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2 seminarians venture to Africa for 6-month study of people group

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–Jason Lee has seen firsthand what the apostle Paul meant when he wrote, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase” (1 Corinthians 3:6).

While on a mission trip to the Philippines several years ago, the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary student encountered a man holding a tattered copy of the Gospel of John. It was 40 years old and had been left decades earlier by another missionary. Excited, the man told Lee, “I’ve been waiting for 40 years for somebody to explain what this means.” Lee was harvesting spiritual fruit that had been planted years earlier.

Today, Lee is doing the planting. He and another seminary student, Matthew DiCapua, are serving as International Service Corps personnel in East Africa, studying and researching the Samburu people group, which numbers some 200,000. It is not known how many Christians exist among the Samburus, although it is believed to be less than 200. Even less is known about the Samburu people themselves.

Lee and DiCapua hope to change that. The two men will spend the next six months in East Africa, performing an unreached people group profile on the Samburus so that future missionaries will be better prepared to witness, disciple and plant churches among the tribal group. Working out of northern Kenya, they will find out what the Samburus believe and how they live. They will also work to determine if there are any barriers to the gospel.

Life in Kenya is a far cry from the culture in which Lee and DiCapua grew up. Lee is from Douglasville, Ga.; DiCapua from Cocoa, Fla. Lee said there is an Old Testament parallel to what they will be doing. In Numbers 13, God told Moses to send spies to explore the land of Canaan.

“That’s what we’re going to do in essence,” Lee said before he left for Africa. “But their challenge was to explore more of the physical realm of the people and where they dwell. Ours is twofold: the physical and spiritual. We know they have some tribal beliefs, but we want specifics. We’ll be trying to research their worldview.”

Lee and DiCapua’s task is unique in that it is normally done by fulltime missionaries. Frank Pevey, the Richmond, Va., associate for Eastern Africa, said the profile is necessary so future missionaries will be better prepared to take the gospel to the Samburus. Only one Southern Baptist missionary has lived among the Samburus, but he recently retired.

“We do have some basic knowledge, but the actual worldview study has not been written,” Pevey said. “We’ve had some work among them, so this is a step that needs to be done to make sure that we do the best job that we can of sharing the gospel [with the Samburus].”

The preparation was an eye-opening experience for Lee. As a student, he is accustomed to searching the Internet and finding information on nearly any subject. This, however, was not the case with the Samburus.

“I’ve been trying to do some Internet research, and I haven’t been coming up with much,” he said. “It’s really exciting. The whole focus is to see people come to Christ, which will result in a church-planting movement.

“They want missionaries to go in with some knowledge of what they’re getting into, and to know barriers to the gospel. We’re tilling the soil to plant the seeds.”

Before leaving for Africa, Lee and DiCapua spent more than a month at the International Mission Board training center near Richmond, Va., preparing for the trip and learning what is known about the region.

Because the Samburus are a nomadic people, Lee and DiCapua will be traveling and hiking around the region. To help break the language barrier, a native of the region will accompany them.

Every few weeks, Lee and DiCapua will travel to Nairobi, Kenya, where International Mission Board personnel will ask the two men about their recent experiences. Then, at the end of the six months, the two students will write an 80-plus-page paper documenting their time with the Samburu people.

“It will be some of these people’s first exposures to the gospel,” Lee said. “That’s always exciting.”

Lee has served on mission trips in more than 10 countries. This, however, is his most challenging trip.

“I really have a heart for seeing people connected to the Great Commission [and] connected to God’s desire to be glorified in all the nations,” he said. “If God calls me to spend the rest of my life in an unreached people group, then I’ll do it.”
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: JASON LEE.

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  • Michael Foust