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A letter from Marta Bennett in Kenya

August 24, 2009


I write this letter as a tribute to one of God’s remarkable servants, Denny Grindall, an ”ordinary” American Christian businessman and “accidental missionary,” as a book title calls him. Denny’s long and well lived life on earth came to an end last week, but as he is now enjoying glory in heaven, the fruit of his life here continues to impact many in Kenya and beyond.

Denny Grindall and his wife Jeanne owned and ran greenhouses and a flower shop in Seattle, Washington. They were devoted members of their local Presbyterian church when they went on a safari trip in Kenya back in 1968. It was there that God gripped their hearts with a deep love and connection with the Maasai people, and for the next 20-plus years, the Grindalls spent six months of each year living among the Maasai, working with them in designing and constructing earth-filled dams, piping water down to the villages from the Ngong Hills, building schools and churches, growing vegetables to supplement their diet and up-grading ventilation systems in the mud homes to improve health conditions.

Photo of a man standing outside in the shade. His arms are folded and he is pictured standing in profile, smiling.

James Sakuda works among the Maasai, doing community development, medical care and HIV and AIDS work.

More importantly, hearts were changed as people encountered the gospel, which Denny and Jeanne shared and demonstrated. Eight years ago, when visiting that area (about an hour and a half from where I was teaching at Daystar University in Kenya), I was approached by some of the village elders, who presented a young man, saying he was one they had selected to receive a higher level of education. His name was James Sakuda, whom I had met before. Sakuda was active in the local Presbyterian church that the Grindalls had helped with in Olosho Oibor, and he remembers the Grindalls well. Sakuda accepted Christ as a high school student, and though he wanted to attend college, he had no money to pay for it, so he kept himself busy in the church and community, volunteering with a local literacy and evangelism ministry among his people.

I remember writing about him, “It is his quiet smile, positive spirit and determined interest in being able to give back more to his community, that I somehow sense that God has a special purpose for Sakuda. Sakuda has a deep desire and commitment, but with a wonderful blend of humility and dependence on God.” Later, Denny’s and Jeanne’s original church back in Seattle offered a scholarship to Sakuda to attend Daystar University. Four years later, he graduated with a B.A in community development, having participated in evangelism teams and student leadership during those years. After graduation, Sakuda joined a Christian organization that works among the Maasai, doing community development, medical care, HIV and AIDS work, as well as relief provision in times of drought, and ministry with orphans and vulnerable children. Currently, Sakuda manages the community-based sustainable development program in six Maasai communities in Kenya.

Photo of two men standing behind a microphone. One is dressed in a black robe the other is dressed in a bright red, highly decorated wrap that leaves his arms bare and his legs bare below the knees.

James Sakuda speaking in morning worship at University Presbyterian Church in Seattle, with Ken Kierstead, senior director of urban and global missions at University Presbyterian Church.

In 2008, Sakuda had the opportunity to come to the United States, and part of his mission was to thank the church in Seattle. During a Sunday morning service, Sakuda declared, “You are the unsung heroes and heroines of the world. You might not know what impact it had on someone’s life, but your contribution has inspired many lives. I, Sakuda, being one of them ... I am challenged to serve and devote my time and resources to give back to my people.”

One other highlight of his visit to Seattle was to be able to visit the elderly Denny Grindall, by then ailing and residing in an assisted living care center. Sakuda and one of his relatives, who was also in Seattle and who had also been impacted by the Grindalls, dressed in their traditional clothes and went to visit him. Though Denny’s memory was impaired, when he saw two young Maasai “warriors” standing by his bedside, he sat up in his bed in amazement and his fluent Maasai kicked in and they shared news of loved ones and events over the years. Sakuda received a traditional greeting and blessing from an honored “elder” of his village (Denny), and Denny had a glimpse of the ripples of blessing resulting from the years he had given among the Maasai.

Denny has passed on into glory now — his memorial service is August 22. James Sakuda has returned to Kenya to rejoin his young bride and newborn son and to continue building on and expanding the movement begun among his people by Denny and Jeane Grindall, preparing the way into a new future.


Marta Bennett

The 2009 Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 37


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