If home is where the heart is, then Kenya is definitely home to OMSC alum Marta Bennett. Born and raised in the United States, Marta first travelled to Kenya while pursuing her doctorate in leadership studies at Seattle University, while working at Seattle Pacific University as the Director of Campus Ministries. Although she expected that traveling more than 9,000 miles from Seattle to Kenya would be the experience of a lifetime, she had no idea that God was about to direct her path in an unexpected way.
Nairobi, a Maasai phrase meaning “place of the cool waters,” is the capitol city of Kenya and is the largest city between Cairo, Egypt and Johannesburg, South Africa. It was here, while working on her dissertation research, Marta fell in love with Kenya. After completing her degree, she moved permanently to Nairobi to teach at Daystar University, where she eventually became dean of postgraduate studies.
Marta’s teaching responsibilities soon branched out to other schools as well, and by 2006 she had joined the faculty of Nairobi International School of Theology (now known as International Leadership University). Focused on developing Christian leaders for both church and society, ILU also has schools in Zimbabwe, Nigeria, Ghana, and Burundi.
Though Marta’s career was fulfilling, her heart was burdened by the large number of children she saw in need. So, with God directing her path once again, she pursued adoption and was
soon sharing her home with son, Justin, daughter, Sara Imani and foster son, Steven. As her children grew, she knew it was time to share with them part of her own heritage.
So, in 2011, Marta, Justin and Sara Imani made the long journey to New Haven to become part of the international residential community at OMSC while Steven remained in Nairobi to pursue his studies.
As Justin began 8th grade and Sara Imani started 6th, both were concerned about making friends and learning in an American system so different from the Kenyan British-based system at home. Justin quickly found his niche through joining the New Haven Youth Soccer league, along with a few classmates and two other boys whose families also lived at OMSC.
Sara Imani took longer. She confesses that for the first three months, she found an excuse to go to the friendly school nurse almost daily, who provided a safe haven and welcoming words. Eventually, she made several close friends at school, joined the girls’ hip hop dance team, and settled in well. At the end of the school year, Sara Imani wrote thank you notes to many, and especially appreciated Nurse Janice, noting, “I’m sorry I haven’t been coming by very much lately – but at the beginning of the year, you were my only friend. I’m so glad you were here.” At OMSC she was happy for piano lessons, excursions, and family time together.
Meanwhile, Marta took full advantage of attending the many seminars offered with leading scholars and visitors from around the world. As she soaked in the content and lively interactions, the year provided her with an opportunity to step back and to reflect on the Gospel as it is lived out in East Africa and beyond, to be refreshed through fellowship with other residents, and to make forays into the wealth of resources at the Yale Divinity School Library, to study, write, and enrich her teaching upon return to Nairobi.
Fast forward to May 2017, and Justin has just completed his freshman year at Penn State University. In his application to university, he cited his year at OMSC as a significant contributing factor in preparation for his studies in the US. Marta and Sara Imani (who is finishing her junior year of high school in Kenya), were recently explaining the photo on their fridge to a house guest. The photo displays all the 2011/2012 OMSC residents and staff outside in front of OMSC. Together they reminisced about the friendships made, the adventures experienced, the monthly community dinners, and the gift of that year apart together as a family.
Ministry for Marta is expanding, even as she remains based in East Africa. After serving as the Head of Department of Leadership Studies, then as the Deputy Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs at ILU in Nairobi, she is now narrowing her engagement to teaching and supervising Masters and PhD students in their research and writing. This allows her to become more involved in leadership development and discipleship in her local Kenyan church, with its rapidly expanding outreach and church plants, as well as to invest more in grass root ministries being launched by former students in Rwanda, South Sudan, and Kenya. Home is where the heart is, and Marta’s heart is in Kenya.