Friday, July 14, 2017

Sopel Village

Turkana girls dancing
Today is Gary and my day to leave the classroom and join the team in the village. I'm feeling just a little queasy from too much goat or something over the last couple of days, so take a pepto tablet, offer a prayer, and don't each too much for breakfast.

We bounce over gravel, dirt and sand "roads" in five four-wheel-drives as we head to the village of Sopel, an hour away. Though they have no building, there is an active church here. That has not always been the case. Later, a Turkana missionary will share with us that twenty years ago when he tried to preach the gospel here, the men of the village built a "prison" for him and locked him up for some time.

Oldest remaining man due to drought
But we are warmly welcomed by the pastor and many church members. Children from the church and village greet us and do a traditional dance and song. Then we split up into age and gender groups as is customary in Turkana culture: children; young girls; young men; married women; married men.

The married men, from young to very old, start to arrive. We hear from some of the elders through our interpreters. One of them says that he is the oldest; a number of the other old men have died as a result of the drought. When 20 of them are there, we begin.

Just before we left for the village, Director Sammy asked Gary and me to talk for about 15 minutes each on "Who is God?" and "Who is man?" respectively. Since we've been teaching Bible Pathways, we have not been part of the village men's curriculum planning, so we have to wing it. This is ministry on the fly. On the drive there--between bounces and bumps--I decide to do a "goat" theme: goats are their life. "All we like sheep/goats have gone astray." (I wander off in exaggerated pantomime.) "I am the Good Shepherd; I lay down my life for the sheep/goats." "My sheep/goats know my voice, and I give them eternal life."

A couple of others from the team follow Gary and me, and Sammy concludes. While everyone is teaching, I set my small camera on my knee and am able to unobtrusively take photos with its great zoom. They've sat on their tiny wooden stools, listening in rapt attention for a couple of hours with just two interludes of jumping and stomping to get the blood flowing again. It is incredible to see these wizened old men squat down just inches from the ground and deftly position their stools underneath them. There is no running water in the village, no toilet facilities. Occasionally men get up and wander off to a tree. One returns, adjusting his wide open robe slowly on the walk back, without any embarrassment whatsoever.

As Sammy wraps everything up with an invitation for personal response to the Savior who gave His life for the Turkana people, they are fully engaged. These men, who once imprisoned a missionary, are hungry for God and His Word. Some 30 or so of them put up their hand to indicate their faith. To make sure, he changes the response: they are now to stand if they want to trust Christ. They stand. A third time, Sammy gives them a step to take to express genuine intent: they are to step up to a line he draws in the sand. All the same men do--almost half of the men there. After prayer with them and the pastor, and noting their names so they can be followed up, another man steps forward. He is a Christian who used to walk into Lodwar to get to church (an hour trip for us in 4-wheelers!) He says he has since wandered from God and wants to get right with Him again. We pray with Him.
2 1/2 hours & hungry for more

Sociologists of religion and church growth experts talk about the move of God to the global south, and this response is indicative of the hungry hearts all over Turkana and, I am told, most of Africa. I have to hold back tears at the privilege of witnessing this most marvelous of all miracles.