Several years back we moved from our home in a busy East African city to a horrible house on a small 5-acre farm just outside of the busyness. It was leading from God pure stupidity on our part and it was actually one of the worst years of our lives. We should have had some sort of indication when learning that the property was known by the locals as “the one grave” due the past landlord’s grave being right next to the house. Because we apparently love to make ourselves miserable, we decided it was the perfect place for us.
What happened there really wasn’t that out of the ordinary. It was more the pressures of living a half city/half village life that had us mentally exhausted. We weren’t prepared for how strange it would be to live in between the two worlds. There were normal daily pressures of rarely having running water, our landlord being the worst, insects everywhere, our neighbors having secret meetings to punish us for “allowing” ourselves to be robbed of the little water we did have, and just being really lonely. The times that I would finally force myself to drive down our horrible roads into the city, I would load up at the grocery store. Arriving home there would be a line of neighbors asking me about each bag that I carried in. Every move was watched, which made the conveniences of the city (and once normal things like grocery stores) a daily struggle with guilt.
Also, there were the snakes. They were everywhere. Like, literally it was as if the house was built on top of a giant snake pit. Almost every single day there was a new snake found. Once our kids thought they had discovered “hedgehog eggs” (I homeschooled that year and obviously dropped the ball somewhere in the science department) when they were actually reaching into a snake hole pulling out her eggs. I had grown so accustomed to snakes that one day, after being warned not to go to the side of the house because a snake had just been spotted, I went anyway. Little did I know that when I turned the corner I would encounter not just any snake, but a large black mamba (one of the world’s deadliest snakes). The large dark grey snake had a frog clutched inside of its terrifying black mouth. Immediately the frog was released and the mamba came quickly after me. The only thing that saved me that day was the large box that I was able to throw in between myself and the snake. *Every missionary has a snake story to tell, so I used my one and only for this blog. Sorry. Not Sorry. No, I actually am kind of sorry.
Not only was the home a bust, but the ministries that we had planned were all failing. At the center of our plans was a college near our property. The year we moved in, it lost most of its students due to government issues. The community that we thought we would be “reaching” pretty much rejected us from the beginning (probably because our kids thought that hedgehogs laid eggs).
We also didn’t have a wall around our property, which was causing its own issues, so we decided to look for a guard. Our landlord arranged for a former employee to come for the job. In walked Saitoti – a very slender and very serious man from the Maasai tribe, dressed in his full Maasai apparel; machete included (the Maasai are a semi-nomadic tribe known for raising cattle and being “warriors”). Right away I tried to welcome him didn’t like him at all. In fact, he freaked me out. He had an intense stare that made me feel super uneasy. I thought “How can he be my guard when all I want to do is hire a guard to specifically protect me from him?” Aaron stood firm on giving him a chance. We did.
Saitoti eventually asked permission to bring his best friend Michael over during the day. Michael was also Maasai and working as a night guard. So, stranded up on the hill away from the city, sanity and from any other friends, these two guys became like family to us. Eventually about five other Maasai men moved onto our property as well.
We moved after our 1-year contract was up because it turns out that the snake farm/”one grave” was one of our worst ideas ever. When we moved into our new home, everyone moved with us. We moved our family, a group of Maasai, some goats, dogs, a few pregnant pigs, and a bunch of chickens back into the city. Then even more Maasai came to the new house. Now, there are anywhere from 10-15 Maasai men and now two women who live on our property. They all came from their home in the Ngorongoro Crater to look for work in the city.
So, our kids have like 15 very involved “parental figures” watching and correcting them at all times. And with a big learning curve on all our parts, these guys moved into our lives, into our home and into our hearts.
It takes a lot of patience living in constant community. It is not perfect. Rarely, sometimes okay so about every other month, there is conflict. I remember the first time that Michael, Saitoti and I got into an argument and I had one of those defining moments where I thought, “Is this really who I have become?” “Am I seriously fighting in Swahili with two grown men wearing beaded earrings around their torn earlobes, robed in red traditional garb, with machetes and clubs attached to their hips?” Yep, my life is weird.
Through all this chaos, Bible Studies in the Kimaasai language were started. Saitoti and Michael were both saved and later baptized! Then more started coming to Christ! More were baptized! Their wives were saved! They were also baptized! Every week more and more Maasai gathered at our home studying God’s Word, discovering truth together! This became the beginning of our Saturday morning house church! *not sorry for obnoxious overuse of exclamation points
Not only is there a spark of a movement happening among the Maasai in our community, but every year when they go back home to Ngorongoro Crater for their month-long vacation, they return as missionaries. They take Kimaasai Bibles and stories they know of God’s Word. They share the gospel and teach their people how to read God’s Word.
We have become the most unlikely family and an even more unlikely church.
We had a completely different ministry and “strategy” in mind when we moved to “one grave” farm. Not one single expectation was met. The great thing about all of this is that not one of God’s plans were destroyed (Job 42:2) nor were any of His plans contingent upon our success. He planned for Saitoti to show up on that farm that year. He planned to bring many more Maasai to Himself in the midst of our wars with the snakes, our failed plans, and our discouragement. He gave us the privilege of watching Him bring people to himself despite our “failing plans” and our “wasted year on the farm.” He once again proved that His strength is made perfect in our weakness (the theme of our life over here).
And Just for Fun: Six Things That The Maasai Have Taught Me About Raising Goats:
- Don’t let the baby goat’s umbilical chord stay on too long or it could get infected. Instead, use your mouth to bite it off. Look shocked when others are disgusted by this behavior.
- There is an herbal remedy for almost any sickness or ailment that goats may have…except eating plastic bags. Once a plastic bag has been ingested, prepare the BBQ because we are eating goat tonight.
- If you let the females stay too close to the males then their milk smells (and tastes) too strongly of hormones. Avoid that taste at all costs.
- If you learn how to skin the goat just right then you can gift your friends and family with a small rug.
- If you get to the mama goat in time with cups of coffee then you can just squeeze some “creamer” in before her babies finish it all.
- If you want to “fix” or neuter a male goat, there is absolutely no need to call a doctor. Simply get your heaviest club and beat the “desired area” until it is no longer able to function. The sound alone will make all the city neighbors angry and scared…they just don’t understand.
I’ll leave you with that!
Grace and Peace,
*Permission was given by both Saitoti and Michael for the use of their names and the sharing of these stories; even the part where I didn’t like Saitoti (we laugh about it now). Turns out he didn’t think much of me either.