November 11, 2015

Streaming to Jesus

Written by  Richard Showalter
On the way to church at Akwichatis, East Pokot. On the way to church at Akwichatis, East Pokot. Photo provided by Richard Showalter.

This article appears in the November/December 2015 issue of Missionary Messenger; sign up to read more articles like this one.

George Nyaundi grew up as a traditional African in Enemasi, Kenya. He and his family knew nothing of Jesus. He was culturally Maasai, though his tribal background was mixed. His grandfather had moved to their Maasai village from a Kisii one, and he adopted Maasai ways.

Everything began to change when George met EMM missionaries Clair and Beth Good in 1989. They introduced him to Jesus. “Clair is my spiritual father,” he said. Clair sought him out regularly, encouraged him, and blessed him. Nyaundi drank it in like a young plant drinks water in a desert, though it all was new and strange.

Later he went away to find work in a safari camp, and also had a life-changing encounter. God surprised him: once a month for the first three months of 1992, he had the same vision — an audible voice saying, “I want you to go back home. You will be baptized. Then you will serve Me.”

At first George wrestled with the vision. Is this really God? Might it be one of my ancestral spirits? But when it came three times, he was sure it was not one of his ancestors. He went back to Enemasi in May and found Clair. He was baptized in June. On that very day he preached his first sermon from Matthew and sensed the anointing of the Spirit.

His mother, however, said, “You’re crazy!” Why would he leave a good job to serve God?

George said, “We had never had a Bible in my family. All these things about Christianity were completely new to us.”

But Clair believed in George and sent him to seminars and workshops in Kenya, where he grew in his understanding. He met Christian leaders who had been nurtured in the Kenyan revival movements of the 1960s and 1970s. EMM found a way to send him to the Mennonite Theological College of East Africa in Nyabange, Tanzania. He left for studies in 1995 and graduated in December 1997. He remembers good foreign teachers like Harold Wenger and Daniel Wenger. His mentor Clair blessed him all the way, saying, “You can do it!”

His last year in Nyabange, former bishop Don Jacobs visited. “I will likely never see you again,” said Don, bidding farewell to students in the school he had founded. George was deeply moved as he witnessed the tears of the Africans and the holy life of that early missionary.

Once he was back home in Enemasi, George
helped in the work of the local church, discipling others. Clair was gone now, and some people did not believe in him as his mentor had. “But that was okay,” George said. “I learned to depend on God.”

Another turning point came in February 2008. Near the end of the post-election violence, an EMM team including Clair Good and me went to Kenya from the United States to show support for our Kenyan brothers and sisters. While driving through Chipilat, Clair saw the devastation in that tribal borderland area and felt strongly led to send a peacemaker/church planter into the heart of the conflict. Immediately he thought of George and challenged him to go.

Though Chipilat was 100 miles from his home in Enemasi, George answered the call. In the seven years since then, he has partnered with God to see 10 new congregations raised up in the region — approximately 400 people of faith and vision for God’s peace in a strife-torn tribal borderland area.

Yet George’s vision did not simply end with this amazing growth since the tragic events of 2007-08 in his region of Kenya. “Many of those among us who are followers of traditional (‘animistic’) religions,” he said, “are ready to come to Jesus. Like my family, it is a simple matter for them to turn from a tree or a mountain to Jesus, yet it changes everything.”

In February and March 2015 George traveled far to northern Kenya at the invitation of a friend and spent some time among Pokot tribal traditionalists. As he shared the good news, he was overwhelmed with hundreds who streamed to know Jesus. “They are coming so rapidly, but how do we disciple them?” he asked. “They have no books, no knowledge of God, no water supply, no hospitals, no schools — nothing. Often they have no food.”

Since then he has repeatedly returned to East Pokot, always taking others with him. In April as part of my EMM service in East Africa, I had the opportunity to accompany George and another pastor from Chipilat on a trip to meet the new believers. It still boggles my mind to remember meeting with two congregations, each of which was fewer than 10 days old and meeting for only the second time. Neither had any models of what a Christian congregation is like, yet already they were singing and praying.

Once we tried to have a Scripture reading in their mother tongue, but the copy of the Bible was brand new, and the reader was almost illiterate. We gave up. That would have to come later. But people came with requests for healing, and we prayed.

Their mother church at Akwichatis village is only two years old and meets under a grove of trees across a riverbed. The river is dry most of the year, but we were there in rainy season, and the whole congregation waded through the river to assemble for worship. We had hoped for a leisurely meal with the villagers after the service, but storm clouds came churning over the mountains and a strong wind whipped up the dust. At the villagers’ urging, we raced away ahead of the rain, knowing that if we waited a few minutes longer, we might be stranded for days.

A few days after we left, marauding bands of thieves and cattle rustlers came from a neighboring tribe and left many dead, wounded, and destitute behind them. The villagers appealed for help, and EMM missionary Zach Miller joined George in July to take thousands of mosquito nets, sets of clothing, and blankets for the many whom the marauders had left with nothing.

“My goal is to mobilize the new churches around Chipilat to go as cross-cultural witnesses and servants to the Pokot people,” George said. “But then we must go further, because there are other tribes beyond them who have no knowledge of Jesus.

“I myself grew up in such a home, with no way to know Jesus unless someone came to me.

“EMM came! I am eternally grateful. The passion of my life is to search out people like I was, as long as they exist.”

Adapted and expanded in August 2015 from a column Richard Showalter wrote for Mennonite World Review in March 2015.

This article appears in the November/December 2015 issue of Missionary Messenger; sign up to read more articles like this one.