Marlene Maina and her husband Newton are the founders of JosiahJude International Ministries.
Born in Nairobi, Kenya in 1977, Marlene immigrated to the United States still a teen. Thinking she would get her foot in the door into the medical world in Princeton, NJ, her desire for God soon outgrew a field of study she once considered her passion. Traversing into the complicated world of theology, Marlene would soon crisscross states in her early twenties, earning a diploma in Youth Ministry (RHEMA Oklahoma), a Bachelor of Arts in Biblical Education (Beulah Heights Bible College Atlanta), A Master of Divinity (M.Div.) and a Master in Leadership from (Luther Rice Seminary in Lithonia, Georgia).
The passion behind the academic pursuit was 100% a response! I was driven entirely by an attempt to thoroughly search out the heart of this great God who had come after me. He had broken through a cloud of deep darkness, to save, set free and reveal Himself (in part) to a young broken teenage girl who had totally despaired of life. But here, perhaps you’d like to read a little more of that story!
The Passover Baby
Give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name (Psalm 86:11)
I have often wished I could meet the man who led me to Jesus. His form, stature and the few but very persuasive words from a sermon he preached are deeply etched in my memory, but not his name. He was a passionate minister who accepted invitations to speak at my local high school. Kaimosi Girls High School was a boarding school in the rural country of Tiriki, Kenya. Since we did not have a church on the school grounds, the faculty always organized to have an itinerant preacher each Sunday to deliver a sermon to the student body.
There was nothing glorified about our preacher-man. He usually wore the same gray suit every time he came. Always on foot—only a Bible in hand. His thick Luhya accent left plenty of room for the girls to make fun of his sermons; sometimes even while he was still preaching. Oh but what he did not know is that my tender fifteen-year-old heart was broken, plowed and ready for his gospel. Torn in hesitation, my palms sweated and my heart pounded. I did on that particular rainy Sunday morning respond to his compelling altar call. “Come.” How my fears troubled my poor soul. In the whisper of my trembling voice to God, I asked in tears. “What if I backslide?” “What if I cannot keep myself pure for you?” “What about my friends, will I lose them all?” The hall we used at the time did not even have windows but my need for a Savior was too strong for me to care. I had walked from the second row to the foot of the stage where I knelt on the cold concrete floor in reverence to God. “I will save you and save your household. I will keep you if you want to be kept.” Those silent words settled on the leaflets of my heart like the morning dew settles on the leaves of a flourishing tree. And that was where I received Jesus for the very first time.
If only the laborer was privy to just how far his work for the master would go, this devout preacher would have gone home encouraged that day. I was now planted in God’s vineyard. A faith in my God that would soon become the only sure thing I had. The diligence to join the devout body of Christian students for prayer at the crack of dawn every morning was now mine—though it was mostly backed by the fear of backsliding and falling away. But by the time I got to my senior year of high school, I would have a surprise I never saw coming. A divine visitation from God! Turns out God had long had his watchful eye over me. Yes, the same teenage girl who knew pretty much nothing about him. And yes, me with a dark secret of a hidden turmoil unraveling in the backdrop of my verdant school life. By this time, I was now leading the student body as the head-girl, actively competing to the national level in public speaking, I was also our toughest chemistry teacher’s choice student to contend against rival schools on scientific ideas he strongly believed could change the world. My faculty was proud to see me featured consistently among the top performing students academically. What none of the students and teachers knew however was that in spite the confidence I exuded, our home had long fallen apart and we were pretty much homeless. The daughter of a well-recognized college professor is how they saw me. But I was coming to school for three month terms with unpaid tuition, little to no toiletries, no pocket money and most times I had nowhere to go when school closed. I told no one. My brokenness had run so deep, that only a few years prior to that, behind closed doors, I had taken a bottle full of hot pink colored pills from my father’s medicine cabinet attempting to take my own life. But here I was, about to be completely mesmerized by a Hebrew God I knew from a distance, and only in word.
My mother was born Sally “Sarah” Nyaboke to Wilkister and Jameson Ogutu. She was born on the doorsteps of a church on Saba-Saba day. Saba-Saba simply means (Seven Seven) in Swahili—the seventh day of the seventh month and the year was nineteen forty-nine (7×7). She later married my father George Stephenson Ongweny, a professor of Geography at Kenya’s leading University of Nairobi. These two settled down in the quaint State House suburbs of Nairobi and started a family. That house was number seven. When the children started coming, a sequence of seven girls was how heaven would answer their desire for children.
God’s answers don’t always satisfy our intellect. While my father and mother unassumingly continued to try for that baby boy–it seemed as though someone else’s will, not theirs was being accomplished. But who was that someone? Hidden in the shadows of this nominal Christian home was a God who was waiting patiently to unveil Himself. A holy cunning left Him completely undetected. He had planted a few seeds in the soil of this baffled frustrated family. Seeds that would take many, many years to begin to germinate out of this dark soil—just in perfect time for His very own purposes. I suppose this great God of the Hebrews who alone knows just how many apples will come from one single seed was satisfied with how he had answered my parents. Oh’ if only the recipient could share in what the giver knows about His gifts! Thank God my mother counted all her blessings-naming them one by one: Jacqueline, Carol, Lorraine, Marlene, Gloria, Linda and Sandra! But what had the Giver of these ‘girl-gifts’ wrapped in each of them? Only time would tell the answer to that question.
I was her fourth out of seven. My mother named me Marlene to honor a wonderful German friend she loved. She had no idea that the aged name she gave me was a seven letter name derived from the name Mary Magdalene—the woman from whom Jesus had cast out seven demons. She also had no idea just how much my own story would begin to mirror that of Mary Magdalene the uniquely restored disciple of Jesus. And so my story of salvation would pick up right there… there in my own obscure dusty boarding school the LORD Jesus had honored the prayers of a handful of devoted born-again young believing girls who called heaven down on my behalf one night without my knowledge. A dramatic response from heaven led to a touch that set me free from demonic oppression in much the same way Jesus had set Mary free. My birth year was seventy-seven, but as it would later turn out—my mother had given birth to me on (Pesach I) a Sunday—the first day of Passover.
God had marked me for Him—but He had watched and superintended my life in silence from a distance. So much so that I never saw myself as the type He could use or call, not even for His lowest work. I was broken, but I was also a certified sinner. The day of my deliverance changed everything! It was the day the God of wonders touched me and unveiled my eyes to His heart that made my heart leap and cling to Him the way Mary Magdalene clung to Jesus outside that empty tomb early that resurrection morning. And from that day on—my heart and His would become practically inseparable.
The supernatural encounters of my high school days turned my world right-side up. I was free! That wasn’t all—Jesus was calling; of all people, me. I still owned nothing and still had nowhere to live, but I now had something I didn’t have before—I had JESUS! And He now had me. The joy was indescribable! He knew my name. He had use for me. Nothing else seemed to matter.
My mother died only two months shy of her forty-seventh birthday. It was a bright early Sunday morning following my own personal water baptism. She too had graciously come to faith in Jesus only a few months prior to her death. I still remember that day we gathered around the YMCA pool to witness her salvation and baptism into God’s family. A very confusing and painful ending to a life that seemed to carry so much promise is how her story ended. Yet, as devastating as that loss would be, God had left us something very special through her… but it was still unfolding.
Seven years following the death of my mother—my father would also breathe his last. At this time, I was now living in Atlanta, enrolled in Bible School, training for ministry. My love for God had by then exceeded my highest joy! Not only had God impressed me with His strength and might, the God of love had won me over with His gentle care for a broken fragile me. So here I was clouded by the weight of my grief, seriously doubting there was much I could offer a God who didn’t always write the story the way I wanted to see it unfold. I now knew His power and ability to heal, to set free—even to raise the dead. But He didn’t. This sovereignty terrified me deeply—yet deep down, I knew—He was THE REAL THING—the ONLY sure thing. After crying myself to sleep almost every night grieving the loss of my father, I heard the gentle whisper of the Holy Spirit say to me “Look up.” My clouded head hung low, but I did. THAT was the moment that my heart began to burn within me to the old encounter, now in the rearview mirror of my youthful soul where God had met me and introduced Himself to me in the most incredible of ways.
When I looked up my eyes opened to something I had not even noticed. Sevens everywhere—an unmistakable pattern God had systematically formed. He had marked me. Oh yes He had. He had chosen me. He had set me apart—for HIS use and He had never let go. I was living in apartment number seven; the building too was building seven, the floor I worked on was the seventh. And everywhere I looked—that’s all I saw it seemed. Perfectly complete in HIM!
And so it goes, that for the last two decades, our Lord God of heaven has pruned, chiseled, grown, fathered, loved on and prepared me for Himself! He does not choose the prepared–God prepares the chosen! THIS is what I was made for. My life’s work is tied to His heart: To reverence a Holy God. To disciple and teach with authentic passion the Words of life and to liberate and set free the captive so that in EVERY possible facet available–we may all worship God as David did. With all our hearts, with all our souls, with all our minds and with all our STRENGTH! But first we must know this God—and I mean (really) know Him intimately. You will find as I did, that He is uncontested, unmatched and more to be desired than any person, place or thing! I owe Him ALL the glory for what HE has done for me and what He is yet to do through me.
Though we are newly launching, we are not declaring a new God. He is the Ancient of Days, the Creator of all things, the Lion of the tribe of Judah—and of whose honor and glory my heart beats and bleeds!