colonel Jerry Sather, CJTF-HOA chaplain and Church of the Nazarene minister, said building a relationship with the Kenyan chaplains has profoundly changed his perspective on Africa.
"Being here and meeting Chaplain Ndirangu allowed us to connect on a very deep level – from the first day," he said. "We understood one another as military professionals, chaplains, Christians and human begins."
The relationship grew as Ndirangu shared stories of his family to both him and service members on camp during the visit, Sather added, and Ndirangu's "spirit and love for God were infectious."
People on camp eagerly opened up to him during his visit, which Ndirangu said he took as an opportunity for his country to relate to the United States.
"We have a military-to-military program of chaplain interaction between Kenya and the United States," Ndirangu said. "It's been fantastic to see how the United States handles their chaplaincy as it compares to our structure."
The Kenyan chaplain program is divided into three sections based on faith. Islam, Catholicism and Protestantism are all represented. The U.S. military utilizes a similar religious affairs program, with chaplains of many faiths reaching out to work with various support agencies.
Ndirangu said it was interesting to see how involved U.S. chaplains are in family care programs, such as the Fleet and Family Support Center on camp.
"I've been able to see how (U.S. chaplains) function with services," he said. "The interaction with other programs that give care, like the family fleet, has been inspiring."
Ndirangu said he hoped to translate that feeling of inspiration into the services he presented on camp.
"My first service (on camp) was about speaking to the mountains," he said. "The mountains are problems or challenges in life. What matters is how someone behaves when confronted with those challenges."
First and foremost, he said religious values are the "bedrock" of any civilized society. He encouraged service members to maintain their faith during the challenges faced through deployment.
Ndirangu said sharing his stories with service members was a unique experience he was eager to repeat. Both he and Cutler said they learned a great deal from one another during Ndirangu's time on camp.
"Here we are as Americans within the African continent interacting with and learning from Africans," Cutler said. "This (program) presents a great opportunity for American chaplains to interact with their African counterparts."
The cultural diversity, illustrated by sharing values and stories, also strengthened ties between Kenyan and U.S. chaplains, Cutler added.
"We are able to transcend the ethnicity, religion and race because of our beliefs," he said. "It's about making friends – building that relationship. The connections made here will enrich our lives."
Ndirangu said he will fondly remember the great experience he had visiting Camp Lemonnier. The service members instantly impressed him by their dedication, devotion and faith through the time away from their families. Their faith in Africa, shown through the work they are doing to help, reminds him of the mustard seed.
"It has moved mountains," he said.