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Rain in the Desert

By Joe Showalter

It had been raining heavily for a few weeks leading up to our arrival in Lodwar, a small city in northwestern Kenya’s Turkana County. Benson, known by many as “the Desert Boy,” informed us that they hadn’t seen rain like this for five years. While the region has experienced a physical drought over the last few years, it has been a place of spiritual new life and growth.

Benson leads a group of churches called Glory Outreach Ministries (GOM). With churches not only in Turkana but also in neighboring Uganda, South Sudan, Ethiopia, and Somalia. With fifteen mission training centers, GOM is a vibrant and growing network of churches. When Benson entered the International School of Mission (ISOM) program in Thika, Kenya, in 2000, he had planted eight churches. (REACH was instrumental in launching ISOM in 1999.). With the training and tools he received at ISOM, Benson believed God was calling him to plant 100 churches among his own Turkana tribe. Today, Benson says there are about 175 GOM churches in Turkana, but when you include the churches planted among neighboring tribes (he’s currently engaged with five tribes and has a vision to reach seventeen) and in neighboring countries, the number is over 400. Given the nature of these things and the simplicity of their strategy, Benson guesses there could actually be as many as a thousand churches, since he’s not trying to track all of the added layers of multiplication.

While much of this growth can be attributed to the efforts of church-planters and evangelists, God is also working through visions and miracles – bringing new life out of dry and unlikely places.

Earlier in our trip, while traveling in Ethiopia, we stopped at a training center in the middle of a mostly-Muslim village. Since it is not a church, the training center operates in the city without a lot of scrutiny. The leader of the training center is Paul,* a former Al Qaeda fighter who now worships Jesus.

While Paul was in training with Al Qaeda, he had some questions about Islam. He struggled with the Islam of Medina versus the Islam of Mecca. One version of Islam seemed to be a religion of peace, and the other a religion of war and conquest. When he wondered about Muhammad‘s superiority or the Quran‘s perfection, he found these questions were unacceptable to his superiors. About this time he had a vision of Jesus. Jesus told him, “You are mine,” and told him to escape from Al Qaeda. Because of his questioning of Islam, his trainers threw him into a tin cage where he lived for a couple of weeks in temperatures over 100° F. It made him so sick that they eventually sent him to a hospital. Because of his past vision, he used that opportunity to escape.

“Jesus sent me to tell you that he says, ‘You are mine. If you don’t follow me, you only have 10 days left to live.” Paul returned to normal civilian life, but he didn’t pursue Jesus. Jesus appeared to him a second time and again said “You are mine.” Still he resisted. One day, a 13-year-old girl approached him and said, “Jesus sent me to tell you that he says, ‘You are mine. If you don’t follow me, you only have 10 days left to live.”

A few days later, Paul and a friend were caught in an armed conflict between two warring groups. His friend was killed and Paul was taken hostage. His captors could immediately tell that he was a trained fighter because of the way he defended himself, so they prepared to kill him also. One captor aimed an AK-47 at Paul, and briefly discussed with the other what they were going to do with him. In what he thought were his last seconds alive, Paul asked one favor: that his identification tags be delivered to his mother. He handed them to the second of the captors, bowed his head, and waited for the shot. Remembering what the young girl had said to him, he decided to cry out to Jesus in his desperation. Seconds later, he heard a shot and saw the man with the AK-47 fall dead. The other captor had looked at Paul’s ID tags and realized that they were close relatives. Since his loyalty to his family was stronger than to his comrade, he shot his comrade to save Paul’s life. This time Paul surrendered to Jesus.

After Paul told us his story, we went to the classroom where 40 to 50 people were being trained to share Jesus with their own people. We were told that currently in Ethiopia 1500 Muslims are coming to Jesus every day.

Clearly, the rain of God’s Spirit is coming to barren lives in east Africa. Let’s pray for a similar move of the Spirit among us here in North America!

*Names changed for security