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Relief project touches Maasai hearts in famine-stricken Kenya

SUSWA, Kenya (BP)–Maasai women walk down the dusty path, lugging babies on their back. Following close behind, men push old, rusty bicycles to the meeting place.

A large truck picks its way down the cattle path to the small Baptist church located in the proverbial middle of nowhere. A small cheer erupts from the waiting crowd. For these people, the sacks of flour, corn meal and milk on the truck are a welcome sight.

Famine has struck Kenya in a big way, with more than 2.3 million people requiring emergency assistance. For these subsistence farmers, the shortage of rain over the past three years has left them with no food. Kenyan President Kibaki declared the famine a national disaster and asked the international community for assistance.

Members of Tigoni Baptist Fellowship, along with faculty, students and staff from the Kenya Baptist Theological College and Brackenhurst Baptist International Conference Center, responded to Kibaki’s call for assistance.

The Kenyans raised money from donations within the church and two institutions. When volunteer missionaries working at Brackenhurst wrote home telling what students were doing to help famine victims, a group of Mississippi Baptists decided to get involved too.

Kellie Burnham and Erin Schmidt, both one-year volunteer missionaries, were overwhelmed with the response from friends and family back home.

“I can’t believe that people we know would be so faithful — even though they are half-way around the world,” said Burnham, who is from Kosciusko, Miss. “They made a difference in the life of a village.”

When all efforts were combined, there was enough money to buy two weeks’ worth of food for more than 600 families. The food was delivered to a Baptist church where the crowd sat waiting. Before handing out the aid, seminary students preached and led a worship service.

“This food may fill your stomach, but it will not fill that hunger you have for Jesus,” one seminary student told the crowd. Four women responded to the invitation to open their hearts to Christ.

After a prayer of thanksgiving, the people lined up to receive the gifts of food.

Schmidt of Hattiesburg, Miss., said she didn’t know what she would find in this area. The volunteer missionaries described the area as dry and barren. Skin-and-bones cattle roam around, searching for grass to eat on the brown, brittle landscape.

“I’ve seen hungry people in America but not starving people,” she said. “It wasn’t like what you see on television about starving Africans. These people were definitely hungry and didn’t have anything to eat. They were so thankful and happy.”

Aid organizations and local Kenyan churches and charities are trying to meet demands of the famine. The Kenyan Red Cross Society said more than 60 percent of Kenya’s territory has been affected by the drought.

Seminary students and staff at Brackenhurst are in the midst of planning another relief trip. This time, they will head to northern Kenya — an area even more desolate and dry.

Southern Baptists have the opportunity to give to hunger relief causes such as this through the World Hunger Fund, a Southern Baptist offering with 80 percent of the funds going to the International Mission Board for international hunger needs and 20 percent going to the North American Mission Board for domestic hunger needs in North America.

Churches across the Southern Baptist Convention will observe World Hunger Day Oct. 10 to create awareness of the needs and the ways people help meet them.

Those who want to make contributions designated to the World Hunger Fund may do so in one of four ways:

— Through a local Southern Baptist church.

— Through a Baptist state convention.

— Through the International Mission Board, P.O. Box 6767, Richmond, VA 23230.

— Through the North American Mission Board, 4200 North Point Parkway, Alpharetta, GA 30022.