Mai Mahiu is only 7 miles away from our home in Kijabe, Kenya, but it takes us at least half an hour to get there. The road is only partially paved, and the sections that are not descend by twists and turns into the Rift Valley 1,500 feet below us. The drive was a bit harrowing considering the road conditions and the fact that it was my first time behind the wheel in Africa–and that in a borrowed car. This is not a newsworthy fact except that cars in Kenya drive on the left side of the road, and the steering is on the right. It does require some adjustment. I often found myself keeping a little too far to the left, and I inadvertently squirted the windshield rather than turning on my blinker more than one time. I also tend to open the passenger side door before remembering the wheel is on the other side.
The name of the town, Mai Mahiu, like many other towns in our area, is a Maasai word. The Maasai people have inhabited this region of Africa, herding cattle and hunting wild animals, for centuries. Mai Mahiu means ‘place that cannot be touched’, or perhaps ‘place of the unreached.’ Whatever its original reference, Mai Mahiu is aptly named. It truly is a place in need of the gospel.
The town sits on one of the main thoroughfares that transect Kenya. Truckers from Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, and Tanzania often pass through. It is a familiar stopping place for many drivers. As a result, there is a disproportionately large number of bars and brothels catering to those passing through. A trade in stolen goods from the cargo trucks has also begun to flourish in Mai Mahiu. The drivers conspire with local dealers in order to make extra cash.
Many residents in Mai Mahiu are resistant to the gospel because it calls for a clear break with sinful lifestyles. Many who do seem to make a decision to follow Christ often return to their previous way of life. For a people just trying to survive from day to day, it takes a lot of faith to leave behind your livelihood to pursue more honest work that is not readily available. Ministering here is challenging, but there are success stories. Some new Christians are making the break with their past and finding work in new and reputable occupations. They are trading temporal security for eternal security.
We had planned our trip to Mai Mahiu to coincide with our midterm break from school. Our Kenyan friend, Tabitha, invited us to attend the church that her husband pastors in this valley town. I was also asked to bring the message for their morning worship time. What would I share? I had never lived in ‘survival mode’. I was not born into, nor had I ever lived in poverty. I thought about how exhausting life must be, both physically and mentally, when you’re not sure where your meals for the next day will come from. As I prayed, Matthew 11:28-30 came to mind, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
The five of us arrived for church at 10:00 am. I was told that I wouldn’t be speaking until about noon. Sunday school, worship, and group presentations were planned in the meantime, all conducted in a 20X50 foot room. About 40 church members were present and quite a few children of all ages. There was no nursery or Sunday school for children, but the Kenyan children quietly entertained themselves outside until it was time for their performance–only mildly bribed with hard candy. At one point, they remained lined up outside the church room in the sun for at least half an hour waiting to dance for the small congregation. Our boys were not nearly so patient. They are used to church day care, so they were bored inside church but too shy to play with the other children outside the church. Adam and Sam did perk up a bit when they got permission to sit on the motorcycle just outside.
After the service was over, we visited Pastor Joel and Tabitha’s apartment where we ate a late lunch. We sat on the couches surrounding the coffee tables in their one-room flat. Kenyans do not typically eat at a dining table in their homes. We enjoyed samosas (Indian egg rolls), pineapple, and sliced avocado. Our boys seemed to lose their inhibitions in the afternoon, and they ran barefoot up and down the hallways of the apartment building playing with other children.
Eva and I were blessed to see Joel and Tabitha’s ministry to the residents of Mai Mahiu. A strong Christian presence is desperately needed there. A mosque has recently been built by the Somalis who also inhabit the town. They represent another group who needs Christ in this “place of the unreached.”