In a town called Nakura, a place largely unknown to most of the world, David Kimani knocked on the door of a small concrete shanty. Behind the personable, tall, broad shouldered man was Seminole resident Connie Lamm, whose blonde hair and light skin stood in contrast to Kimani and others out on the street of this town that lies a three-hour bus ride northwest of the Kenyan capital of Nairobi.
With a polite if somewhat uneasy welcome coming from inside the modest dwelling, Kimani entered and Lamm followed, stepping onto the dirt floor as she allowed her eyes to adjust to the dimly lit room where a young mother sat with her child. Speaking in her native Swahili, the girl began to tell her story to the veteran pastor as she held her toddler in her arms. The child could not walk.
Translating into near flawless English, Kimani explained to Ms. Lamm that the young mother had once been part of a church in the town, but had felt helpless and rejected when the church's leadership told her that her son, who clearly suffered from some sort of neurological disorder, was likely "demon possessed". She never returned to that congregation, or to any other.
Turning back to the young lady, whose face began to betray that she was warming up to her guests, Pastor Kimani assured her that she had been misled by uninformed people, and hoped that she would consider allowing her faith to lead her back to a more hospitable congregation at another local church. Her confidence seemed to build as the wise man continued the conversation for a few more minutes, before his small party took its leave.
Kimani sees his calling as evangelism, a fulfillment of the "Great Commission" articulated by Jesus to his disciples in the book of Matthew: "Go ye therefore into all nations..." With 30 years of Bible teaching under his belt, the man could likely find Jeremiah 16:16 with his eyes closed: "But now I will send for many fishermen," declares the Lord, "and they will catch them... "
Fishermen of that day, of course, were not slinging a fly rig into a Colorado mountain stream. Evangelism by definition is about casting a wide net, as a commercial fisherman would. It's more about the conversion of groups - if not entire nations - into the Christian fold. Some might descibe it, indelicately perhaps, as a numbers game of sorts. The more who are "saved", the more successful the mission.
Respectful of that commission, Lamm is also aware of an additional calling in this multi-faceted belief system called Christianity, one that appears to set a timeline of sorts as the less oft-quoted portion of the passage continues. "...after that, I will send for many hunters, and they will hunt them down on every mountain and hill and from the crevices of the rocks."
For some Bible scholars, the "after that" indicates that, at some point, the era of moderan evangelism will have run its course as the nets are hung up to dry and believers will go in search, even among their own, for those individuals who have strayed, one by one.
As Lamm sees her own personal calling, it is indeed more about the hunter, the one who leaves the broader work of evangelism to the "fishermen", and searches for hearts as a hunter would move silently across mountains and into crevices in search for a wounded creature to bring him in - much as one might find a young, wounded mother who may have strayed to protect her child after receiving well-meaning but irresponsible advice from people in positions of self-imposed authority. In Lamm's words, it's "one on one." It does not work in contrast to the Great Commision, it runs parallel to it. It is a self-sponsored personal mission that she has chosen to engage in, without outside funding.
It was at the suggestion of friend Mark Beatty that Ms. Lamm checked a website for the International Commission, a missionary organization that had its roots in Seminole's First Baptist Church before founder Ben Mieth made the non-profit an organization that would not require sponsorship from any single source, and moved it to Lewisville, Texas. He and his wife Bertha settled into nearby Glen Rose. Having known the Mieths for several years, Lamm got the nod and the rest was academic - make some phone calls, book an international flight, make sure the passport is up-to-date, and drive with son Keg to Lubbock to get her immunizations.
It is a process that is nothing new to Lamm - herself a veteran, of sorts, of missionary work. She has travelled with various groups to the gritty streets of Brooklyn and Manhattan, joined medical and/or evangelical missions in Ojinaga, Mexico and the Amazon River Valley of Brazil, and climbed to mountain villages in a place especially dear to her heart - one that continues to call her back - Copan Ruinas, Honduras. Her personal preference is the medical missions. She reasons that a soul can't be saved if it isn't housed in a live body.
The IC organization would be bringing approximately 50 people to Africa, but most would leave from Dallas, as Lamm boarded a place alone in Lubbock, bound for Houston. There, she met one person from her party, a younger lady named Katherine. While waiting for the next flight to Amsterdam, the two women learned of the shoot-down of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 over Ukraine, after leaving the Amsterdam airport that very morning. The Norwegian city, a sort of hub for international flights, was somber when she arrived later that evening to meet the rest of the IC party - grieving relatives had likely been shepherded to a more private area in a remote part of the airport.
After finally having crossed seven time zones and putting down in Nairobi more than 12 hours later, the party settled in for the night and loaded onto a bus the next morning for a three-hour ride to the Hotel Bontana in the center of Nakura, which would be the group's base of operations for the next week. After a brief rally and an orientation to familiarize themselves with local custom and to set an agenda, the travellers were divided into smaller groups. Pastor William Fonto, a local coordinator for the IC organization, introduced Lamm to Kimani, with whom she would work for the duration, along with Les Fogleman, a native of Ponchatoula, La., and a few locals.
Lamm would also soon meet Pastor Bernard Obuya, an imposing man with a near seven-foot frame and a wide grin to match, with whom she had already struck up a sort of friendship via Facebook. Obuya, who would oversee the operation, is the Founding Pastor of the community Baptist Church in Kayole, a section of Nairobi, as well as the Mum Bertha Kindergarten and the Kayole Community School and Centre. In a different group, Lamm met another former Seminole resident, Joe Stewart, who now calls Arizona home.
Lamm was soon relieved to find that most of her hosts spoke English as a second language, and reasonably well, as do most of the Kenyan nationals, a tradition - along with afternoon tea - rooted in British colonial rule that ended in 1963. For those who did not, a translator was usually on hand. Some come from backgrounds in a variety of traditional and tribal religions, including Catholicism and Islam, though the Muslim presence is not yet as predominant as it is in other parts of the continent.
British influence also translated into more "Christian" given names in this region, rather than tribal or Muslim ones. President Barack Hussein Obama, of course, would be the most noteworthy exception, his name given to him by his Kenya-born father of the same name, who had been rabidly opposed to colonization and the western influence of his culture before his death by car accident in nearby Nairobi.
Though not completely immune to the kind of chaos that has bloodied much of Africa - factional riots ensued after its 2007 elections - Kenya remains a comparatively stable country on Africa's east coast. But for a few loud local drunks that the men in the mission group would keep a watchful eye on, "we felt relatively safe," Lamm explained. "But we didn't go out alone. We stayed in groups."
For the Americans, a full day of missionary work was tiring, and except for an occasional pickup game of soccer with the local children after 4:30 or so, it was an early dinner and off to bed. On one day, "Pastor David" invited the group up to his house for dinner, no easy task for the group who walked the mile-and-a-half uphill to get to his residence.
Poverty is the norm, of course, but not of the grinding sort seen in other parts of the continent. Some subsist on small patches of ground that yield corn, cabbage, tomatoes, and a variety of legumes, despite recent dought that has made life more difficult. Others can grow enough to sell on the market, and still others can afford sheep, goats, and a smaller version of Brahma cattle than their counterparts in the west.
With many of the men employed by the army and retiring to barracks each morning, the "army wives" gather in groups. They tend to have slightly cleaner, better equipped homes, but wood burning stoves and tiny propane-fueled cook stoves are the norm in small concrete houses that are often cobbled together in groups of eight or so. Most have concrete or dirt floors, and all have outdoor toilets, many that are shared by several residences. Some men and women head to their job at a small local business, sitting at tables hand-crafting intricate fly-fishing lures, ultimately bound for America.
While bicycles and small motorcycles are common, even battered cars are generally exclusive to the elite. Inquiring about one nearly new Nissan Maxima that was parked under a tin shed, Lamm was informed that its owner had likely gained his wealth through illicit means.
Lamm found the largely pro-Western population to be courteous and welcoming. "The people are very nice," Lamm told the Sentinel. "They consider it an honor to have visitors, and they're eager to invite you to their homes."
Kimani's wife Margaret, who the pastor referred to respectfully as "the Queen", would walk 2 km one way - three miles round trip - each afternoon to deliver her home cooked meals that usually included another of the area's staples, potatoes. The children were especially intrigued by the Americans, who visited a number of private and public schools - one of which facilitated 900 students, taught by 23 teachers. Lamm would often find herself surrounded by children, many of whom simply wanted to touch her light skin. "Mwanga" was their name for those of her color. Aside from their normal child-like curiosity, Lamm found them remarkably well-behaved and respectful.
Hints of the more glamorized National Geographic Africa sometimes emerge. Occasionally, the town is visited by Maasai tribesmen would enter the town from the grassy savannah and entertain with their centuries-old tribal "jumping dances". Along the roads, gazelles, warthogs, hyenas, baboons, and other wildlife can be seen, and a giraffe rose above the treetops along the road leading into the airport terminal as the group prepared to leave the country.
"They are so friendly and receptive," Lamm said of those in her host country. "From nothing, they gave me so much."
One the same day of the group's departure came the news in the west that two American medical missionaries had contracted the deadly Ebola virus across the continent to the west, in the country of Sierra Leone. The work doesn't come without its risks.
Now with Africa in her rearview mirror, Lamm looks ahead once again to another place where mere survival trumps any western-style notion of prosperity. It's her favorite destination, a return to Honduras in the fall.
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PHOTO 1: Seminole resident Connie Lamm with Louisiana native Les Fogleman and her friend and local counterpart Lucy, part of a contingent of American and Kenyan missionaries in Nakura, Kenya.
PHOTO 2: School children in Gilgil, Kenya.
PHOTO 3: Kenyan nationals craft intricate fly fishing lures that will find their way into the hands of American outdoorsmen.
PHOTO 4: "...and a child shall lead them..." A Kenyan girl carries precious cargo while the mother follows.
PHOTO 5: Seminole resident Connie Lamm with a young Kenyan boy.
PHOTO 6: Pastor David Kimani (l.) with wife Margaret and translators Simon Maina and Daniel Gichamo, with whom Seminole resident Connie Lamm spent most of last week on a joint American-Kenyan mission in East Africa.