An American Martyr for Kenya

Father John Kaiser's Witness for Human Rights and an African Constitutional Vote

WHAT KIND OF FUTURE? Students wait for food at the Stara School and rescue center in Kibera slum in Nairobi, Kenya, last August.
WHAT KIND OF FUTURE? Students wait for food at the Stara School and rescue center in Kibera slum in Nairobi, Kenya, last August. (photo: CNS photo/Thomas Mukoya, Reuters)

I write this column with mixed emotions. With the vote yesterday on a new constitution that would decriminalize child-killing and enshrine bigotry, the beautiful and faith-filled people of Kenya face yet another deadly blow from their government and ours. My first emotion is one of dread.

My cousin, Father John Kaiser, was assassinated by the Kenyan government in 2000 for supporting the rights of Kenya’s marginalized poor. He loved the Kenyan people and was martyred while trying to protect them and advocate on their behalf in the face of a violent, corrupt and greedy government. This impending pro-abortion constitution would have grieved him greatly.

Until now, Kenya’s laws, despite the corruption of the government, have respected the right to life of every human person. Unborn human beings have always been protected as equal persons.

But now, my government and my president are spending $23 million to lobby the starving Kenyan people, tempting them with promises of aid and food, in an effort to impose our way of life, our disdain for unborn children, on a culture that historically welcomes children and family as an unmitigated gift.

The pro-abortion Obama administration knows money talks with politicians, and it is happy to keep Kenyans in the dark about the horror this will bring. Decriminalized homicide has devastated first-world countries.

Cultural commentators have long spoken of the rise of the Western world’s “walking wounded”: those millions negatively impacted by materialism and the sexual revolution. Father John saw this on his visits back to the United States. He couldn’t wait to get back to Kenya.

Are we so eager to see our fate played out in Kenya? Americans have witnessed the collapse of the family, the skyrocketing divorce rate, exploding teen suicide and pregnancy rates, and the increasing prevelance of sexually transmitted diseases. Here, heartbreak is the norm.

America is once again engaged in the enslavement of Africans, denying their personhood and putting a price on their heads.

This constitution didn’t come out of the abyss. I was hardly surprised when I first heard about it many months ago. I have heard of the plight of the Kenyan people my whole life. 

Father John, the man who brought my mother home to the Church simply by loving her and handing her a book by G.K. Chesterton, was a Mill Hill missionary priest there for 36 years.

When he came home every few years to renew his visa and visit family, I would get to see the man behind the letters. Always writing of his people, the Kiisi, then the Kikuyu at Maela refugee camp and, later, the Massai, Father John grew his love for these people in us. 

He publicly advocated for them in the face of the tyrannical Kenyan government. Specifically, he testified against President Daniel arap Moi and a member of his inner circle, Julius Sunkuli. Father John said that Moi and his wife were behind the government instigation of tribal warfare that was devastating the tribes to whom Father Kaiser was a missionary. He also testified in court accusing Sunkuli of raping and impregnating young girls in Father John’s parish. 

In representing his parishioners, Father John fought for the rights of all people, apolitically. He lived the life of a missionary priest, not succumbing to the oft-held misnomer that “poverty” refers only to monetarily impoverished people. He seamlessly ministered to all people who cannot speak for themselves, whether they are marginalized Kenyans or marginalized unborn children.

While home, Father John would speak to his sister of the shameful way that America was bankrolling the imposition of the culture of death in Kenya. The outsourcing of contraception and abortion on this burgeoning Christian culture scandalized him and threatened his flock. 

During those brief visits in the U.S., Father Kaiser would also speak around the country on behalf of Father Paul Marx and Human Life International, an international pro-life missionary organization. His life’s witness spoke to the truth of the Catholic faith: that advocating for the personhood of all, especially the innocent unborn, is intrinsically tied up in the call for social justice. 

In the 1990s, his trips home were more tasking, as he witnessed Americans increasingly seduced by materialism and the contraceptive mentality. From Africa, his letters grew more worrisome, telling us of the dangers he was facing in retribution for his outspoken advocacy for the rights of the abused and oppressed.

In August of 2000, when he was months away from testifying in front of the World Court, Father John was executed with a shotgun to the back of his head, his body left on the side of a rural road in Naivasha. 

I opened this article saying that I have mixed emotions when it comes to the vote on the new Kenyan constitution. I began with dread, but on thinking about Father John, his great faith and his rare ability to love to the point of martyrdom, I know that Kenyans have a great advocate in heaven. Not only is he powerful for the Kenyan people as a symbol of justice and strength, giving voice to their oppression, he is a martyr. His prayers are powerful. His agony in facing death, which Christopher Goffard detailed in his award-winning L.A. Times series on Father John, is truly a reflection of Christ’s agony in the Garden and submission to the Father’s holy will in death.  Father John was criticized for wanting to be a martyr, but it is clear he knew that his was the way of the cross, leading to Calvary. 

Now, in the location where Moi and Sunkuli had hoped this upset for human rights would end, Kenyans gather to take a stand against tyranny, injustice and crimes against human rights.

Please, join me in praying for Father John’s intercession on behalf of his beloved Kenya. Father John would not have stayed silent. Let us storm heaven with our prayers that all human beings may be protected as persons everywhere — most especially at this time in Kenya.

Johanna Dasteel is American Life League’s senior congressional liaison.

She travels the country working for the recognition of all human beings as persons under the law.


L.A. Times article, Part 1

L.A. Times article, Part 2

L.A. Times article, Part 3