By Martin Odote
As a child, often asked myself how the little church came to be. It is hard to ignore it as you drive along the Mai-Mahiu Naivasha highway. The nine kilometer stretch of tarmac hugs the hill-side, granting travelers amazing views of the Rift Valley in all its glory.
The people who laid down this road must have had nerves of steel and mountain-goat like agility. The former due to the sheer harshness of the surrounding terrain and the latter, to dodge falling boulders rolling down the escarpment wall. Talk about living each day like your last!… and some of them did, turns out the mysterious people who built this road, and the church, were Italian soldiers being held by the British.
The church doesn’t have a name, so everybody refers to it as ‘The tiny church’, ‘The little church’ or Msikiti which translates to Mosque, because why not? This little church was built between 1942 and 1943. At this time, Kenya was still a British colony, World War II was being fought, and Sir Paul McCartney was a newborn. The relationship between the British and their Italian captives could be summarized in two words, Slave-Labor. Prior to their capture, the Italians had established a colony in present day Somalia and Eritrea. A military alliance between Ethiopian and British forces defeated the Italians. This loss brought the colony of Italian East Africa (Present day Somalia and Eritrea) to an abrupt end. The prisoners of war were subjected to inhumane living and working conditions. Many suffered injuries, diseases and even death in captivity.
When word of this mistreatment reached an influential Bishop McCarthy, he took up the matter with the Governor, Sir Henry Moore. As a result of this, the Italians POWs were allocated a piece of land for worship. It is here where they built a chapel that resembles a scaled down Catholic church. Over seven decades later, the building stands firm, perhaps as a testament to the faith of those captives…or maybe resignation to their fate. Today, the little church is designated as a historic monument.
It’s not easy to get over how small the church really is. The first thing I did when I visited was to rush inside and see if there’s more to the church than its facade. It had four pews, a pulpit, a painting at the front, stained glass windows, two extra exits on either side, and an oversize Bible. While the furnishing sounds limited by conventional standards , rest assured that what this church has is adequate. They somehow managed to build the smallest church without making it overly cozy. It can comfortably seat 12 adults. Behind the church, there are a series of unmarked graves, likely hosting deceased Italians.
Last I checked, there is no entry fee, but leaving a tip for the caretaker is a good idea. There are no restrictions with regard to admission; people of all beliefs, or the lack of, are allowed to visit. I imagine most visitors simply make a brief stop-over. There are also those who have held wedding ceremonies here. It is still a functional church and some people come here to worship. Visits are best done in daytime given the lack of electricity.