The Masai Mara National Park in southern Kenya is quintessential Africa - wide open spaces and lots of exotic animals.
The local Masai tribesmen live much as they have for centuries in this very remote area of Kenya, about 150 miles from the capital of Nairobi. Tourism makes up a portion of their livelihood.
Today, there's a thriving church community here, thanks to a group of missionaries who has been sharing the Gospel for the past 15 years.
A Long-Term Adventure
In 1994, Shayne and Tari Russell found out just how challenging it can be to live in a developing country.
"We woke up one morning to find ourselves in the midst of the genocide in Rwanda in 1994," Shayne Russell told CBN News.
"Me, my family, my four children, we had to get out and the Lord got us out of that situation," Russell recalled.
That's when they came to Kenya.
"When we first came to the Masai Mara to establish a church here we had nothing. We brought in a 24-foot shipping container and that was our home," he said. "It was quite an adventure."
Before coming to Africa, Shayne and Tari spent a year at the Master's Mission, a missionary training center in the mountains of North Carolina, which takes a comprehensive approach to preparing Christians for the field.
Shayne said in addition to Bible study, the program covers a wide range of training often needed on the mission field.
The training includes mission station planning, water systems, plumbing, electrical wiring, drafting, diesel mechanics, drive trains, building roads, air strips and small dams, animal husbandry, carpentry, solar systems, and bush living.
"I would not have made it as a missionary in Africa if I had not gone through the training," he said.
Master's Mission was founded by the Teasdales, a family who has been working in Africa for four generations. Jim Teasdale, who has lived in Kenya for most of his life, will soon return to the States to lead the center.
"Long-term missions is on the ropes, and the majority of people in the world who are still unreached with the Gospel live in very austere, remote environments the short-term missionaries are not getting to," Teasdale said.
"Most of our missionary force is coming out of middle class suburban America, and they are not equipped to go into those environments and get the job done," he said.
"The vast majority of the resources of the American church are going to short-term missions, which means the few long-term missionaries have fewer and fewer resources to work with every year," Teasdale said.
Loiyangalani is a village that sits on the shore of Lake Turkana in northern Kenya. When Teasdale moved there with his family 15 years ago, the four tribes living in the area were at war with one another. There was no electricity or clean water.
"When we first came here, we were camping for the first three months. I was cooking on three rocks, hand washing our clothes," Barbara Teasdale recalled.
"So what we did was sleep in a shipping container, and then we camped out in front of the shipping container," she said.
Over the next several years, Jim and Barb used the skills they learned at Master's Mission to develop a spring and install water points for the community. They built a house, complete with wind power and a workshop. They also started a local church.
"A missionary coming to an unreached area has to earn a hearing. And the best way to do that is just to fulfill the biblical mandate, 'love your neighbor as yourself,'" Teasdale explained.
"When we do that, that means trying to get clean water for our neighbors, trying to bring security for our neighbors, trying to meet their medical needs, just anything that we would like to have ourselves," he said.
Today Teasdale is using his experience in Africa to help other aspiring missionaries make it in third-world countries.
The curriculum at Master's Mission also includes training in one area that might surprise some.
"Master's Mission is probably the only mission agency in the world with a first class firing range. We give our missionaries weapons training during the curriculum so they have the capability to protect themselves, their families and their neighbors," Teasdale said.
"Security is more important now than ever in this area. Just two nights ago there was a big firefight here behind me as bandits came and tried to steal some camels from the village," he said. "Fortunately, they were driven off by armed policemen, armed by the government of Kenya,"
But Teasdale said the risk is worth it.
"There are a lot of places in the world where an American missionary can go and be safe and comfortable. The parts of the world that are not like that are where the unreached people arem" he explained. "And that's where we need missionaries."
"I think, as the saying goes, Jesus called us to the ends of the earth, not the end of the pavement," Russell said. "And people live beyond the pavement. And they need the Gospel like anyone else does."
"This is what God has called us to do, and I'm going to do it to His glory," he added.