Some days ago I spoke of a young boy that became lost while herding the young animals and was found to have been attacked and eaten by a leopard. Yesterday, I went with two elders and five women to visit the family at their village some five miles from the mission. Since the mother of the lost child is a Christian, we started our visit with some traditional Maasai prayers that I also took my turn in leading. Then with “engare pus”, water mixed with a little milk, we blessed the parent’s house, all the houses in the boma and the cattle enclosure. After the prayers and blessings, I read the account of the raising of Lazarus from John’s gospel.
Then, everyone gathered under a shade tree for gourds of fresh milk, heavily sweetened tea, and corn porridge. Now was the time when each visitor would have the opportunity to say a word or two to the parents of the dead child. The words of people untouched by Christianity were in stark contrast to the Christians. The ones working out of pure tradition said that we need to get by what happened. We need to forget this terrible thing and take care of the living children. If we get bogged down in grief, it will be harmful to our families and villages. The Christians were very tentative in talking about life after death. They said things like: The bible tells us that Jesus raised Lazarus after a number of days in the grave. Jesus promised life without end to those who follow him. They were very cautious and were not making any definitive statements about life after death. I was encouraged by their words, feeling that they were a reflection of their young Christianity.
The beliefs of the Maasai are based on their long experience of the world around them. What they understand of death and so many other things comes from their experience of these things over many hundreds of years. I think that we should present them with a faith that sometimes contradicts their long held traditions with great care and deep respect. After all, their understanding of the world and the ways they’ve worked out for surviving in it have worked well up to now.