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Miracles in Kenya

Reaching the Rendille

Loud noises and commotion for no apparent reason are rarely desirable, and this morning was no exception.

A cacophony of angry voices jarred Grandma Sarah awake, and she immediately knew the disturbance forebode serious conflict. Racing out of her small room in search of the uproar’s source, she discovered a large group of village leaders surrounding a home, shouting harsh words directed toward one woman.

Someone explained to Grandma Sarah that this woman was a witch who had pronounced a curse on another woman in the village. The other woman was now seriously ill to the point of death. If the accursed woman died, the village leaders would then kill the witch in retribution. The witch was locked in the small hut with the sick woman. Whatever happened that night would decide her fate.

Stumbling and pushing her way to the front of the crowd, Grandma Sarah asked the village leaders for permission to enter the home and pray for the sick woman.

It took some high-stakes convincing, but Grandma Sarah was finally allowed to enter the hut. The seriousness of the situation was reinforced as she heard the door lock behind her.

On the thin pallet in front of her lay the sick woman: pale, weak, and seemingly at death’s door. Against the opposite wall squatted the accused witch, her face filled with fear at her upcoming sentence of death — a foregone conclusion to everyone, including her.

Faith in the power of Jesus surged through Grandma Sarah, filling her with courage. She picked up a small cup of water, held it in both hands, and prayed in simple faith, asking God to bless the water and do the healing miracle so desperately needed.

Moving to the side of the sick woman, Grandma Sarah helped her sit up and gave her a drink of the water. Instantly the woman jumped to her feet, restored to full strength. The witch leaped up as well, amazed at the miracle she had just witnessed.

In the next few minutes, Grandma Sarah told both women about Jesus and prayed for their peace and salvation. She then turned back to the locked door and began pounding and shouting, asking the village leaders to open it.

Once again, an intense conversation ensued, this time seeking permission to allow Grandma Sarah out of the hut. The village leaders doubted anything had changed, but with the combination of Grandma Sarah’s voice and the healed woman’s confirmation, they finally agreed to open the door.

All three women exited. Before the stunned crowd, Grandma Sarah shared about the miracle of Jesus’ healing before publicly leading the witch in a confession of faith. She wanted the woman’s prayer of salvation to occur in front of the entire village as an outward testimony to the power of Jesus Christ.

This miracle was a turning point in establishing the church in the Rendille village of Laisamis, Kenya.  Even though Grandma Sarah was a newcomer, the village elders asked her to stay and teach them more about this God who could both heal and redeem. With that invitation, Grandma Sarah began meeting under a tree with the old men of the village, explaining the Scriptures and how they lead to Jesus Christ. One by one, this once-lost Kenyan tribe started turning to the Lord.

The church in Laisamis is now filled with believers eager to learn about Christ.
The church in Laisamis is now filled with believers eager to learn about Christ.
This is an account of how an unreached people group became a reached people group. God has used many people to accomplish the task. The story that began with zero AG churches among the Rendille has grown to six churches with more than 3,000 believers.

The Rendille story is an inspiration to believe for the same transformation to happen in many other as-yet-reached people groups around the world.

The Rendille

The Rendille people live in northern Kenya, spread across a dry, semiarid region. A nomadic group, they have remained in this area for many centuries, clustering in traditional manyatas(groups of huts) or small towns. Their herds of sheep, donkeys, goats and camels survive in the thick desert scrub brush and provide the Rendille with food and milk.

Traditionally animistic, the Rendille follow traditions that involve elements of a moon religion with an interesting twist rooted in the Old Testament. Their oral history includes a claim that they are descended from the line of Israel. What supports this premise is a Passover-type tradition, called Sorio, which they perform three times a year.

Many centuries ago, Muslim traders came through northern Kenya and attempted to convince the Rendille to convert to Islam. They demonstrated how to pray, kneeling and facing eastward toward Mecca.

The church in Laisamis is now filled with believers eager to learn about Christ.
“No, we look up to the sky to pray to our god,” the Rendille replied.

Because of the Rendille’s history and tradition, the advance of Islam was stopped. When the traders left, the elders gathered up the Qurans and burned them on nearby Mount Moille.

Despite these ancient Jewish tendrils of tradition, the Rendille still had no understanding of a relationship with a living God and no knowledge of Jesus Christ.

Last year a local pastor was walking to a village that had never once had someone come and share about Christ. As he hiked over the small desert mountain toward the village, he met two women and began to share the message of Jesus with them.

“From what tribe is this Jesus?” they asked. “Does He have moran(warrior guards) taking care of His animals?”

This lack of knowledge of Christ was the norm among all Rendille until a few years ago. But the situation changed when courageous Grandma Sarah took a stand on that miracle-filled night in Laisamis.

Grandma Sarah’s Story

Grandma Sarah would fit in well with the crowd of unqualified agents of the Lord. Her life’s road was covered with obstacles and challenges that would have caused most to turn back and quit.

Grandma Sarah was from Meru, Kenya, a city far from the Rendille region. Her husband died years ago, leaving her with no means of support. She was in a desperate state, finding barely enough food to survive.

A church in Meru reached out to her and helped her in various ways. After coming to Christ, Grandma Sarah grew in her faith and eagerly rose to the tasks the pastor and church leaders gave her.

Grandma Sarah played a major role in bringing the gospel to the Rendille people.
Grandma Sarah played a major role in bringing the gospel to the Rendille people.
One day she heard about some special meetings at a nearby church. The speaker would be sharing about missions and the need for church planters in Africa. Grandma Sarah didn’t plan to attend, but the Lord clearly told her: “You need to be there.”

In obedience, Grandma Sarah went. At the seminar she heard of Kenya’s unreached peoples — tribes without any witness or church. Using vivid word-pictures, the speaker described how Satan was like a hungry vulture perched atop a hut. The unreached tribes were like unwatched babies crawling out of the hut. Unless someone acted, the enemy would devour these lost peoples.

Moved by the illustrated story, Grandma Sarah began to shed quiet but uncontrollable tears. Over the next weeks, her tears for the lost were never far from the surface. She wanted to volunteer right then to go as a church planter in the lost regions of Kenya. The Lord had placed a passion in her heart that refused to fade.

But Grandma Sarah’s willingness wasn’t immediately met with open arms. She was not a pastor, had never been to Bible school, was widowed, and had no means of support to be a church planter. In spite of her eagerness, she received no ringing endorsements.

A Step of Faith

Many months passed as Grandma Sarah sought God. She remembered stories her father told her when she was a little girl — tales about the Rendille people he had met when working away from home. Her mental vision of the Rendille morphed into a call from God to be a voice of witness to them.

At a women’s meeting one day, Grandma Sarah shared her passion and desire to go and preach to the Rendille.

“If I can find some money, will you go?” a woman asked.

“Yes, I’ll go!” Grandma Sarah immediately responded.

Two weeks later, the woman handed Grandma Sarah $50. Encouraged by the support, Grandma Sarah thanked her and assured her that it was enough. With a third of the funds, she took care of expenses she had in Meru. With another third she bought shoes and potatoes for her journey. The rest she kept for future expenses.

After saying her goodbyes, she set off for the highway. A passing cattle truck was headed north, so she hitched a ride. For the next 20 hours she sat atop the lurching, dusty lorry.

On that first trip, Grandma Sarah never made it to her intended location because the Lord directed her to stop in the town of Loglogo. As she disembarked from the lorry, she looked around at the dusty town and simply prayed, “Lord, lead me.”

A Madman and a Miracle

The local villagers did not know what to do with this stranger, but someone thought it best to introduce her to a local couple who led a tiny church of only a few people. The pastor’s wife had just given birth and was very weak, so Grandma Sarah volunteered to help them by cooking meals and assisting in their work.

On her first day at the pastor’s home, Grandma Sarah was cooking porridge for the family when she heard shouts outside the house. Curious, she poked her head out the door to see what the commotion was about. What she saw was a man standing next to the fence, screaming violently.

His behavior was frightening, and none of the people wanted him near them or their children. The pastor himself was beginning to pick up stones to chase the man away.

Something rose up within Grandma Sarah and she called out, “Stop! Don’t you know God can use this man?”

Grandma Sarah played a major role in bringing the gospel to the Rendille people.
Going over to the madman, she told him to sit. After ladling porridge into a bowl, she asked the pastor to join her in praying over the food. She then served the porridge to the man. Amazingly, he quietly ate the food and left.

The next morning the madman returned — this time, in a totally different state of mind.

“I am very dirty,” he said. “I feel dirt all around me.”

Grandma Sarah gave him money and instructed him to buy soap and fetch some water. She walked with him to the corner of town where he slept, and discovered a matted mess of old, soiled clothes. She told him to sort through the pile, find the cleanest clothes to put on, and burn the rest.

Later that day, Grandma Sarah and the pastor found the man sitting outside the pastor’s house. Clean, fully dressed, and in his right mind, he was barely recognizable.

The next morning was Sunday. What had been a church attendance of a few exploded to packed capacity, with villagers even peering through the windows. All of them wanted to see the miraculous transformation of the madman. When Grandma Sarah asked who could help translate from her language, Swahili, to Rendille, only one person responded — the former madman!

Grandma Sarah was used of the Lord on two different trips and in two different villages. The testimonies of the madman’s deliverance, the healing of the cursed woman, and the witch’s salvation are evidence that God was with Grandma Sarah, confirming His presence and His love for the Rendille. Through these miracles, Jesus was opening doors for the gospel to come to this spiritually lost Kenyan tribe.

The entire story, however, involves many people, has a history that stretches back more than two decades, and now involves other towns in Kenya’s Rendille region. The current spiritual revival among the Rendille includes a number of rivulets of God’s grace that have swelled to the point where life is emerging from the spiritually dry ground.

A Focus and a Plan

The basis of any work of God is always intercessory prayer. More than 15 years ago, the Kenya AG helped print a book listing the top 25 unreached people groups in Kenya. The book was a call to prayer for each of these unreached peoples and a reminder to churches regarding the many challenging harvest fields within Kenya’s borders.

As a result of the book’s focus, a group of AG missionaries and national church leaders drove around the northern region of Kenya, praying for a move of God among the Rendille and other unreached peoples. A decade before Grandma Sarah arrived in Loglogo, these church leaders believed in faith for church planters to enter this spiritually destitute area.

As Kenya AG leadership prayed for the unreached, the faculty at East Africa School of Theology (EAST), the primary AG Bible school and seminary for East Africa, began to stoke an ever-increasing burden in the hearts of their students.

Missionary Jeff Nelson, vice chancellor at EAST, worked to help the students gain practical ministry opportunities in unreached areas. At every semester break, he led teams from EAST to a needy region outside Nairobi. During those times, students devoted themselves to a variety of outreaches, such as door-to-door witnessing, construction projects, and children and youth ministries. Every evening they conducted an evangelistic service or presented the Jesusfilm.

Missionary Jeff Nelson.
Missionary Jeff Nelson.
In 2009, Jeff was ready to lead a team to a specific area of northern Kenya. Frustratingly, doors kept closing as his best-laid plans stymied.

Then Moses Muthee, Grandma Sarah’s pastor from Meru, told Jeff about Grandma Sarah and suggested he lead the EAST team to help her in Laisamis. As plans for a new trip began, Jeff’s daughter called from the United States, asking if an Evangel University team of nursing students could come to Kenya for ministry. The EU team’s plans to travel elsewhere had fallen apart at the last minute, and the students were looking for a place to serve.

What originally seemed like a backup plan quickly bore witness that this was a God-
orchestrated opportunity.

The EAST and EU teams went back to back to Laisamis to work with Grandma Sarah and reach the Rendille people in that dusty village. As a result, hundreds of Rendille were ministered to, prayed with, and touched by the message of Jesus Christ. Villagers saw the church in action and the love of Christ reflected in the care and concern of both Americans and Kenyans. In three weeks, 573 people prayed to accept Christ as Savior!

On the last morning of the three-week stretch of ministry in Laisamis, the church hall was packed to capacity. Jeff ended the service by asking, “If, after committing your life to Jesus Christ, you are now willing to commit to this church as members, I want you to stand up.”

One hundred adults stood in response.

No Longer Unreached

Since those first missions teams ministered, the push to see churches planted in other Rendille areas increased. Another EAST team went the following spring to Merille, a nearby Rendille town, to work alongside Grandma Sarah there. Hundreds of people heard the message of Christ, and many came to faith in Jesus.

Another EAST missions team helped start a new church in Loglogo. That church has done a great job of reaching children, drawing more than 150 boys and girls each week. Two additional churches were planted by EAST alumni, taking the number of Rendille churches to five. What had been one of Kenya’s 25 unreached people groups was changing rapidly.

In early 2011, a Speed the Light bus headed north to the end of the pavement at the southern edge of Rendille territory. Fifty Rendille had gathered, waiting to board the bus and go to the EAST campus in Nairobi. The following day the Rendille guests joined Kenya AG church leaders, missionaries, and students in a historic chapel service. After worship and prayer, a live video of a Joshua Project representative was broadcast, pronouncing the official declaration that the Rendille’s classification had been changed from unreached to reached!

Six months later that same bus lumbered north once again to collect another 50 Rendille believers and take them to the Kenya AG General Council. Following a long-standing tradition, the Council services were interspersed with worship led by every tribe represented. For the first time in history, Rendille believers stood before the crowd and gave praise to God as they sang in the Rendille language.

Since then another church has since been planted among the Rendille, taking the total number of AG congregations to six.

Beads in the Sand

A striking characteristic of the Rendille people is their beautiful beadwork. All the women wear elaborately beaded headwear and neck collars. Men wear beaded bracelets or strands of beads hanging around their necks.

Though carefully crafted, the ornaments can easily break in the arid climate, scattering the beads everywhere. Beads that are not much larger than a small pebble are impossible to find in the sandy countryside.

But an experience on an isolated tract of land showed me that not all things are as impossible as we often think.

Jeff, his son, Joshua, and I had stopped in the middle of nowhere to refuel our vehicle. With hundreds of thousands of acres of sandy scrub brush in all directions, wise people carry many cans of spare fuel with them when they venture off the paved trail.

While Jeff and Joshua were pouring fuel into the vehicle, I strolled a few feet away. Glancing at my feet, I spied a small speck of color that didn’t seem to belong in the native sand. Reaching down, I picked up a tiny yellow bead — the same type found in all the neckwear and bracelets every Rendille possesses. Over the next few minutes, I found four more beads, both red and yellow.

Missionary Jeff Nelson.
In the middle of that desert landscape, miles from any town or manyata, lay individual colored beads. My five beads wouldn’t make much of a necklace, but they illustrate what the Lord has done over the last five years.

God has been in the process of seeking lost Rendille. For centuries this group has been scattered across the sprawling wastelands, lost in sin and far from the Lord. Jesus has lovingly searched for them among the Kenyan hills, collecting His lost “beads” one life at a time. He is now weaving them into His church, an elaborate mosaic of changed lives.

Looking to the Future

The book that listed the 25 unreached people groups in Kenya is no longer in print. The last few copies were distributed years ago.

But the list of unreached peoples still remains. Though the number is down from 25 to 23, the missionary task is yet unfinished.

The Rendille story should encourage each of us. If God can plant His church among this remote people group, He can do it anywhere.

Missionary Jeff Nelson.
The process starts with prayer.

Pray for Grandma Sarah as she moves farther north to share Christ’s love with the Daasanash, another unreached people group.

Pray for the first Rendille students enrolled at EAST as they prepare for ministry.

Pray that Rendille men and women will grow spiritually and become pastors and church planters among their people.

Pray that through EAST, the next generation of church planters will be raised up to reach the remaining 23 unreached people groups.

 

ANDY RAATZ

is AGWM area director for Russia, travels on assignment as a writer and photographer for AGWM Communications.

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