Good Friday morning ...
It's that time of year when I am busily putting together another team to take to Tanzania on a short-term mission. Plans are for TEAM TANZANIA 2020 to leave the US on or about June 14th or 15th and return on or about July 4th or 5th.
Many people ask me: Why do you do this? After twenty years of taking teams to Tanzania what more is there to gain? And more specifically, why do you keep going back to the Maasai people?
Why indeed? I have been asked to lead groups to India, Central America and Eastern Europe ... yet I always return to East Africa, primarily to the regions inhabited by this primitive-living people group known as the Maasai.
My original burden for the Maasai came in 2000 when I first encountered these special people. I was working with Dr. Steven Friberg who was born and raised in Tanzania as a missionary kid and has devoted his life to meeting both the spiritual and physical needs of the Maasai as a medical bush doctor.
I quickly became enamored with these beautiful people over my initial three weeks stay ... living among them and practicing life as they lived it in the bush. I found them to have been marginalized by the increased popularity of game hunting and safari tourism which has become big business in East Africa. Being traditionally nomadic herdsmen, they had wandered the plains and savannahs of northern Tanzania and southern Kenya for centuries. This was their land, their territory, their space. But their roaming area has been reduced considerably by governmental restrictions. Much more money can be made off of big game hunters and safari tourists than can be made from these primitive tribesmen who are so skeptical of government they even refuse to be counted in a census.
Consequently, the Maasai have been forced into smaller and smaller areas in which to find grazing and water for their herds. With such restricted mobility, much physical and financial hardship has been caused.
It is mainly to the Christians among the Maasai to whom I have been drawn ... seeing their love for the Lord, their devotion to His Word and their eagerness to learn and share their faith. I have met men who serve as evangelists in tiny bush villages receiving the pittance of a salary equivalent to $5 per month. These men have families of multiple children to support with little or no resources, dependent on the meager income generated from a few goats and chickens, while trying to raise a few vegetables on their rocky plot of ground and bartering where possible for a bag of rice, ground maize or beans.
But it is also to the non-Christian ... the people the evangelists are trying to reach ... to whom I am genuinely drawn, for these people are truly miserable and are stuck without promise or hope.
There is a dangerous tendency in America to glamorize the poor in developing countries of the world. During my treks to Africa, I often see abject poverty, and I assure you, there is nothing noble about witnessing such suffering.
These situations are not some freeze-framed snapshots of journalistic manipulations prepared for the evening news back home. They involve very real people living in situations far beyond our comprehension. And although, as a visitor, I might share some brief moments, some kind words and prayers and emotional support ... soon I am on my way ... off to the next stop, to the next destination, to the next set of images, before ultimately winging my way back home.
For me ... I am just passing through. But those desperate lives and tragic circumstances I leave behind grind on me in real time long after I am gone. As I sit in the comfort of my home, my mental photo album plays itself over and over again while real tears are being shed and real mothers are being buried and real children are being raised with unimaginable challenges and hardships and real evangelists are attempting to touch the lives of those who live so desperately.
The pain once observed is now shared ... but at a distance. And it is that pain which drives me to raise more funds to provide more resources to help more evangelists and their families and to offer more educational opportunities for these men where before none were possible ... and it is that pain which drives me to return again and again to do what little I can in the name of our Lord who died for these no less than any other.
And so I prepare once again to embark on another trip, eager to hurry into the bush to renew work with native Maasai in an effort to improve a medical dispensary in remote Piaya ... excited to visit and encourage evangelists and pastors in their villages along the way ... and looking forward to once again sharing a message of hope in the congregations I am able to visit.
"Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me." [The words of Jesus - Matthew 25:40]
Please pray for the manifold preparations necessary this trip and for God's perfect will to once again be accomplished through this effort.
Have a great weekend in the Lord ...
"Benevolence doesn't consist in those who are prosperous pitying and helping those who are not. Benevolence consists in fellow feeling that puts you upon the same level with the fellow who suffers." [ Woodrow Wilson, 28th President of the United States]