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John Rupert Barnes

April 9, 2008



Additional memories of Rupert Barnes



Daudi’s Tribute to His Father

The blessed life of Mutiso John Rupert has come to that special place of discontinuity.  The memory of his gentleness and excitedness is what we are left with. A week ago he wrote these words –

     “In spite of the shortness of time, life is wonderfully good. I feel continual gratitude for all the love and care I get, and not just from other people. This is the hymn of thanksgiving I recite many times a day: Thanks for all your love and care and for the beauty of your face in flowers and forests, fields and forms of humankind and beasts. Thanks for families fellowship and friends. Thanks for the fullness of your grace and for each step and every breath that lead me to a blessed death. May you all be blessed abundantly as I have been blessed.”  

          ~~  Mutiso Kalai (John-Rupert Barnes)

He was dearly loved.

          ~~  Daudi Malcolm Xavier Barnes

                2nd son of John Rupert Barnes Mutiso wa Kali

Rupert Barnes! What a blith spirit of a man. With his clipped accent and star-studded eyes behind coke-bottle eye glasses he did not cut a handsome figure, but it was his physical and spiritual energy that transformed everything.


Rupert and I became good friends and colleagues when we both were first assigned to the Development Office. We met as a team for 10 days getting ready for our fund-raising drive, but Rupert was uncertain about his place in this universe. After the plan was a consensus and the assignments made, then everyone got ready to “get out the door.” Everyone, except Rupert!


Wouldn’t you know, he and I were assigned to each other for accountability purposes. I couldn’t get out the door until he was ready to go. My instructions were, “Stay here until Barnes is ready to go.” It was another five days of praticing the pitch before Barnes was convinced he might be able to do this; Lord only knows that the pitch and I now were one. It was a reluctant two-by-two that left 4750 No. Sheridan the next morning.


As I recall, as we got into the taxi to the airport, Rupert was still rehearsing his pitch and still asking me for reassurance. Then the miracle happened — if indeed it was a miracle, but Rupert Barnes became the wild man of development. Part of the accountability structure was for each team of two to call each other every day. Rupert stopped calling the second day we were out. Finally, I had a local colleague in his community flag him down long enough to call me. “Rupert, what the hell are you doing?” “Oh, Pastor Bill, I was making evening calls.” “That’s wonderful. How’s it going?” “Extraordinarily well. My last appointment for the night was at midnight!”


From then on it was all down hill to success. I don’t know how donors put up with his eccentricities. However, he inspired in me a desire to make a few midnight calls of my own. It’s amazing how dedication transforms us. I was privileged to have a small hand in “getting him out the door.” The rest was history. For being a part of his flights of fancy, I’ll forever be inspired.

          ~~  Pastor Bill Salmon

Oh, Pastor Bill,  What a story!  I can just close my eyes and see the picture that you have “painted”!  I was gifted with your efforts at supporting and encouraging John Rupert in the early days. I did development with him in Kenya. What I remember is the briefcase that he took everywhere with him – up country in Kenya, on development calls, into town, on visits to friends – everywhere!  In the brief case was underwear, socks, a razor, comb,and toothbrush  – all the things you would need if you were stuck somewhere overnight. The humorous part was that one or more of the items could come spilling out on the floor or in John Rupert’s lap at any time. And they did!  What a trip! Isn’t this a wonderful way to honor a dear colleague and rehearse our common memory at the same time.  I love it!  And he would too.  We are all loved,

Mutiso John Rupert Barnes created events wherever he went.  He is a Man of the Universe and Child of God! Mutiso, we’ll miss your presence but your energy and spirit live on in us!  Thank you for being in our lives!

          ~~  Nancy Lanphear

John Rupert Barnes was a man who walked his talk. He believed that you could go down to the river bed and walk from Kamweleni to Machakos and hold little town meetings with the mamas that would be there washing clothes, and talking together. He would talk about maize and the types that were being grown and how effective the new brands were against the old ones.  He would look up at the sky and tell you if it was going to rain or not, and then of course since in Machakos it seemed only to rain two weeks every year or so, a story would be told of the rainy seasons. Such an amazing man with such a trusting spirit for the common person’s wisdom. Such a soul will be missed by many and the stories of him will go on and on.

          ~~  Evelyn Kurihara Philbrook



We lived in the house that JRB built in Kamweleni. He had purchased some land down the hill from the training center and built a round house with concrete and local mud. It had a window, door, and metal roof. He built a water tank and had gutters all around the house. There was always a snake up in the gutters. First, we covered the floors with a powder and sprayed something that killed what seemed like hundreds of scorpions and other bugs. We got a 3/4 bed made and there was a shelf with our altar. It was our home and we felt safe and at home there. There was never enough rain to even somewhat fill the water tank, but the house and tank were sturdy and long lasting. I had heard some time ago that he was returning to Kenya to live his last days and have imaged him in that home of his.  His neighbors,  those from which he bought the land, adored him, like family. I hope he is in a peaceful place where he is respected for the greatness that he has been. My deep sympathy to the family and especially to the 3 sons from my 3 sons.

“Where Soul Can Create Dance, Healing Begins.”

          ~~   Judi White












Memories from colleagues

Rupert’s passing was both expected and unexpected in that he was suffering from irreversible pulmonary fibrosis (probably all those dusty roads in Kenya where he hitch-hiked from one place to another). In any event, while his physical suffering was increasing, I guess his heart just said “enough” and he died quite suddenly in the home of Pensie Alexander, an old friend and farming neighbor from his early Kenya days.

It was his wish to die in Kenya and when he returned there from the USA and UK in March this year everyone knew that it would probably be his last of many returns to his chosen home.  His wish was to be buried at Kamweleni, one of the Kenya projects started by the Institute of Cultural Affairs during the 1980’s.  When Rupert finally “settled” from his mendicant life-style, it was to Kamweleni where he continued to engage in the community and in his passionate dedication to local farmers and schools.

Rupert was a frequent visitor to the US (and to Portland, San Francisco and here in Durango) where Abednego, Daudi and Jonathan live along with five grandchildren who all enjoyed his company during his annual sojourns through the US.  As many of you know he made the most of his visits and kept in touch with colleagues from the east coast to the west coast. While in Durango he was active in St. Marks Episcopal church where he became a member.  St. Marks became a supporter of the schools in Kamweleni.


As the person who married Rupert Barnes in 1967 on the same day we arrived at the doorstep of the Ecumenical Institute/Order Ecumenical, I think I can say for both of us that we would have had it no other way even though our “ways” separated.  His spirit was wide and deep, centered and tortured, clear and convoluted; indeed one of God’s wild ones!

 “This ultimate stage of our spiritual existence is called Silence… Every person, after completing his service in all labors, reaches finally the highest summit of endeavor, beyond every labor, where he no longer struggles or shouts, where he ripens fully in silence, indestructibly, eternally, with the entire Universe.” Nikos Kazantzakis The Saviors of God

             ~~   Linda Rolfing Barnes



During the Kawangware HDP he was very present to “all is possible” and went about his daily life to illustrate that it was true. There was the time he decided to get some grade cows for the Kawangware Urban Farm.  Someone up-country offered us two pregnant cows if we would come to get them.  Of course, this did not stop John Rupert!  He and Christopher Foya (a vet tech) left on their trip (likely by hitch-hiking) and made plans to come back by train with the cows. Fred happened to be giving the witness at House Church that evening and told the story of the escapade with mention of many other events that featured John Rupert.  We all knew of his wildness and creativity but were never sure if the event would actually happen. By the time Fred completed his witness, half of the group around the table was ready to meet the train at midnight to complete the journey of the two cows and walk the several miles back to Kawangware with the animals in tow.mThe train was coming down the track and all were excited!  It arrived on the “other” side of the tracks that meant that the cows (one very pregnant) and a new-born calf would have to come across many tracks, stepping over the switching cables that were a foot off the ground. And, if that were not enough of a challenge, ANOTHER TRAIN WAS COMING DOWN THE TRACK! They all got across safely, requiring some aggressive pushing of the cows from the rear, and began the journey back to the Farm. The calf was carried across the tracks and put in the back of the Morris Minor where he licked the driver’s neck in obvious gratitude for not being required to walk with the others. Great stories were told of the journey as they walked along in the dark in such wild excitement.  And to this day, those stories are still very much alive for those involved.

Oh, what stories we can tell about this unique human being. He spent some time with us in Kapini, the Human Development Project just north of Lusaka in Zambia. He had a passion for Zimbabwe so would hitch a ride from Lusaka to Harare where he used to stay in a small  ‘English’ style Private Hotel and from there go out to a village project we were working with. I remember having tea with him in this hotel when I travelled to Zimbabwe with him. He must have been in deep despair over what has been happenning in that country recently.

When he first arrived in Kapini he wanted to know where the vacuum cleaner was so that he could vacuum the room he was to share with Tommy. I produced a broom and said ‘This is it’. (We depended on a generator for power and only ran it for lights from dusk till 10:00pm). We celebrate his completed life and the wonderful passion he brought to everything he did. Grace and peace
~~  John & Elaine Telford

Yes, there must be a multitude of stories that allow us to remember the intersection of each of our lives with the great human being  to whom JWM lovingly referred as “the Wild Man.”  Rupert was so passionate and committed to his vision for Africa’s renewal and the Order’s vision for local community renewal that he often seemed a bit “off the wall,” hence the affectionate moniker. Joe and I were just remembering, with deep thanks, our dear friend and colleague:

  • In Kenya after the Kawangware Consult, Rupert took us and others out into the bush on a Rupert-made safari. The HDP Consult in November 1976 coincided with the meeting of the World Council of Churches in Nairobi, and many of our clergy on site attended.  Joe and I were invited by Bishop Jim Mathews to join him on an excursion to the famous Treetops resort. However,  there was no way we could swing that financially and we declined.  When Rupert heard about this he quickly arranged an even better alternative. He did the driving in some kind of bush jeep and took us into what we were convinced was totally unexplored terrain.  The earth seemed heretofore untrodden, save by animals — whose gentle presence there in a natural habitat was more than breathtaking to all of us.  I began to understand Rupert’s deep connection to this part of planet earth.

  • Our last in-depth time with Rupert was about 15 years ago when he simply “showed up” in the Boston area, where we were living.  Actually I think he had been visiting with Abednego who was somewhere nearby, perhaps in New Hampshire.  We invited him for dinner, and he became like that proverbial man who came to dinner and stayed for almost a week.  During those several days of long, late-into-the-evening conversations, Rupert expostulated passionately on his agricultural dream for Africa, especially for Kenya.  He also spoke at great length of his love for his three sons.

As Joe and I celebrate Rupert’s life, we are conscious of the members of his wonderful extended family, whose lives have been indelibly marked by his being, and whose gifts and energies also profoundly shaped his life.  Joe and I think especially of those we have known over the years since 1968: Linda; Abednego: Daudi & Elena; and Jonathan — and extend to them our condolences on the loss of this wondrous human being. Grace, peace and love,

          ~~  Marilyn and Joe Crocker