World's oldest pupil, aged 85, embraces faith and forgiveness

By Ecumenical News International
May 28, 2009

The man declared as the world's oldest pupil, Kimani Ng'ang'a Maruge, has embraced Christianity and has been baptised, five years after he began studying at primary school at the age of 85 and learned how to read the Bible.

He suffered during the violence during the last Kenyan elections, but says he has learned to forgive his enemies.

Fredrick Nzwil writes for ENI: "I commit my life to God, from now until the end," said the 90-year-old great-grandfather as he was christened Stephen at the Holy Trinity Roman Catholic Church in Kariobangi, east of Nairobi.

To the cheers of a packed congregation, the world's oldest school student was baptised sitting in a wheelchair, which he now has to use following the onset of stomach cancer.

"I decided to be baptised after reading the Bible," said Maruge. He described himself as always God-fearing, but previously not connected to any organized religion. He told reporters, "I read the Bible and came across the name Stephen. This is a name for those who have endured hardships like me."

The Rev. Paulino Mondo, the priest in charge of the Kariobangi parish, said it was Maruge's wish to be baptised. "The schooling has helped Maruge read and understand the Bible. He passed all his catechism tests," said Mondo.

In 2004, Maruge was entered into the Guinness Book of Records as the world's oldest pupil, after enrolling at the Kapkenduiywa Primary School in Eldoret, western Kenya, aged 84. He had said his joining school had been made possible by the introduction of free primary education at the time.

Maruge said he went to school, at same time as two of his 30 grandchildren, so as to be able to read the Bible and count money. He said he hoped this would include compensation from the British government for its actions against the anti-colonialist Mau Mau group.

Then, during Kenya's 2007-2008 post-election violence, Maruge's property was stolen forcing him into a refugee camp. He was rescued by the Red Cross, and taken into care at the Nyumba ya Wazee [home for the elderly], at St. Joseph's Day Care Centre, run by Franciscan Missionary Sisters in Koriobangi, Nairobi.

Maruge remarked, "I have forgiven those who killed innocent people, but I will not return to Eldoret."

Despite his failing health, Maruge said he hopes to sit for his final primary school exams one year from now.

[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches and the Conference of European Churches.]

Keywords:Kenyan | Kenya | forgiveness | faith
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