West Pokot is in northwest Kenya. It is over 300 miles from Nairobi and close to the Ugandan border. Its people have traditionally been cattle raiders.
There is little water available in their communities and no electricity. Light at night is provided by hurricane lamps. There are no vegetables – the people are pastoral, keeping cows, goats, chickens and some sheep. They live in mud homes and have next to nothing in the way of medical care. The roads are poor and the terrain consists of hilly ridges.
Pokot Christians show warmth in their sung praise and fellowship. They sing with vigorous clapping, one leading and the rest repeating the line or singing the chorus. They have a special song for exiting a place of worship. They gradually form a circle outside, with each person passing to the end of the row shaking hands with those already in the line.
Trinity Baptist Church (TBC), Nairobi, is seeking to disseminate biblical Christianity in this region. In the past we have addressed such questions from the Pokot as these – Is it sin to eat blood? Is it necessary to know the exact time of one’s conversion? Is it true that strong prayers go to the upper heaven while weak ones only go to the lower?
In March, Keith Underhill from TBC led one of his regular trips to encourage the Pokot churches. Andrew Chemolok, a leader of the Chepkinagh church, accompanied us. He is a good interpreter for preaching and talking with people but has only had primary education.
We visited the church at Chepkinagh, which has gone through hard times. Half its original members left to join an extreme charismatic group called Nuru (light), founded by an illiterate Pokot ‘prophet’.
Because Christianity came to the area through mission schools, the wazee (older married men) think that the gospel is not for them but for children and women. However, here is a typical discussion that took place with some wazee.
Groups of men were passing through Chepkinagh to the hills to get special white clay to smear on their bodies – they had been told they would thereby live for ever! Keith requested to hear about the prophet to whose words they cling.
When he asked them if the prophet’s words always came true, they admitted they did not. But they shifted blame for this onto the participants, saying they were not carrying out the prophet’s instructions exactly.
It is this prophet who plans cattle-raiding forays. But they are by no means always successful – it is estimated that at least 100 men die each year as a result and most families have been bereaved.
Not only do they steal cattle from neighbouring tribes, but along with drunkenness there is constant fighting in their homes. After they have defeated their enemies in a raid the men say they are returning to their enemies at home (wives).
We asked how they could listen to a man who encouraged such evil things as murder and theft. It was amazing (and encouraging) to hear someone reply that this is the reason why the wazee are considering Christianity. They are realising the peaceful and profitable life that the gospel can produce.
The Chepkinagh church suffered when two of its men became polygamists after professing to be Christians. They lamely said they had not known it was wrong until now!
Samuel has a child from his second wife and seemed very contrite. We told him he had to confess his sin before the church members and make known his repentance as widely as possible.
In addition, he must seek to treat both wives with equal love. Sending the second away with the child creates more problems than it solves – and in no way can he be allowed to take further wives.
William had only recently married his second wife. Keith recommended that if the lady is not with child he ought to take her back to her home. William objected that this would be a shameful thing. Keith asked the church members (who know the culture fully) to make a final decision.
You might ask why Andrew had not already dealt with this issue. One reason is that he and the other leaders have never seen church leadership in practice. There is a great need for a mature Christian worker or missionary in the area.
In a meeting with six church members, questions centred around the difficulties of marriage – how to deal with a second wife who is not saved and gets drunk; what to do about a husband who drinks, commits adultery and neglects his family.
Other questions had to do with eating meat used in traditional African ceremonies of healing and female circumcision (1 Corinthians 8-10).
At the present time the Chepkinagh church numbers nearly twenty members. We were given opportunities to preach on Sunday to about 35 adults. Subjects covered were the Sabbath (Exodus 20:8-11), our duty to love our enemies (Luke 6:27-36) and the gospel from Luke 7:36-50.