Indigenous Evangelists in Kenya Go Where Few Others Dare
November 20, 2014
Providing wells for semi-nomadic tribes in Kenya’s arid northern regions has softened thousands of people’s hearts to receive Christ.
Bandits, tribal turf battles and Islamist terrorists – not to mention lack of modern facilities and basic necessities – are enough to keep many foreign missionaries from certain areas in Kenya. In such areas, however, a locally-based ministry has planted hundreds of churches.
“So many missionaries to Kenya want to stay in comfortable areas. They tend to live where the security is good, where there are facilities, good schools, clean water,” said the director of the native ministry, whose name is withheld for security purposes. “We go to the difficult areas because we realize these people are perishing without Christ. It’s amazing; we meet people who have never heard about Jesus or even a church.”
Working in 13 of Kenya’s arid northern and northeastern counties, the native mission group has planted more than 1,300 churches among semi-nomadic tribes, such as the Samburu and Turkana.
“We have to go step by step, because most of them believe in traditional animistic religions, and they do sacrifices,” he said. “In every village there is one guy who acts as a seer for them, who can foresee young men coming with cattle from one direction. And when he sees that, the young men start walking in that direction, see people from this tribe, and just fight and steal their cattle.”
The main activity of the tribes, he said, is stealing cattle from one another.
So there have been a lot of fights, but the tribes are being changed by Christianity. They are changing their life, their way of living.
Besides tribal warring, banditry has increased the past few years. The director has been robbed various times, and bandits robbed and killed one of the ministry group’s missionaries last year.
The Kenyan government is eager to have the peaceful influence of the native missionaries in these areas, and for a fee it provides police escorts to help protect them. The banditry, inter-tribal fighting, and attacks by members of the Somali Islamic extremist group, Al-Shabaab, have made the areas so dangerous, however, that security escorts for the evangelists are no longer willing to subject their police cars to attacks.
Now it’s a requirement by law that when you have security, you provide them with an extra vehicle. Before, we used to drive together with the police in the same car,” the ministry director said. “Our expenses went higher, because we are forced as a ministry to take the police escort to protect us from both bandits and Al Shabaab.”
Driven from Somalia by Kenya-led African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) forces, Al Shabaab rebels battling the Somali government have launched retaliation attacks on Kenyan soil the past few years. The militants have targeted churches and Christian leaders. The Islamic extremist threat and banditry have made obtaining a car for security escorts one of the ministry’s top needs.
“The first thing we need is an extra vehicle, then we need motorcycles for the people who train the pastors,” he said. “We train them and give them motorcycles and send them out to train the pastors.”
More than 80 full-time gospel workers and over 300 part-time helpers work in the ministry, and their discipling of new believers is paramount. While Kenya’s population is nearly 83 percent Christian, church attendance is only 7 percent, and superficial or syncretistic faith is common among evangelicals (estimated at 41 percent), according to Operation World.
The native ministry trains leaders for follow-up and discipleship, as well as for church-planting.
Many of its churches have sprung up where the ministry has dug wells, as water supply is a major problem for the semi-nomadic tribes. Whereas a well dug with a drilling rig costs $20,000, the ministry works with local community members to dig the wells manually and then affixes a pump, which costs only $2,000.
Many churches begin meeting under trees, though a sheet metal structure to shield worshippers from the sun can be erected for about $2,000, the ministry director says.
“We have dug 22 wells, and we expect God to provide more wells where they are needed,” he said. “Also, there are some areas where we are not able to provide wells, so we provide people with a big plastic tank, and people get water there. There are some areas we pipe the water from the water source to a village, maybe five kilometers [three miles].”
A representative of Christian Aid Mission, which assists the ministry, added that the group has been a pioneer in an outreach to one of the most disregarded sectors in Africa.
One of most unreached people groups in Africa is the deaf. It is one of the most unreached groups in Africa because there’s a stigma attached to being deaf. People shun them.
The indigenous ministry director noted that most people on the continent think that having a disability is a curse, and therefore people tend to hide children who are deaf.
They keep them home, and most of the churches don’t have the programs to convert the deaf. If you have six kids, you take five to Sunday school; the deaf kid is left at home and will not learn about Christ.
The director’s wife, who works at a deaf school, has brought deaf children together in various villages and set up programs for them to learn about Christ.
“And also, we show The Jesus Film for the deaf,” he said. “You have to show it for about two minutes, and then the person will translate it for them, because they don’t have the film in sign language. We are praying that one day we will get the movie in sign language.”