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The Swanepoels
Presenting the Christian worldview to the Rendille nomads

Tirrim Primary School registration

January 24, 2010 by nlswanepoel

We left at about 10 to do the registration of the new standard one classes from the village children. Arriving at the Nahagaan village, we found they had just celebrated ‘Almaa’do’, a Rendille ceremony marking the new year. The herds were casually leaving the village, browsing lazily through the fields of ankle-high ‘Dubi Araar’ flowers. Because of the white flowers shape, it is named ‘Tail of a scorpion.’

The car dropped us and raced off to Illaut with a patient, a dying baby. The men, women and children from the village clustered under a new shade area that will serve both as classroom and church in the new church plant we have just started. The men were still wearing ‘khalli’, the piece of hide taken from a goat sacrifice, on their heads. The two proud fathers in the photo watch excitedly as a son signs the registration form! Please pray for the outreach to this village.

Processing the children took a long time and just when we were ready to move on, the car returned from Illaut. They had delivered the patient safely to Illaut. We praised God, and moved on to the Ongeli village for a repeat exercise.

The registration went well at Ongeli but it was getting late and we were all tired and thirsty. Marro is one of the teachers who helped with the registration and he happens to come from Ongeli, so he had quietly arranged for his mother to brew up some ‘chai’ for us with camels milk. Then we were ready for the last group, the Rongummo group of villages.

Two teachers charged off on the motorbike to complete the work at Rongummo Arbele village, while we went on to another Rongummo. After a lot more work, we had completed the registration and finally arrived back home at about 3.00 p.m.

The Tirrim Primary Headteacher, Mr Lawrence Letipo pointed out that we had started with 20 students several years ago, and now the count has just passed 1,000 students in Tirrim Primary School! Praise the Lord! We seek to impart a Christian worldview to the children, and not just fill their heads with academic facts. A further praise item was that our school Standard 8 class had come second overall in the district in the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education last year!

Unravelling Babel

March 20, 2009 by nlswanepoel

Fellowship in the Chalbi desert

Fellowship in the Chalbi desert outside Kalacha

The missionary language learning experience is fraught with trials. Language is important, no, vital. With this new tongue, you hope one day to communicate the amazing love of Jesus Christ! You arrive at your new home, brimming with enthusiasm to get your brain engaged with the complex grammar and your tongue around the difficult sounds. The first few days go well. People congratulate you – you can now greet in the language, and ask if everyone else has peace too. Then the car breaks down and needs urgent attention. Culture shock wearies you. Ministry challenges abound. The children get sick. The language learning that was going smoothly grinds to a halt. “What next?” “But I have tried to learn that word for the last week, and I still get it wrong.” Speakers of the language tell you that your head seems to be made of rock. One friend had someone say, “What’s wrong with you? Our language is easy – see, I speak and it just comes out!”

We have just had a week of prayer and fellowship in Kalacha with our northern Kenya AIM colleagues. I lead a workshop on language learning, focussing on the different ways you can go about learning a language depending on your personality and preferred learning style. I also tried to give building blocks for taking the next step in discovery, and then going on from there.

It was encouraging to see a face light up. “Ah, I see now that my wife and I should not do our language sessions together as we go about it so differently.” “This is helpful, I wish we had heard it twelve years ago.” Another colleague was excited because he could apply things the very next day to get the language learning going again. God is good and we praise Him for His help.


March 5, 2009 by nlswanepoel

I remember someone asking me if we ever get bored. I wish!! Last  week was another time of running around. The Africa Inland Church (AIC) that we work with, has had some major structural changes, all designed to push the decision making out to the churches on the ground. This has had some major implications for the AIC church in northern Kenya.

The meetings to discuss these changes, were due to take place in Loglogo last week. However, the venue was suddenly changed to Korr. We found ourselves scrambling to plan for forty or so church leaders from all over Marsabit area. Arrangements for veges (nothing grows here), drinking water, accommodation, etc. Getting the news out to people whose travel is complex – a new venue means ensuring the vehicles have enough fuel, those coming from Moyale on the Ethiopia border would have to find a truck in time for the long journey to Marsabit and link up with the missionary transporting church leaders from there.

One missionary traveling from Kalacha drove for a couple hours, had a serious breakdown, half fixed the car and then had to drive the several hours back to Kalacha. The changed dates meant that he would come all the way to Korr, head back to Kalacha afterwards, and then drive down to Nanyuki using the same route he had already traveled on.

We had very good and blessed meetings. Marsabit is called a ‘Special Region’, and indeed it is! This vast area only has about 28 AIC churches. Every meeting starts with the list of requests for new missionaries. The list grows longer as more areas are identified for church planting, but sadly we very seldom are able to remove a request. Please pray the Lord of the harvest … to thrust out labourers into His harvest field, overripe and ready for harvest.

Sulhaal revisited

November 4, 2008 by nlswanepoel

Rendille elder from Saale Sonno

Rendille elder from Saale Sonno

Last week, the men of the church visited the Saale Sonno village. We go for outreach in the late afternoons. About 25 men from Saale were sitting or lying in the soft sand under a shady acacia tree on the edge of a deep riverbed. They stirred as we came closer. “Do you have peace?” “Yes, we have peace, do you have peace?” “Yes, peace.” One man had his red cloth draped from his toes to his head, but he sat up. After singing about the Amazing Grace of Jesus, and praying, it was my priviledge to speak.

I am so conscious of the vitality of correct communication, that I often speak in English and use an interpreter. However, this afternoon, I spoke in Rendille. Observing good Rendille communicators in action, I have learned that repetition is important and questions thrown out are like bait that ensures active participation in the message.

My theme was Jesus, the Lamb of God. What a glorious topic. I spoke of the place of the Old Testament sacrifices, of the spotless innocent victim bearing the punishment of the sinner that he may go free. But what of tomorrow morning, when the forgiven man gets up – and in anger beats his wife? Or tells a lie? Another animal needs to die. And then tomorrow and tomorrow. Several men were nodding vigorously – I’m not sure if they could see their herds diminishing! With their sooriyyo sacrifice requiring an animal without blemish, we were on common ground. I explained the concept of the sacrifices being a mere shadow of the perfect One to come. He and he only has the power to cleanse and change lives for those who believe in Him.

Afterward one man said, “We believe.” Sonno stood up slowly. “We are not all the same age here. You can see some of us are getting old. These are good words, but we have never heard them before. We don’t all take things in the same way. What is needed is for someone to come again and again to teach these things to us.”

My plans have been cut out for me. I plan to go there on Friday and start working through the revealation of God on a weekly basis when we are in Korr. I would deeply appreciate prayer for this village and for the ability to clearly and powerfully lay bare the wonderful plan of God, Christ in you, the hope of glory!

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Kurungu adventures

October 30, 2008 by nlswanepoel

In convoy

In convoy

What is the church, at its most basic? What do we do about drinking of blood, of sacrifices, and of female circumcision? How do we ensure pastors are paid in communities where the monthly collection may only come to a few shillings?

These and many other gritty issues came up during our recent discussions in Kurungu. All the AIM missionaries working in northern Kenya met for prayer and consultation. What do the Scriptures have to say on these matters? What Western trappings should we throw off as not being central to the life-changing message about Jesus Christ to the nomads?

The challenge is to be relevant, but Biblical. Is a church building an essential, or a hindrance to the nomads coming to Christ? We need to be radical, ready to use new approaches, while not antagonizing our denominational partners in the national church. In it all it is vital to be able to distinguish between the romantic and the harsh reality. Should we be living out in the bush for weeks at a time? Could we? Or would it be better to pour ourselves into training local believers who have the physical capacity for the heat, the long distances, and the cultural communications skills to do a far better job than us?

Lynne and I had many opportunities to share the wonderful ways in which the Lord has lead us and blessed the work amongst the Rendille. I came away from Kurungu with a profound sense of amazement and gratitude to God. I was provoked to not merely look at what is lacking or not complete, but to celebrate God’s incredible ways, His timing and His grace operative amongst the Rendille.  We thank God for each one of you, so intimately part of all that happens in terms of the Kingdom of God coming amongst the Rendille!


It poured while we were in Kurungu. What would the road be like through the mountains and across the plains? We decided to travel in a six vehicle convoy to ensure that we could pull each other through if needs be. We left at 8 a.m. and out in the South Horr valley encountered a truck embeded deeply in the sand. They had been there for 5 days already, the differential having snapped at the same time.

By midday we had reached Korr safely. After hasty toasted cheeses, the rest of our friends traveled on. They first tried going east, the most direct route, to connect with the main road at Loglogo. After about 2 hours, they were back in Korr! A river in flood blocked their one route. Another way proved hazerdous after the lead vehicle sank deeply into the mud. What to do? They all needed to get to Nairobi urgently. The only possible way now was to the north through Kargi, but it had rained heavily that way. Would they get through? We prayed for them and sent them on their way.

Kargi proved to be wet, but passable. They finally reached Marsabit late that evening, making it a looong day for all, especially the families with little ones.

The heavy downpour pounded the tin roof of the prefab hut we were sleeping in. I could turn up my deaf ear, and sleep soundly through the noise. We were in Kurungu, situated in the spectacular South Horr valley. All the AIM workers in northern Kenya had gathered for a prayer time. In addition, we would spend time discussing nomadic ministry, how it differs from working with more settled peoples and the implications for the church.

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The hidden Sulhaal

by nlswanepoel

Old man making camel bell

Old man making camel bell

Harule was really suspicious when I came to sleep in their village. Why was I here? OK, then, if I wanted nothing, why was I really here? Now don’t get me wrong, Harule is a good friend and works in our house, so there was nothing bad going on between us! It just seemed really strange to him that I would come to his village… and not be looking for something. The Rendille have a saying, “To ask is the first-born.” Asking is the most important thing you can do. To go on a begging trip is called Sulhaal. You never miss an opportunity to ask, yet here I was wanting nothing!

One man explained it this way: You sulhaal over the course of a year for a camel cow, returning repeatedly to underline the importance of your quest. Finally, after months and months the man relents, and gives you an animal. However, it may not be the camel cow, but a small male calf, you go home rejoicing. You have something you did not have last year!

Actually my sulhaal was merely to spend time out in the nomadic clan village, observing their lives in order to better understand their struggles. The Lord has been challenging my comfort zone, so I have been driving out to a Rendille goob (clan village) to spend the night there sleeping on the back of the Land Cruiser.

My initial trips have been more exploratory, but from now I will go to places where there are one or two believers, so that I can encourage them in the Lord. It will be a good time to test Scriptures and share the Good News about Jesus. Please pray!

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by nlswanepoel

Literacy student studying the translated Scriptures

Literacy student studying the translated Scriptures

The translator’s bread-and-butter is in the unknown ideas. These are concepts found in the Scriptures that do not occur in Rendille, yet they are vital to the understanding of the text. A suitable alternative must be found, either as a loan word, or sometimes taking something similar from the language itself. At times, a fuller description of the meaning can be fleshed out in a glossary.

In Hebrews 8:6 we grappled with the term ‘Mediator’. After much discussion, Joshua and Laban put Dahgele on the table for discussion. The Dahgele means ‘The-Coming-Inbetweener’. Two people have a quarrel or even a physical fight. The Dahgele either literally or figuratively comes in between to seperate the parties. His work is not finished though! He will then take time to talk to both parties to get to the bottom of the problem. He is not interested in merely seperating two opponents, but about bringing true reconciliation, so that peace can prevail.

Initial testing with Rendille speakers show that Dahgele communicates well, but more testing is needed.

Please pray for the translation team as we craft the detailed arguments of Romans into ‘sweet’ Rendille that communicates and transforms lives.

Oupa ‘Yota and the other ‘Yotas

October 11, 2008 by nlswanepoel

The Chalbi salt-pan desert


When the project Toyota broke down at nightfall just outside of Maikona (a Gabra town) on the edge of the Chalbi salt-pan desert, Laban and Kutukaay decided to walk back to Kargi (a Rendille town). It turned out to be a seven-hour trip. The heat soaked up by the sand blasted them.

They faced a double danger. Relations between Rendille and Gabra are not good. If the Gabra saw them walking away from their area in the dark, they could assume that they were raiders. Walking to Kargi, they skirted every animal camp for the same reason – the Rendille herders would assume a raid taking place.

We had a crisis. Lynne and I had to go to Nairobi, taking Oupa ‘Yota (as Grant and Loutjies girls call Grandpa’s Toyota) away. The ancient green project Toyota had died that week, and the white one had a crack in the rear axle due to a design fault. A colleague, Bruce Buck, living up in the Hurri Hills beyond Maikona, had offered to weld up the axle if we could get the car there.

In Kargi, Laban was able to send an sms to Bruce. He immediately rushed down to Maikona, found the empty car and followed the tracks back to Kargi. They then fetched the Toyota which had a broken half-shaft, but could be driven slowly using the front wheels. They brought the car back home again. Then Bruce loosened the axle so that it could be packed on the back of a truck and taken to Nanyuki for repairs. We hope to get the last needed parts this week, and have the white ‘Yota running again.

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The Word runs on

by nlswanepoel

Rendille men at prayer during a ceremony
(Photo Grant Swanepoel)


Yesterday we had visitors from Kargi, bearing exciting news of the happenings there. Kargi is the northernmost Rendille town 75 kilometers north of us. For many years now, we have planned and prayed about reaching Kargi. There has been no permanent evanglical outreach in Kargi.

We sent a Rendille couple for training at the AIC Missionary College in Eldoret, with the aim of them going to Kargi. In the meantime, our church evangelism team had an extensive outreach there. This burning hot barren outpost with grey stones scattered all around proved to be fertile ground for the seed of the gospel! They just could not hear enough. The truck would go to a village for evangelism and people from other villages would come running after the truck. “When are you coming to us? We want to hear God’s Word too. When will you come and build a church here?”

These are haunting questions, but for a long time it was just impossible to do anything for Kargi. Except pray. Earlier this year, a Nairobi church asked if we would host one of their pastors and his family. They were keen to come to Korr, see what we have been doing, learn Rendille, and then …. move on to Kargi! Pastor John and his wife Alice have made rapid progress in learning Rendille. They have now been in Kargi for a little over a month. About 100 people crowd in to the small meeting area for Sunday services.

In the meantime, Luka Lengewa from our church has just completed his Masters in Divinity at Nairobi Evangelical Graduate School of Theology. Luka is deeply burdened for his people. When he heard that the church in Kargi needed someone to stand in for Pastor John while they went on holiday, he gladly rushed over after consulting the Korr church leadership. So Luka is now getting intense practical hands-on experience in church leadership in a new area! God is so good.

Men – the men are coming in large numbers! This is wonderful since they are the opinion makers and their input in the homes and villages can have a great impact. Luka has been very busy visiting villages where they are calling for teaching of the Word!

  • Pray for the Kargi church, including pastor John and his family
  • Luka would appreciate your prayers as well
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The blood of goats and bulls…

by nlswanepoel

Tom with the Rendille translators
Joshua Galimogle and Laban Eysinkeele

We have recently completed the consultant check of Hebrews. Tom Matthews has given us excellent help and we have all learnt so much more about this precious part of God’s Word.

While we were doing the checking, Lynne went out with the women on an evangelism trip. Instead of the normal welcome, one elderly lady came running towards the car shouting and throwing sand, then she picked up a thorn branch and charged the car where Lynne was sitting. Even the villagers were shocked, “She has gone mad,” some said. Judy, one of the church ladies quickly ran up to her and asked her what was wrong. “Politicians – I am sick and tired of politicians and their empty promises. Get out of here!” she shouted. Finally Judy managed to calm her down. When she realised that this was a group of the church women, she ran over to Lynne. “Oh, I am so sorry, so sorry, I did not realise it was you! My eyes are not so good these days!”

At last there was a good opportunity to share the Best News. On hearing the message of the crucifixion of Jesus, one woman responded, “We have always slaughtered goats, and sheep in sacrifice – maybe it was all for nothing.” Hebrews 10:4 (NLT) says, “It is not possible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.”

The message of Hebrews is the very message the Rendille need and could be crucial in reaching them with the gospel. We may have a sponsor to publish Hebrews – what an impact it could have here!

In discussion with Tom, we have decided to change our plans and work on Romans as the next book. The arguments of Paul make for many translation challenges. Please pray.