Faithful Witness Leads to Growing Pokot Church in Kenya

By Ann Saigeon

Over the last 30 years, a small village in northern Kenya has been home to a remarkable transformation--two thousand people who had worshiped many gods and spirits have become Christians. They have formed 18 congregations in the village of Alale (pronounced ah-lah-LAY) and the surrounding area.

These churches are part of the Africa Inland Church (AIC), an RCA mission partner that first sent an evangelist to the Pokot people in 1981. The RCA's first missionaries in Alale, Bob and Morrie Swart, went with the evangelist.

RCA missionaries Larry and Linda McAuley served among the Pokot in Alale for 16 years, from 1981 to 1997, joining the Swarts soon after the mission began. The missionaries worked to provide clean water, basic medical care, and nursery and primary education. They also established churches and evangelistic outreach into remote communities, taught better farming practices and basic carpentry, provided community grain-grinding services, and sold basic building and farming supplies. The McAuleys advocated for the rights of women and girls, and Linda worked with women's groups, teaching marketable sewing and knitting skills, Bible studies, Scripture memorization, and what it means to be a Christian family, among many other topics.

Over, around, and through all of the school, clinic, and other activities, the mission staff found ways to tell the gospel story. In addition, Larry says, "Out in the far-flung communities, people heard the gospel story when evangelists went with the medical teams on foot, by donkey, and in the helicopter."

When Larry and Linda left Alale to serve in Malawi and Mozambique, another RCA missionary couple who had been serving in Alale since 1994, Sharon and Emery Blanksma, began to oversee the ministry and to enhance the clinic's medical services. They stayed until 2002, when the running of the clinic and school was turned over to the AIC. Today, Amos Limo Liang'or, a Kenyan who grew up among the Pokot, administers the clinic; he started working there when it was run by Sharon.

While a significant number of men attend and help lead churches in and near Alale, Sharon believes the growth of the church overall has had a lot to do with the committed Christian women in the church. Some of them were among the first Christians who made up the first Alale congregation in the 1980s.

Ever since then a women's Bible study and prayer group has met every week. "[These women] are very active in church evangelism," says Sharon. "They go out weekly to other areas and bring the gospel and help organize sister churches. Right now their leader is Pastor Mary, who attended Bible school in Kenya.

"Sometimes a group will go out and walk miles, and even climb mountains, to visit new babies and their moms in very remote areas to pray for the child. Everyone who goes brings small gifts of sugar, tea, or flour to the family they visit. They also have a Bible lesson while there, and this encourages these women to start a group of their own, and often leads to the formation of a new church."

Sharon says the health clinic has also played a part in growing the church in Alale. Its staff are seen as loving and compassionate by the local people. When she and Emery arrived in 1994, an organization called Helimission flew clinic staff by helicopter to remote areas to give immunizations and provide health care to people who had never heard the gospel.

"We would always take an evangelist or pastor or one of the women with us to present the gospel to the people who would come for care," she says. Later the Blanksmas traveled by overland vehicle to areas that could be reached that way. "This was certainly a wonderful way for new churches to start, and they did. Mobile clinics are still done by vehicle, and they still take two people along to present the gospel. The small churches that are formed and the mother church in Alale try to worship as one every month to encourage each other."

"Just as Jesus came ministering to the whole person, so his people--missionaries and national Christians working together--have ministered among the Pokot people," says Larry. "God is continuing to bless that work--ever true to his promise in 1 Corinthians 15:58 (NIV): '[S]tand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.'"

RCA congregations have supported the ministry in Alale since it began 30 years ago, first by funding and praying for missionaries, and now by partnering with the AIC as it runs the clinic. Amos Limo Liang'or receives financial and prayer support from several churches, and donations have also established scholarships for people who want to work in the clinic to receive medical training.

Posted 01/11/10

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