GOWI ODERA: Championing the Youth

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Gowi Odera is passionate about the youth and has played a key role in promoting and establishing youth ministry and the youth agenda in Kenya. He talks to EDNA GICOVI about his life’s journey and political aspirations.

During his school days, teachers would walk into his noisy class and ask, “Apart from Odera, who else was making noise?” He admits to being rather talkative. All this talking opportunely turned him into an eloquent and effective communicator. Confident yet unassuming, he comes across as one who would be at ease interacting with anyone.

Forty year-old Gowi Odera is still young at heart and passionate about the youth. He is the former assistant director of ministry development in East Africa at the Youth for Christ International (YFCI), and has served as a youth pastor at the Nairobi Chapel, church planter of the Mashariki Church in Nairobi, and later on associate pastor at the Nairobi Chapel.

He is also one of the founders of one of Nairobi’s most vibrant youth and outreach ministries, Kubamba Krew (K-Krew), and was a Groove Awards panellist from 2004 to 2009. In 2010, he published a leadership guide for the youth titled: ‘Roots: Skilz 4 Ldrs’. Consequently, he has played an important role in promoting and establishing youth ministry and the youth agenda in Kenya.

Early life…

Gowi, the last of three children was born and raised in Nairobi. His father was a journalist and political scientist, while his mother was a nurse and social worker. Both are now retired. His eldest sister, Alice, is a music and sports teacher at Brookhouse School in Nairobi and was a member of the women’s national basketball team. She now manages the same team.

His brother, Pete Odera, is a pastor at the Waterbrook Church in Hurlingham and a gospel musician, with a few albums to his name. Growing up, Gowi was surrounded by music and though he never pursued it as a career, he has written and produced for some Kenyan local gospel artistes.

Gowi immensely enjoyed his childhood. “Our parents gave us the best of everything. Because our parents were the eldest in their families and living in the city, we grew up with a lot of relatives for most of my childhood. Our house was always bustling with activity,” he says. A major highlight of his childhood was giving his life to Christ at a youth camp.

After completing his primary education at the Hospital Hill School in Nairobi, he attended the Nairobi School where he involved himself in a myriad of activities, including school clubs and sports. He was notably the national student representative for his school, on the board of the Kenya Schools Christians Fellowship – a position that reflected his calling in youth ministry later in life.

After high school, he applied and was accepted to the Blackburn University in the US in 1992 on a leadership scholarship, owing to his great involvement in extracurricular activities in high school. “I was not the brightest in school and hadn’t performed up to standard in my final exams but that was the first time I was recognised as a leader. It was inspiring,” he says.

While in college, he joined the school’s theatre department and was in the school’s choir too. Always an ardent sports fan, Gowi played soccer competitively for the college’s team and prior to his admission to university; he played rugby for Kenya’s national rugby team, then Kenya Harlequins. He graduated from Blackburn with a degree in economics and political science and enrolled for his masters in development economics at the Eastern University, still in the US.

Induction into youth service…

After his return to Kenya in the late 90s, Gowi volunteered at the Nairobi Baptist Church where his faith, passion and service in youth ministry were sharpened. His zeal for youth ministry saw him serve as the assistant director for ministry development at the Africa office of the Youth For Christ International (YFCI), a worldwide Christian movement working with young people around the globe.

“At the time HIV and Aids was rampant among the youth. Thus part of my work was to get the church to own and address this issue among others,” he says. He also travelled widely to various countries, especially the US, fundraising for the organisation.

He left in 2001 after three years and continued serving in youth ministry both at the Nairobi Baptist Church and the Nairobi Chapel. It was around this time that the Kubamba Krew (K-Krew), a youth and outreach ministry, was formed with Gowi as one of the founding members. He was K-Krew’s main speaker when they went out on missions to high schools around Nairobi.

He was still involved in ministry, though solely at the Nairobi Chapel and was appointed youth pastor at the church, a position he held for four years. After this, he spearheaded the planting of the Mashariki Church in Nairobi’s Doonholm Estate and served as a pastor at the church for two years before being recalled to the Nairobi Chapel, this time as an associate pastor.

In 2009, Gowi worked as a radio disc jockey on a youthful urban gospel music station – Power FM – that has since closed. He has also taught youth ministry at several colleges and seminaries in Kenya, in addition to speaking at different forums including the 3rd Annual Education and Leadership Congress hosted by the Equity Group Foundation, and the Fearless Summit, an annual conference that brings together Nairobi’s best leadership minds intent on shaping the way church is developed in the city of Nairobi and beyond.

He served on the executive committee of the National Youth Lobby for Reform in 2011 and currently sits on the boards of various youth serving organisations. He is also a founding member of the Nairobi Area Youth Workers Network (NAYNET), a network of youth pastors and youth workers serving within Nairobi.

In early 2010, Gowi resigned from his pastoral position at the Nairobi Chapel to pursue a desire to serve the country nationally. “I sensed then that my time at the pulpit was over. After consulting and praying with my wife and leaders in the church, I decided to go ahead,” he says. He is a candidate for the Westlands parliamentary seat in this year’s elections. Apart from working on his political strategy, he has been running Telo Sports Marketing, a sports marketing firm and Telo Publishing, the publishing wing of the firm.

Gowi believes that the church is one of the most effective institutions of any community owing to his years of service in the church and faith-based organisations. He still attends and serves in different capacities at the Nairobi Chapel. His mantra is to influence this generation and the emerging generations to reach their potentials.

A late marriage…

Maybe it was fitting that Gowi found a wife through the church that he has been devoted to for many years. He met Jennifer Wangeci through a mutual friend at an event in 2000. “She swears she can’t remember meeting me then. I must not have made much of an impression on her,” he says rather amused.

A few years later while working at the Nairobi Chapel, Gowi interacted with Wangeci frequently as she also worked in the youth department of the church. A strong friendship developed between the two with time, as they discovered their common passions – the church, a love for young people and the African continent. They tied the knot in September 2006. They celebrated their sixth anniversary a few months ago.

“Wangeci is such a wonderful woman and I’m thankful that God blessed me with her,” he says fondly.

Gowi says he married after all his peers. In fact he was present at many of their weddings, a best man at some. He says that one of the challenges of getting married much later in life is that one is really set in their ways. Readjusting to a living situation that included someone else proved rather difficult for him and the first two years were not too smooth.

“I moved out of my parents’ house at about 19 and never moved back. I had lived on my own for almost 17 years before I got married. Wangeci had also lived on her own for a while. It was a big adjustment for both of us,” he says.

He stresses the importance of compromise and understanding in this regard. “I had a lot of learning to do. It’s necessary that you appreciate where your spouse is coming from, why she believes what she believes, and why she thinks the way she thinks, and not view her differences as a flaw. After all we’re all from different backgrounds,” he says.

Gowi shares yet another important lesson he has learnt in marriage – learning to choose one’s fights. “In arguments, you don’t argue to win,” he says. He adds that marriage has brought out the best and worst in him. “It’s made my flaws evident but also made me want to become a better man. My wife appreciates me for who I am and I have enjoyed getting to know her and myself more,” he says.

Gowi and Wangeci look forward to having children soon. “Children are a blessing from the Lord,” he says. He eagerly anticipates being a father and raising children whom he says will be fearless influencers of society, God-fearing and who will make a name, not only for themselves but also for the kingdom of God and for this country.

He also looks forward to contributing to the transformation of sports and marketing in Kenya through his firm, in addition to using Telo Publishing to tell the Kenyan and African story. Expectedly, Gowi watches a lot of sport in his free time, in addition to listening to jazz, reading and travelling.

Published on January 2013

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