MAF Kenya staff have been paying tribute to a highly respected and much loved partner as Naphtaly Mattah, Director and Founder of Gethsemane Garden Christian Centre (GGCC), was flown home to Mfangano Island on Friday 24 July.

(Photos by Christiaan Haak and Katie Machell)

The inspirational leader passed away on Tuesday 21 July after losing his two year battle with cancer. MAF Pilot Christiaan Haak flew Naphtaly’s coffin accompanied by close family and friends from Nairobi, where he had been receiving hospital care since May, when a MAF flight brought him to the capital. He is honoured by current and former MAF Staff who shared their memories of the inspirational leader who touched many lives and often flew with MAF.

“Naphtaly’s legacy will continue for generations and so will MAF’s commitment to supporting their ministry. It is an honour to know him as a friend and a brother in Christ. The MAF family will continue to lift his family and ministry up in prayer.” Ryan Cuthel

Bookings Supervisor Pamela Yasena shares how, ‘Naphtaly would call out as he entered the Nairobi office and the place would brighten up with his hearty greetings and laughter! He would update us on the happenings at GGCC. You could clearly tell how passionate he was about serving the vulnerable. He loved God, was a man of great faith and he had the Word!’

‘We condole with his dear family and the GGCC fraternity as we take comfort in the knowledge that he is more alive and well than ever, resting in the arms of Jesus. We thank God for his life and the legacy he lives behind. We pray that the work he accomplished in his life, in the way he positively impacted the lives of orphans and the vulnerable in his community and Kenya at large will grow deeper and stronger in the days to come. Fare thee well our friend, fare thee well our relative,’ Pamela said quoting the scripture: Psalm 116:15. Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints.’

Speaking personally and on behalf of MAF, Programme Manager Ryan Cuthel said: ‘MAF Kenya has proudly supported GGCC for many years, flying in visiting teams from the USA who have been involved in bible teaching with the children, solar and other construction projects. My first visit to Mfangano Island and GGCC was in 2006 and I was deeply encouraged and inspired by the vision. 14 years on, much of his vision has been realised and so many lives have been transformed through the ministry of GGCC. Naphtaly’s legacy will continue for generations and so will MAF’s commitment to supporting their ministry. It is an honour to know him as a friend and a brother in Christ. The MAF family will continue to lift his family and ministry up in prayer.’

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“We condole with his dear family and the GGCC fraternity as we take comfort in the knowledge that he is more alive and well than ever, resting in the arms of Jesus. We thank God for his life and the legacy he lives behind.” Pamela Yasena

When Operations Manager Caleb Likhanga transferred from MAF in South Sudan in November 2012, his predecessor highlighted how GGCC was instrumental in spreading the gospel and hope to settlements on the Island of Mfangano – an area devastated, in the early 2000s, by an epidemic of HIV/AIDS. ‘He considered GGCC as the hands and feet of MAF,’ Caleb shares, ‘and judging by the number of American missionaries that came through to visit the project, my feeling was that Naphtaly must be a man who passionately understood his mission, to be able to convince a foreigner from that far to sponsor and come visit!’

‘We talked often when he did bookings for his flights but it was only on 21st June 2019 that I finally met him. We asked him to share with MAF staff during the morning devotion. I can only summarise his sharing as; a man who was so confident about his relationship with the Lord God, who had a deep understanding of the Word of God. He was passionate about sharing the love of Christ with the ‘family’ at the Island.’

‘Naphtally cut an image of a man full of life,’ Caleb continues. ‘Even as I made up follow-up calls for his medevac flight, Naphtaly had a certain hope that the Lord would see him through his treatment in Nairobi and arrange for his return flight home. Unfortunately, the trip back to his temporal home here on earth has been skipped and the Lord arranged to take him on His wings to our eternal home. A great man and God’s servant has rested. I believe he ran a good race and completed successfully. He has left a big gap especially for the family and community at Mfangano.’

For Pilot Christiaan Haak, Mfangano Island was one of the first places he flew as a new pilot in Kenya after transferring from Lesotho. He was glad to be able to do the final flight for Naphtaly. Christiaan reports that there was a great reception at Rusinga airstrip on the Island where so many lives have been transformed through this ministry.

Paying his own tribute, Christiaan said, ‘He was a man with a great vision, strong belief and a heart for the ministry he was running with all the children at Mfangano Island. You could see the kids loved him.’

Christiaan remembers Naphtaly as someone who always had time for others.’When you arrived there he was always waiting for you and made sure people moved along. Even though he must have been a busy man, he was also politically involved in the area and as a senator represented the region, yet he always seemed to have time to sit down and chat.’

Former MAF Kenya Programme Manager Steve Machell and his wife Katie shared their heartfelt tribute, saying: ‘It was our great privilege to meet Naphtaly a number of times over the years we lived in Kenya, and to see first-hand his hard work and commitment to the families he served through his ministry. It was always obvious from a visit to Gethsemane Garden Christian Centre that he put all of his mind, heart and strength into pursuing the vision that God gave him; because of the legacy he leaves through his faith and his determination, we are sure that God will continue to bless and to grow this work. We send our condolences to his family, his colleagues, and all those young people whose lives he has impacted over the years, and even though it will be hard to move forward without him, we pray that we will see many more fruits of his ministry in the years to come.’

The MAF family in Kenya and the wider world sent their love and prayers to Naphtaly’s family at this sad time. Naphtaly is survived by his wife Nerea and their children Joy, Calvary, Zion, Sinai, and Harmony; as well as the wider community of GGCC students and staff.

“A great man and God’s servant has rested. I believe he ran a good race and completed successfully. He has left a big gap especially for the family and community at Mfangano.” Caleb Likhanga