Dancing with the Maasai

23rd August 2013

I can’t be the only one who grew up with those amazing BBC documentaries about the African savannah and their stories of the nomadic cattle warriors of Africa that means the name “Masai” is so very special.

So I must admit to some disappointment as we drove far into the savannah south of Nairobi to Kisaju to participate in a praise service at the Glad Tiding Evangelical Church.

Disappointment because the flat scrubland didn’t quite look like the animal playground of Lion King. Disappointment because the wild plains were so obviously fast being tamed by wire fences just as the prairies of the Wild West had been many years ago. Disappointment because the picture of noble warrior nomads did not match the squalid tin huts we saw as we drew into the community we were visiting.

Like the Gaelic highlander whose cattle-based way of life was destroyed by the clearances and the encroachment of alien lowland culture, or the Native American whose nomadic existence was destroyed by the encroachment of white settlers, so the ancient Maasai ways appear to be struggling to reconcile themselves with 21st century Kenya.

However, my disappointment did not survive our introduction to the stately, tall Maasai elder who was first to great us when we arrived at the church. His smile of welcome across his wrinkled leathery skin, and the twinkle in his eye of true hospitality, was like something straight out of the National Geographic.

And when we entered the tin church, and saw the children and ladies in their bright traditional dress I knew that we were somewhere special.

Silas and Rahab, our Kenyan hosts, had trained Pastor Stephen who is a local Maasai turned practical theologian. They still mentor Stephen but only travel to the church every few months. So our presence apparently turned a regular praise service into something even more special.

Imagine a fusion of Pentecostal enthusiasm with that unique rhythm of Masai singing and dancing. It was an unexpected privilege to be welcomed in to the Masai family and be allowed to worship God in a way that was completely honouring to him and completely faithful to the worshiper’s cultural roots.

Children and elders, men and women, locals and visitors (!) all got caught up in the sort of praise that – from what it says in the Psalms – I can only imagine David took part in as he processed in front of the Ark on its way up to Jerusalem. My dour, highland, Presbyterian forefathers will be turning in their graves.

When I worked for Disney I was taught to walk like Goofy to amuse the children at Disneyland Paris and experience first hand the Disney brand in action inside one of those famous suits. Today Ruth and I were given a far greater privilege of being shown how to worship like a born-again Maasai, and experience first hand the warmth of their praise, the intensity of their prayer, and the enthusiasm.

The Maasai may no longer be the wide ranging nomads that they once were, but perhaps this group at least have a lesson for us all in how every language and culture can be sanctified through praise to the Lord on high. And I could not help but look forward to that day when every knee shall bow, and every tongue confess, and I will see and hear my Maasai Christian friends again when they are praising at the throne of God in Heaven.

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