Glimpsing the kingdom
“You will hear but not understand, and see yet not perceive. For this people’s heart has grown complacent, their ears hard of hearing, and their eyes closed; they see nothing, hear nothing and understand nothing that might make them turn to me so that I might heal them.’ (Matthew 13:14 & 15)
Much of what we see depends on what we are looking for. In other words, we often miss something that is staring us in the face, either because we are closed to the possibility of seeing it or because we are preoccupied with something else. Sadly this can all too often be a reflection of life as it is for so many of us who live in the Western world. So different from how it is in Kajiado Diocese where our Diocesan representatives visited as guests of the Bishop, Bishop Gladdiel Lenini.
Eight of us, (seven adults and three-year old Kizzy McWhirter) had met up at an ungodly hour in Dublin Airport on the morning of Wednesday 15th November. We were flying to Amsterdam to catch an onward flight to Nairobi. The remaining member of our Diocesan Team, Paul Johnston, met us there having flown up from Botswana where his wife is the UN Representative. We were also met by Ronnie and Maggie Briggs, our CMS:Ireland Partners in Kajiado Diocese and by Archdeacon Napthali, one of six archdeacons in the Diocese. From the airport we travelled on in two jeeps to Kajiado – a one-and-a-half-hour journey directly south.
A fortnight lay ahead of us, almost all of it in warm conditions and with lots of sunshine. The first three nights and the last five were spent at the Diocesan Guesthouse in Kajiado. Dean Alistair, in his informative and at times amusing blog, for which we are most grateful, has logged our activities and movement through each day and across what was often very challenging terrain. Those experiences were indeed memorable and enjoyable and we had the Briggs and the Archdeacon with us throughout to keep us right and to answer our many questions. For me too, it was good to return for a second time and see some of the details I had missed first time round.
What each one of us was struck by was the simplicity of the lives of most of the people we met – and here I distinguish between simplicity and simple. Their lives are far from simple. After three days in Kajiado, we travelled to a place called Oltiasika where we spent six nights. It is on the southern border of the Diocese which takes one into Tanzania. In Oltiasika, all the people are Maasai while further north in the Diocese the majority are Maasai but by no means all. The Maasai are noted for their traditional ways and for the colour of their clothing – particularly their shukas and their beads. They are traditionally farmers and their wealth is determined by the size of their herd. Most, however, have very little else. Their homes are tiny and basic and usually made of mud or of corrugated iron. They live in Bomas (family communities) over which the senior male presides.
The men and boys spend much of their lives herding the cattle and goats; the women work in the fields, planting and weeding. They also fetch the water and tend to the domestic chores. Compared to our lives, it is tough; there are none of our mod-cons and very little comfort. Yet, the people are deeply spiritual, faithful and full of joy. There is a contentedness about them and their love and friendliness and welcome are obvious for all to see. They have eyes and ears and hearts for the important things of life. They appreciate what they have in the moment; the present matters far more than either the past or the future. So, there isn’t a lot of nostalgia or planning ahead; hence sustainability can be an issue. But they do have time for people; in fact, time is a flexible thing and a church service due to begin at 9.30am is more likely to start an hour or more later! God and people are their priorities, with, when it does begin, worship and praise central to their lives.
So we were challenged during our time among them, to see with a new perspective. Of course, as we return home to our own part of the world, where actions rather than people are the priority, we’ll be quickly drawn back into familiar routines, running this way and that, prisoners to the clock and our diary commitments. We will again walk past people in our haste, failing to hear their concerns and perhaps remaining oblivious to God and what he requires of us…seeing nothing, hearing nothing and understanding nothing that might make us turn to God so that he might heal us.
All in all, we had a wonderful time. We saw that our support for the Oloosuyian Secondary School in Kajiado is transforming the young lives of so many teenage girls. The water tank system and catchment apron refurbishment we’ve been funding in Oltiasika were duly dedicated and blessed. The Bishop’s celebrations went off well and our participation and presence at it and at each of the events we attended played a small part in adding to those occasions. We made many new personal friendships as well as winning friends for our Diocese and we hope the Bishop and others will pay us a return visit next Autumn.
Most importantly, our group gelled together and were thoroughly well fed. There were no disasters and everyone returned home in good health. But it is the joy, the love and the bright colours of the lives of the Maasai people and what they say for our lives, that will live with me. Sadly, with all our many blessings we don’t always get it right – a reminder that wealth, possessions and even position don’t guarantee happiness. Sometimes, quite the opposite in fact, as the more we have the more we require to bring us the happiness we crave. God alone provides real wealth and lasting happiness. The Maasai people have not yet been deflected and stick to their traditional customs and values. God remains central to their lives and his offer, made some two thousand years ago, is available to each one of us, if only we have eyes to see, ears to listen and hearts that are open to him and his kingdom.
I conclude with some statistics from Kajiado Diocese. Statistics never tell the full story but these indicate clearly a diocese that, over the past six years, has witnessed significant growth. How encouraging they are for those of us who live in what can best be described as a ‘post Christian society’ where secularism threatens to mask and obstruct the healing presence of God.
Ministry 2012 2017
Archdeaconries 3 6
Deaneries 6 14
Parishes 29 49
Congregations 100 160
Clergy 48 77
Lay Readers 107 130
Evangelists 10 20