by Toya Richards Hill and
Michelle E. Melton
The 2009 Distinguished Alum Awards were presented to George Carpenter (BD '56); Jane Larsen-Wigger (MDiv '83); and Nyambura Njoroge (MAR '85).
Dr. Nyambura J. Njoroge (MAR ’85) has had a lifetime of firsts, including being the first African woman to study at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary.
Dr. Njoroge was raised in a Christian family, where all the nine daughters were valued and empowered through education and Christian teaching. She felt God calling her to ordained ministry at the age of ten. She remembered her father asking what she wanted to become, and she responded, “a teacher, but if the church ordained a woman, a church minister.”
In 1976, the Presbyterian Church in East Africa voted to train women in theology and, thereafter, to ordain them. Njoroge says the only time she witnessed her father crying was during her ordination. When the presiding pastor asked him why he was crying he said, “Because I had never imagined any of my children becoming a minister.” He believed Kenya needed more educated ministers and urged his daughter to further her education, especially to earn a Ph.D., she said.
As she has advanced in her life and ministry, she has built upon such historical benchmarks to assist other women who have embarked upon similar journeys.
“I finally discovered that encouraging other women was a ministry in itself,” said Njoroge, coordinator of the Ecumenical HIV and AIDS Initiative in Africa for the World Council of Churches (WCC). Now, “I kind of look out for others.”
She mentors many upcoming theologians globally and has supervised several doctoral theses and served as an External Examiner.
“Slowly, African women theologians are making a significant contribution, and even though the majority of male leadership has not taken us seriously, the fact that we are now qualified to teach (and be pastors and priests) in theological institutions that train future church leaders (pastors, priests, bishops, etc) and we have introduced gender and theology in the curricula, we are making a difference,” wrote Njoroge. (“Creating Communities of Justice and Hope,” 2006, International symposium, Bern, Switzerland)
“You have to mentor others so that you are not alone,” she said.
Njoroge, who spent time earning her Master of Arts in Religion degree from Louisville Seminary between 1984 and 1985, was recognized with one of three Louisville Seminary 2009 Distinguished Alum Awards for her pioneering contributions to the global church. The award was presented March 17, at an oversubscribed luncheon in the Seminary’s Hundley Hall in historic Gardencourt estate.
“Today, we lift up three Louisville Seminary alums for their pastoral imagination and servant leadership in their respective callings of pastoral care, preaching, teaching, activism, and social witness in the United States and around the world,” said Louisville Seminary President Dean K. Thompson in his opening remarks.
“Their splendid example surely inspires us to participate eagerly in the nurturing and calling of future pastors, teachers, counselors, and leaders who are lovers of persons; who yearn to pray, grieve, and rejoice with their beloved communities; who are public leaders and passionate believers in the Christ who calls them; who are faithful stewards of the mysteries of God; who yearn to engage in the spiritual life and who, at the same time, possess a burning desire to stand up for justice and mercy; who are uncompromisingly committed to the care of every soul; who are persons of character and integrity; who are strong enough to merit our confidence and good enough to merit our loyalty; who are servant leaders; who are willing and adept at sharing the lead; and who value leadership as a catalytic opportunity and not as command and control,” he said.
A Presbyterian born in Kenya, Njoroge was the first Kenyan woman to study at St. Paul’s United Theological College, now St. Paul’s University, located in Limuru, Kenya. There, between 1978 and 1980, she earned a Bachelor of Divinity degree.
Her pioneering journey also included being the first ordained woman minister in the Presbyterian Church of East Africa in 1982, the first African woman to receive a Doctor of Philosophy degree from Princeton Theological Seminary in 1992, and the first ordained African woman to earn a Ph.D. in any theological field.
Njoroge, who now resides in Geneva, Switzerland, said her time at Louisville Seminary helped her realize “I can be an agent of change” and a motivating force for others.
Speaking in tribute to Njoroge during the Distinguished Alum Awards event, Louisville Seminary professor, Dr. Kathryn Johnson, said that “Nyambura has been a catalyst for theological education around the world,” especially among women.
Johnson, who is currently serving as Assistant General Secretary of the Lutheran World Federation in Geneva, Switzerland, through an extended leave of absence from Louisville Seminary, added that she and Njoroge began their work and study, respectively, at Louisville Seminary on the same day, 25 years ago.
“Nyambura had to teach us about her culture and her language, while learning ours,” said Johnson. “I hope that in returning to the campus, she has seen a changed Louisville Seminary, which she helped to move forward.”
Njoroge was the only African student on campus at the time, and it was her first time in the United States. It was “quite a challenging experience,” particularly in terms of being able to communicate, she said. Eventually, Njoroge became connected with and established roots with a local Presbyterian church.
It was at Louisville Seminary that Njoroge said she gained the motivation “to do critical analysis” and to explore tough questions, such as why the majority of Kenyans were poor. “
The ability to critically analyze things “became something that I wanted,” she said. “That has continued even up to today.”
Both a pastor and a teacher, Njoroge has used her analytical skills, along with her theological foundation and other practical experiences gained at Louisville Seminary, in a number of ministries.
From 1992 to 1998 she helped create the Women and Men in Partnership Department of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches (WARC), and then, she served as executive program staff for it. That, too, was groundbreaking, as Njoroge was the first African to work at WARC, which is based in Geneva.
Dr. Clifton Kirkpatrick, President of WARC and Visiting Professor of Ecumenical Studies and Global Ministries at Louisville Seminary, commented that “Nyambura is a distinguished gift to us at Louisville Seminary, to this country, and to the church ecumenical around the world.”
He said that in his travels around the world he is discovering what a gift it is to be a representative of Louisville Seminary.
“As I travel, I meet more leaders of religious groups around the world who are LPTS graduates, making a difference for Christ in the world. What a gift these alums are for us as we reimagine who we are as a seminary and as we seek to contribute to the global community.”
In 1999, Njoroge served as global coordinator of the Ecumenical Theological Education Program of the WCC, a position she held until 2007, when she moved into her current role with the Council.
Njoroge also has written, edited, and co-edited several books, including Kiama kia Ngo: An African Christian Feminist Ethic of Resistance and Transformation, and various articles supporting women theologians and HIV/AIDS work, including “An Ecumenical Commitment: Transforming Theological Education in Mission” in International Review of Mission (April 2005) and “The Disease that Speaks Multiple Languages and Thrives on Other Pandemics” in Journal of Constructive Theology (December 2004).
Louisville Seminary “opened my eyes to different experiences,” Njoroge said. It was “a process of growth and transformation.”
Nyambura Njoroge was accompanied to the award presentation by her spouse Ephraim Njoroge, a civil engineer, and her daughter-in-law, Stephanie
Learn more about Louisville Seminary's Distinguished Alums since 1986, or nominate an alum, on the Distinguished Alum webpage.