Every morning a small group of men meet for a time of prayer and Bible study in the little church in Kalacha, in the north of Kenya.
Led by one of the missionaries, the group are currently working through the Psalms, and one morning during my recent visit they came to Psalm 72.
What a case of reading the Bible in situ! Psalm 72:9 prophesies that ‘the desert tribes will bow before him [that is, Jesus Christ]’ — desert tribes like the Gabbra, and others in the Northern Frontier District (NFD) of Kenya.
In small but significant ways, that prophecy is coming true today, but the spiritual need is still vast.
Up here it is hard to believe that Kenya is, perhaps, the most evangelised country in Africa. There is little sign of it. There may well be, according to some statistics, 13 million believers in the country, but only a very small handful live in the NFD.
There may well be over 2,200 Christian expatriate missionaries in Kenya, but only 17 work in the NFD, a region of over 24,000 square miles. Eleven of these workers are members of Africa Inland Mission International (AIM), but we have not had a new missionary there for 15 years.
Herbert, known as Dilly, and his wife Ruth have been working in this part of Kenya for around 30 years and have built strong relationships with the Gabbra people as well as with the related Borana tribe.
Dilly is a water engineer by training and has conducted extensive water supply and tree-planting work in this arid area.
He has also been instrumental in laying well over a hundred miles of tracks through the Hurri Hills, where some of the families live especially during the rainy season.
One visit during my recent stay took us high up into these hills, where we met the only two Christian families living there.
There is an empty house where missionaries used to live, but there have been no new workers here for years.
The Gabbra people, like many of the others in the NFD, are a nomadic people and live on the edge of the Chalbi Desert, herding their camels, goats and cattle.
The cattle only survive in the hills, while on the desert plains the camels give a good yield of milk all year round, the staple diet of the Gabbra.
Gabbra homes are small igloo-shaped huts, which are built and owned by the women, and can be dismantled, packed and loaded on a camel within 5 hours.
Some evenings, Dilly travels for an hour or so on stone track roads, which take a toll on the tyres and suspension of vehicles — not to mention their passengers — and visits a small, isolated cluster of 6 or 7 homes.
Towards the end of the day, the community comes to life as first the goats and then the camels are brought back in from their day’s grazing and secured for the night.
The camels and goats have spent the day in the care of children who look no older than 8 or 9 years of age.
A thick, nourishing drink of camel’s milk is prepared and along with some of the tribal people, Dilly stretches out on a camel skin under the stars and talks.
It has taken many years to build relationships like this. In an age when the emphasis is on short-term mission opportunities, it is a reminder that nothing can take the place of a life spent living in a close relationship with those one is reaching with the gospel.
Every morning at 7.30am a small group of men meet in the little AIC church in Kalacha for a time of prayer and Bible study, led by either Dilly Andersen or Brian Hoffman.
Desert tribes like the Gabbra and the others in the Northern Frontier District of Kenya are gradually coming to Christ. In small but significant ways, the prophecy of Psalm 72:9 is coming true today, but the need is still vast.
When the Andersens retire next year, the already small and inadequate AIM workforce will be still further depleted. Who will join them? Who will replace them?
Who will go?