After serving for ten years as missionaries in an arid, drought-prone, Muslim-dominated community in northern Kenya, Norm and Janelle Gorrie were spent.
By the time they left Marsabit Diocese in 1998, Janelle was deeply depressed and suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. And it took about two years for Norm to start smiling again.
Bringing up three small children in an inhospitable desert area, surrounded by tribal conflicts and revenge killings sparked by competition for scarce resources, had taken its toll on Janelle.
“The kids were young, it was stressful – I wouldn’t recommend anyone with a young family going – I would, but I’d be scared for them,” says Janelle.
“Marsabit is not a very hospitable place. And I’d only ever been to New Zealand before … we weren’t given language training either because the bishop wanted us up there straightaway and we look back now and think it would have been so good to have six months. We got language but it was hard.”
Yet now, after 18 years of living in Sydney, with Tom, Sam and Sally grown and independent, Norm, 60, and Janelle, 55, are heading back to Marsabit to pick up the threads of their earlier mission. Norm has accepted a position as the diocesan director of missions and Janelle intends to read the Bible with speakers of the Boran language.’
“Janelle and I feel humbled and privileged to be invited by Bishop Daniel Qampicha to work with him and clergy in the north,” says Norm.
“I’m excited and also a bit apprehensive about the challenge there of training disciple makers.”– Norm Gorrie
The couple are joining a cohort of 18 new missionaries being sent out into the field this year by the Church Missionary Society NSW & ACT, a mission agency supported mainly by evangelicals.
“It’s going to be a new ball game, a new vision,” says Norm, who will coordinate training of the 45 evangelists and the 16 or so clergy in the Marsabit Diocese, which is the size of Victoria.
“The area is strongly Islamic and it’s getting more radical among the youth, so there is a need for active discipleship. So I’m excited and also a bit apprehensive about the challenge there of training disciple makers.”
For her part, Janelle is excited to reconnect with people she loves in Marsabit who endured and grew with them through years of difficulty, and to make new friends for Christ.
“When we came back I had the post-traumatic stress thing, so I’m still on antidepressants. And I’m going to stay on them because I feel good. So I think I’m healed spiritually, fellowship-wise and trusting God again.”
The turning point for Janelle came during a visit back to Marsabit last January to visit a close friend whose daughter, the Gorries’ goddaughter, had died suddenly at age 15.
“I think I’m healed spiritually, fellowship-wise and trusting God again.”– Janelle Gorrie
“I was counselling, sitting and listening to my friend who lost her daughter and so we cried, and she said ‘oh, I love you.’ She’s a 40-year-old woman and she’s a bit Australian in some ways because she’s very confident and she just said that.”
Norm, a carpenter by trade, had not preached much in recent years, but his friend had planned before his arrival that he would preach in church that Sunday – in Swahili. Janelle persuaded him to preach on John’s Gospel, which she had been studying in Boran.
“He was preaching in Swahili and I was translating into Boran, so it was very good for me. After we had been there about three weeks, we started looking at each other and going ‘we can do this.’”
The key factor in deciding to return was Janelle’s good recovery from two hip reconstructions two years ago. “I asked my church to pray that I’d be able to walk, and I meant walk not only physically but also with people in suffering because of our friend that died,” he says.
Having completed their training at St Andrew’s Hall in Melbourne, the couple are visiting churches raising financial support until they head off in April. They still need two more link churches to support them.
Norm has had a drive for mission work to Muslims since he was converted as a young man at St Matthias Anglican Church in Centennial Park, Sydney.
“After we had been there about three weeks, we started looking at each other and going ‘we can do this.’” – Janelle Gorrie
When he first went to Marsabit in 1989, he was training about 20 evangelists, who were lowly paid and of low status despite their high strategic importance.
“They are at the hostile front line of gospel outreach; they are responsible to disciple and nurture young Christians,” he says.
“Yet I would often hear the trainers complaining: ‘These evangelists are unteachable – you teach them and they don’t understand, they do not change!’
“You know what? I could fully relate to the evangelists. I admit I am not the sharpest tool in the shed, especially when it comes to academic theorising. As a tradie, I, like a lot of the evangelists, am more of a hands-on learner. But just because we may not learn a particular way does not make us stupid.
Gamada really grew through reading the Bible and developed a hunger to live out God’s word.
“Over the years I learnt to greatly respect the evangelists. They may not have high academic achievements but they have a depth of knowledge about life and survival, knowledge that is not learned in a comfortable classroom with interactive smart boards but learned in the classroom of life, where they have to grapple with what it means to follow Christ in a context of suffering and hardship.”
Norm says it was marvellous to see how one of the evangelists, Gamada, really grew through reading the Bible and developed a hunger to live out God’s word.
He became a beacon of light when the Burji and Boran communities were polarised in hate and violence. Each attack – whether the burning of a village or the killing of people – had to be avenged along tribal lines.
Despite being a member of the Burji tribe, Gamada lived close to the border of the Boran territory and his village was at the front line of the clashes.
“Even the opponent tribe, many of whom were Muslim, recognised Gamada as a man of Christ.” – Norm Gorrie
“A Boran would only have hate in their eyes and heart to a Burji and vice versa,” says Norm.
“But Gamada refused to buy into this hate and the calls for revenge. Instead he looked to Christ who taught him to love your enemies and do good to those who persecute you. So he would greet Borana and not show malice. He sought to be a light for Christ in that dark time of hate and tribalism.
“Even the opponent tribe, many of whom were Muslim, recognised Gamada as a man of Christ.”
While reaping a harvest for God is not easy in area dominated by Islam and traditional religions, including demon worship, Norm is inspired by the fruit of the spirit shown in Gamada.
“I would love to produce more by God’s grace,” he says.
Some prayer points to help
Ask God to keep Norm and Janelle in good health as they take the good news across the seas.