|The Shepherd Evangelists|
|Written by John Barry|
With over 120,000 boys and men still to hear the gospel, Lesotho’s herdboys is the largest unreached group in the ‘Switzerland of Africa’ but, as John Barry reports, AIM is making a difference.
There are over 120,000 herdboys in Lesotho ageing from 5 to 65. One third of Lesotho’s school age boys and young men are working full time as Herd Boys at any time. Male literacy is just 56%, compared to girls’ 70%, highlighting the effect of missing school.
A tough start
At midnight the initiates are woken from deep sleep and immediately put under pressure. Each is told to recite, word-perfect and with the correct rhythm and intonation patterns, one song from a repertoire. Mistakes are beaten out with sticks by the initiation school teachers. These privately run initiation schools serve to reinforce traditional African beliefs and witchcraft is a common factor in their ceremonies. Naturally, graduates have a wide command of songs and stories, and the ability to compose the complex songs that faithfully convey cultural teaching for the next generation. At graduation each candidate presents his new praise song and returns to normal life – and for many men that means a return to shepherding.
A Lesotho shepherd playing on a homemade instrument
Where AIM helps
AIM is reaching shepherds through Saturday literacy schools in the Mokhotlong district, run by volunteers and co-ordinated by ‘M’e Matankiso who receives a volunteer salary and travel expenses through AIM’s ‘HELP Lesotho’ project fund. This is the closest many shepherds come to church. There are 15 of these schools covering 450 students, and when students graduate they are presented with gloves, socks and a bible.
‘M’e Matankiso (right) co-ordinates AIM’s literacy schools.
Fear of herdboys
While some shepherds live close to villages and have access to these literacy schools, most do not. The majority live in remote chains of cattle posts in the mountains where the living conditions are sparse but grazing is best. Some men will spend ten to fifteen years in these small communities of five or six men, visiting their home villages once or twice a year for a weekend. These are a people set apart from mainstream village life – marginalised and stereotyped as thieves.
On Saturdays you will see groups of shepherds in the Mokhotlong district of Lesotho drifting into one of 20 small village-based schools. They are dressed in blankets and gumboots and revel in their own sub-culture – inspiring an awkward respect and fear in villagers. These represent the least-reached group in Lesotho.
When Christ was born God chose to reveal Himself first to shepherds – the marginalised, illiterate and poor. We believe that God has equipped Basotho shepherds with incredible skills and pastoral gifts for a reason; calling the shepherds of Lesotho to become shepherds of men.
Points for prayer