By Jesse Masai
Before 2010, Erupata was a quiet, remote village along the floor of the Great Rift Valley in Kenya, steeped in the rhythms of its people, their livestock, and nearby wildlife.
Save for periodic immunization efforts by Anglican Development Services and short-term visits by itinerant evangelists, the village had little interaction with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
All that changed when, in 2012, Rev. Samuel Githinji, the chaplain of St. Paul’s University in Central Kenya, dispatched one of his students, Rev. Francis Ole Kiok to the bishop of the nearby Diocese of Kericho, Jackson Ole Sapit. He asked Bishop Ole Sapit, who is now the primate of the Anglican Church of Kenya, for partnership in establishing a mission among the Maasai people of Erupata. Both men are ethnically Maasai. The Nilotic tribe live in a region that straddles the Kenya-Tanzania border. Ole, in the Maasai language, means “son of,” while Erupata means “raised ground.”
“Bishop Ole Sapit gave us full support, whenever we requested it. We carried out our first mission that year amidst a prolonged spell of drought,” recalls Ole Kiok, who now ministers at the university.
He continued engaging with the people of Erupata, inviting them to be baptized and confirmed, and to grow in discipleship.
Named in honour of the university’s pioneering efforts, St. Paul’s Anglican Church in Erupata now stands 50 kilometers (about 31 miles) from the world-famous Maasai Mara National Reserve, near the Tanzanian border, and 117 kilometers from the Kenyan capital, Nairobi. It is now a mission of Narok Parish, whose principal church is 36 kilometers away.
The Rev. Nolavy Arisoa, now with the Anglican Church of Madagascar’s Diocese of Toliara, was part of a group of college students from the university who accompanied Rev. Githinji and Ole Kiok on the first mission campaign in 2012. The road to Erupata was very muddy, she remembered, and students needed to get off the university’s bus and clear bushes before they could continue with their journey.
“When we arrived, we slept in a classroom whose doors couldn’t be locked. We were quite afraid because wild animals were hovering around. We were warned in advance to be vigilant, just in case an elephant, lion, leopard, hyena, zebra, or wildebeest popped in. We had to stick together at all times, including during door-to-door evangelistic outreaches,” she says.
As they explored the village, the students mostly found women because men were out in the African savannah either hunting or grazing cattle, while ensuring that no predators attacked the village.
The women were responsible for making tiny mud houses, locally referred to as ‘manyatta.’
“We helped one lady build her hut before sharing the Gospel with her. This was very encouraging to her. She became keen to hear what we had to say,” remembers Arisoa.
On their part, indigenous Christians provided geographical directions and guidance about cross-cultural awareness, including teaching the students local songs, which drew several residents to the outreach efforts.
A grateful local resident offered them a goat when the mission came to an end.
“I realized that we stay stronger together. People are more responsive when they feel that they are being respected as persons and their culture is understood. This provides an open door for the Gospel to reach their hearts,” Arisoa observes.
The Rev. Rebecca Bartocho, now with the Reformed Church of East Africa’s Kitengela Parish, coordinated many of the details for the first university mission, which has become an annual event, with ecumenical support.
“I helped the Anglican Communion start and sustain a church, in the process learning much about opinion leaders, resource mapping, prayer, and fasting,” she says.
To help Erupata’s evangelists earn a living, St. Paul’s University raised money to start a tiny shop, which the villagers valued because the nearest large town, Ewaso Nyiro, is 23 kilometers away. The mission team also bought a solar charger for lighting and phone power. The current evangelist, Emmanuel Kosen, serves the community by leading midweek fellowship meetings, as well as worship services on Sundays and vigils.
The Erupata mission now hosts not only a church with 130 seats, but also a mission house and an elementary school, built with contributions from the university and indigenous Christians. Villagers provided land for the mission station.
Though the congregation was originally composed of women and children only, the diverse leadership of the university mission teams have inspired men to also join the Church. It now has 30 men, 100 women, 45 youths and 70 children The first Church wedding at Erupata will be held December 29, 2020, in a move that is expected to encourage youth towards chastity.
The Venerable Samuel Ole Naikumi, vicar of Narok Parish, says the mission is now planting another church six kilometers away.
“Following negotiations by the archbishop, Compassion International began sponsoring 151 orphans from Erupata and surrounding villages in 2018. As a result, so many more children are coming to worship with us,” he adds.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic hit the East African nation, Erupata was teeming with life. The internet had even arrived two years ago.
Now it faces uncertainty. The mission center, which could become a hub for evangelization in the region and northern Tanzania, continues to grapple with the challenges first experienced by the university mission team, including human-wildlife conflict.
“We are fighting with animals over scarce water, and recently lost three people to cholera. We travel 21 kilometers to reach the nearest dispensary. Young people ask us if we can put up an empowerment center. Our girls, on the other hand, wonder when we will put up a safe house to shield them from female genital mutilation and teenage pregnancy. It is overwhelming,” says Ole Naikumi.
The archdeacon’s predecessor at Narok Parish, Musa Kamuren, who is now the Bishop of Baringo, believes Erupata needs all the help it can get.
“The congregation has taught us that we can bring change from within by going to where people are and staying with them. Faithful person-to-person preaching and raising indigenous missioners creates ownership, as opposed to previous outreach models. Deep-rooted story-telling, on the other hand, enhances discipleship,” he concludes.
Jesse Masai is a freelance journalist based in Limuru, Kenya.