History of the National Prayer Breakfast

By Gabriel Achayo, Country Coordinator, Africa Youth Leadership Forum

The 20th Kenya National Prayer Breakfast is happening today, June 7, 2023. This event traces its origin to two points in time.

First, around 2000 years ago, when Jesus of Nazareth resurrected from the dead and met his disciples on the shores of the Sea of Galilee for a breakfast meeting.  In that small gathering, he encouraged them to reach out to others with the message of love and care.

Second, it was during the Second World War, when the US had just joined it. At the time, President Roosevelt commissioned his vice president to convene a small committee to oversee the US’s involvement in the conflict. Some of the committee members from Congress, who had grown accustomed to prayer meetings to ask God for wisdom in their line of duty, opted to incorporate prayer into their committee meetings. That committee would meet until the end of the war, and prayer was part of each meeting. Out of this sprouted small groups in the Senate and the House, groups that began meeting once a week for prayer and fellowship later on, in a more organized way. Those meetings have continued until today.

In 1952, when Dwight David Eisenhower got elected as the US President, a friend of his – a senator who was quite active in those small groups—prompted him to be involved, a move that hatched the plan to do a National Prayer Breakfast that would not only involve the Congress but other arms of the US government. In 1953, the first National Prayer Breakfast was held at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, DC, with 400 in attendance. Since that time, the National Prayer Breakfast has continued without a break.

With time, the idea spread to Europe, Asia, Latin America, and eventually Africa. Some of the global leaders that embraced it in those early years were the Queen of the Netherlands, Haile Selassie from Ethiopia, and the Lebanese diplomat and former President of the UN General Assembly, Charles Malik.

In Kenya, it got traction in 1986. A small group would gather in the office of former Cabinet Member Hon. Isaac Omollo Okero to encourage each other in their faith and fellowship. That gathering would later migrate to the Boulevard Hotel, marking the first of several groups that started forming thereafter.

Still in 1986, after Hon. Stephen Kalonzo Musyoka, then a junior minister, got invited to attend that year’s US National Prayer Breakfast, he and other Kenyan leaders, including the then Speaker of the National Assembly, Hon. Moses Keino, began to meet periodically with the Boulevard Group. Professor Wangari Maathai, Hon. Musikari Kombo, Hon. Sam Poghisio, and the Rt. Hon. Raila Odinga also got to participate from time to time.

According to a 2019 Standard newspaper report, “In 1988, Speaker Keino attended the US Breakfast and got intrigued by how political competitors and non-church leaders could gather for a prayer event.  After influencing the then-President, Hon. Daniel Moi, to attend the event in early 1990, Keino began luring his parliamentary friends to start a fellowship group. But the event was short-lived thanks to the heated turbulence of multi-party democracy.”

By the late 1990s, other countries in East Africa had started following in the footsteps of the US. Uganda led the way in 1998 by holding its first National Prayer Breakfast.

In Kenya, in 2002, after the election of a new President and the formation of a new parliament, a new Bunge Fellowship was formed. That fellowship, along with other small breakfast groups, decided to collaborate to help sponsor Kenya’s first National Prayer Breakfast with the then Foreign Minister, Hon. Stephen Kalonzo Musyoka, becoming the first chairperson.

The Standard goes on to say, “The bottom line is the fact that the prayer event is not a preserve of Christians, Muslims, or Hindus, but for the nation.  The main motive is to ensure men and women in leadership owe their privileges and responsibilities to God.”

The patrons of the Kenya National Prayer Breakfast are the two Speakers of the National Assembly and the Senate. The Bunge Fellowship group is co-chaired by Hon. Sam Chepkonga, MP, National Assembly, and Hon. Dan Maanzo, Senator.

Over the last several years, the Kenya National Prayer Breakfast has carved out a reputation for celebrating reconciliation and providing a platform where the entire leadership of the country can meet under the same tent with Jesus as the guest of honor.


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