Grandmother Sarah felt a burning desire be a missionary to the Rendille, an Unreached People Group in Kenya.
A widow and had lived with her children and grandchildren on the streets for a time, Grandmother Sarah lived on a diet of tree leaves boiled in water. She had never been to Bible school or pastored a church, but she felt God’s prompting to go to the Rendille. When she spoke with her Kenya Assemblies of God (KAG) pastor, he confirmed that she was not qualified to be a missionary.
Sarah continued to pray. and one day she received enough money for a one-way ticket to the Rendille. She went to her pastor, and he agreed that she could go with his blessing using her own money.
Sarah made the day’s journey to the Rendille town of Laisamis atop a cattle truck. She didn’t know the language or the culture but found a woman of peace who gave her a place to stay and food to eat.
One morning she heard noise outside the woman’s house. The elders were going to kill a witch who had cast a spell on a woman who lived nearby, causing her to get sick and die. The witch had since cast a spell on another woman, and she was dying in the witch’s hut.
Grandmother Sarah pleaded with the elders to let her talk with the witch. “If you go in there, you might die,” they warned.
Grandmother Sarah responded calmly and confidently. “If I perish, I perish.”
Finally, she persuaded them to let her inside.
Grandmother Sarah entered the hut praying, and the dying woman was healed. Sarah then spoke to the witch, who indicated that she was willing to give up her demonic activity and hear the gospel. Grandmother Sarah prayed to cast the demons out of the woman who had cast spells on others, and the witch received Christ.
After seeing the healed woman and the delivered witch, the elders allowed the witch to live. They asked Grandmother Sarah to teach them regularly about this God who could heal and deliver their people.
I had planned to lead another East Africa School of Theology (EAST) mission team to plant another church. When I asked the District Superintendent where we should go, he told me about a grandmother who wasn’t qualified to be a missionary but was preaching, and people were coming to Christ. He suggested that we plant our next church in Laisamis.
An Evangel University medical team and our EAST mission team went to minister and plant the church. I sat with the elders and asked them their oral history. They said, “We are Jewish.” They told of slaughtering a perfect lamb in substitution for their firstborn son and putting the blood on the doorposts and the top of the door.
In the coming days, we shared Christ with the Rendille. The harvest was indeed plentiful. In those first two weeks we witnessed 573 Rendille make decisions for Christ and the church was planted.
We declared the next year the “Year of the Rendille” at EAST. We decided to pray, give, and send more missionaries to the Rendille. We made Light for the Lost banners with the theme “Behold the Lamb of God,” and we planned to preach using their Old Testament Jewish background as a cultural key to reach them.
Later that year, Grandmother Sarah sent word to the District Superintendent asking him to send a pastor to Laisamis.
“I feel like planting another church in another village,” she said. An alumna of EAST responded and went to the village of Merille.
When we took another team to plant a second church among the Rendille in Merille, we saw 409 decisions for Christ. God had indeed used this alumna for the sake of his kingdom. We returned to EAST and encouraged many to go to work among the Rendille.
A few months later, we gathered the largest mission team we had ever taken. One hundred student missionaries went to work among the Rendille in six towns (Kargi, Korr, Marsabit, Laisamis, Merille, and Loglogo). During this mission we planted a third church with Grandmother Sarah in Loglogo and witnessed an amazing miracle of salvation as 3,143 made decisions for Christ in ten days.
We began to wonder if perhaps the Rendille could be moved off the UPG list. We conducted a survey of the believers in the churches.We visited the churches we had planted plus two others planted by an alumnus of EAST and others. We sent the survey results to Joshua Project for analysis.
We invited the Rendille to come to EAST for a celebration. We sent our Speed the Light bus to the end of the pavement. Fifty Rendille believers, pastors, and missionaries got on the bus and came to EAST. That day in the chapel, we celebrated the thousands who had come to Christ among the Rendille.
We ended the meeting with a Skype call to a leader from the Joshua Project. The chapel erupted into joyous praise when he announced that on the previous day, the Joshua Project had moved the Rendille off the Unreached People Group list.
Grandmother Sarah visited a fourth village, Korr, and our team joined her there to plant a fourth church where we witnessed 447 decisions for Christ. While we were there, she said, “Jeff, I feel my time among the Rendille is done.”
I reflected on her story. Here was an unqualified missionary who had responded in obedience to God and seen the gospel transform an entire people group. This widow who lived in poverty had lived out the Great Commission by the power of the Spirit. Now she could go home to be with her grandchildren, having completed the task. What a testimony!
Interrupting my thoughts, she said, “I think I will go to another tribe now to preach to them.”
Grandmother Sarah wrote me a message this morning. Now, with the full support of the KAG missions department, she is in the village of Ileret among the Daasanach, another UPG in Kenya. She said, “Pray for me as I go to meet the chief today.”
If the past is any indication, it won’t be long before we take another group of missions students to work with her to plant another church.
I pray that every UPG in Kenya—and across Africa—will have a Grandmother Sarah, someone with the tenacity to go and preach to a people who have not had an opportunity to hear of the love of God.
This story comes from Kenya missionary Jeff Nelson.