Kenya Journal September 2022 Edition 13
TURKANA – Ambushed under the tree.
Thursday, September 1, 2022—Turkana Desert/Lodwar, Kenya Disclaimer: Neither the writer of this journal, nor any participants or accompanying goats or camels were injured in any way in said “ambush.”
We barely got past the greetings in evangelist Florence’s village before the ambush began.
When we arrive Lodwar this morning Florence handed me a written schedule for the day’s events. I was feeling so good about my discipleship skills! And then we got to the village and her “disciples” began to speak.
The schedule said testimonies from two leaders.
I still don’t know if the two ladies who spoke are born again, members of the church, have ever been baptized, have ever heard of Jesus….but, I am clear that we need to rebuild the church building that the termites have eaten and Florence needs some new transportation.
Welcome to third-world ministry “101.”
As an old friend used to say, I’m not complaining, I’m just explaining.
This is the poorest place I travel.
It is the desert. There is no food. There is no water. There is no money. These people are goatherders by trade. The Turkana region is the National Geographic channel come to life.
When I first started doing ministry here, this area was crawling with ever NGO (non-government organizations) dispensing food, water, medical care, and setting up refugee camps. It was hard to get a room at the 2 hotels in town. Today, I saw no CNN crews, no helicopters were flying over to interrupt me as I preach (as usual), and the streets were not bustling with brand new LandCruisers sporting the logo of every humanitarian aid organization known to man. I did wonder on my ride back to my “oasis” if perhaps these people have been trained by the constant flow of free aid here to expect help from every Mzungu (white guy) that shows up. (By the way, the oasis is real! St. Teresa’s Catholic Conference Center in Lodwar is amazing!)
I can’t sort out the philosophical debate that I opened by rolling that last grenade into your lap. I really don’t have time to right now. I am one hour away from the first of several one-on-one staff meetings. These are precious times. I and they can say things that we dare not type in an email.
Seeing each other’s eyes, hearing our tone, being able to stop and pray when we get hung up on agenda items or the discussion gets a bit too heated…there is no substitute for sitting knee to knee over a nice cup of mixed tea.
Back to the “non” testimonies.
Florence is tenacious and cunning. Two qualities that serve her well here in this desperate culture. And frankly, two of the many qualities that drew me to partnership with her. Those, and the fact that she is literally scared of nothing! If you survive two deadly snake bites while walking the desert to evangelize, you’re going to “start” for any team I am coaching. Florence got her training from me when it comes to asking folks to partner with what God is doing. I often say This ministry will never “have not because I ask not.” Guess the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree in Florence’s case.
Turkana women are hot-headed with extremely short fuses. (Trust me, I know whereof I speak.).
But, the one thing they respect and respond well to is honesty and boldness. I am usually long on at least one of those two on any given day. When the last non-testimony concluded, I walked half way between the two shade trees serving as our church today. (In Turkana the men and women do not sit on the same side of the church building, and evidently not under the same trees etiher?!
I told pastor Benjamin, one of our local pastors, to interpret exactly what I said, exactly the way I said it. I told him if he saw me take off running, he best follow me because we had crossed the line.
I asked those gathered under the tree what they saw when they saw me?
What they prayed for, when they prayed I would come?
And then, I told them I was going to give them something many white people did not give them when they came to “help.” I was going to give them the truth.
Many well meaning folks get in over their head really quick with third-world settings. There is no shallow end in this pool and treading water will get you eaten alive.
I told them that most respond to laundry lists of needs, such as they had just delivered, by saying; “I’ll pray for you.” And then I taught them that I’ll pray for you is often just a code phrase we use when we are reaching for the door handle to get out a sticky situation.
I then told them that many well-meaning Americans tell them that they will go back home, share their needs with their friends and churches, and we will see what we can do. I told them don’t try to cash that see what we can do check. It usually bounces.
And then, I really thought I might cross a line that would cost me my welcome, if not more.
I told them that I was a preacher. That I had come to bring living water, not to drill wells. I had come to bring the bread of life, not truckloads of food supplies. That I had come to bring the wealth
of heaven, not bags of shillings.
I told them that what I heard in their non-testimonies was that they were praying for and expecting was a banker. I am not a banker.
I told them that what I heard in their non-testimonies was that they were praying for and expecting a
builder (church building). I am not a builder.
I told them that what I heard in their non-testimonies was that they wanted a supply source, not a
And then I waited out the awkward pause. Finally, it came. First one, then a couple more…and, then it erupted accompanied by applause. Laughter!
I don’t know if they were laughing at themselves, at me, or the situation that had just unfolded in this desert sanctuary under the trees. I really didn’t care what they were laughing at, I was just glad they were laughing.
And with that, the tension eased. I preached the Gospel. There were those who responded. And afterward, we made the 30 kilometer drive back to town with our truck loaded down with leaders who will attend tomorrow’s conference.
Pastor Harrison (Nairobi) who accompanied me on this trip leaned over to me in the truck and said, “I thought you had sealed our fate back there for a minute.” I wondered myself a time or two. I can’t play games and I won’t lie to starving, thirsty people.
We aren’t a wealthy humanitarian aid agency, in spite of all we do around Kenya in that regard. We are preachers and disciple-makers. Everything else we do is simply window dressing for the real show of the Gospel, and appetizers for the main course which is Jesus.
I anticipate some great, productive meetings the rest of the day. And thanks for praying. Not only did we get the truck unstuck, God got me out from under the trees safely.
I love this job!