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Seminarian braves African bush,
sees God work among the Maasai

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–Eric Graf worked feverishly to unearth his mission team’s jeep, mired in the mud of the Kenyan bush. The knowledge of abundant lions and approaching dusk and rainstorms were generating more frustration than evangelistic fervor.

Suddenly, the roar of engines interrupted his group’s automobile recovery effort. Speeding towards them, internationally renowned World Rally race cars spurted through the waterlogged road like frogs in a bog.

Graf pulled out his camera and began snapping pictures. Eventually those photos — accompanied with a gospel-centered story on the race — appeared in a Kenyan newspaper, as well as on several international race Internet sites.

But the key redemptive moments from Graf’s July 13-Aug. 2 mission trip took place among the Maasai people. Graf, a Southern Baptist Theological Seminary Ph.D. student participating in the Calvary Road Ministries medical/evangelism team, experienced stirring movements of God throughout the group’s time in Kenya.

The task of the nine-member team was daunting. The semi-nomadic, pastoral people, who number more than a million in southern Kenya and northern Tanzania, have many physical needs — illustrated by the fact that some walked 20-25 miles to receive free medical care from the clinic.

“Our medical team saw almost 1,100 patients in nine days,” said Graf, from Indianapolis. “[About] $90,000 worth of medicine was donated by various corporations — most of which was used during this time.”

However, the team also and most importantly ministered to the peoples’ greatest need — the gospel.

“We shared the gospel with each person who came to the clinic,” Graf said. “Some 167 of those were recorded to have placed their faith in Christ. Similar to our own American church context, only the Lord knows which of these responses were done out of genuine faith and repentance. However, I can testify that many Maasai people are being drawn to Jesus Christ in a very powerful, convincing way.”

The Maasai’s response is particularly remarkable considering their history. They are a culturally proud people and until recently have been very resistant to any outside influence, especially the gospel, Graf said.

However, in 1972 the first Southern Baptist missionary began working with the Maasai, helping to transform their perception of Christianity from a “white man’s religion” to the universal “good news” of Jesus Christ, Graf said.

“God is doing amazing things among the Maasai people,” Graf said. “The majority of believers are first-generation Christians. The churches are all in infancy-to-beginning stages.”

Yet, even though young, the churches are thriving — so much, in fact, that the International Mission Board has named the Maasai as the featured people group of this year’s Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions.

The tremendous growth of the churches and the accompanying church planting movement begun among the Maasai also gave Graf a second purpose for the trip. Working with IMB missionaries at the agency’s request, Graf began some initial work on a pilot research project aimed toward evaluating and facilitating a church planting movement among the Maasai of Kenya and Tanzania.

“We’re doing a comprehensive research project on what God has done in the Maasai community — why hundreds of thousands of them have come to Christ in the past 20 years,” Graf said. “What [the IMB] wants to do is try to understand what the Lord has done in certain areas of the world where they feel church planting movements have taken place, [to] learn how to effectively cooperate with the Lord in nurturing other church planting movements around the world.”

The research will be accomplished through questionnaires and surveys among the people. During his two weeks, Graf helped field test the research gathering strategies.

“There were a couple of interviews that were extremely helpful and insightful,” he said.

As the road to understanding this tight-knit, culturally distinct people group is being paved, knowledge of Maasai beliefs — their monotheistic worldview, their concepts of covenant and animal sacrifice — is being used as a powerful redemptive bridge to communicate the gospel.

Yet, the interviews can be difficult because of widespread illiteracy — afflicting some 85 percent of the Maasai population. The surveying, too, is just plain hard work.

“It’s not difficult work, but it is exhausting work,” Graf explained. “It takes a lot of effort just to travel and survive out in the African bush.”

Graf will soon put what he learned during this initial research project to good use. Next summer, he will lead a team of six Southern Seminary students who will spend seven weeks interviewing some 600-700 Maasai.

And he can testify firsthand that time spent among the Maasai will be life-changing.

“Meeting the Maasai Christians, pastors and evangelists will deeply affect your life,” Graf said. “They have been called out and are being used by God to build the church in remote, pioneering areas. Most have paid a heavy price for their faith in Christ. Most receive no earthly compensation for their tireless efforts.

“They travel for weeks by foot or bicycle carrying the gospel message to each ‘boma’ [or clan living area] and the surrounding areas. I weep at the thought of how beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news. Dusty, callused, worn feet … but oh how beautiful.”

For Graf, the trip also reinforced his own call to missions.

“My heart is just to be out there in unreached areas, preaching the gospel, working with young pastors and evangelists, planting and developing churches and helping them to grow and become mature followers of Christ,” Graf said.

Even though he is obtaining his Ph.D. in missions at Southern’s Louisville, Ky., campus, he still sees his present and primary mission as the harvest fields and not the classroom.

“At this point in my life, I don’t see myself teaching in a classroom. I want to be out in the field preaching the gospel to people who have never heard … seeing God grow the church. … I just don’t think I’ll have much to say until I’ve been out there for half a lifetime.”
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: MINISTERING TO THE MAASAI.

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  • Bryan Cribb