The high school teacher that won’t stop writing

Wilson Okonjo is a bachelor’s degree holder in geography and Christian religious education having graduated from Kenyatta University. He is a teacher at Maranda High School.

He started writing books 13 years ago with a focus on documenting the history of African instituted churches. More than 10 books later, the teacher has a wealth of experience to share in authorship.

Was being an author your dream career?

Not even once did I ever dream of becoming an author, I always wanted to be a teacher. However, in 2009 while at university, I did a wide research on African instituted churches as part of my theology course.

Upon submission, my supervisor scribbled a note on my sheet saying my topic was one that scholars had not thought of dwelling on, so he urged me to explore the area. That was the beginning of my part time job of book writing.

Why the focus on African traditional churches?

Many times, I informed my university friends that I was a member of the Voice of Salvation Church (Vosh), but most of them knew very little or nothing about it.

At some point I got tired of making explanations every other time. The limited information on the internet did not also help.

I felt that much had been done by church leaders, but their records were not properly documented for the future generations.

After further research, I realised that this was the case in quite a number of the African instituted churches, so I settled on the topic.

How was the journey towards publishing the first copy?

After my graduation, I landed a job at Maranda High School, and two years later, I embarked on my master's studies.

Luckily, the supervisor who encouraged me to delve further into my field of study was still available to offer guidance . I made it a point to visit a number of former church members of Vosh. Most of them were very old and already retired.

At the time, the biggest fear of most of the believers was that incase death visited the old church leaders,  important details about the denomination would have gone undocumented.

I managed to put the necessary details together, although many of the interviewees had died by the time the book was published.

How many books have you written and what are their titles?

I have authored more than 10 books, four of which have been published.

The History of Voice of Salvation and Healing Church (Pentecost Revisited in Luo Nyanza) was my first title, followed by Staying Power (Biography of Archbishop Silas Owiti), Church and Politics (Biography of Archbishop Washington Ogonyo Ngede) and God is Love (History of the Church of Christ in Africa) & Biography of Archbishop Habakkuk Abogno.

What does it take to publish a book?

Writing a book takes so much. It needs passion, dedication, finances and a lot of sacrifice. Many times, I travel to various places to meet sources.

I sometimes cancel appointments due to lack of funds. With most of my books being historical in nature, it takes a long process to gather details that date back to several years ago.

It calls for one-on-one interviews, digging out literature and corroboration of information to put together chapters. The draft is then edited for accuracy and flow, which can go for months or even years, depending on the length of the manuscript.

A language expert is also involved to fine tune the document before it’s forwarded to the printer, who does further editing and sends the copy back to my sources for approval before being printed.

The length of time also depends on the availability of finances.

You must have career highlights...

High career moment came when I completed my first book, which was an extract from my master’s thesis in religious studies.

Early this year, I also had my fourth book launched by Mama Idah Odinga, which came as a major milestone. I have been slowly but constantly gaining the vote of confidence from my readers.

In most cases, I get referrals from those who have read my copies, which gives me the motivation and assurance to keep going.

How do you balance between teaching and book writing?

During the day, I am in class teaching, with very limited time to spare. I spend my free time, especially during the night, to do my research. For interviews, I always plan to meet my sources during school holidays and weekends.

How can we overcome the poor reading culture in Kenya?

Poor reading culture can be remedied by initiating programmes that motivate people to read more, for instance, the authorities can establish a library that is furnished with local content , and also make it a culture to recognise and reward the publishing efforts of local writers.

With the advancement of technology, many readers now prefer digital content as opposed to print. What are you doing about this shift?

Well, the future of book writing is bright. Many people now write about local subjects, which is a positive trajectory in the field. To keep my audience updated, I intend to establish a website to distribute my books in digital format.

Do you have hobbies?

Whenever I am not teaching or writing, I enjoy making friends, going on adventure and reading documentaries.

What are your future plans?

I am planning to establish an institute to specialise in documenting the African independent church ministers who have laboured to see Christianity move to greater levels.

This will include the bible copies they read, how they preached the gospel and the impact they have had on their congregation.

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