The second in a series by Adventist Review news correspondent Marcos Paseggi on the Maranatha volunteer project at Kajiado Adventist School in Kajiado, Kenya. The project included several other initiatives across the country.—Editors
Inching their way up the highlands through the roughest of paths, two buses make their way to the top of a hill carrying dozens of Maranatha Volunteers International supporters to a unique Saturday (Sabbath) worship service. It is July 2, 2022, and the latest batch of volunteers arrived from North America two days earlier to support building efforts at Kajiado Adventist School and Rescue Center in Kajiado, Kenya.
Today, construction has stopped as volunteers pay a visit to one of the Maasai Adventist congregations that have sprung up across the tribe’s ancestral lands.
When the buses approach the designated spot, church members are already there, in a big round, singing. As they spot the volunteers getting off the buses, they start dancing their way toward them in two parallel lines. “Welcome, welcome to the house of the Chosen One,” they sing and dance in their Maa language.
There’s pure joy in the air as volunteers walk between the two lines of singing Maasai brethren. Every member chooses a guest and places a shuka, a traditional Maasai robe, on their shoulders. Then, hand in hand, all of them pace together to the chairs waiting under a big acacia tree. The Sabbath morning service is about to start.
Reaching the Maasai
For many years, efforts to reach the Maasai population with the gospel of Jesus Christ had produced meager results. Being a nomadic people, they were often on the move, and meeting with them even twice was extremely difficult.
“Every time we decided to visit them, we needed to contact them two or three months in advance, so they knew we were expecting them to be around,” Maranatha leaders said. The Adventist pastor in charge of that district also had other churches to take care of, and it was not always easy to arrange a gathering.
Everything changed, however, when Maranatha managed to reach a high spot with their digging rigs and dug wells that produced abundant water. “Now they [the Maasai] have a reason to stay around,” Maranatha executive vice president Kenneth Weiss explains. “Some of them have even built simple houses and fences for their animals. With abundant water available, they have started family vegetable gardens.”
The water well is also a meeting point for the community, since not only church members but the area residents can benefit from free, pure water.
“They are happier, they are healthier,” church leaders explain. “As a result, the church is growing steadily in the area.”
Church under a Tree
The July 2 Sabbath worship service is, in many respects, not unlike that of Adventist congregations around the world. Under the big tree there are words of welcome, congregational singing, and prayers. Likewise, special music items, a children story, and even tithe-and-offering envelopes for everyone!
The service also offers time to reflect on the teachings of God’s Word.
“It is wonderful to worship the Lord on this, His holy day of rest!” an elder says as a translator interprets his words into the local language. “We’d do well in following God’s instructions by worshipping Him in this special day.”
At the same time, it is a church service like no other. There’s the tree with its knotty trunk, where several kids find a spot to sit. There’s the cloudless sky, a cool breeze, and grazing sheep nearby. The microphone and speakers of the sound system are connected to a motorcycle battery.
After the brief service, church members and volunteers tour the nearby site where a new Maranatha one-day church is taking shape. With the main structure finished, members and leaders are now working on the floor and seeking resources to erect the walls.
Behind the building, there’s an impromptu demonstration of what the recently inaugurated water pump, with the name “Maranatha” emblazoned on it, can do. Sheep and goats realize what is happening and come running to enjoy fresh drinking water.
“As soon as we opened the well, some community members arrived to see whether they could fetch some water,” a local leader explains. “ ‘We are not from your denomination,’ ” some of them confessed. “But we told them, ‘It doesn’t matter. Everyone is welcome to come and enjoy free fresh drinking water.’ ”
Not surprisingly, the well has become a popular spot.
“Our hope is that existing congregations will keep growing, and that new ones will open across Maasai ancestral lands,” a church leader says. “Water and the love of Jesus are such a powerful combination.”