My feet tucked tightly under me and sharing a seat on the wheel hump, I try to make myself as small as possible to make room for the crowd of Rendille people crammed in the back box of a clattery old green land rover. All knees and elbows and beads and scarves, there are Rendille mamas with their babies, other women dressed in brightly coloured robes, young girls sitting down below and lanky boys balancing on the frame up top, dusty black toes dangling down in our faces – all heading out to the goobs (villages). Some are just hitching a ride, hoping to avoid kilometers of walking in the blazing afternoon desert sun, but most are heading out for Sunday afternoon evangelism.
The metal frame shakes and rattles and bumps along the desert road, and the back of the truck is filled with chatter, that is, until Judy, a Rendille mama herself, and an incredibly committed Christian woman, begins to sing. Everyone joins in the call and response in their high pitched voices, and the back of the truck is filled with worship, smiles, clapping, and praise. Effortlessly, the role of the caller shifts around the truck and we sing – stopping now and then to drop someone off at their village.
Reaching our destination, the truck stops, we jump off, and walk towards the two goobs in the distance. I trail along behind, watching the four women ahead of me, robes flapping in the wind, singing and clapping wish such joy as they walk. At the goobs, we walk around and invite the people to come join us – “Come, hear the word of God! We’re meeting over there under that big tree.” We gather and begin to sing, and the music brings dozens of women and even more children to our meeting place. Beads and robes and headdresses all bring vibrant colour to the dusty landscape. I am a new face to them, and the only mzungu in the group. The children all want to touch my white skin and the mamas all look at me shyly. I am introduced, assisted by Judy who translates for me. A few women speak to welcome me, and I am overwhelmed by their appreciation.
The teaching begins and I sit and listen as the women read from the book of Mark, one of the books that has been translated into Rendille. I don’t understand what’s being said, but still I sit in wonder at the passion for Jesus in these women’s hearts as they teach and love these people. The lesson is long in the hot afternoon sun, and the shade of the acacia tree we’re under does little to mitigate the heat, but the joy of being there far outweighs the discomfort. Again I am brought to near tears as the children – many naked and dusty – gather to sing a song they have been learning. I catch only the chorus: Yeeso goya fiidiya. They are reminding each other to remain in Jesus, mo matter what may come, and I know that these women know this so much better than I.
As the lesson winds up, we walk back across the desert to where the truck will meet us and bring us back to town. One of the mamas whose name I still don’t know gives me my new Rendille name and we attempt to have a simple conversation in Rendille. The truck meets us and we climb in, the metal blazing hot underneath us as we take our seats in the box in back. Laughing, singing, and clapping over the rattling metal, we bump our way back to town. I am sunburned and fiercely thirsty, but awed at the afternoon I have just experienced.
“Jesus has told us, ‘Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all nations,’ ” Judy told me. “He has saved me, how could I not tell others about what He’s done?” These women are taking this call seriously and, filled with such joy, dedicating their entire lives to do just that.