Teaching the Orthodox Faith under a shade tree. OCMC Executive Director Fr. Martin Ritsi and Fr. Vladimir, an Orthodox priest from northern Kenya, share Christ with people of the Turkana tribe.
There are places that remain hidden to most - where no roads lead, where survival is a daily struggle, and where people live on the fringe of hopelessness. There are places where the light of the Gospel has yet to shine.
In October 2009, the small plane I flew on from Nairobi, Kenya, touched down in the small frontier town of Lodwar. Amidst this thirsty landscape, an OCMC Mission Team had worked to build a church for a community of Orthodox Christians from the Turkana tribe - a people indigenous to the region.
This was not the first time I had been among the Turkana. When my family and I served in Kenya as missionaries in the late 80s we had met several Turkana - distinctive from other Kenyan tribes in both appearance and custom. The expansion of the Church into Turkana lands, however, is a more recent development. Evangelistic efforts of charismatic preachers had planted the seeds of Orthodoxy among a handful of Turkana in Lodwar. Two of these men (Fr. Vladimir and Fr. Zachariah) attended seminary in Nairobi and are now serving as Orthodox priests in this arid northern region.
It was for the community, under the pastoral care of Fr. Vladimir, that the first OCMC Mission Team came to build a church. Inspecting the stone edifice of the structure that this Team worked so hard to build, I was stricken by how close we as the faithful of North America have come to the frontier of missions. This one physical manifestation of the Church was like a gateway beckoning us to take the Gospel to the thousands of people just over the horizon living without hope in Christ.
The following day I traveled out of Lodwar with Fr. Vladimir and Fr. Zachariah to meet with some of these people now within reach of the Church. The three hour jeep ride to the village of Loupala across the deserts of northern Kenya hinted at how far removed the Turkana are from the rest of the world and what struggles they face. The soft contours of the pale red earth were sun-baked with merciless intensity; the color green was conspicuously absent from the scenery I watched fly by through a film of dust that covered the windows.
In Loupala, we met a burgeoning community of Orthodox Christians evangelized by Fr. Zachariah. Before his arrival, 75% of the village was not Christian. Fr. Vladimir asked that we preach and teach, so under a shade tree about 200 people gathered as we spoke about the God’s plan for salvation and the importance of Baptism. Men, women, and children listened attentively, and some asked very good questions, even though many of them looked tired and weak.
Fr. Zachariah shared that some of the people who attended our catechetical seminar began the day with a fifteen-mile walk just to fetch water. Rain, as it turns out, is a very rare and precious resource for the Turkana people. They are plagued with cyclical drought. The fatigue of dehydration and starvation could be seen on the faces of malnourished children and parents feeling powerless to change the situation.
Many Turkana lose loved ones to these harsh conditions. Some have taken to violence and banditry among their own people as a means to escape the extreme poverty that surrounds them. Could Christ and His Church be an answer to these problems and a source of hope for the Turkana people?
In February 2010, I will lead another OCMC Mission Team to minister to the Turkana. This Team will continue the evangelism and catechism initiated by Fr. Vladimir and Fr. Zachariah and that I was able to participate in last October. This Team will also continue building the bonds of love that have begun to take hold, offering encouragement and fellowship as we are able.
I would like to invite you to track the progress and hear the stories of the Mission Team that is going to northern Kenya in February. Please visit OCMC.org and MyOCN.net daily from February 17th to March 1st to view pictures and read the Team’s blog from the field.
OCMC is committed to partnering with the Church in Kenya to share Christ with the Turkana people. We will continue exploring new ways of serving the people of northern Kenya in order to make the Gospel known and to address the significant spiritual and physical needs that exist there.
In our efforts to develop ministries aimed at welcoming people who, until now, have been beyond reach into the Body of Christ, the OCMC will be coordinating mission walks across the country this summer. A portion of the $100K we hope to raise will be used to bring water to the Turkana and broaden the evangelistic efforts taking place in the region. Please contact Kenneth Kidd at the OCMC by e-mail at Kenny@ocmc.org, or by phone at 1-877-GO-FORTH, if you and/or your community are interested in participating in bringing the light of Christ to the Turkana.
Please pray for the Turkana people, for the OCMC Mission Team that is preparing to serve them, and for the Church and Her ministries in Kenya. May the mercies of God the Father, the salvation of His only begotten Son, and the blessings of the Holy Spirit be with the Turkana.