"I bless the rains down in Africa...."
As a child of the 80’s I’ve always loved Toto’s famous song “Africa”, but never did I actually dream that I’d get to go there one day. But last November that dream actually came true when I joined Dr. Jason Johnson as a part of an Auburn University veterinary mission team. We joined with a medical and optical mission team from E3 Ministries to provide aid to the people of the Maasai tribe at the northeastern base of Mt. Kilimanjaro in the Amboseli Reserve of Kenya. On November 23rd, we began our journey with about 40 other missionaries to Nairobi, Kenya, where we were joined by three indigenous veterinarians to begin to minister and treat the animals and people of the Maasai tribe.
The Maasai are a nomadic people who live a life centered on finding grazable land for their cattle, goats, and sheep. They are known for their tall stature and striking red garb, as well as their stretched earlobes and ornately beaded jewelry. While some of the Maasai have already converted to Christianity, their original culture believes in “nature”
and functions as a polygamous society. Their villages are circular and surrounded by 6-feet of piled thorn bush that act as a protective barrier against lions, hyenas, and other predators of the Amboseli. The huts are made of cow dung clay and reside just inside the perimeter thorn fence. The low ceilings make it impossible to stand upright when inside. They consist of one main room and two ‘bedrooms’ on either side. Often times up to six children would sleep together in one of the 6-foot by 6-foot ‘bedrooms’. In the center of the village is another thorn bush enclosure designed to house the livestock at night. The livestock are kept in the center of the village for protection because of their extreme importance to the Maasai culture. Mostly the cattle, but also the goats and sheep, are believed to be a direct gift from God that He has entrusted the Maasai to care for and keep safe. Therefore, they are protected above all things and are often not even used for meat when all other food is scarce.
After a very bumpy 6-hour off-road ride from Nairobi, and many ostrich, impala, and giraffe sightings later, we reached the Amboseli Reserve. Our days consisted of driving into the bush with the indigenous vets and a few
assistants in search of mysteriously gathered groups of herdsmen and their animals. Somehow word would spread across the vast landscape that a veterinary mission team would be arriving that day, and herdsmen from up to 20 miles away would drive their herds across the Amboseli to be treated and vaccinated. More than once, we drove for miles and miles with not a human or road in sight and would come up over a bluff to be greeted by a ‘plague’ of animals as far as the eye could see. While at first intimidating, with their spears and machetes, the herdsmen were incredibly kind to their animals and genuinely cared about their health. They would try to help in any way possible, and would almost always greet us with a smile. Some of the herdsmen were boys as young as 7 or 8 years old, but they didn’t hesitate to jump in and help us grab up goats and sheep for their vaccinations.
At the end of the day, we would look up after the last goat or cow had been vaccinated, and the herdsmen and their herds would have disappeared just as quickly and mysteriously as they had gathered.
While veterinary medicine is not the most common mechanism used to reach people from other countries and share the Good News, it may be one of the best. The majority of the third world countries that have not yet been touched by Christianity have more livestock than human beings. This makes Auburn University College of Veterinary Medicine uniquely qualified to send missionaries to educate others on veterinary medicine and preventative care, as well as an opportunity to share God’s love with those around them.
Note: Kenya is currently under a U.S. State Department Travel Warning and students who go during the time it is in effect are required to sign a waiver.