Joe and Kim Cluff: Following God’s call to 24 years in Kenya
Joe Cluff was looking for a short-term missionary experience as he neared the completion of his master’s degree when he connected with CMF, but the suggestions of serving in Thailand and Indonesia didn’t sound right.
“They were too hot for me,” he laughs. “Then Herb Works (Director of Mobilization at that time) came up with youth ministry among the Masaai in Kenya, and that sounded good. That’s how I ended up in Kenya in 1996, where I fell in love with the work and the people and my short-term ministry turned into 24 years!”
Purdue graduate Kim Beigh was working in the CMF home office and planning to serve with CMF as a teacher in Southeast Asia when some co-workers set her up with the young missionary Joe Cluff, home on furlough.
“We joke that we had an arranged marriage,” said Kim. “Instead of serving in Asia, God led me down the path to Africa when we married 13 years ago and I moved to Kenya.”
Joe and Kim are now on furlough in Indiana and shared some insights into their ministries, life in Kenya and why they are serving there.
Joe, a big part of your ministry is training in Discovery Bible Studies (DBS). Why does this method work so well in Kenya?
DBS is one component of the Disciple Making Movement process and is a valuable tool in discipling people around the world. The focus of a DBS is to replicate on a small and simple scale the functions of the body of Christ in a way that leads people to obey the Scripture and see God move.
The challenge of DBS in Kenya is their educational system; the teacher is the expert who lectures, and you regurgitate it, so we’re working against the educational culture. We try to show them they don’t need an expert because the Holy Spirit is the expert.
But on the other hand, DBS is successful in Kenya because Kenyans are highly social; they love to get in groups and talk and share.
Can you share a recent DBS success story?
This is a story of God teaching me that He’s in charge, not me!
I was asked by a Kenyan pastor to do a DBS training seven hours from Nairobi, so I went out there. As someone who’s been teaching Sunday School since age 16, I thought I had a handle on who was getting it. I returned home with the plan to go back in six weeks for a follow-up. In the meantime, my pastor friend visited and handed me a notebook full of more than 100 notes on Bible studies led by from someone from my class. These pages were the study notes of two DBS groups of 14 members each for four weeks!
Surprisingly, I learned that the person who had taken the training to heart was a woman named Rellias, the cook at the training. She was working at the open fire, but in between, she’d duck her head into that mud hut classroom, hear our talk, and go back to the fire. Rellias went home and started a DBS and coached her neighbor to start one, too. She chose her 14-year-old son to facilitate her DBS because he was more educated. The person I would never have chosen was chosen by God.
Kim, tell us about your ministry of teaching biology in a school in Nairobi.
My degree from Purdue was in science education. I thought God was telling me to use that to teach at an international school in Asia, but he led me down the path of love for Joe instead. Shortly after we got to Africa, we had our two children, so I spent those years mostly with them. In the past year God opened the door to expand my ministry outside the home and use my training in education. The private Christian school in Nairobi that my children attend asked me to teach science. It’s amazing how God brought this full circle.
So, after 18 years, I went back to teaching in a pandemic! It’s a great time to depend on God, when you don’t feel you have the skills, and you have to remember it’s not about the content but about reaching out to the kids.
How has the pandemic affected both of your ministries?
Kim: It certainly made me more reliant on God. On a positive note, I can continue teaching online at the school in Nairobi while we’re here on furlough.
Joe: Kenya was on quite a stringent lockdown until early June. All travel was shut down and there was a dusk-to-dawn curfew. We had to stop all of our DBS trainings, and I keep in touch with my partners via social media. But their work has slowed because they are in survival mode. All the marketplaces have been shut down in rural Kenya, so they have no income. Most of their effort has to go into feeding their families.
What are some of the plusses and minuses of raising your children in Kenya?
Kim: Many of the challenges and benefits go hand-in-hand. It’s a challenge for them to go back and forth between worlds, but they have become more resilient and flexible. I firmly believe our kids have adapted to the COVID-19 world so well because they are used to change.
We are not around our extended family in Kenya, but we have a very diverse community, so our kids understand and relate to these differences.
Usually when we come to the U.S. it’s like a vacation, with travel and fun. But this time they have to do school and we’re restricted in travel. So, they ask, “When are we going back home? I want to see my friends.” Kenya is home for them.
Your family seems to be committed to long-term ministry in Kenya. Why do you stay? What does your future look like?
Kim: We truly believe God called Joe to Kenya 24 years ago. He brought Joe through an evolution in his ministry. He started with the youth, then they became the young church leaders, and now he works with the national Kenyan Community Christian Church. Recently, God has opened doors in disciple making. We feel that God has moved us in different ways that kept us in the same place.
Joe: Kenya is the size of Texas; our team works all over the country, following the biblical model of not staying in one place for too long. Now our team has a dream to raise up some Kenyan missionaries.
Part of why we stay is that Kim and I are very happy working with CMF. At a missionary debriefing conference recently, some of the other missionaries were struggling with sending agencies that they didn’t feel were supporting them. In contrast, we are so happy with the support, care and strategic direction that CMF is taking.
So, in essence, I believe God called me to Kenya 24 years ago and that calling is still in effect, so that’s where we’ll stay.