Photo by Esther Havens.
Circuit riders were pastors in the early 1800s in America who rode on horseback through the wilderness to reach their far-flung churches and congregations. Pastor Jackson Ewoi of the village of Kaakiring is a modern day circuit rider. More accurately, he’s a circuit walker. A very tall man, Pastor Jackson would be imposing if it wasn’t for his permanent smile and his habit of clapping his hands before him whenever anything delights him, which is often. When you arrive at his home, there are children playing and women breastfeeding their sleeping babies under a nearby tree. Pastor Jackson emerges, smiling and clapping, to greet you. He eagerly pulls up a chair and proudly invites you to his home and his community.
His compound consists of a sleeping hut for himself, his wife, and their seven children, huts for cooking and storage and a miniature hut for their chickens. People collect in the shade of trees and some women work, cooking and hanging laundry on the line. You can see the greenhouse and the church SERV built just down the slightly sloping hill. Roosters and baby chicks roam around. Goats meander through, bleating to their babies. Pastor Jackson’s home is a place of life. All are welcome.
Pastor Jackson walks purposely in long strides to his neighbor’s house where he finds a group of women sitting under a tree, caring for their babies and weaving dried plants into brooms that they will sell in town. He sits down on his stool he carried with him and begins talking to the women, catching up. The women expertly twist the long, starchy leaves and braid them together while making small talk about their daily lives, their children and their work. Since SERV built the well and established the greenhouse, 26 additional families moved closer together for access to the water. One of the women sitting under the tree, Alice, says that her family was literally starving until they moved five kilometers towards the well to be near Pastor Jackson’s community. Now her family has easy access to the well water and food grown in the greenhouse and given at distributions. The community works in the greenhouse together to grow vegetables like tomatoes and sukuma (kale) that is shared between the villagers. Food is bringing the people of Kaakiring together.
As a young man, Jackson was preoccupied with fighting and drinking. After becoming a Christian in 1978, his life changed. He no longer cared about appeasing ancestral spirits, for which there are elaborate rituals and demands in Turkana culture. He dedicated his life to full-time service of his community as a pastor in 1983. Now, in his village of Kaakiring, he performs weddings, settles disputes, helps the sick to find comfort and care and prays at burials. Just last year, his community lost someone to tuberculosis and he presided over the funeral. Pastor Jackson has taken on the additional responsibility of going to far flung communities all over Lodwar. He regularly walks (walks!) 15, 30, even 60 kilometers to visit communities and preach at their churches or under trees that serve as a gathering place. He once walked for four straight days to reach a community, preaching along the way. He takes with him his acacia wood stool (a must for all Turkana men), a staff, a jug of water and a backpack with his Bible. As dedicated as he is to his neighbors in his village, he feels called to reach more people. He has opened five churches in villages near and far and he returns to them regularly, walking every step of the way.
The most important thing to Pastor Jackson besides preaching the gospel is helping to ease the suffering of people he meets in the course of his ministry. He has been working with SERV since 2011, letting SERV leadership know of needs of the communities and people he encounters. As a partner, Jackson has proven invaluable in connecting SERV food distributions to the most vulnerable. Just recently, he connected SERV with the village of Tiya, which will soon begin benefitting from regular SERV visits. “If we get food, we appreciate it and we share it,” he says. Even though Pastor Jackson has a large family and it is difficult to provide enough regular food for everyone, he is always advocating for the lives and empty bellies of others. Food has brought life to his community, and he is eager to see it spread to others.
As he has begun to age, Pastor Jackson has increasingly prayed for transportation. The walks are becoming more challenging and there are ever more communities to reach. Besides, he would like to get home and be with his wife and children. Pastor Jackson meets weekly with other pastors that work with SERV to encourage each other and discuss the needs of their communities. He recently learned at one of the regular meetings that SERV will be loaning him use of a motorbike so that he can reach even more communities and save himself time with his family. As could be expected, his face split into a huge smile, he clapped his hands and exclaimed, “Hallelujah!” raising his hands overhead. Because of Pastor Jackson, more people will be reached. Because of SERV food, there will be more community and more life for the people of Turkana.