Maasai Mothers' Day in Oltiasika

Staff_team_2015 Posted by Roger Thompson on Wed, 09 Mar 2016 | 2 comments | Bookmark: digg this Post this to Post this to Facebook

Walking down the hillside to St Barnabas, Oltiasika, last Sunday, the first mother I came across was a sleek-looking nanny-goat with her two-week old kid. She was tethered under a shady tree bleating reassuringly every now and then, while the untethered young one stumbled about in the grass, not straying far from its mother’s side. “This is for our thanksgiving service”, my companion Ven. Naftaly Lemooke explained, “We are bringing the first fruits from our farm into Church this morning”.

Naftaly (Development Coordinator for the Diocese of Kajiado) made the six-hour journey with me from Isinya the previous day, together with Mission Partners Ronnie and Maggie Briggs. This was my first visit to Oltiasika – where Ronnie and Maggie have recently returned to take up their new role at the Maasai Rural Training Centre – and there was a lot to take in!

After prayers in the Vestry, the service began when Paul Nchuguna (lay reader for the parish) processed in with the Archdeacon, myself, Hosea the newly appointed farm manager (also a lay reader) and Faith (a young mother from the congregation who had been asked to lead the service that day). At this stage, the congregation was only just arriving, but after a brief introduction the 15 or so women who were gathered on the left hand side of the church started a praise and worship session like no other!

Bedecked in colourful kangas (some decorated Maasai-style with little silver tassles & discs and a number swaddling babies or toddlers on their mother’s backs) and many wearing the traditional brightly beaded necklaces, they danced to and fro in the transept singing enthusiastically in their mother-tongue, “Kiisis iyie amu ira magilani” [“We praise you because you are Almighty God”]. Their high-pitched voices rang out in the church, seemingly drawing in other worshippers until the pews began to fill. On the opposite side, the menfolk (who were fewer in number) were also up on their feet and singing, and one (Daniel) was providing a bouncy accompaniment on an electric keyboard – but it was the women who stole the show!

After a few other songs, some opening prayers and readings, the first of three all-female choirs formed up two-by-two in the aisle and began another Maasai chorus, led by Naisoi Koileken. This time the women took very small steps while moving their necks forward and shoulders back in a slow but graceful dance. Eventually they progressed to the front and formed a circle, continuing the song while facing singers moved across in pairs to exchange positions.

Forming into two lines to face the congregation, they then sang a second song, with the cantor crouching down to express the words “humble yourself before the Lord” and standing as the song continued “and He will raise you up”. There soon followed a second visiting choir from the neigbouring congregation (St Patrick’s Lemasusu), who performed a similar worship song/dance, the only difference being that they had a single male member – an extremely tall man called Oloju – who stood alongside the women dressed in traditional Maasai red-check robes, making the same rhythmic movements with his neck.

As it was Mothering Sunday, a woman from the congregation (Faith Ntipapa) was leading the service (a first for this congregation), and she then sang a solo which the other women joined in with. The third choir (made up of teenagers and children) also sang two pieces, but with much livelier dancing – and I took the opportunity of joining in! The church was baking hot by this time, so I was sweating buckets by the time the dance ended, and I finished off a whole bottle of water!

I had been asked to preach, which I did with Naftaly translating into Kimaasai. I spoke about Partnership (as in Chingola Zambia two weeks previously), but this time I tried to relate my theme to a Massai audience, choosing the parable of the lost sheep to illustrate how Jesus is our partner. I recruited Luka (one of the Centre staff) to be the mchungaji (shepherd) while the many children present became the sheep, one of whom had got ‘lost’ at the back of the church.

It seemed to go down well when Luka brought his flock into the “boma” (fold) and found there was one missing (this had actually recently happened with the Centre’s herd of goats), and he got lots of cheers when he carried the missing child forward to join the others.

Jesus, I said, is like this Shepherd – he searches for us when we are lost, he wants us to be his partner, to be safe in his boma, and he carries us home to be with him forever. Once the child was restored to the whole group, we finished with a short prayer and the adults gave a round of applause to all the actors. At the end of the service we processed out and formed a big circle, with each church member shaking the hand of all the others until everyone was outside.

The whole experience was a wonderful exercise in the partnership that Christ has brought about, not just between humanity and God, but also between people from all sorts of cultures and backgrounds. It left a deep impression on me, which will stay with me as I return to Belfast tomorrow, motivated and encouraged to continue my role developing meaningful relationships between churches in Ireland and our global partners overseas.


Lynn Wilson said Thu, 10 Mar 2016 03:37PM
Wonderfully descriptive blog, Roger, I can picture you there in the middle of such devoted people - brings back many memories.
George irwin said Sat, 12 Mar 2016 01:54PM
Service was discribed so well and beautiful It felt as if I was there, in which I was in 2012, thank you for sharing.

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