The Truth Is Not Negotiable

Kenyan Journalist Bedan Mbugua ('80) chose prison over compromising his conscience

Bedan Mbugua

“What happened to the sugar?” That was the question posed to 6-year-old Bedan Mbugua (’80) by his mother when she returned home and noticed the bowl was empty. Mbugua and his brothers said they didn’t know, but there was no hiding the evidence on their mouths: little white granules of sugar, a rare commodity in Kenya at the time. Mbugua’s mother was enraged.

“I can’t tolerate lies,” she said, punishing the boys accordingly.

Mbugua remembers this as the moment he became firmly committed to truth-telling.

“From that day on we knew truth wasn’t negotiable,” he said.

Mbugua’s quest for truth led him to become an influential journalist in Kenya, exposing scandals and government corruption throughout the 1980s and ’90s. It didn’t come without a price, however. Mbugua has been threatened, offered bribes, arrested and jailed for his refusal to tolerate lies.

Mbugua’s journalism career got started at Biola. As associate editor of The Chimes in the late ’70s, Mbugua wrote stories that made waves on campus, including a piece titled “God Visits Biola,” in which God toured campus and was dismayed to see a sign on a door that read “Office of Minority Students."

“The word minority,” said Mbugua, “pushed a group of students to an isolated psychological corner.”

The article led to a coffee appointment with Richard Chase, Biola’s president at the time, who congratulated Mbugua on a well-written piece and asked him what he would want the office to be renamed.

“Office of Intercultural Relations,” he replied.

Another article Mbugua wrote about food wastage at Biola and in America led students to cut their waste in the cafeteria and send money to famine-ravaged countries in Africa.

These Biola experiences taught Mbugua that the pen was powerful and, when used well, could cause a society to change or at least examine itself.

Following graduation Mbugua returned to Kenya, where he became editor and publisher of Step, a Youth for Christ publication for young people in Kenya and surrounding countries.

In the mid-’80s he helped start a Christian leadership magazine called Beyond, which became known as an important and courageous voice at a time when the press in Kenya was censored and the one-party government was dictatorial. During the pivotal 1988 elections, Mbugua published articles that exposed government corruption and election fraud.

“Our paper decided to report things as they were,” remembers Mbugua. “No other paper was willing to take such a risk. When Beyond hit streets people rushed for it in the thousands. The printing machines never stopped. … The government started to panic.”

This episode led to Mbugua’s first arrest and imprisonment (for nine months) by a court that took orders directly from the executive arm of the government.

The government’s attempt to silence Mbugua had the opposite effect. In 1993 he started a new weekly paper, People, which continued in the muckraking vein of Beyond. One story exposed the Central Bank of Kenya’s massive theft of public funds. Before it published, Mbugua was offered a bribe from the bank’s director to kill the story.

The man paid Mbugua a visit and carried a briefcase. He opened it to show 5 million Kenya shillings.

“For a moment I didn’t know what to do,” remembers Mbugua. “[His] boldness put me off balance for a few minutes. Finally I looked at him directly with some renewed courage. ‘Look here, first we shall not kill the story! And secondly, my conscience is not for sale!’”

Surprised by this response, the man closed his suitcase and left. The story ran the next day and launched a public outcry. The bank was forced to close.

The more Mbugua’s People exposed wrongdoing, the more the government was antagonized. After publishing an article in 1994 about a controversial Kenyan court ruling and suggesting direct interference from the Kenyan president, Mbugua was arrested for a second time, along with the article’s writer. He was given two options: sign a courtwritten apology that claimed the article was false, or face jail time.

Because the first option “aimed at destroying my credibility as an editor, I chose the second option,” said Mbugua.

Imprisoned for five months in Manyani prison — a former British colonial detention camp — Mbugua was forced to work in a quarry breaking up rocks every day except Sunday. He and fellow inmates were fed beans mixed with pieces of broken glass, which led them to go on a hunger strike.

Life after his harrowing experience in prison was challenging for Mbugua, who was left weak and lacking confidence as he sought to rebuild his life.

“Prison life had taken much from me,” said Mbugua, who was unemployed for a time and left to raise three children on his own.

Though it changed his life forever, Mbugua says his work with People was “the greatest fulfillment of my career.”

Mbugua ended his journalistic career working for Kenya’s largest media house, Royal Media, from which he retired in 2013. Today he’s involved in several entrepreneurial ventures, including organic farming and a faith-based company, Herbal Garden, that manufactures Aloe vera health products. He also speaks regularly at international conferences. In the past two years has spoken in Geneva and India, and will this year speak in South Africa.

He lives in Nairobi with his wife and is involved in a church, Nairobi Chapel, where his son has been worship director. Mbugua frequently speaks to churches on topics ranging from corruption to environmentally sustainable development.

Mbugua has seen a lot of change in Kenya; he’s been a catalyst for some of it. Today, the Kenyan press is free and a new constitution ensures multiple centers of power with many checks and balances. The economy has been growing and education and infrastructure have improved.

Through all he’s experienced as part of Kenya’s history, Mbugua says his faith has carried him. He’s grateful to his mother for instilling Christian faith in him from a young age — she read him Bible stories every night — and he’s also grateful for his time at Biola.

“Biola prepared me very well,” said Mbugua, who likened Biola’s biblically centered education to a yardstick by which to judge the world’s values. Without the strengthening and nourishing of his soul that he received at Biola, Mbugua says “I would have been broken down long ago.”

- Brett McCracken


Writing On The Wall

Josephine (Dayco, '03) Lock shines a light with her art, writing — even graffiti

Josephine Lock

Josephine (Dayco, ’03) Lock stared at her computer screen, perplexed. She had just emailed her boss at an Australia-based engineering firm to ask about the time of an upcoming meeting, and the answer that came back made no sense: “Tomorrow arvo. Ta.”

Was this a typo? Some kind of strange abbreviation? After trying in vain to figure it out, she wrote back for clarification — and picked up her first of many pieces of Australian slang.

“It’s like learning another language,” Lock said. “‘Arvo’ is ‘afternoon,’ and ‘ta’ is short for ‘thanks.’ As if ‘thanks’ isn’t short enough.”

Today, four years after a career opportunity put her on a one-way flight to Australia, Lock has now become fully immersed in her new culture — a process that she has documented on her blog, “Becoming Aussie” (where, incidentally, she also maintains a slang dictionary). During that time, she has also become an author, a wife, a (legal) graffiti artist and a soon-to-be documentary filmmaker, all while trying to serve as a light for Christ in a largely nonreligious setting.

Her international journey is one that’s seen the clear guiding of God, she said.

After graduating from Biola with an English degree, the California native had explored several opportunities to live abroad — including a creative writing
graduate program in Scotland and a teaching position in China — but the timing or finances never panned out. Then, while working in marketing for the Southern California offices of GHD, a temporary position opened at the engineering firm’s head corporate offices in Australia. Lock sensed God leading her to apply, even though she felt a bit out of her depths and wasn’t sure about moving to a place where she didn’t know anyone.

“From that point on, I had such peace about it,” she said. “I ended up getting an interview, they called me back, and I got the job.”

Over the next year, Lock worked to help refresh the firm’s international brand and implement new writing and visual style guides — a massive project, she said. Within the year, she also met and married her husband, Matt, who happened to be her boss’ stepson. That, of course, gave her a reason to stay in Australia even after her temporary position came to an end in 2011.

Since then, she’s worked in a variety of projects and freelance writing and editing positions. In 2012, she fulfilled a longtime dream by publishing The Old Testament Obituaries, a book of original poems and drawings that explore the deaths of biblical characters such as King Eglon and Lot’s wife. And through her husband, a successful motion graphics animator, she’s also begun to hone her skills with a spray can, as together they create graffiti art throughout Sydney.

“People might think, ‘How are you a Christian and doing graffiti?’ But they actually have legal walls,” she said. “There are designated walls for graffiti where anyone can paint. … You have one day, and the next day it could get painted over. So you’re basically there to take a picture, and then it’s done. You make all of that effort, and then it’s gone.”

a wall with graffiti art

Within the graffiti community in Sydney, the Locks have built a close friendship with Matthew “Mistery” Peet, an influential graffiti writer and hip hop artist who also serves as a pastor and youth worker. The couple is currently producing a documentary feature film about the artist, whom they’ve been filming for the past couple of years. Lock said she hopes the project will expose more people to his work and to his faith — particularly in a culture where most people don’t seem to see a need for Jesus and are instead fixated on “living the dream.”

“Everything is ‘It’s all good, mate,’” she said of the typical Australian mentality. “It’s all about mate-ship, which is really interesting, because I feel like if they understood that that’s what your relationship with Jesus is like, they’d go for it. They’d be the most hardcore Christians. But they don’t feel like they need it.”

As she continues her process of “becoming Aussie,” Lock said she aims to live out her faith and serve as a light wherever God leads next.

“God is so faithful,” she said. “He just makes opportunities and he opens doors. We just have to keep walking through them, trusting that he’s going to be there.”

- Jason Newell


Preaching and Permaculture

Laurence Martins ('04) shares Jesus and builds sustainable farm communities in the Amazon

Laurence Martins

Brazil is a country in transition. The fifth biggest nation on earth has seen an economic boom in recent decades, rising to become the world’s seventh largest economy. Brazil’s emergence on the global stage will be spotlighted over the next few years by its hosting of the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics, events that will showcase how far the largest country in South America has come.

But what about Brazil’s future? Is the country’s fast rise building towards a flashy global showcase, or a sustainable future for its 200 million citizens? That’s a question of concern for Laurence Martins (’04), a pastor from the Amazonas state in northern Brazil. He founded an NGO called Origem (origin) committed to socio-environmental transformation through education, community planning and something called permaculture — an approach to ecological design focused on sustainable architecture and self-maintained agricultural systems modeled after natural ecosystems.

Based out of Manaus, the capital city of Amazonas, Martins — who serves as lead pastor of the First Foursquare Church of Manaus — founded Origem out of a belief that the Christian gospel “isn’t about saving us from the misery of this earth and taking us to a heaven disconnected from all of creation.”

Rather, he believes in “a gospel of transformation” that leads to a kingdom lifestyle here and now.

“We teach a kingdom that ‘comes’ and brings truth concerning a better way to use the land we are given, a healthier way to deal with the waste we produce and a better way to live in community so we can get ready now for the heaven and the earth we are inheriting,” he said.

Martins said this outlook is challenging in Brazil because it’s not a very future focused country.

“Instant gratification is part of being Brazilian, and in the north of Brazil it is about ‘What will we do to get through the day?’” he said. “People are not prone to planning or being disciplined in order to build a better lifestyle.”

Origem is experimenting with ways to combat this mentality. The young organization,
which has enlisted volunteer help from two local churches, has recently focused on jungle farmers who have opted to make easy money by cutting down trees for charcoal rather than cultivating crops (such as Yucca, Manioca, bananas and pineapples) for the long term. Martins hopes to educate these rural farming communities in a sustainable lifestyle and show them that there are better options for income than charcoal production.

Laurence Martins talking to people outside

Over the past two years Origem has worked with architects and urban planners to help develop one particular village of about 70 families to be economically stable and environmentally sustainable. One emphasis has been educating the farmers in organic agriculture, for which there is a young but growing market in the city. Origem also partnered with the government to bring electricity to the community, and plans this year to build a schoolhouse and health clinic.

In addition to his work with Origem, Martins is a busy husband, father of two and pastor. He’s done work with the Willow Creek Association in Brazil and since 2007 has been involved in Willow’s annual global leadership summit for pastors and Christian leaders in Manaus.

Martins said his experience at Biola has helped him greatly in ministry, enabling him to bring a broader view of the kingdom of God, and a greater appreciation for serious biblical thinking, to his congregation.

The evangelical movement in Brazil is at a record high, with nearly a quarter of the population declaring themselves evangelical Protestant. However, Martins wonders whether Brazil’s evangelical movement — much of it infused with prosperity theology and a “Santa Claus-like God” — could do more to confront issues facing everyday Brazilians, such as violence, corruption, social health and education.

Martins notes that many outsiders perceive evangelicals in Brazil as alienated and uninterested in becoming involved with social change.

But if there are many other evangelicals like Martins — working tirelessly to win souls but also transform communities for a sustainable future — that’s a perception that will likely change.

- Brett McCracken


Ready for Chapter Two

Wes Wasson ('89) reached the heights of Silicon Valley success — then left to help those in deepest poverty

Wes Wasson

Not long ago, Wes Wasson (’89) did something that would have been unthinkable to many people in his position.

At the height of a career in senior executive leadership at a multibillion-dollar technology
corporation, he decided to walk away and follow God into the unknown. The Lord was calling him, he believed, to redirect his time and talents to a new venture aimed at bringing people out of extreme poverty — even if he wasn’t exactly sure what that venture might be.

“Whatever I’ve been doing with my career has been building up to something,” Wasson remembers explaining to his CEO at Citrix, where he served as senior vice president and chief marketing officer. “There’s going to be a Chapter Two. I don’t know exactly how it’s going to come together, but Chapter Two is going to involve taking what I know — which is how to build and grow companies and technology — and applying it somehow to poverty alleviation.”

Since transitioning out of his role at Citrix in May 2013, Wasson has been working to research and explore opportunities for a “social startup” that uses technology to address systemic issues related to poverty in developing nations. While he still hasn’t nailed down all the specifics, it’s safe to say that if Chapter Two is anything like Chapter One, exciting things are in store.

Wasson’s remarkable career in marketing and technology got its start when he was still a teenager. In high school, he and a friend founded their own technology company, Elysium Software, just as personal computers were just starting to come into vogue.Together, they wrote “Quick TASC” (short for “Truck & Auto Sales Calculator”), a program to help automobile dealers do pricing.

“We sold one copy to an auto dealer in Arizona,” Wasson said. “[That] just about paid for all the floppy discs and business cards we bought.”

The humble beginnings eventually led to great success. After earning a business degree from Biola and spending some time in a marketing position in Southern California, Wasson followed his love for the technology industry up to California’s Silicon Valley. There, he worked his way into senior leadership positions for such technology giants as McAfee and Sun Microsystems.

In early 2005, just two months after he joined a startup company called NetScaler as vice president of worldwide marketing, the company was sitting down with Citrix to negotiate terms of a $325 million acquisition. Wasson stayed on at Citrix, eventually taking over marketing for the company. There, it was his role to help set the vision and strategy that helped grow Citrix from a single-product company to a multibillion-dollar industry leader.

By 2011, a Bay Area News Group survey had named him the top executive leader within all large companies in Silicon Valley.

And then came God’s call to leave.

“When God works in our lives, I think it’s often like what he did with Abram,” Wasson said. “He didn’t tell him, ‘Here are the next 10 things I want you to do. ‘He said, ‘Leave your country and come to the land I’ll show you.’ I feel like that’s kind of where I am.”

Over the past year, Wasson has been traveling, meeting with innovators who are working to address poverty in different parts of the world, and researching opportunities to bring technology and poverty-alleviation together. On a recent trip to Rwanda, for example, he was struck by the high rates of cell phone ownership among people who lack running water or electricity in their homes.

“They’ve all got mobile phones,” he said. “And now you’ve got this wave of new technology, with the cloud, with social networking, with the ability to connect people in ways that were never possible before. There have got to be some ways to … combine some of these interesting phenomena together and help to change the dynamics in some of these areas.”

He’s also been active in his role as chairman of the board of a nonprofit organization called Elevate Africa, which provides funding, technology and mentoring to local entrepreneurs in underdeveloped countries to help them support their families and communities. In April, he’ll travel with the organization to Burkina Faso in West Africa to meet with small-business owners, giving them such tools as business cards, branded materials and custom-developed Android tablets.

Wes Wasson

While his desire to alleviate poverty has grown through his involvement in Elevate Africa and through his international business travels over the years, Wasson also credits his time at Biola with planting seeds in him early on. As a student in the Student Missionary Union, he spearheaded an effort to raise about $100,000 to bring a 34-student team to India — including his future wife, Heidi (Robinson, ’89). The team spent more than two months partnering with local groups to help with reading skills, teach Bible lessons and provide

health care.

In the leprosy colonies and street-side clinics, his eyes were first opened to the depths of global poverty, he said.

“I went over expecting the slums to be like the ghettos of New York that I’d seen, or innercity L.A.,” he said. “You get there and you really see poverty and it just blows you away. You think, ‘How do hundreds of millions of people live like this?’ … But I looked in their eyes and I saw that these are people who have the same capacity, dreams, hopes, loves, desires as I do. There’s no difference.”

Now, as he embarks on Chapter Two of his career, Wasson said he is excited to see how God will use his background and knowledge to improve the lives of those who are poor and suffering.

“I don’t know where it all leads, but I am convinced that God makes all things work together for good for those who put their trust in him,” he said. “No matter where we are in life, or how unspectacular we may think we are compared to our heroes, we all have the opportunity to live a life of spectacular adventure. The real fun begins when we stop working so hard to discover some secret formula for our own happiness, and focus instead on loving and serving others. I’m still working on that, but I’ve discovered that when you get it right, there’s no greater joy.”

- Jason Newell


A Lens Speaks All Languages

Takaki Nakadai ('08) uses film, photography and business to connect with people around the world

Takaki Nakadai

As an international student from Japan, Takaki Nakadai (’08) didn’t always get the highest grades while in Biola’s visual journalism program. But what he may have lacked in GPA, he made up for in go-getterness — by networking with as many professionals as he could.

“I wasn’t a good student at all. Doing journalism in a second language is very difficult,” he said. “But I didn’t miss any opportunity [to connect with people].”

By the time he graduated, Nakadai estimates he had reached out to potential employers or industry contacts with more than 1,000 phone calls, emails and personal introductions. And the tenacity paid off. After graduating, he landed great opportunities as a photojournalist, doing work for such outlets as ESPN, where he covered the X Games, basketball and baseball.

Today, back in his home country of Japan, Nakadai’s “try anything” determination has led him to succeed across a whole range of industries — business, filmmaking, journalism, consulting, and operating a production studio with his wife, Ai Mei Yu (’06).

He does a little bit of everything, but in all of it what he enjoys most is the opportunity to connect with diverse people all around the world.

“I’m trying to travel a lot,” he said. “I like flying to different countries and meeting people. I like having projects that aren’t only in Japan. Distance-wise, I fly more than 100,000 miles a year.”

A major part of his current work is with Verandah Studio, which he and his wife founded a few years ago. The company of about 10 staff has done work on a wide variety of projects, such as commercials and promotional films for leading Japanese car companies, a documentary video for a major recruiting firm and graphic design for computer companies. Nakadai brings his skills with production and the camera. Yu, who studied art at Biola, does post-production and graphic design.

On top of the work with Verandah, Nakadai has had his hands in several other ventures. He’s consulted for a leading Japanese retail corporation, working to establish connections in America. He’s done fashion photography, which opened the door for him to negotiate a significant business deal between two fashion companies in Singapore and Japan.

He’s also produced several short films, and is currently wrapping up work on a full-length feature film that he hopes to submit to the Sundance Film Festival later this year. The mockumentary-style comedy follows a wannabe Internet radio DJ who’s struggling to gain a following for his work.

As a Biola graduate, Nakadai said he is particularly thankful for the biblical foundation he received during his college years. The doctrinal training helps him as a Christian in Japan, where he is part of just 2 percent of the population that professes faith in Christ.

“In Japan, if I say I am a Christian, people think that’s weird,” he said. “People either hate me or people get interested.”

He’s also grateful for the lasting friendships that he built with fellow Biola journalism students and faculty, he said. In the years after graduating, he’s returned to speak in Biola journalism classes, and has had several opportunities to travel with former classmates.

“Those friends really matter,” Nakadai said. “We can still talk about how to be holy, or how to be journalists in this world. Or we can simply learn about different cultures, we can share devotions, we can pray for each other. Those things are really important, because most likely, if you become a journalist, you will be alone when you go into the field.”

While he doesn’t do much journalistic work these days, Nakadai has used his background in photojournalism to document recent natural disasters in Asia and bring relief to those in need. Shortly after Typhoon Haiyan devastated the Philippines in November 2013, he traveled to the country to capture images and conduct interviews. Upon his return, he shared his work with relief organizations in Japan to help raise awareness, spoke at universities and was even interviewed on NHK, one of Japan’s largest TV stations.

Both with his films and with his photography, his camera has helped him to do what he loves most, he said: meet people, start conversations and tell stories.

“I still think photography is the best way to communicate with people,” he said. “Without knowing their languages, I can talk to people. If I have a camera, I can take people there.”

– Jason Newell