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A Shepherd’s Heart

Alumnus helps ‘herd boys’ follow the Good Shepherd.
  • Nancy Gruben
  • June 9, 2021

Tending to goats and sheep certainly seems like an unlikely pursuit for Caleb Fetterhoff ’11. Musically gifted, he studied piano and voice and traveled with a gospel choir for two years before attending Moody. Yet even as he planned to pursue fame in a music career, he was drawn—theoretically—to the idea of shepherding.

“Back in high school, my friends would always laugh when I’d say that if money weren’t an issue, I would become a shepherd,” says Caleb, who grew up in Pennsylvania. “It made absolutely no sense—even to me! I think I was attracted to the idea of sitting around, humming tunes, and being in the outdoors on my own.”

Today Caleb knows what the life of a shepherd actually entails, and he has a heart for those who spend long, isolated nights watching over their flocks and herds. In fact, he recently started his sixth year ministering to the seminomadic shepherds in the highlands of Lesotho, Africa.

Part of a small Africa Inland Mission team, Caleb uses his missions and ethnomusicology training from Moody to reach the boys and young men who shepherd the flocks and herds of cattle owners. Caleb and his team not only help the shepherds find and follow Christ but also help establish them in a mobile church community.

These herd boys often begin working as early as age seven—which ends their formal education. By 12 or 13 they are already spending months at remote cattle post campsites far into the hills—making church attendance impossible. Even when in the village, their social position can make them feel unwelcome at church, and most continue shepherding until their 30s.

Caleb’s first several months were extremely difficult, he says, with unpleasant food, strenuous physical labor, exposure to the elements, and a language barrier. “We could barely communicate or express ourselves because we knew hardly any of the language.” Yet the shepherds were very welcoming, sharing meals together around the campfire, showing the team how to build a cattle post hut to sleep and cook in, and teaching shepherding skills.

Caleb also began learning the language—Sesotho—from a local tutor. He increased his vocabulary by asking the shepherds simple questions like, “What are you doing?” and “What is this here?”

As an evangelist, mentor, coworker, and friend, Caleb travels and lives among the shepherds for much of the year, returning once a month to his team at their base in South Africa. He uses 31 foundational Bible stories, translated into a traditional oral form by an earlier team, to share the foundations of Christianity. Traveling with a host shepherd in the summer months, they tend herds and stay at a remote cattle post camp shared by several cattle owners. There he mingles with a number of different shepherds and also searches out other campsites.

“I focus a lot on evangelism in the summer,” Caleb explains. “Because the population is moving around so much, I never know who I’ll meet and if I’ll get to see them again. So I try to bring up the central story of Jesus, His cross, and empty tomb relatively quickly into our conversations, as long as they are willing to listen. Then I challenge them to commit to follow Jesus, pray with them, and leave them with a solar-powered audio Bible.”

If the shepherds seem curious, receptive, or immediately accepting of the message, Caleb arranges to meet them again to continue discipleship-oriented conversations—although the shepherds’ nomadic lifestyle can make this difficult.

In the winter months, most of the shepherds move down into the villages or to nearby campsites and stay put. Living in a house provided by his host family, Caleb helps them with farming, visits the shepherds, and involves himself in village life.

This is when he can provide more consistent mentoring through weekly Bible study. One evening a week, shepherds from nearby villages come to his house. “Using curriculum specifically designed for them,” he says, “I share key Bible stories—from creation and the fall to Jesus’ death and resurrection, through to the awaited second coming of Jesus.”

Caleb applies his musical skills and his studies at Moody in evangelism, cross-cultural communication, and ethnomusicology (using Scripture-infused songs in non-Western styles for worship and evangelism). “At each study, we sing locally composed songs in the shepherds’ traditional style of singing, and we pray together,” he says. “I tell the Bible story, lead discussion, and have the shepherds practice the story among themselves.”

This work is bearing fruit. In just the past year, about 15 shepherds professed faith in Christ, and last summer Caleb and his teammate, Khothalo (a former shepherd himself), baptized six of these young men who were ready to declare they would “follow in Jesus’ path for their life.”

Caleb and his team hope to see these shepherds meet regularly for prayer, Bible study, and worship in mobile churches. Even more, they long to see the members of these mobile church groups actively evangelizing, so their peers may also come to know the Good Shepherd.

To support this goal, enhancing the Bible curriculum is a new priority. “Over the next two years, we want to develop 20 to 30 more stories for basic discipleship, addressing issues the shepherds face—such as adultery, substance abuse, vengeance, forgiveness, and family responsibilities,” Caleb says.

As Caleb begins another season of ministry in Lesotho, his initial challenges sometimes return—isolation, the physical work, language struggles, and the longing for familiar food and Western comforts. But the prayers of his supporters and others carry him through, making those struggles easier. He now prays for additional team members, improved language skills, emotional and mental health, and continued resolve.

Perseverance in faith and ministry is something he says he began learning at Moody. “There were times when I thought my financial situation was going to prevent me from continuing, but God always provided,” he recalls. “I also remember Dr. Rim’s exceptional philosophy class that challenged my faith, yet brought me through stronger.”

For now, he knows God is asking him to continue—in spite of the challenges. “When He calls us to do something,” Caleb says, “I believe we should do it until He moves us on to the next thing He has for us.”

A Goat, a Prayer, and a New Birth

Caleb Fetterhoff’s friend Mahlanya is a hired shepherd from a poor family. While attending Caleb’s weekly Bible studies, Mahlanya heard the story of Jesus healing the paralytic man.

Sometime later, Caleb was out helping Mahlanya in the pastures, herding the goats together before nightfall. One of the young goats fell from a small cliff, injured its neck and head, and wasn’t responsive.

“Though he wasn’t professing Jesus at this point, he asked me to pray,” Caleb says. “I’d seen many small goats injured like this and knew they seldom survived. But when he asked me to pray that Jesus would heal the kid like the man in the story, I prayed.”

Mahlanya carried the baby goat back to the cattle post. Feeding it with a syringe, he nicknamed it “Cripple,” a rough translation of the word paralytic. On the fourth day it stood up, though still injured. When Caleb asked about it later that week, Mahlanya pointed to the hillside and said, “Look, Jesus has healed the cripple just like in the Bible stories.” The young goat was already keeping up with the herd, and just a week later, you’d never know it had been hurt.

A few months later Caleb heard Mahlanya tell his friends he was born again. Caleb knew that many people say they are Christian, but only those who have forsaken the traditional ancestor worship and fully embraced Christ refer to themselves as born again. Caleb asked Mahlanya, “When did you become born again?” He answered, “When Jesus healed the cripple.”

About the Author

  • Nancy Gruben