Home of Wheaton Bible Church's Quarterly Magazine
By Kyle Reschke, Pastor of Global Mobilization
Every fall and spring, a group of nomadic families settles in a region called Naros in one of the most remote corners of East Africa. These people, part of the Turkana tribe, await the infrequent rains that fall over the mountains of Ethiopia and South Sudan. In the days following rainfall in the distant mountains, water can rush through the dry riverbeds of Turkana, providing temporary relief for the Turkana families.
For a few days, livestock can drink their fill, and communities can enjoy the easy access to water. But during this brief respite, the parched ground quickly soaks up the remaining water, and many of the communities of Turkana once again experience water scarcity, which also creates food insecurity and the consequent fears and feelings of powerlessness that extreme poverty can bring.
A New Idea
A little over a year ago, World Relief Kenya leaders (partners of Wheaton Bible Church who are “on the ground” in Kenya) approached the leaders of this community to discuss issues related to malnutrition, water scarcity, and the potential for agricultural development in the region. In that meeting, our partners discussed an exciting new technology called a sand dam that could possibly trap the water flowing out of the mountains and create a year-round reservoir.
Skeptical about the vision cast by our partners, the leaders of the community initially refused the offer and stated that they did not have any interest in taking part in a project for water access and agriculture.
A foundational principle in international community development is to always dialogue with leaders and community members about the true goals and ambitions of the community. Many countries in Africa are littered with unused wells, dams, and agricultural sites—unused because the communities in which these projects took place were never fully invested, or possibly even never consulted regarding their own needs, goals, and dreams.
With that principle in mind, our partners backed off from the sand-dam idea and continued to talk with the community and its leaders about supporting them in reaching other goals.
A few months later, a Turkana leader in that community, named Rabot, approached Paul, the region’s agriculture specialist for World Relief. Rabot stated that he would like to learn more about ways to bring better health and prosperity to his community.
As a result of that conversation, the two men embarked on a thirty-hour journey by bus and four-wheel-drive Jeep to visit other communities across Kenya where technologies and creative agricultural techniques were bringing much-needed change.
Seeing Is Believing
During the journey, Rabot was amazed to view beautiful gardens, greenhouses, and home garden plots in the midst of the dry and desert-like conditions that were very much like the conditions his own community was struggling to overcome.
Those visits transformed Rabot’s view of the possibilities for his community. And when he returned home to Turkana and shared with other leaders and families what he had seen, his enthusiasm was contagious. The excitement and vision of that one key leader mobilized an entire community.
Later, telling a team from Wheaton Bible Church about that eye-opening trip, Rabot said, “I would never have believed that any of this would be possible. But when I saw it with my own eyes, I realized that if we worked hard and worked together, the same things would be possible for us.”
In the weeks and months that followed, our World Relief partners began outlining this large project with the community—consistently making it clear that the community would need to be invested at every stage of the process: from the gathering and stacking of hundreds of piles of large rocks, to all the unskilled labor, to the difficult and very physical act of laying out garden plots and transforming the dry hillsides into areas that may someday be green with vegetation.
In November of 2013, a team from Wheaton Bible Church walked down the dry riverbed and were amazed to see the hillsides covered with large piles of stones that would be used in the construction of the sand dam.
The team was then greeted by nearly fifty members of the community who invited us to sing, dance, worship, and share with them for the afternoon. They heard stories of hope from the community, ambitions for growing enough food to feed every member of the community—and someday having excess that could be sold in the markets of larger communities nearby.
Also of great interest to the team were reports that a Turkana pastor from a nearby community had been sharing, teaching, preaching, and discipling community members throughout the development process. As a result, dozens of families have come to faith in Jesus Christ. They have also come to understand that they have dignity and God-given talents that can be used for the spiritual and physical benefit of others.
“We are so happy!” one woman told them. “We are so happy because we know that there is a God. And we know that He loves us. We are also happy today for a chance to work and grow vegetables and feed our families. We have Jesus, and we have one response to Jesus—we jump!”
No one who was part of that time could doubt the enthusiasm and head-to-toe joy these new believers expressed as they literally jumped in the air as they worshiped the God who cares for them and who sent His Son to change their hearts and their lives.
Ready for the Rains
In August of 2014, construction of the sand dam was completed. Then the community eagerly waited for the rains, wondering if, in fact, this new structure would work as promised: actually capturing and holding water.
In September, it rained. And the huge volume of water—water that usually washes down the parched riverbeds and all-too-soon disappears—was captured!
The community rejoiced, seeing the result of their labors, and enthusiastically entered into the next step of preparing the plots for community and family gardens.
A Vision Realized
As future teams from Wheaton Bible Church prepare to travel to Turkana, they can look forward to similar times of praise and worship with the vibrant community in Naros. Next time, however, instead of meeting in the middle of a dry riverbed, the location of that next joint praise and worship gathering will need to be changed to a hilltop overlooking a new source of water and gardens that are providing food for the more than 1,000 people whose lives have truly been changed!