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Training on Site part 1 – Working amidst ethnic violence

CMS missionary Norm Gorrie (serving with Janelle in Kenya) was invited by the Anglican Diocese of Marsabit to be the Director of Training and Mission. It is a privilege and responsibility that now sees him working both with enthusiastic Christians and amongst hostile Muslims. How can gospel leaders be trained?

Living in Marsabit

Above our house are the graves of Bishop Andrew Adano and Bishop William Waqo. God gave Janelle and I the incredible privilege of working under and alongside these two men. Our children went to school with theirs. We laughed, cried, and sweated together.

Our current Bishop, Bishop Qampicha, is a godly and courageous leader. Our Archbishops are also godly and very capable. They oversee a team of pastors and evangelists who lead churches across the north of the country. Many of these people we know well and have worked with in the 90s. It is just as well that we have such a strong fellowship, for the location demands it.

The Islamic and tribal North of Kenya is a stark contrast to the South. As you travel north from Nairobi, you pass Mount Kenya, and arrive at Isiolo. In many ways, you are entering a different territory. Islam dominates the culture, politics and worldview of the majority. Al Shabaab, a jihadist militant group, have deep roots here and throughout the north.

The Anglican Diocese of Marsabit stretches from Isiolo in the centre of Kenya, to Moyale on the northern border. Moyale too is very Muslim with all the challenges and insecurity of a border centre. Overall, the diocese is a corridor 500km long!

Ethnic clashes

Turbi is an area along the road between Isiolo and Moyale. Muslim and tribal religion and allegiance have deep roots into the psyche of people here. Here is the mass grave of 56 people, including 23 children, who were killed in the 2005 massacre involving the Boran and Gabra tribes.[1] Despite people experiencing firsthand the destruction and futility of ethnic violence, clashes between Boran and Gabra continue, with fresh attacks this week.

In the 90s, when we did mission at Turbi, many were a mix of Catholicism and traditional religion—now Turbi is almost entirely Muslim. Recently, Bishop Qampicha went to Turbi to place an evangelist there, and, despite being one of the key leaders in the government appointed Interfaith Council and a warrior for reconciliation, he was given a very hostile reception.

Boran and Gabra isn’t the only tribal clash in this region. Last year clashes between Turkana and Sumburu saw people killed, homes destroyed, and livelihoods lost. Many Christians had to live out in the bush for fear of being attacked. In Moyale in the North, bloody clashes between Boran and Garree saw many dead. The whole town is under this dark cloud of hate and insecurity.

Working amidst the strife

In the wake of these years of turmoil, the government formed an interfaith council to spearhead mediation and reconciliation.  Bishop Qampicha and Provost Mark Kargi spent much time and energy seeking to bring warring parties together and bring an end to the clashes.

The Venerable Abraham—Archdeacon of Isilolo archdeaconry—knows firsthand the impact of ethnic violence. Bloody clashes between Turkana and Sumburu devastated the communities and churches he oversees. After several years, he is still in a lot of pain because of the bullet that is lodged near his spine. He was shot when going to take the gospel of peace to those in his Archdeaconry.  With budgets stretched to the limit, it is very difficult to find the money to get the medical attention needed to treat this. Yet, despite the pain, the Ven Abraham continues to serve Christ and lead his people.

With the clashes whole communities had to flee—like the people of Idido. Last year elders from Gabra Idido community invited us to come and bring the gospel to them. They warmly welcomed us all the times we came. With the clashes they were attacked and had to flee. They now live in an area where it takes four days to take their camels to water and getting water and food for their children is huge challenge.  Despite wonderful efforts by the Interfaith council to bring reconciliation, this week there were attacks at the Idido water point.

Following up the people of Idido is a big task for the Rev Guyo. He is the vicar in charge of Maikona parish which includes Balesa which is a long way from Maikona on a very dangerous rough road through the desert.  But there is no budget for petrol and his motorbike desperately needs a service. He’s also responsible for Barenbate church – where 64 households renounced the demonic Ayyana to follow Christ. But some weeks back the church was blown over. The Ayyanna neighbours scoffed and ridiculed the Christians at Barenbate. How does Pastor Guyo, whose wage is barely enough to live on, find the resources to help rebuild the church? They are already in much need of food because of the drought.

But we know our Lord’s declaration stands! Matt 16:18 “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” These are the words of the one who has defeated the power of death. It is through the living and abiding word that the spiritually dead are born again. It is the word which is the pure spiritual milk which enables a young Christian to grow. It is the word of God that equips his people for every good work.

Read on in Part 2 to hear about the challenges of training gospel workers to minister in this environment.

Pray

Ethnic violence causes pain and heartbreak in many areas of the world. Pray for the people of Kenya to learn to love their neighbour as Christ loves them. Pray that CMS missionaries can be witnesses to the healing power of Jesus.

[1] https://www.aljazeera.com/archive/2005/07/2008410134655363607.html