“I’ve never seen hunger for the Word like this before,” I told Samuel, recalling our encounter with the warriors gathered under the thorny shade tree. Off the beaten path, off the grid, and quite off the map, this tribe were as eager and open as children to hear this “Good News,” and I believe that’s just what is required to enter this Kingdom of God.
Jesus instructs his disciples for the faith journey in Matthew 10:7-8, “As you go, proclaim this message: the Kingdom of heaven has come near. Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.”
A hot sun crept over the horizon of the African bush, and day two of our faith journey began. Peter, a village elder, wanted to bring us to several outlying families who had not received the message of Christ yet. Eager to be led by Holy Spirit, we agreed it was His plan.
(Click here to read “Faith Journey, pt. 1.”)
Before trekking out, we were treated to chai once more, heavy on the milk and sugar. Over a breakfast of ugali and leftover chicken, our team sang, prayed, and talked. Several personal difficulties and offenses were discussed among our team, and we made progress toward reconciliation. These talks are never easy but are the bread and butter of team life. Without them, the devil quickly immobilizes a team with isolation, independence, miscommunication, anger, and misunderstanding. Many times in the past weeks our team had fallen prey to these tactics, but today we took the tough road and confessed sins to one another and asked for forgiveness. As the leader, I had the most humble pie to eat, but in the end, the Lord honored our sacrifices.
Taken down a few notches, but eager to preach the Good News, I set out with the team around 9am. We traversed the rough and tumble brush for quite some distance, as a neighbor can refer to anyone up to several kilometers away. Unmarked and lightly trodden paths snaked their way through copper sands, thorny trees, spiky bushes, and dried river beds. As we would soon find, the parched earth thirsted for rain almost as much as the tribesmen hungered for God’s Word. The animal life seemed few and far between–that is, until a seemingly random herd of goats crossed our path. The bleating told us people lived near.
Without sunblock under a relentless sun, I was thankful to have my University of West Georgia baseball cap. The cap signifying our alma mater was a gift from my dad before I began school there, and it has faithfully tagged along with me from pristine island waters to the tops of volcanoes and over more mountains than I can recall.
“Do you really want to take it, Grant? Something might happen to it,” my mom had thoughtfully warned months ago. “That’s the point!” I replied. “That’s what makes it special.”
We arrived at the first group of huts. Men and women worked together to remove corn kernels from the cobs. More stalks grew in a rare fertile patch some 30-odd yards away.
Beneath a thorny tree set a thin log between two y-shaped supports. It would be the site of our first sermon. Devin, Aubrie, and the two girls spoke about their story, the Kingdom, and the marriage analogy of relationship with God. As they listened, both men and women were struck with its truth. We gave an invitation, and several accepted it, wanting to put their trust in Jesus for salvation.
We went to the second group of manyatas, then to the third, and the same thing happened each time. People were so hungry to hear the gospel. I have never seen such an eagerness to receive from the word of God. We also prayed for sick people to experience relief from pain and their symptoms, and the gracious Father answered.
Peter had only been saved for about two months before we arrived. At the 2nd place we stopped, Peter actually shared some of his testimony, which was powerful. He told about how he had reached a place of success among his people but realized there must be more to life than camels and wives. Then he heard about Jesus and began to follow him. He gained a new joy and peace in his heart. Very soon after that, his faith was heavily tested, as one of his young sons became deathly ill. Peter took him in his arms and began to pray, though the child was half-dead with fever already. The Lord then did a miracle and healed the child. Now he is zealous about spreading his faith all around.
Another miracle I was noticing was that our team was functioning seamlessly in unity with one another. I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that our difficult conversations earlier that morning we’re now paying dividends, as our spirits were united with one another in love, which allowed us to complement one another’s gifts. We flowed in and out of speaking, each taking their turn, without consciously communicating to one another who needed to go next. I could not help but be grateful that he had invited us to be a part of his story. My voice is so small, but I serve a big God. The most touching event was still to happen, though.
We soon arrived at a government built reservoir. Next to it were a group of spiny trees, and underneath sat about 15 male warriors, with a female or two. We greeted them, and one of them said to me, through the translator, “We want you to teach to us the Word of God.” I’m not sure if I have ever been quite so humbled and honored. See this man’s intense hunger! Matthew 5:6 says that those who hunger and thirst for righteousness are blessed by the Lord. This man was hungry for the word, so the Lord sent us to this place in the remotest reaches of East Africa so that he could hear the word taught faithfully and thoroughly. I agreed and then began to unpack the message of the kingdom, using a parable about a good king and his relationship with his rebellious subjects. After that, Aubrie talked about heaven and hell, and we gave an invitation. Several men bowed the knee to Jesus, perhaps for the first time in their family’s history, and asked Him to be the Lord of their lives. Another one of our team discerned that the Lord wanted to release spiritual gifts to these men, so we also prayed for them to bear the fruit of the Spirit in their lives as well as walk in the gifts of the Spirit.
That evening, after walking somewhere between 6 and 12 miles in the African bush, we returned to our hosts. They fed us like royalty once again, another meal of beans and rice, plenty of ugali, as well as one of the delicacies, sour milk. We tried to be as gracious as possible, appearing to love it, though the repulsive mix smelled and tasted just like strong alcohol. I much preferred the camel’s milk and the hot tea.
That evening, we showed the Jesus film using our mobile backpack set. Cinema is highly uncommon in this area, so people walked from all directions to come see. Our battery ran out about halfway through the showing, so one of my teammates brought a message. The audience was nonetheless enthusiastic; I gave an invitation, and we all had a grand altar-style prayer time for the assembly of about 40 men, women, and children.
I remember that night, lying on our backs on the cowhide mat, Devin and I spoke together. Beneath a canopy of moonlit clouds, with Orion’s Belt glowing faintly through, a sweet serenity swept over us. We realized that, though we had come to the bush with no plans and no supplies, our Father God had richly provided for us. We went without a toothbrush, but the Lord gave us toothbrushes from the bush to clean our teeth. We needed no money. We brought no extra water, but the Lord provided us for us from a local watering hole, and just as Mark 16:18 promises, it didn’t even make us sick! We brought no sunblock and got sunburnt, but there was wild aloe plant growing along the path to help our pain. We had no food, but at each meal, we were so full we could not eat any more. For this one moment, lying beneath the stars, we had no schedule and no deadlines. There were no emails or calendar events to tug at us, and no social media posts begged our attention. For this one moment, we did not have to worry about any appointments or any fundraising as the Lord held us sweetly in His providence. The entire world seemed so still, and as insects chirped a soundtrack to the Jesus film, I remarked to my teammate that this was the most peaceful moment we would have this entire year.
In the same message where Jesus sends out the 12 disciples on their faith journeys, Jesus reminds us, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows” (Matthew 10:29-31 NIV). In that moment, on the faith journey, we were more like sparrows then we had ever been before, having trusted the father in a way that we had never trusted him before – and now, we know him as Provider in a way we never knew him before. He is a truly good Father.
To us, these tribesmen were a display of father God’s kindness and willingness to meet our needs. To them, we were God’s answer to prayers for more of the Word and a sign that God was listening to their prayers. To God, all of us were the fragrance of Christ among those who are perishing.
The harvest truly is plentiful, and the laborers are few. How many more tribes are like this one, waiting and praying for messengers to come? How many more opportunities are there to know Father as faithful Provider? We will never know unless we go.
Stay hungry, my friends.