« December 2017 « Feature
Every Nation, Tribe, People, and Tongue
A Seed Planted Grows in God’s Time
Over the flat and arid land of southern Kisii County, Kenya, the Maasai dwell. Living as nomads, they roam the land in search of grazing for their herds of cattle, sheep, and goats. For many years, the Kenyan government worked hard to limit interaction between Maasai people and Westerners. They wanted to preserve Maasai’s vibrant culture. The people had little knowledge of Christ until recently, and mission work seemed impossible. Yet, during the 1960s, Fred and Jean Thomas planted a seed of mission work that has now grown into a full harvest.
Fred Thomas served as the president of the South Kenya Field in 1955, before it became the Kisii Conference. In a desire to reach out to the Maasai people, he talked with doctors at Kendu Mission Hospital, an Adventist institution, about going with him once a month to hold a clinic for the Maasai living on the border of Maasailand. Knowing that Western culture was not welcome, they still agreed to go.
This went well for several months. As a nomadic culture, the Maasai often experienced danger and disease from living off the land. Now they could receive medical help near home. Until, one day, a letter came from the Kilgoris district commissioner.
“The letter stated that we were no longer to enter Maasai country,” says Jean Thomas. “The local Maasai chief, Mafuta, had objected to our presence in his area.” This meant they could no longer reach out to the Maasai or help them in any way. Respecting the law, the Thomas family soon lost contact with all Maasai people.
They continued to work in surrounding areas, sharing about the love of God with whomever they could. Several months later, Fred Thomas returned to visit the Kendu Mission Hospital. There, he found the Maasai chief, Mafuta, and two of his wives wandering around the hospital grounds. This man had objected to their presence in his land, yet now traveled into the territory of another tribe specifically to visit the Seventh-day Adventist Hospital. Shocked, Fred talked with them.
“Mafuta,” he said, “What are you doing down here at our hospital? You didn't want us to hold a clinic for your people in Maasailand, so how are you here?”
“I got very sick,” Mafuta responded. “So I went to the government hospital, but they could not help me. Then I went to another hospital, but I did not get well there either. Then finally my wives suggested I come down here to your hospital, and they have made me well!”
That experience began to build Mafuta’s trust in the Seventh-day Adventist Church. He welcomed the church, once again, to host health clinics in Maasailand. About that time, the Thomas’ left the Kisii area to continue mission work in a different part of Africa. They lost contact with the Maasai people, but the story continued.
“My grandpa worked hard to reach the Maasai people,” said Aaron Thomas, Jean and Fred’s grandson. “God put that on his heart, but he kept getting denied and denied. Even before he left he never saw huge success from it. It was up in the air if his work was doing anything or not. But, he knew in his heart that his goal was not to see results, but just to give.”
Fred Thomas passed away in 2015. Rather than gifts of flowers for the funeral, the family suggested that people donate money to Maranatha for a mission trip to Kisii County, Kenya. They raised funds to build three churches in Fred’s memory and, in July of this year, 20 family members and friends attended the mission trip with Jean and 100 other Maranatha volunteers.
When Maranatha sent a list of places in the Kisii area requesting a church building, Jean was asked whether she recognized any of the names.
“I could hardly believe my eyes,” said Jean. “One of the border districts of Maasai country requested three churches! How could this be?”
After a nine-hour flight from Dallas to Amsterdam, then another nine-hour flight from Amsterdam to Nairobi and a six-hour bus ride to Kisii, Seventh-day Adventist Maasai people greeted the weary travelers. The Maasai lined up to sing and dance as the missionary group stepped off the bus. The last time that Jean Thomas traveled to this region, there were no Seventh-day Adventist Maasai at all. Now, 200 members attend this one church out of many churches in Maasailand.
They spoke with pastors of the region. Jean told them the story of Mafuta, explaining her amazement at the number of Maasai Adventists. As she shared Mafuta’s story, a grin broke out on the pastor’s face. He called a young man over and introduced him as Mafuta’s grandson. The grandson verified Jean’s story and continued to share how the church started in Maasailand. Mafuta and his family were one of the first to convert to Christianity.
Now, one in four people in the region, heavily populated by Maasai, are Seventh-day Adventists. Churches continue to be built as more and more people learn about Christ.
As the busses arrived for worship Sabbath morning, several Maasai choirs, dressed in colorful garments, welcomed the missionaries by singing Maasai style praise songs. While they danced and sang, members of the Maasai tribe wrapped each guest in a new red-checked Maasai blanket, giving each man a staff. They gave Jean a handmade necklace, telling her, ‘Welcome home.” These gifts signified an honorary official induction into the Maasai tribe.
“The Maasai were once very secluded and did not welcome in foreign beliefs and cultures,” said Aaron. “They wanted to keep everything preserved. Now, they are opening up their minds and arms to us, letting us join them. Even today, that is uncommon.”
In an area once completely closed to the world, the Thomas family made the choice to serve God despite opposition. They did not see the fruits of their mission work, but trusted God to work all things for good. Now, many Maasai people know Jesus as their personal saviour. Jean Thomas celebrated her 90th birthday in November 2017. She continues to serve God every day and hopes to attend another Maranatha mission trip to the Kisii County if they offer another one.
“As a one-time missionary to that area, I am over-awed at what God has done and is still doing in that part of Africa,” said Jean. “I can’t wait for that day when we gather together on that sea of glass up in heaven, with all the tribes and nations from around the world, to sing praises to our Heavenly Father and His Son, Jesus Christ. What a day that will be!”
Makala James is a writer and journalism graduate from Southwestern Adventist University. She lives in Granbury, Texas with her husband, Denny.