While just a young teenager, Deborah Sirjoosingh distinctly heard God’s call to serve Him. She was kneeling in the prayer room during a Sunday evening at Bethel Pentecostal Church in Ottawa, Ont., when God spoke Isaiah 61:1 over her. A deeply special moment for her, she would recall that evening many times over, reminding her of God’s plan and purpose for her life.
For the past 40 years, Deborah has devoted her life to bringing the holistic gospel to the remote Turkana people in northwestern Kenya, and also to the least-reached Ethiopian tribes along the border of Kenya and Ethiopia. In a 2017 interview, her interviewer asked why she chose to live in such a remote region of the world. Her response:
“What I wanted was to go where no one had ever been. I wanted to go to the most difficult and the harshest place on the face of the earth. Because my passion—my desire—is to reach those people who have never heard ‘For God so loved the world’ . . . This was a dream come true for me!”
In 1983, Deborah began ministering amongst the Turkana people, one of the largest nomadic groups in Kenya with a population of over one million people. She joined and was mentored by German missionaries and a German nurse who had begun a pioneering work with their ministry Volksmission (affiliated with the PAOC).
They lived in the Loima region of Turkana where no running water, electricity, telephones, post offices or proper roads existed. Additionally, the climate is characterised by little rainfall and scorching temperatures of over 40 C. It also contains large snakes, scorpions, spiders and other dangerous insects.
Having been trained as a nurse, Deborah worked alongside the German missionaries to offer medical assistance in a cramped cement room of a makeshift house. However, as is often the case for missionaries, the situation changed. The German missionaries departed the region, handing the work over to Deborah. She then continued ministering in this isolated and challenging place—alone.
During those pioneering days, Deborah managed to obtain basic medicine for her patients from 480 kilometres away. Her light by day was the sun; by night, a kerosene lantern and the full moon. Ever resourceful, she tore up her own clothes and bedding to dress wounds. When she needed water, she had someone run with a bucket to the often-dry riverbed where a windmill had been installed to pump water.
Nevertheless, few people sought her medical services at first. Many were distrustful of treatment, not having been exposed to modern medicine. Moreover, not one person responded to the gospel for those first four years.
Yet Deborah refused to give up. She slowly built relationships with the people, continually teaching and showing God’s love in every way she could. She learned to rely on the Lord for everything and to trust that He was always in control.
As the years went by, she expanded from one medical room to including the verandah of the house and the thorn tree in the yard as “wards.” Gradually, more people began to seek out her medical help. Furthermore, in 1987, she had a church built that included a nursery school classroom.
In 1992, Deborah left Turkana to begin ministering along the border of southern Ethiopia and Turkana with Swedish missionaries. She worked to provide medical aid to 22,000 people while sharing the gospel. Having helped plant two churches and construct a health facility, she felt called to return to Turkana in 2000. She remained there until this year, 2023.
Today, this largely untouched area of Kenya boasts of schools, churches, clean water systems, the Lokwatubwa PAG Dispensary and the Namoruputh PAG Health Centre. There are more than 35 clinical officers, nurses, and other medical personnel serving the communities in the surrounding regions. Patients walk from as far as five days away to receive high-quality medical treatment at the centre, since they know they will receive the utmost love and care in Jesus’s name.
Over the years, Deborah has worked alongside many—local tribal chiefs, church leaders, especially those of the Pentecostal Assemblies of Kenya, government ministers and officials, and many Kenyan medical staff. She has also partnered with ERDO (Emergency Relief and Development Overseas) and ChildCARE Plus to bring much-needed water, food and care to children in the region, following Jesus’s mandate in Matthew 25:31-40.
Many have called Deborah a fearless woman of God. A trailblazer. A pioneer. However, she chooses to see herself as an obedient servant of the Lord. God called her many years ago as a teenager. And she willingly responded.
Today, after such an extensive and fruitful ministry, Deborah is retiring back home to Ontario. However, what she leaves behind is thriving medical services, local churches continuing to grow, schools where children are flourishing under the direction of passionate teachers, and trained professionals helping their people in a variety of ways.
Moreover, Deborah herself will continue to be remembered by so many who have been blessed by her tireless devotion and kindness over the decades. And most importantly, her heart’s desire has truly been fulfilled. She has discovered that a people seemingly lost and forgotten never actually were. God was thinking of them long before she or anyone else ever did. For God so loved Turkana!
This article appeared in the July/August/September 2023 issue of testimony/Enrich, a quarterly publication of The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada. © 2023 The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada. Photos © Mission Global. Photos above: a scene from Namoruputh, and Deborah with a young patient.