SCOPE Katoism Revisited: Tribute to Mrs. Jummai Byang Kato (1939-2019)
Rev. Dr. Aiah Foday-Khabenje, General Secretary, Association of Evangelicals in Africa
|All praise, honour, adoration and glory be on to God our Father, Jesus Christ our Saviour and Holy Spirit our sanctifier and guide, for the life and fellowship of the late Mrs Jummai Kato, on this side of eternity. We are here today to pay our last respect to a woman that many of us did not know when she lived among us. Like myself, you would be here because of the association with the well-known late husband whose name she bears: KATO. Indeed, the name Byang Henry Kato is forever etched in the history of the Church and theological discourse in Africa. However, Byang Kato’s story is not complete without the complementarity of Jummai Kato.
Jummai, like many women in the ministry of the Church, derives her importance by her anonymity; notwithstanding her nobility in birth and outstanding personal contribution of her own to her family, church and the community. Jummai stands in the tradition of the Marys and a bunch of other women in the Bible, who faithfully followed and served Jesus. We do not hear many sermons about them and the heroic faith and contributions to the Church. They earned themselves the pride of place of being faithful, audacious and Mary Magdalene who was among them was first to announce the great news to the world: “I have seen the Lord”, on resurrection day (John 20:18). They dared to look for the living among the dead; when all the men had given up hope and went back fishing and not feeding the sheep, as Jesus had instructed and entrusted.
On the wall of fame in Hebrews, we come across great examples of faith and the world’s women in obscurity are not forgotten on the roll. Catherine Luther’s contribution to practicalise the doctrines and teachings of Martin Luther to bring about revolution in education, science, economic development and growth of industrial development, is little known about the Reformation. Suzanne Wesley of the Church of England, Mother Theresa of India, are all examples of women who have supported the ministry of the church that go mostly unrecognized. Our ministers’ spouses in the house can only say a quiet amen in their hearts. At best, we recognize the great role of women in the church and society with the adage: “Behind every successful/great man is a woman”. But this remains an an axiom only.
As Protestants and Evangelicals, we may not do the ‘Hail Mary”, however, we need to articulate a theology of the Mother of God and indeed the pride of place of our heroines of faith. On the contrary, we have brought our professed biblical orthodoxy into disrepute when we unduly elevate the place of so called ‘great man of God’ to the chagrin of the Great God of the man and all of creation.
I would like to take the opportunity on my personal behalf and on behalf of the Evangelical Church in Africa, to confess our failure and sin; sin of commission and of omission in our neglect to affirm and care for our women folks in accordance with sound biblical and theological teaching, and in particular our neglect to show love and gratitude to this great woman servant of God, widow of one so much in our theological reflections and discourse and affirmed as father of evangelicalism in Africa—Byang Henry Kato.
We come today to bury her and not to praise her. However, we would like to acknowledge that behind the famous Byang Henry Kato, the great leader and theologian, was Jummai Kato and the later deserves our honour as does Rev. Dr. Byang Kato and in equal measure.
Jummai’s union with Byang brought together two great African traditionalists; the one from a traditional ruling house and the other as a traditional fetish priest. Mama Jummai Kato’s Jaba ancestry is itself a noble one. She hails from the aristocracy of the Kpop Ham ruling clan and a princess among the Jaba people; one of the earliest human civilisations, not only in Africa but in the the world in general. Thanks to the patriarchy in many African cultures, a princess would defer to a prince for the throne. This is how did not die in the palace of Kpop Ham.
Jummai and Byang met in Sunday school and were born again and transformed by power of the gospel of Jesus Christ. As youths and young adults, they were mentored and shaped by the Girls’ Brigade and the Boys Brigade, respectively. Both were Child Evangelism Fellowship trained teachers and used these life skills to give back to the community. Jummai’s leadership in the Girls’ Brigade helped to shape young girls become followers of the Lord Jesus Christ, and through self-control, reverence and sense of responsibility, to find true enrichment of life. She would be known mostly for her long term service to the Nigerian Girls’ Brigade especially in the Kaduna Chapter.
Byang Kato’s fascinating life story about how he rose from a fetish priest, through conversion to Christianity, primary school education and catapulting himself to university, without secondary education, unprecedentedly earning the highest academic theological qualification and the accolade of father of evangelicalism in Sub-Saharan Africa, were great accomplishments for the couple; made possible by God and through complementarity and hard work. Byang Kato’s meteoric rise was cut short by his sudden and tragic death by drowning. Kato died at a time when the couple were still more or less in their youthful lives; a time of life when one is hardly prepared for bequeathing anything to the future.
Jummai obviously became the key for unlocking the treasures that appeared to have been drowned in the Indian Ocean and interred with the remains of the then burgeoning theological figure, who would then be remembered as the father of evangelical theology in Tropical Africa. Mama Jummai’s widowhood lasted 44 years; longer than the entire life time of the husband. Their marriage was blessed with three children and Jummai was left on her own, as a single parent, to raise these children.
The situation was very challenging and to underscore this, the children (now grown ups) said, inter alia: “The story of the Katos cannot be properly narrated without the memory of their father being re-visited”. While this is no occasion to revisit Kato’s memory, the importance of Jummai is deduced from the children, when they further state: “It was after his (their father’s) death in 1975 that life became dark,” bemoaning the plight of minister’s family; with no provision for their care and well-being, after active service or death of the minister. This is the situation Mama Jummai weathered with admiration, as she lived to see her grandchildren from all three children and died an octogenarian.
If the Church could look up to the late Rev. Dr. Byang Kato for theological polemics and disputations; Mama Jummai provided us the practical theology of widowhood, single parenting (especially when life becomes dark), resilience, virtue, modesty and faithfulness.
The scripture makes an emphatic point about the unsung heroines of our world. About Mary Magdalene’s service to the Lord, the Bible says: “Truly I tell you, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her (Mark 14:9).” Similarly, I dare say, whenever and wherever we discuss the ministry and theological contribution of Byang Kato throughout Africa, what his spouse did to compliment his work should also be told, in memory of her. My challenge to the budding Kato scholars.
Finally, on behalf of the President of AEA, Dr Goodwill Shana, the Board Chair, Rev. Dr. Mario Li Hing and the entire Board, Staff and management of AEA and the entire AEA family, our heartfelt condolences to Deborah and Paul and their spouses and children; to Rev and Mrs. Alemu Kato and the entire Kato family and the ECWA Church family.
To His Royal Highness, Chief Dr. Danladi Gyet Maude, Kpop Ham of the Jaba people and Jaba Local Government.  Byang Henry Kato (BHK) Foundation: Legacy Centre for African Christian Heritage.