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Breaking Through Barriers in Kenya

May 05, 2016

A security guard listens to Bible teaching in northern Kenya.
A security guard listens to Bible teaching in northern Kenya.

From witches to Islamist terrorists, a ministry based in Kenya faces daunting challenges in the far-flung areas its indigenous missionaries dare to enter.

With more than 80 full-time workers and 300 part-time helpers, the ministry reaches many pockets of Kenya with no Christian presence, including northern areas plagued by bandits and lethal tribal conflicts. Armed security guards accompany workers as they teach the Bible under trees.

"Insecurity still remains a great challenge in many places," the director of the indigenous ministry said. "We pray for God to continue making provisions of finances to hire the security services as we visit those areas."

In northern Kenya, workers are reaching new sites each day with the gospel, planting new churches in areas where a longstanding history of cattle-rustling now comes with illicit arms, wan police and security forces, and young adults weighed down by unemployment and poverty.

Competition for scarce resources has increased as environmental degradation has spread, leading to malnutrition, inter-tribal acrimony, killings and displacement of thousands of people. In this context, two indigenous missionaries in northern Kenya have led teams that have seen hundreds of souls come to Christ since December.

"Our gospel team workers have taken the gospel to 17 new villages and prayed for 342 persons for salvation," the director said. "They have planted six new churches in different villages, and they are looking forward to many more, because many are accepting Jesus."

The ministry teams organize community members to dig low-cost wells that meet a critical need and generate communal good will. They also help open hearts to proclamation of Jesus' saving sacrifice and resurrection, though everyday problems can also hamper efforts; one of the two leaders' motorcycles recently broke down, forcing him to share the other leader's motorcycle. Having one's own vehicle can mean the difference between life and death in this region.

"We thank God that they have not encountered ugly incidents while working for the Lord," the director said.

Children obtain water from a freshly dug water pump.
Children obtain water from a freshly dug water pump.

Besides church-planting, the native ministry trains leaders in follow-up and discipleship, which is key as church attendance is only 7 percent in a country where 83 percent of the population identifies as Christian. Superficial or syncretistic faith is common as well among evangelicals, estimated at 41 percent of the population, according to Operation World.

Other areas have all these problems and more. In Tharaka-Nithi County in central Kenya, witchcraft is commonly practiced, and the rituals to counter it are rooted in traditional animist beliefs. Evangelists must contend with both forces.

In one case earlier this year, a tribal practitioner of witchcraft was reported to have distributed metal boxes containing goat heads and horns to schoolchildren in Tharaka-Nithi County. Normally, students at boarding schools use such metal boxes as mobile lockers for their belongings. Shocked parents decided that local elders should curse the witch for distributing the boxed goat heads.

Elders from 32 clans executed the curse, local media reported, by gathering at the Gakurume River at 4 a.m., shedding their clothes, and saying traditional prayers while facing Mt. Kenya. There they burned Sodom apples and tossed dead tree branches about. The hours-long ritual ended with a song against the witch. The ritual is believed to curse those who offend the community and do not repent, whom the elders said would be "disturbed by bad omens" such as accidents, death or insanity.

Against such deep-rooted, communal traditions, the indigenous ministry sends teams of evangelists to preach the one God and the Lamb slain for the sins of the world.

"The team leader has been facing heavy resistance from the Tharaka community, as many practice witchcraft and believe in cults," the ministry director said. "God is awesome, as He has established one new church with 17 members after a long struggle. He has trained two young men from the area to help reach many people with the gospel."

The indigenous ministry has also planted churches in the northeast, where Al Shabaab rebels battling the Somali government have launched retaliation attacks on Kenyan soil since Kenya led African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) forces into Somalia in 2011. The incursion to help fight the Islamic extremist militants came in response to Al Shabaab attacks on tourist sites in Kenya's coastal region.

Al Shabaab militants and their sympathizers have selected out Christians in several attacks in the northeast, including an attack on a bus en route to Mandera in December that took one life. The rebels later that day stopped a truck and killed its driver, also a Christian, when he was unable to recite the Islamic conversion creed.

On July 7, 2015, Al Shabaab killed 17 quarry workers near Mandera, including several Christians. As in previous attacks, the Islamic insurgents targeted migrant workers from the Kenyan interior who were non-Muslims. On Dec. 2, 2014, Al Shabaab killed 36 non-Muslims, most of them Christian, in an attack on quarry workers near Mandera. The killings came after a Nov. 22, 2014 assault by Somali insurgents in the same area that left 28 non-Muslims dead, including 19 Christians.

Lack of security has forced the indigenous ministry to withdraw workers from the region, but the director said he hopes funds will be available to hire security guards so that evangelists to re-establish contact.

"In January we relocated the last three brothers who have been working there, but we trust in the Lord things will change and we will do our missions work as before," he said. "We have churches there, but the Christians are facing persecution. God is working, as we can hire the security escorts to take the gospel and encourage the Christians living there."

In Meru County in the heart of the country, the ministry's team has sought out remote villages where Christ was unknown and planted three new churches since December.

"They have brought 613 souls to the Lord since December," the director said. "In July we will raise funds to buy land for a church in a village called Ruiri. Since December the team has organized six big open-air meetings, where hundreds of souls were saved."

Likewise, in nearby Meru North District, the ministry's team has planted eight churches since June 2015.

"Those churches are growing strong," the director said. "In this region about 15 percent have not been thoroughly reached with the gospel, and our team has been doing a wonderful job to reach out to the sinners. A big challenge is the growth of cults, and the team leader is working so hard to see that every corner has been reached with the right gospel."

To help indigenous missionaries meet needs, you may contribute online using the form below, or call (434) 977-5650. If you prefer to mail your gift, please mail to Christian Aid Mission, P.O. Box 9037, Charlottesville, VA 22906. Please use Gift Code: 572CEM. Thank you!

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