In a remote corner of Northeast Africa live the Zaila people. They are living versions of the desert land where they reside—hard, austere, and seemingly impenetrable. For generations, these staunch Muslims have had no one reaching them with the Good News of Jesus Christ.
“Kind is not a word you would use to describe the Zaila,” says Rachel Miller, a medical professional and Frontiers worker who lives in Northeast Africa with her husband John.
John and Rachel Miller had never heard of the Zaila when they first responded to God’s call to reach the nations for His glory.
But the Millers had heard of unengaged people groups—those who have no churches, no believers, and no messengers of the Kingdom trying to share the Gospel with them. They were convinced that even the most remote communities need a chance to hear about Jesus. John and Rachel decided they could be part of the solution and go to the Muslim world where the need for the Gospel is greatest.
When the Millers discovered that 184 Muslim people groups in Northeast Africa have no disciples of Jesus Christ living among them, the decision of where to go became an easy one. They began working with Frontiers to figure out what it would take to build and lead a team to reach one of these people groups. “We’ll be among the first,” they volunteered. “We’ll start a team.”
As John and Rachel worked to recruit their team, they moved to a capital city in the region. They began looking for open doors to serve further afield where they could live among an unengaged people. At that time, the Zaila were one of Northeast Africa’s largest unengaged Muslim people groups. As they started meeting Zailas living in the capital, God stirred their hearts for this lost people.
Then they met a chief from Adaye, a remote Zaila village.
“Our people are hungry,” the chief told John, an agriculturalist, “and we don’t have a produce market in our town. Would you help us start a garden for the village?”
The chief also invited Rachel to help staff a small clinic that offered the only medical care within a three-day radius in any direction.
The chief’s invitation was better than John and Rachel could have asked for. Excited by these opportunities, the Millers began to believe that their dream—to live and serve among an unengaged people group—might actually be possible.
But first, they’d have to get there. “And that,” as John would say, “would take some doing.”
The village of Adaye is almost 1,000 miles away across a treacherous stretch of sparsely populated desert. It takes a week or more to get there from the capital city. The journey requires traveling by convoy so that when one vehicle breaks down, they aren’t left stranded in the vast desert.
After the first couple of hours of pavement, the road becomes a strip of dirt leading them into a sea of sand dunes. The journey’s midpoint is the most dangerous part of the trip—a fifty-mile, waterless expanse with no road and no cellular reception. The path is marked only by the faded tracks of its last adventurer. This isn’t a place where you’d want to get lost—the consequences can be fatal.
The Millers have broken down several times on their journeys. Tires have gone flat in the heat. Sandstorms have tormented their convoy. The police even detained them at a checkpoint once. One particularly troublesome sand dune must have stalled their truck 30 times. That time, the trip to Adaye took nine days.
Upon arrival at their destination, John and Rachel are immersed in another set of challenges. Living in Adaye means doing without basic conveniences and comforts. Daily temperatures often hover around 100° Fahrenheit and sometimes soar above 120°. Their stick hut brings no relief from the heat. In the absence of cellular reception, they depend on a satellite modem to communicate with the outside world.
There is no fresh food market in Adaye. “We bring our own six-month supply of dehydrated vegetables, fruit, and meat,” says Rachel. “It is all measured and carefully rationed out to last.”
Getting to and living in Adaye is not easy. But the difficulties John and Rachel face are light compared to the reality of the Zaila people’s lostness.
Historically, the Zaila have been highly resistant to the Gospel. In recent years, outside Islamic radicals have targeted the village and pressured the people to join the ranks of fundamentalism.
“A large group of Muslim religious teachers came and did an Islamic campaign in Adaye,” Rachel recalls. “They had everyone come and listen to their talks. It was a really hard week of intense spiritual oppression, and once they left, things were not the same.” Villagers began treating the Miller family with more suspicion and coldness.
“The Zaila are looking for hope,” Rachel continues. “If we don’t show them an alternative, all they’ll know to turn to is Islamic radicalism.”
In the midst of this spiritual resistance, John and Rachel tangibly serve the Zaila people—and through their obedience, God is making Himself known in dramatic ways.
John serves with the villagers in sustaining their community garden while Rachel meets many needs in the clinic, where she is in high demand.
And God is moving.
“I pray for our patients and ask God to speak to them through our acts of service and love,” Rachel says. “In fact, we have seen at least three children come in and be miraculously healed through prayer in Jesus’ name,” says Rachel. The Millers praise God for miracles like these that open Muslims’ hearts to the Good News.
Pray with us that hearts would soften as God moves and makes Himself known to them. Ask the Lord to keep moving through the Millers’ obedience as they give lost people a chance to discover Jesus Christ.
Join us as we pray that the Zaila would announce with the psalmist, “the Lord, our Maker… he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand. Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts” (Psalm 95: 6-8).
Help us send more workers like John and Rachel Miller to the last peoples and places—to the resistant and hard-to-reach.
Editor's note: Names and details in this story have been changed for security.