An integrated life

A Mountaintop Experience

At the end of August, I had the opportunity to go with my son, Caleb, to Zambia and Kenya to encourage some church leaders after an appeal from Tim Bunn of New Foundations International to our church to go to Africa where the need for strong families was huge.

My son kept asking what his role was there. I told him if it was nothing besides showing other men that they should bring their son alongside of them in their work, that would be worth it.

Every place we went, people wondered about my 15-year-old son traveling with me. But, it certainly added credibility when I talked to them about training up their children. At one point, Caleb gave me the perfect opportunity to show how to gently wake up a tired son who was dozing off during his father’s teaching while I was on Mt. Elgon… a place where few men had any excuse as to why they were NOT training their sons.

At some point I will write about the plight of the Ndorobo people on Mt. Elgon. It is an incredible story. There are many places on the internet that can offer SOME perspective but I believe God has placed these people on this part of Mt. Elgon for a very specific purpose. I can only guess how He will use them, but it is clear that God brought us up to the top of Mt. Elgon to encourage them to grow in their dependence on Him and get grounded in the Word rather than looking to the ways of the world to solve their problems. Time will tell the long term effects on them (and us). But I know that I’ve been given a glimpse of something that very few have seen, and am sure it will change me forever.

Though these people have a difficult life, I wonder if they appreciate the beauty in the simplicity of their life and the phenomenal way God has taken care of them. They seem to me like the children of Israel wandering through the wilderness while God gives them all that they need and teaches them to be dependent only on Him while He teaches them and prepares them for a great and incredible work.

Though our dear brother Daniel Chelaghat did so much to enable us to get up the mountain, as we left Kitale (main city north of Eldoret at the foot of Mt. Elgon) where we met Ben Ndiema, Daniel had never been to this part of the mountain. Ben introduced us to his brother in Kitale who talked extensively to our driver (Simon) about whether the Lexus crossover vehicle (which Daniel negotiated a good deal for us… equivalent of $100/day including the driver) could make it up the mountain and why we were not using a Land Rover. We picked up that much of the conversation. As time went on we learned more about the conversation and the phenomenal way God had provided for our journey.

The main road out of Kitale was not unusual to me. A dirt road filled with potholes (and small craters :–) which skilled drivers maneuvered remarkably, as did Simon. But then we turned up the side road to ascend the mountain. I had been on roads like this before for hundreds of meters… but not tens of kilometers. And, evidently, no such vehicle had ever done this climb before. When Ben shared that He praised God that He had answered their prayer that it would not rain for our journey (this was the heart of rainy season on the mountain), we grew further and further in our appreciation of that fact as we continued up the mountain. There were many times when we all got out of the vehicle and walked in the beautiful weather as we prayed that Simon would be able to get the vehicle over the next set of obstacles which ranged from large boulders to several foot deep ravines. For those of you who have hiked in mountains before think of a “moderate” hiking trail… but just widened enough for a vehicle, and then imagine a minivan going up that hiking trail.

I am 100% confident that the vehicle would not have made it if it were raining or even if it had rained in the previous 6 hours. But somehow, it made it all the way to Ben’s “house”. We only had to seriously push it once, about a kilometer from Ben’s place amongst incredibly large trees and a few village people on the latter part of dusk (or was it the beginning of night?… it was definitely night by the time we got the car over the hump). I told Caleb on several occasions how it could turn from a pleasant walk to a strenuous and dangerous hike at any moment if the car got stuck, but we were pleased to learn that we were “not far” from our destination at this point.

The driver, Simon, told us later that his conversation with Ben’s brother in Kitale consisted of them concluding that if God had brought “the servants of God” here, He would get them up the mountain and nothing would get in the way. He also told us that if he had truly known what the road was like ahead of time, he would have parked the car at the bottom and never attempted it.

During the trip, we were gawked at by many people who lived along this road, especially the many children. We ran into a “toll road” where we were told that some men had just fixed the road ahead and we would have to pay to proceed – but the Lord was gracious and had them let us through in spite of the mzungu (European or “white man”) in the vehicle as they were told we were “servants of God.”

We were warmly received at the top of the mountain. Welcomed into Ben’s home: a hut that he had build with his own hands out of bamboo insulated with a mixture of mud and cow dung that was quite functional, and topped with a roof framed out of wood from the forest covered with a thick thatch made out of grass.
It was actually fairly spacious and most of the other church pastors were there. We were treated to a late night dinner that was quite tasty. We didn’t (at least knowingly) have to eat anything particularly unusual. Rice, beans, chipati (something between a wheat tortilla and pita), and stew. (Oh, and by the way, the tea in Kenya is out of this world… I will try to bring some back but not sure I’ll be able to reproduce how good it is at home… and I’m not a tea drinker).

We learned a lot about the people here on the trip up, and much more while we sat and talked into the night (until around midnight). They asked many questions about Zambia (we were traveling with two brothers from Zambia) and America. Some of their misperceptions about America were comical, but much were just curious. They all thought the mountain was incredibly cold (Caleb and I found it beautiful like fall weather in NC), and asked many questions about the weather in America. They found it fascinating that the weather was so varied across the country and obviously had never thought about the size of America versus Kenya. Most of the people we met that night, spoke pretty good English… but we learned that this was not the norm.

However, as I was there that night, I grew in my amazement at the incredible testimony of the Lord’s provision and calling to these people. Ben’s testimony of his conversion and how these people were driven up to this mountain with nothing but their bodies intact found me in awesome wonder. The people I met clearly loved the Lord. They had somehow grown from a few hundred people to a few thousand under these harsh conditions, but were living in a land flowing with milk and honey. No electricity, schools, hospitals. Over the last 5 years since they were driven up on the mountain, almost no one has died from disease or sickness. Although at first glance, you would say these people had nothing, God gave me eyes to see what He had done to preserve these people.

I was growing exhausted and thankful as Ben showed us the accommodations for the evening. Behind a curtain was the room in which I suppose some of his children usually slept. It was just wide enough to have two double beds behind the curtains of the small space between in which one could walk in the room. Caleb volunteered to sleep in his sleeping bag at the foot of the bed, and I decided to sleep in mine on top of the bed. When I crawled into my sleeping bag, I thanked the Lord for his provision for our journey and fell asleep in moments.

I woke before dawn (it was pitch black) hearing what at first I thought was chanting. Half awake, I wondered, “Is it possible that another tribe, or some of the non-believers of the tribe, are here looking to cause trouble for bringing the white man up here?”. As I listened more intently, I recognized the voices sounded like Henry’s and Peter’s (our brothers from Zambia). I made out “Jesu Cristo” and “Missionary” amongst other words from what I assumed were their native language then, for some reason, they switched to English. I realized that they were praying over Caleb and myself, crying out to God for His anointing on us and the hearts of the Ndorobo people. I thought, how faithful our God is to have brought me here with such prayer warriors, and how pathetic my prayer life was as they completed their prayers over us and I fell back to sleep.

I woke up early in the morning shortly after dawn and found myself having to desperately go to the latrine which Ben had built and showed me in the dark the previous night. It worked well, and once I could concentrate again, I looked up and was treated to one of the most beautiful views I have ever seen.

[insert photo here]

People in the U.S. would pay millions of dollars to have the view from Ben’s place. I returned to retrieve my Bible and find a place to meditate. I cried out to the Lord to teach me why He had brought me here and use me. They were all eager to hear “the man of God” teach them “the Word of God”. I wondered what I could teach these people who seemed to have such a pure faith and had clearly had to live in total dependence on God for these 5 years. How could I teach them?

I was drawn to re-read the first 15 chapters of Isaiah (which I have been reading in preparation for our next phase of teaching at SWCA). When I got to Isaiah 6, tears began to pour out. Though I didn’t have a vision of the Lord on His throne, I was looking out over His incredible handiwork and in awe, and as I read verse 5,

Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, And I live among a people of unclean lips;

There was a new depth of meaning and I believe I came closer to feeling like Isaiah at that moment than ever before in my life.

I cried out to the Lord, “What can I possibly teach these people?”

But I was encouraged as I continued to read. Isaiah wasn’t fit to serve God, by himself, but God made Isaiah fit for the purpose He had called him to.

I realized that God had brought me to this mountain through an incredible series of events, including being the first “standard vehicle” to make it up the mountain on an unseasonably perfect day. I had repeatedly told Henry in my correspondence that I was there to be a vessel used by God and now was the time He had prepared. And I said, “Here I am… you have already sent me.”

The one thing that the Lord had impressed upon me was that these people seemed anxious about all that they did NOT have and were pointing out that the government had not treated them right. They did not recognize the incredible blessing they had being taken out of the world’s system and being totally dependent on God who had done so much for them. They reminded me a bit about the Israelites wandering through the wilderness with God meeting all of their needs, but considering the things they had “on the Nile in Egypt” as something pulling their hearts away. I was drawn again to Matthew 6:19-34 which I had used in Eldoret in the “parenting” session.

While I continued to meditate on what I should teach them, some goats and cattle wandered by, as well as some little children who stared at me. They were returning with full plastic jugs. I greeted them and asked if they were returning from the spring to get water. They clearly had difficulty understanding me, but the oldest one (probably about 8 or 9) asked if I knew what they had in the jugs in very broken english. I asked if it was water. She said “it is millek”. I asked for clarificiation, “millet?”. She said, “No, millek. Fresh millek.”. Eventually, I realized they had come from milking their animals. As I sat there, I suddenly heard a buzzing that I had not realized before. As I looked all around the mossy rocks I was sitting on, I realized that there were honey bees going from small flower to small flower, and I recalled that Ben had shared that they had “much honey”. I thought, maybe these people aren’t wandering in the wilderness, but were already in the land flowing with milk and honey.

Eventually, I was joined by Henry who said to me, “I am not exactly sure why the Lord has sent us up here, but there is a great work here.” I explained to him that I was not sure whether these people knew what they had, but seemed anxious about what they don’t have. He said, “Yes. Perhaps there is some unforgiveness toward their enemies. They seem to love the Lord, but there seems to be something missing.” As I explained to him that they reminded me of the children of Israel who God was calling out of this world, Henry said, “Yes.” I suggested that I start by trying to encourage them through using the children of Israel as an example, and then going back through the basics of Psalm 128, he agreed.

While I wandered off to find “the place of texting” to let Carol know we were alive and well, Henry laid his tent on the spot I had been on and meditated on what the Lord would have us do. When I rejoined him, He said the Lord had shown him Luke 11:33-36 and was wondering about what it meant about “the eye being clear” and was wondering what darkness was in this place that needed to be driven out. I thought it was interesting that the section in Matthew that the Lord had pointed me to also contained a similar passage about the eye being clear, that I had mostly passed over in Eldoret.

As we sat their on our place of meditation, Ben joined us. He gently re-explained the plight of his people and had some anxiety in His voice. He said that they want me to be “their missionary”. (I later found out that he just meant to keep in touch and come visit and encourage them). But I gently told him that God had been good to His people and He brought me up here to point them to the Word of God.

Ben continually wanted to extend his hand to our physical comforts like taking a shower (not like any shower most of you have experienced, but it works… air drying), taking tea, having breakfast, keeping warm, but at a very relaxed pace. Henry and I kept imploring him that we were fine and we came up here to teach the Word of God and we wanted to get started. Eventually, we made it to the building we were going to use… a “school” with four ill-equipped classrooms, no teachers other than occasional “volunteer” teachers (they explained that the government ignores their pleas to send paid teachers). On the way there, we took detours to see a half built meeting hall for one of the 6 churches meeting on that area of Mt. Elgon, and to greet some unbelieving men working on some sort of construction whom we briefly witnessed to with the reading of John 3:16-21.

As we got to the classroom, there was no one there to teach, but a few children were loitering there. A few men finally came, and Ben found a couple of pieces of chalk when I asked if I could use the chalkboard (a VERY shoddy one). We eventually found out that we had competition as the government was going to be giving out some plots of land for temporary (2 year) use and many went partially down the mountain to get in line for these plots of land. However, several men showed up including several of the other pastors, two young men (Daniel and Rogers), a few children, a couple of older ladies, and Simon (our driver whom we invited to join us to hear what he had brought us up the mountain to share).

God pointed me to a combination of the passage in Matthew, pointing out that a clear eye sees things from God’s perspective and a bad eye sees things from the world’s, which led to Deuteronomy 29 as the heart of the message, reminding this generation (as He was reminding the children of Israel about to cross into the promised land) all He had done for them and the blessings He had for them if they would be obedient to His Word and have a clear eye. I encouraged them that God had a special purpose for them, but they needed to be listening to His voice and not the things the world had to offer. God had me go to various other passages pointing to the differences between the kingdom of God versus the kingdom of this world or the kingdom of man.

God provided brother William (a half-brother of Ben, whose father was a polygamist) as a capable interpreter. He claimed it was the first time he had done such a thing, but our driver, Simon, who speaks fluent English and Swahili, ensured us he did an excellent job and that he benefitted from learning it all twice (in English and Swahili).

Though attendance was small, it grew a bit larger as we started our second session (a modified version of the first session from the Forging A Head bootcamp from a few years ago, calling them more clearly and directly to recognize God’s Word as their source for everything for life and godliness and, based on the time for questions which Henry encouraged me to provide, provided some clarification of the role of the Holy Spirit… it seemed like they relied often on the guidance of the Holy Spirit, but hadn’t recognized that the Holy Spirit was their guide through the Scriptures and that they needed to “test the spirits” by the Word of God. William (our interpreter) said it was life changing for him. Others shared positive feedback. It was decided that we would “take lunch” (at 3:30… breakfast was at 11:00) back at Ben’s place rather than the school at the suggestion of Henry. That was evidently ordained by the Lord…

For our 3rd session, “Man and His Work”, many more joined us (in a small dark space) including many of the wives and older daughters who had been diligently serving us. As the session began, we found out what the “rainy season” is like on the mountain. Not only did it rain, but it hailed as we were protected inside. The hail was so thick (not large but thick), there were sections of the mountains that looked like snowfall from all the small white balls. We wondered at what it would have been like if we had tried to climb the mountain during a storm like that, and prayed that the Lord would bring a breeze by night and the sun by day to dry the road for our journey home.

It was difficult to see anyone during this session. I used my headlamp to read God’s Word. We were just about out of power on my iPad where I had all of my notes and my solar charger did not seem to be working. God had used some of my downtime on Saturday evening and Sunday evening to have me make notes about some of these sessions on paper which pointed me to the important Scriptures, and I had to use those during this time. Brother William was next to me and by the door, which gave him just enough light to read the same passages from the Swahili bible. The room was packed, but I could barely see anyone as I taught, so could not get any feedback from the faces of the people. However, when I asked questions, I knew that they were there and engaged from their responses. The key point was that God had ordained good works for them to join him in. This included both working with their hands and asking God to provide through them, and the work of the Great Commission. But they needed to look at the work God gave them as a blessing and recognize that the man was not to put the curse of Adam onto the daughters of Eve, but to both listen to God’s call in their individual roles.

In the evening, many wanted to fellowship and engage in “idle chatter” (even though I had pointed them to Proverbs 14:23, “All labor leads to profit, but idle chatter leads only to poverty.”) and I wondered whether any of them were getting the teaching. I was exhausted from the previous day’s journey, a short night’s sleep the night before, and the exertion of teaching. We excused ourselves early to get some rest. I prayed that the Word of God would sink in.

The next day (Wednesday morning) had glorious weather and, indeed, the Lord had provided a light breeze throughout the night to dry the land, and a crystal clear morning. As I went up the hill to the “place of texting”, I eventually found a spot to text Carol and immediately after successfully sending the text, I saw a crystal clear view of the very top of Mt. Elgon with a clearer sky than the day before. As I tried to take a picture, my iPhone shut off so I only have the picture in my mind. I thanked the Lord that I was able to get that last message off to Carol and thanked God for my wonderful wife as I prepared to teach on “Man and His Helpmate”.

Again, Henry and I were frustrated as “Kenyan time” was leaving us and we knew we wanted to leave no later than 3:30 to get down the mountain before dark. We were “forced” to take showers, and have breakfast after 11:00 (very good and filling pancakes, but no syrup… no maple trees in Kenya and they haven’t yet learned to fake it with corn syrup, though “maze” is a staple in their diet :–). Henry and I continued to encourage Ben to gather the people for the Word of God. We just shook our heads and said that teaching about “Man and His Helpmate” would be just like the 10:00 wedding on Saturday that started at 2:00…

We weren’t far off. Eventually, people from all over gathered at Ben’s. We could not fit all these people in his house, but God provided an incredibly beautiful day, so we taught on the mountain as Jesus did. As we hoped it was time to begin, Ben began a series of formal introductions including that of the oldest man in the church (80 and spry) and the “village elders, who represented the office of the President of Kenya.” Neither of these two men were believers. One was Ben’s oldest brother (Reuben) who was a polygamist and seems to come and go from the church. He was VERY long-winded as he joked about the wonders of how his younger brother, Ben, got a white man to come up here. But they all warmly greeted us and said they wanted us to come back again and give them more than a month’s notice.

Eventually, I got started. Trying to “tighten up” the message and hoping to get a 2nd message in about “Man and His children” as there were so many beautiful (and seemingly neglected) children around who were not being taught by their parents. When it came to the Q&A time, I received just 3 questions which the Lord used mightily.

The first was what to do if a wife would not submit. I pointed them to Matt 18:15-18 and the Lord had me expound on that and use the testimony of the recent events at SWCA. Lights went on all over as we discussed how Jesus patiently calls us to repentance, but does not want us to stay in our unholy state.

The second was an anonymous question (written and slipped it to William) “I am a polygamist. Is it a sin and what do I do now?” Needless to say, I had never fielded this question before. God gave me the grace to point them to the OT law, that they must love them both equally. Henry spoke up (who had dealt with this before) and pointed out that they must repent of their sin, not take any more wives, love them both, train up all of their children, and be welcome in the church, but they may not be leaders in the church.

I forget the 3rd question.

However, after the questions, Ben asked Henry to close the session. Before praying, Henry stated boldly that, “you have heard the servant of God speak the Word of the Lord. If you would like to repent and make Jesus your Lord, He is the God of love and will welcome you.” William translated and appeared to be talking directly to Reuben. Before Henry began to pray, Reuben came with tears in His eyes and said he wanted to repent and serve the Lord. Another younger man also stepped forward (we later learned was also a polygamist), and a number of children, and then another man. We prayed for them all and tears were many.

One of the children who had come up was Mark, William’s son. He spoke wonderful english (hardly any of the younger children responded to us when we spoke in English). He began asking many questions of both Caleb and I. He ended up on my lap, and as they were about to give us a light lunch (not much of what we’ve been fed is truly light) I asked Caleb to go into my luggage and bring the dried berries we had and asked Mark to distribute them to the children. They were a great hit. We found out that Mark went to school in Eldoret where his older sister, Grace (who had been serving us all week and was introduced as their only college graduate) taught.

We attempted to eat as fast as possible, but could not get back to teaching right away as I was told the women of the village wanted to come and bless us. They presented us with hand-made baskets, which was the first thing they did to trade for money and goods when they were driven into the mountains. It was how they began to rebuild their lives and they blessed us with a number of them as they sang for joy to the Lord.

By the time we got ready to start the last session it was 3:00 and William and Mark were heading down the mountain to get Mark back to school. We realized both that we were about out of time and had just lost our translator. Ben asked Daniel to translate and he did an adequate job as we closed our time. I taught fairly quickly and pointedly about training up our children in the ways of the Lord as we teach them diligently in both word and action, and we closed.

It took a while to get away as we were formally blessed by Ben’s wife, Mary, and another older lady. And then many continued to shake our hands, hug us, and otherwise bless us. I was told that in addition to driving down with Ben (putting 6 people in a 5 person vehicle as we did from Kitale on) I would be sharing the front seat with Grace, who also needed to get back to Eldoret. Eventually, Henry and Peter started walking ahead of the car, and I joined them wondering if they would ever let us leave in the car (and whether Grace and Ben would ever get in). Henry told me he walked ahead so they wouldn’t see his tears. We would miss this place.

The hike and ride down the mountain was very pleasant without any major incident. The road had dried out wonderfully and going downhill was much easier. We achieved our goal of reaching the main road before dark by at least 5 minutes :–) .

Packed in tightly, we shared trail mix, tight quarters, and worship songs and hymns of praise. Grace had learned many “english” praise songs while in college in Uganda as English was the only common language many could communicate and worship together with. Some of the songs were also known by the Zambians, the driver, and Ben.

We made it back to Eldoret exhausted and found there was no electricity. We felt right at home as we hadn’t had any for days. We met Lamech from India and Fred, a minister from the tribe that had driven the Ndorobo up the mountain. Ben and he were related by marriage. What a glorious international reunion of church leaders from a sample of “every tribe, every nation”.

I learned more about Fred and Ben and their tribes and churches since then. We didn’t get to spend too much time with Lamech before he had to go to Kitale (where we had just left) where he and his wife were teaching at two different conferences, but it was a great blessing to meet this brother also. Before the day was over, Henry and I got to speak briefly to the “youth” at Daniel’s church and Caleb attempted to teach “Exodus” (their Christian evangelistic dance group) how to do back flips and forward flips as we awaited Daniel coming back from the bus station where he dropped off Lamech. (I think they may have had more success teaching Caleb some dance moves than they had learning the back flip, but it was good fellowship).

Praise the Lord for the work He has done.

As we prepare to leave, I worked out a plan with Ben to get some more Swahili bibles back up the mountain with him. I since received a message from him that a transformation has started there. “I heard a certain brother saying that from now henceforth I will balance my living in both my wives my children.”

I wonder why so few bother to teach the simple messages of the Bible, or why so few actually challenge people to apply what it says. Love your wives. Train your children in the things of the Lord. Love the Lord with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength. Find out what His word says, put it in your heart, and spread it to others, starting with your own family.

I pray that their families will be reformed before they get off the mountain and they have a bigger affect on the world than the world has on them.