–by the Rev. Luke Timm
In the northwestern corner of Kenya, in Turkana County, they wait. They wait in line for their monthly food ration. They wait for the scant health care that is offered on an irregular basis. They wait for a ration of charcoal and other very limited resources. Some, for 30 years, have been waiting to return to their homelands that have been torn apart by war, famine, politics, and tribal conflicts. But these diverse refugees, displaced or converted Lutherans, no longer have to wait for the most precious gifts the Father gives to his bride the church: Word and Sacrament ministry.
For years, they DID have to wait. As the LCMS in conjunction with the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Kenya (ELCK) identified small groupings of Lutherans gathering together in small impromptu churches in the Kakuma and Kalobeyei refugee camps run by the UNHCR they began sending teams to assess the situation, encourage and help organize the congregations and, of course, baptize children, confirm the catechized and administer Holy Communion.
But they had to wait until the ordained of the Bride of Christ were available and able to make the grueling trip to what can only be described as one of the most desolate and remote regions on earth. I have been blessed many times to be one of those bearers of Christ’s gifts, along with a team of missionaries from my congregation in Iowa. Most often, our yearly trip marked the only opportunity for those marks of the church to be celebrated. It was not at all uncommon for me to arrive and administer the Sacrament to people who hadn’t received it since my last visit a year before.
Doing so was, of course, a blessing to them and to me. But it was also not optimal. So the decision was made to identify men with the capabilities and qualifications to attend a seminary and become ‘shepherds-in-place’ in the camps themselves.
This would mean for some that they would leave behind wives and children at the camp to pursue their training. It would mean difficult travel and academic rigors. It would mean taking upon themselves the sacred burden of shepherding a flock and evangelizing to the countless lost amongst the sprawling community.
But these are not men who wilt under such external pressures. Some of these are men who have traversed the desert on foot to escape the violence that took their family members and friends. Some of these are counted amongst those born in the refugee camp and have never known anything but trial and suffering. They all have been separated from loved ones with little to no hope of seeing them again in this life. To say they were up to the challenge is a considerable understatement.
So on Sunday, September 12 of 2021 I was honored to participate in the ordination of four men who reside in the refugee camp. I was honored to join with pastors, bishops, and Archbishops from Kenya and South Sudan in ending the wait for spiritual nourishment of the starving and faithful Christians. I was deeply, deeply humbled to hear the joyous chorus of singing and celebration from those who would certainly experience physical hunger in the coming weeks and months, but they knew their spiritual hunger would now be satisfied with the Bread of Life. Approximately 400 men, women, and children gathered to celebrate this incredible event. For four and a half hours we worshiped and presented. Gifts of the congregation were presented and then, very literally, they killed the fattened goat (or more like four), brought forth the chapati and ugali and we feasted together until all were filled. For that moment in time, we had the most glorious foretaste of the feast to come.
The wait hasn’t ended, however. The approximately 200,000 refugees in the camps will always be waiting to go home. There will still be a wait for food, water, and resources. There will be the waiting for news back home.
But there are now a growing number of Lutherans who now await the Resurrection well-fed with Word and Sacrament by these four men – the shepherds for whom they no longer wait.
The Rev. Luke Timm has been a pastor for 15 years and has served at Living Faith Lutheran Church in Clive, IA for 10 years.
Photos by Shara Osiro – Africa Regional Communications Specialist