I asked my friend Celeste Lee to write an article for the White Picket Fence. Celeste is in Africa and I doubt there are any picket fences where she is but she is making a difference to the Maasai women and we can make a difference too.
An African proverb states, “When you educate a boy, you educate an individual. When you educate a girl, you educate a community.” I see this play out so often in my work with Maasai Development Project, even though it still amazes me that I’m here in Africa on this crazy journey. As the children, with their glowing brown faces, eyes dancing with merriment and lips smiling brightly, greet us upon our arrival at the Kajiado Rescue Centre in Maasailand, I wonder, how did I get here? How did I get to Africa? It is so far from Nebraska. God’s leading still amazes me.
My journey actually begins with a curious dentist’s wife in Nairobi. Jan Meharry, was fascinated by the Maasai people and wanted to learn more about them. She began visiting a small group of Maasai in their huts near Maxwell Adventist Academy. The language barrier did not stop her from sitting with the women and holding their children—a bond exists between women even when language is not shared. Eventually she found a translator and the silent bond grew into lasting friendship. When Maasailand was struck with a drought and Jan’s new friends had no water, she loaded her vehicle with containers of water and shared with them. When their children needed a ride to the doctor, she took them. When she learned of the ladies desire to read, she taught adult literacy classes with the help of a translator. Six of the ladies were baptized after Jan shared her love for Jesus. But, as her own children grew and began to attend school in the US, Jan and her husband returned also. Yet her heart remained in Maasailand.
One weekend my husband, Ron, and I went to the Black Hills Health and Education Center. We were disappointed to discover no other couples our age in attendance. On Sabbath morning, Ron said, “Look, there is a couple our age.” I did not want to say hi or engage with them. Meanwhile, Marlin told Jan, “Look there is a couple our age.” She did not want to interact either. Thankfully both husbands ignored us and the adventure began! Jan told me in the course of our first conversation that she would like to return to Kenya. She was interested in seeing two lay pastors at a church built in Maasailand that she and Marlin were sponsoring. I had been corresponding with someone who wanted me to come to Kenya. You can guess the “rest of the story.” I was traveling halfway around the world, not with Jan but by myself. My flight had been canceled due to fog, so she had to go on without me. (That is whole other story for another time!)
Once in Kenya, I realized the vision Jan shared with me would only be possible through a non-profit organization. In 1998, Maasai Development Project (MDP) was born. I’ve often thought it would be nice to know the future, but if I’d known then the paths God would lead us on, I am not sure I would have begun the journey. It still amazes me that while Jan lives in North Dakota and I live in Nebraska, we operate an organization which covers large areas of Maasailand in Kenya, Africa!
God has opened doors so that MDP now has 40 lay workers, some pastors and some adult literacy teachers, changing lives. MDP sponsors over 70 children, mostly “at- risk” girls in school at both the primary and secondary levels. Their stories are incredible. One young girl was married at nine years old and now, through MDP sponsorship, is able to attend school. Some are orphans, others have extended male family members who want to receive dowry for them, and most have experienced things inconceivable to me. Never in our wildest dreams could we have imagined the things God has done through our willingness.
I understand that ADRA and the General Conference Women’s Ministry Department are partnering for a campaign, “End It Now”, which will address abuse, female genital mutilation, poverty and lack of education for women and girls. As that old African proverb says, we can change the course of history by educating girls and empowering women. Maasai Development Project has been doing this for over 10 years. We’ve seen so many lives changed firsthand and know that the ripple effect continues to spread positive change to even more people.
If you would like to read stories, see pictures and perhaps sponsor a child or lay worker, please visit our website at http://www.4mdp.org. I am leaving October 14 for Maasailand and will be posting on MDP’s blog on the website. Please pray for us as we continue to follow God’s calling in Maasailand.