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Christianity Among the Nomads: The Catholic Church in Northern Kenya.

Christianity Among the Nomads: The Catholic Church in Northern Kenya.

By Paul Tablino. Nairobi: Paulines Publications, 2004. Pp. 312. $8.

This specialized book will be of great interest to the few people on earth who happen to know the geography and history of the Northern Frontier District of Kenya. Unfortunately, it is not about Christianity in the broad sense but deals only with the closely prescribed practices of the Consolata Missionaries, founded in 1901 at Turin, Italy. This focus can explain why one-third of the book is devoted to the vision and struggles of the founding fathers and bishops.

Surprisingly, little is said about the formation of the heroic band of men and women who set out to fulfill that vision in a land of unimaginably harsh conditions. Even less is said about the eight, mostly nomadic, ethnic groups who wander over that terrifyingly bleak land--seven pages covers them all. Whatever the title of this book may suggest, the content is not "among the nomads." It is chiefly about building mission stations that will serve any nomad who cares to give up his animals and come to the towns where the Catholic fathers are living.

This direction is even more regrettable in light of the insights of Father Angelo Dal Canton, the indefatigable pioneer who was the first Christian missionary to cross Kenya's awesome Kaisut volcanic plain. Writing in 1914 from Moyale, in northern Kenya, after nearly dying of thirst and raging fevers during the six-week trek, Dal Canton commented, "The missionary method should be a specific one. As they [the people of this area] are nomads, the missionary should be a nomad" (quoted on p. 142).

I found myself repeatedly wishing that these heroic Consolata fathers and brothers who struggled so hard against enormous odds to build their mission stations and institutions could have known of the work of another Catholic father, Vincent Donovan, who worked most effectively among the Masai nomads of East Africa. In his Christianity Rediscovered (25th anniv, ed., Orbis Books, 2003), Donovan clearly demonstrates that the simple Christian Gospel is fully acceptable and attractive to nomads if it allows them to remain as nomads. The church is people, not buildings.

Malcolm Hunter, a missionary with SIM International since 1963, has worked among the nomads in southern Ethiopia and northern Kenya since 1970.
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Author:Hunter, Malcolm
Publication:International Bulletin of Missionary Research
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jan 1, 2006
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