Dankss connection with Kenya began
when he met Bernard Muindi, a PTS Th.M. graduate, Class of 1963, and the two became good
friends. "Our home was his home," Danks remembers. Muindi went on to become the
secretary general and then moderator of the Presbyterian Church of East Africa and their
friendship continued. "Muindi traveled to Connecticut to say goodbye to Barbara when
she was dying," says Danks. After her death and his retirement, Danks asked his
friend if his theological library would be of any use in Kenya.
"I remember his answer clearly," says Danks. "He said that very few
Kenyan pastors own a single book."
So Danks, with the financial help of a church member, shipped his more than 5000 books
to Kenya. Immediately Muindi invited him to accompany the books to Kukuyu to work in the
library there to expand, develop, and classify their collection.
Danks also brought fourteen computers donated by American churches to help with the
classification, and last January got a laptop that gave the school its first connection to
The Pastoral Institute, part of the Presbyterian Church in East Africa, trains pastors
for the Kenyan church, the fastest-growing church in the world. In 1945, there were nine
million Kenyans, 20% of whom were Christians. Today the nations population has
swelled to thirty million, 80% of them Christians.
Danks has never been happier. "Ive been fascinated by Africa since I was an
eight-year-old kid," he remembers. "My favorite stamps were the one from British
East Africa, they were so large and pictured giraffes and lions. Then I went to Houghton
College, and its emphasis on missionary work intrigued me. So this 'calling' to Kenya has
been brewing for a long time.
"Now this is where I live and where I belong," he says. "If I were
writing the script, my wife would be here with me. But still, I have never known such
inner contentment and harmony."
The simplicity of his lifestyle and its rhythms are largely responsible for his
feeling. He lives on $2400 a year, or $200 a month, $100 of which he gives to a Kenyan
family. "I earn in a year what an attorney at home makes in an hour," he says.
He lives like the people he lives among: no cars, no television, no desserts. He eats
sustenance meals twice a day, consisting of the corn, potatoes, beans, and cabbage the
school grows. The only tutor living at the school, he breakfasts on tea and bread with his
students at 7:00 a.m. At 8:00 they go to chapel, then he spends the morning working in the
library, with a break for tea and conversation with the faculty. Lunch is at 1:00, work
resumes from 2:00 to 6:00, with another break for tea, supper at 7:00, and then he reads
for an hour before bedtime.
"Its about downward mobility," he says. "I dont need more
than I have. I ask God everyday for grace, for discernment to be able to identify more and
more with the people I live with."
Danks attends church every Sunday, though he does not preach. "I still have much
to learn about Kenya" he says. "My sermon examples would still be about baseball
and movies that they would not understand." He finds Kenyan worship alive and dynamic
and puts it this way: "The Christian faith has a lot in common with the Kenyan
people." In spite of dealing with a pandemic AIDS problem, poverty, and infant
mortality, Kenyans, Danks believes, respond with grace and hope.
How long will he stay? His appointment as a PCUSA mission volunteer is until July 2000,
and he has applied for an extension. The term system at the institute provides three
months of vacation in December, April, and August, allowing Danks to travel home to visit
his children and grandchildren. "I see them more frequently and for longer periods of
time now than I did when I was in the pastorate," he says.
Dankss unanswered question is what he will do and where he will go when he
finally leaves Kenya. He has sold his home in Connecticut. "I dont know the
answer yet" he says. "Im a wanderer now with no real home and thats
OK. So, I guess home is where I am, and for now, thats Kenya."
Which he did, studying at the Jewish
Theological Seminary in New York, and also at its campus in Israel, focusing
particularly on the origins of apocalyptic literature and chapters 24 through 27 of
Isaiah. He spent fifteen years at the United Bible Societies in Miami translating the
Bible, including working on two new translations in Spanish, with trips back to Israel,
time writing, and a second doctorate from the South Florida Center of Theological Studies.
Then his alma mater called him home to become its academic dean from 1982 to 1985 and,
in 1995, its president.
The job fits him well. He is a serious scholar, writer, and teacher who has written
three books on Isaiah and enjoys teaching courses on the Suffering Servant songs. But he
also likes to know how things work and to make them work better, going back perhaps to his
pragmatic background in engineering. Those are good skills for any presidents main
"I have four priorities at ESPR," he explains with an energy that is
palpable. "First, to create an international spirit, to move toward globalization.
Second, to review the curriculum with more attention to the contextual needs of the Puerto
Rican and Hispanic churches. Third, to develop our new doctoral program in Religion and
Theology with the Interamerican University of Puerto Rico, and finally to institute a
Total Quality program in all that we do academically and administratively."
Pagan is results-oriented. He asks questions like What are churches expecting from the
seminary, and What are churches saying about theological education. He is not afraid to
set goals and to be judged by how well he meets them.
Ministers in the twenty-first century must be aware of whats going on in the
world around them, Pagan believes. "There is a thirst for spiritual things in the
culture," he says. "But there are many different spiritual voices. We must fine
tune the Christian message and make sure it is heard well. We must do the best job
possible communicating the transforming power of Jesus Christ. That includes doing things
with efficiency and quality in the church."
Pagan practice what he preaches. A man who loves the Bible and who knows how to make
systems work (traits not always found in the same person), he disciplines himself to spend
Tuesdays and Thursdays doing research, reading, and writing. Mondays, Wednesdays, and
Fridays are for administration: talking with faculty and students, raising money and
friends, doing institutional planning.
Yet with all his practicality, he is not unlike the figure of Don Quixote, statues of
whom literally fill his office, gifts from friends all over the world. "Some are in
silver, some ivory, some wooden; this one from El Salvador, this from Kenya," he says
pointing out each one and telling its story. Like Quixote, Samuel Pagan has a dream
of quality education for the church in his area of the world that will make that church
strong and effective for generations to come.
If anyone can do that, and help future ministers do it, one imagines that Pagan can.