Tayside and Central Scotland

Church missionary Minnie Watson inspires millions of Kenyans

Minnie Watson Image copyright NAtional Library of Scotland
Image caption Minnie Watson was born in Dundee, the daughter of a ship's captain

Scottish missionary Minnie Watson inspires millions of people in Kenya but her achievements are virtually unknown in her homeland.

Almost 70 years after her death, the Dundee-born woman is still revered in parts of the African nation to which she dedicated much of her life.

During more than three decades in Kenya, Mrs Watson established a network of schools for girls and boys.

One of her pupils, Jomo Kenyatta, would go one to become Kenya's first president.

Her work also helped lay the foundations of the thriving Presbyterian Church of East Africa (PCEA).

It now has 3.5 million members and runs a network of schools, hospitals and universities.

The missionary is almost of unheard of in Scotland and in her hometown of Dundee but her legacy in the former British colony is strong.

When a Church of Scotland delegation visited the country earlier this month, the PCEA secretary general Peter Kariuki described Mrs Watson as "our mother in faith".

Image copyright NAtional Library of Scotland
Image caption One leading churchman described Mrs Watson as 'our mother in faith'
Image copyright NAtional Library of Scotland
Image caption Mrs Watson was described by former pupils as an outstanding Christian role model

Another leading churchman, the Rev Robert Mbugua, took them to the first permanent church building in Kikuyu.

"This place represents the foundation of where evangelism started in Kenya," he told them. "Our roots are in Scotland so, because of that, this place is Scotland."

The daughter of a ship's captain, the Scotswoman followed her fiancé , Thomas, to Kenya in 1899 after he established the Scottish Mission in Kikuyu.

It was a world away from Dundee and the teacher endured extreme hardship - drought, famine and disease - to fulfil her mission of spreading the Gospel.

The couple quickly married but barely a year later her husband died of pneumonia, leaving the "devoted" 32-year-old to assume responsibility for the project.

Education and welfare was Mrs Watson's primary focus and she established an extensive network of Mission Schools for girls and boys.

She was head teacher of the Mission Schools system and she was described by former pupils as an outstanding Christian role model - always loving, humble, patient but strict when necessary.

Image caption Her former pupils included Jomo Kenyatta, who went on to become Kenya's first president

Among the many children that came into her care was Jomo Kenyatta, who served as president between 1964 and 1978, and is now considered the founding father of the Kenyan nation.

In 1914, five years after he arrived at the school at Thogoto, close to Kikuyu, he was baptised at the Watson-Scott Memorial Church.

The building was prefabricated in Scotland at the turn of the 20th century and shipped 7,150 miles to Kikuyu.

Mrs Watson served in Kikuyu for more than 30 years before retiring to Dundee where she died in 1949 at the age of 82.

Her ashes were returned to be buried beside her husband's remains in the cemetery, located next to the church named after them and Dr Henry E Scott, a former Scottish Mission leader.

Image copyright Cameron Brooks/ Church of Scotland
Image caption Rev Robert Mbugua and the Right Rev Dr Russell Barr visited the Watsons' resting place earlier this month
Image copyright Cameron Books/ Church of Scotland
Image caption The Watson-Scott Memorial Church was pre-fabricated in Scotland before being shipped to Kenya

The Right Rev Dr Russell Barr, Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, visited the couple's grave to pay his respects earlier this month.

It is marked by a large stone Celtic Cross.

Dr Barr said: "It was a great privilege to visit Kenya and the Presbyterian Church of East Africa.

"Although the PCEA has long found its African heart and its African soul and its African voice, it was Church of Scotland missionaries who first planted the seeds of Christian faith

"Prominent among them were the Rev Thomas and Minnie Watson, who established a mission at Kikuyu.

"It was quite humbling to stand at their graveside and to realise how their courage, devotion and Christian faith has been rewarded in the vibrant and growing church that is the PCEA."

Image copyright Cameron Brooks/Church of Scotland
Image caption An elder at the Church of Torch says 'the impact of Minnie Watson still lives on'

Mrs Watson also laid the foundation stone of the Church of the Torch in Thogoto in 1929.

The building opened four years later and it is dedicated to Rev Dr John Arthur, a Glasgow-born medical missionary who established Kikuyo Hospital in 1908.

Professor David Ngugi, a Church of the Torch elder, said Scottish missionaries had a "big impact" on the Kikuyu people.

"They were very focused in spreading the Gospel and education because at that time Kenya was regarded as the dark continent," he added.

"The missionaries planted several schools, improved health by setting up hospitals and fought poverty by starting agricultural industries.

"Many people in Kenya have benefited from that legacy and the impact of Minnie Watson still lives on."

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