Saturday, December 13, 2014

A Change of Vision Calls for a Change of Methodology

Us and our friend Jean Yves who helped us talk to village leaders this week
By Stacey

Before our arrival in Cameroon, if you would have asked us why we wanted to spend our lives in Africa, we would have responded, “We want to translate the Bible.” As of today, this would no longer be our response. Let me explain why…
A Previous Goal and Previous Methodology
The Bible translators who preceded us in ages past came to the field with the same goal that Dave and I had: to translate the Bible. And, as can be expected their methodology flowed out of this goal. Therefore missionaries sought to quickly find a language partner and diligently learn the language. Some of whom were so diligent that they were known to speak the language better then the Cameroonians themselves. These missionaries then took their knowledge of the language and their training in biblical exegesis and set out to translate the Bible into the target language. After a few decades, they presented their life’s work to the community with the expectation that the church leaders would preach from it and that Christians would evangelize using it. After all, their role is fulfilled in accurately translating the Word of God and the job of the church planter / pastor is to take it to the streets, right?

What we have been told is that often times the Bible is not received by the community when this methodology is used. When people told me this before, I assumed that it was not received because the message of the Bible is offensive to unbelievers. However, what if this rejection had nothing to do with the content of the Bible? What if it was due to socio-linguistic reasons?  Or political reasons? And what if these types “stumbling blocks” could have been prevented?  Let me illustrate:
Socio-Linguistic Considerations

As far as socio-linguistic mistakes, the Bible can be rejected because the “wrong” dialect (accent) was selected. Imagine that you moved to Africa and went to church one Sunday. While in the service you were frustrated because you could not understand the language the pastor was preaching in. Then you realize that he was speaking…English (true story). Yes, it is true that Americans speak English and so do some Cameroonians, but I assure you that we have extraordinarily different ways of speaking it.
And what if English Bible translators chose to pattern their translation after the Cameroonian dialect? Imagine that you open your English Bible and read “Jesus is the wata (instead of water) of life.” Would you think that the translators were incompetent? I would argue that one would be more offended by the word “wata” then by Jesus claiming to be God.
And this scenario happens. In every village we go to, Bakoum speakers say that they speak the real Bakoum and the others speak something else that is inferior. We have even had one village say that if we do not translate into their dialect, they will never read the Bible. So, which form of the real Bakoum do we translate into?
At the end of the day, a language dialect needs to be selected, but would it not be better to get the people to agree on which dialect to use before the Bible is translated? Why not educate the people on how to chose a dialect and then let them have their knock-down, drag-out arguments and at the end present us with the dialect that they would all accept? Then, if someone complains about the way it is written, we can point them to the fact that it was a decision made by the community.
Theological Considerations
Now imagine that you are a Baptist preacher. One day you pick up a new translation of the Bible and are horrified to see that they translated the Greek word “baptidzo” to mean “sprinkled.” What a scandal! There is no question that you would refuse to preach from this translation and likely write it off as a whole.
This is exactly what happens with church leaders. They are not necessarily rejecting the Bible because they are not orthodox Christians, but rather because the key theological terms that were selected cuts against their theology. Would a Baptist pastor really encourage his people to read a Bible that tells them to go and be “sprinkled?” Never.
So, would it not be prudent to raise these potential “problem words” with pastors before the Bible goes to print? Would it not be wise to explain exegetically why this term should be chosen above another before entire denominations reject the Bible in Bakoum? Would it not serve the Kingdom of God well if all the pastors in a community would come together, receive training in exegesis and then come up with a theological term from their language together? I imagine that this could also correct erroneous teaching in the churches even before the Bible is translated.
If pastors can be “won” to the integrity of the Bible before it is printed, then the odds of them promoting it to their church members is a hundred times higher. Would it not be prudent to do this on the front end?
A Different Goal
In light of these issues, we have a new goal. Our goal is no longer to translate the Bible, but instead to translate a Bible that the community will read.
Now when we say this, we are not saying that we want to make the message of the Bible more palatable but instead we are simply trying to eliminate all stumbling blocks except the cross of Christ. If someone rejects the Bible because they do not consider themselves to be a sinner, so be it. But if someone rejects the Bible because we, in our ignorance, chose a script that resembles that of a rival tribe, what a grievous error. In the same way, if someone rejects the Bible because they cannot tolerate the exclusivity of the Gospel, that is up to the Lord to soften their hearts. However, if they reject the Bible because we forgot to get the authorization from the mayor for our project, what a tragedy.
Paul says in 1 Corinthians 10:32-33 that he tried to “please everyone” in everything he did so that many would be saved. I think that this concept really expresses our deepest desires as Bible translators. We want to, for example, please the most powerful governors so that they will give us their blessing for this project. In turn, the people will not look at us with suspicion wondering if we are spies, thereby rejecting our work. We see the necessity of raising controversial issues such as which dialect to use and which theological key term to insert so that we can reach a consensus before the Bible is printed. And because of this shift in our vision, our methodology needs to change.
A Different Methodology
When we landed, we thought we would be working with a couple Cameroonians to help us learn their language for the next 3 years. Now, instead, we are spending our time going from village to village asking the people to form a “language committee” that we can work with. We are asking people to select the people who have the best mastery of the language from each village. Then, once the language committee is formed, we will ask them to furnish us with a language partner. This way we can be sure that the way that this person speaks is already agreed upon by the community as being the “standard.” We will then continue to work with the language committee to help them come to a consensus about the alphabet, type of script and so on. Theoretically, with this approach we would be systematically weeding out stumbling blocks before they are “canonized.” We assume that our meetings will be quite heated but we would rather do the messy work on the front end rather than when it is too late.
Thus, for the next several months, we plan to work to develop a language committee. After that we will spend a couple years working with them to analyze and develop the language. Once the language has been analyzed, and a system of literacy is in place we plan to then shift of our emphasis towards the churches and create a similar committee with the church leaders in the area.
This methodology is very different for us because it requires us to dialogue and persuade even before one verse of the Bible is translated. But, we are convinced that this is what it looks like to “please everyone” so that when the Bible is published, they may have no other reason to reject the Bible except for the message alone.
So as you pray for us during these initial stages, pray that we would we as “wise as serpents and as innocent as doves.” Pray that we would be persuasive in the face of leaders who could make or break this project. Pray that we would be persistent to go back to the villages that are skeptical of our commitment to see their language developed. Pray that the Lord would give us favor in the eyes of influential people so that they could mobilize the entire community to work together to develop their language. And pray that God would give us grace to weed out stumbling blocks before they come between the covers of his Word. 

I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage,
but that of many, that they may be saved. - 1 Corinthians 10:32

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Survey Trip Planned for this Week

By Stacey

Starting tomorrow, Dave and I will be traveling to do a week-long survey among the Bakoum people. Our three two motivations for doing this are:

1. To gather more information about the people group. On the linguistic side of things, we hope to ask them things like if there is more than one dialect of the language or if they can understand the other languages groups which surround them. And then, on the more general side of things, we hope to map out exactly where all the Bakoum villages are located, how many chiefs there are, and who are the “key people” who would be interested in participating in the project.

2. To create awareness of the need for literacy and translation. We hope to help the Bakoum peoples see their need for the development of their language and for a translation of the Bible. As we have been told by numerous missionaries, if the people do not invest in literacy and Bible translation at the beginning, they will not read the Bible at the end. Thus it is crucial to get people on-board from the beginning so that as books of Scripture are published, people will be able and eager to read them.

In order to aid in accomplishing this goal, we have asked a Cameroonian brother who lives in the capital to join us during the week (Jean Yves). He is experienced in mobilizing communities to see their need for the Word and thereby take ownership of literacy and translation projects. He will also be beside us to help us not miss cultural cues and to communicate our purposes clearly in French. We are very thankful for the opportunity to work with him.

Please remember us in your prayers this week. Specifically you could pray that:
  • All the meetings would happen.
  • That we would communicate clearly (in French) our vision for literacy and Bible translation.
  • That we will represent Christ well and glorify him in what we say and do.
  • That the Lord would open people’s eyes to their need for His Word and that they would invest in the project.

Thank you for thinking of us and for your prayers. We look forward to writing about our experiences soon!

Monday, December 1, 2014

Family Update: Light and Not-So-Light Things

by Stacey

 
 

 
In celebrating Thanksgiving this week, I sat down and asked myself what I was thankful for here in Cameroon. Although there are many things to praise God for, I think one thing that I most appreciate about my life is that everything is new and very different. We thought we would share a couple such experiences…
 
 
On the lighter side of things…
Snakes. When you think of Africa, you think of snakes right? Well, if not, you should. We are currently living in the middle of a rain forest and have seen a green mamba, yellow mamba and even a had-to-have-been 6 foot cobra (with a hood and everything). Fortunately, we were driving when we saw each of these snakes slithering across the path. Unfortunately, they slithered away before we could hit them. And you may think that the “natives” here are just used to this kind of thing, but in reality they hate them as much as we do. In fact, they even hate chameleons. A couple of our neighbors brought us chameleon hanging at the end of a stick the other day and when we picked it up they started screaming, running around in circles, and gasping for air. I thought we were the ones who were supposed to have this type of reaction. Another interesting fact is that we often have people trying to sell us snake skin, chameleon eggs, or other critters. I am not sure what about being an American communicates that we want to buy killer reptiles.
If life was not exciting enough...we always have Zoey!
The white-man incompetence. The other day, all the parents of our kids’ school were asked to come to the school to pull weeds. Me, being a parent, showed up and did my share of the work. After raking weeds for about 30 minutes, the director took the rake from me and said that I had worked too hard. I then left the school only to be chased down by another mother who went on-and-on about how white people are incapable of “working” and how she could not believe that I helped clear the field. I explained to her that our work in the US is different (i.e. we usually go to the office as opposed to work in the field) but that we are capable of learning their way of life as they are capable of learning ours. She could not stop laughing. As we were walking down the road, I saw some of my friends passing by and I shouted to them that this woman said that white people cannot learn how to work in the field. They begin to roar with laughter (because they apparently thought the same thing). I still cannot figure out what people thought was so funny.
Kyra blowing bubbles for the village kids
Bad French used for good. Like we mentioned in our last blog post, we witnessed a man violently beating his dog a few weeks ago. We asked him to stop and then bought the dog from him. I saw this same man the other day and I intended to ask him why he does not go to the church that our missionary friends planted among his people group. He responded “yes.” I accepted the fact that either my bad French or his bad French was getting in the way of what I was trying to say. Later in the week, I realized that he thought I was inviting him to our church (which is in a different people group) and that he had accepted my “invitation.” So, today, he showed up at our car at 9am all dressed up and brought his whole family to our church. I did not mean to invite him, but the Lord used our bad French for the good of this man. Please pray for him, his name is Pajero and although he has lived across the street from our missionary friends for years, he rejects the Gospel.
 
The not-so-light side of things…
Sickness and Death. Another thing you may think of when you think of Africa is diseases and dying. It is with great sorrow that I admit that this is the reality here. Among the people group we are currently staying with (until our house is finished), there is a 50% infant mortality rate. Often I see the kids here chewing on trash and playing with knives.
And this week an extremely ill woman was brought to our camp to see the missionary nurse. My nurse friend said she thought the woman was dying, probably of AIDS. I took this woman and her adult daughter back to their village and I was extremely burdened by the sorrow that weighed heavily in the air during our drive. The daughter told me that her father had already died and she was silent with worry about her mother, choking back the tears. I was struck by the fact that I was in the presence of an individual who would be locked into their eternal state in possibly a matter of minutes. I tried to talk to the daughter about what her and her mother believed, but due to my limited French and due to the fact that she did not want to talk much we did not get very far. When I arrived at their village, men came and carried the mother out of the car and a few days later I heard that she had died. It is too late for this woman to be saved now. Maybe she did know Christ, maybe she did not. Maybe she heard the Gospel, maybe she did not. Had anyone ever prayed for this woman’s soul? Had anyone explained to her how to be saved? These were the questions I was asking myself on my drive home. I realized afresh that life is short and even shorter here and that there is urgency to the message of Christ.
Sharing the Gospel. A few weeks back I was a bit discouraged because, although I wanted to share the Gospel with people, I felt like there was too much of a language barrier to do so. So I prayed about it and a missionary college of mine just encouraged me to dive in and share the Gospel in bad French. Since that time, the Lord has given a few opportunities to share his Word with others. One thing that I do is play the audio Bible in French in my car. Being that we have one of the 3 cars in the village, we are giving  people rides all the time. One man was listening to the temptation of Jesus and gasped in response to what he heard. It is both amazing, staggering, and tragic to be around people who do not know simple Bible stories that were taught to me before I could even talk.
The Sad State of the Church. Dave and I are trying to go all the churches in the area so that we can get the leaders “on board” with the translation project we will be starting. All that to say, we are experiencing a lot. At one church in particular, we witnessed 3 hours worth of chanting, people having what looked like seizures on the floor in front of their scared weeping children, and one woman even “died” only to be “resurrected” by the church leaders. There was no sermon, no Scripture, only chaos. We had a communal “vomiting” time to vomit up any food that we ate that week that was not eaten “in faith.” We also witnessed the leaders calling out for the “Holy Spirit to come down and burn their genitals.” Women were aggressively rubbing other women’s stomachs to increase fertility. Elias was to the point of tears saying “this is not good, this is bad” and Zoey asked if people were bowing down to idols. The overall message of the church was “What can I get from God?” There did not seem to be love or adoration of the Lord, just chants shouted out in order to manipulate him to give them good health and fertility. To top that off, they asked Dave to come up to the front in order to join the group of shouting people who were casting out demons. He politely declined.
What is our response to this? Our prayer is reform. Our prayer is the very pastors of churches like this will join the translation project that we hope to start and will be transformed by the Word of God and will in turn teach it in their churches.
Dave adjusting to Africa (we didn't have ice, so that is a sack of frozen flour).
Growing in Patience. So our house is still not finished and it is sad to say that the workers are actually breaking the things that they already did as they construct new things…and I don’t get the impression that they are going to fix them. Nonetheless, progress is slowly being made and we think that one day we will actually move in. We were praying for November 11th, but now we are just praying that we could move in one day. However, we trust that the Lord has us in this holding pattern for a reason…and we are guessing it is to teach us patience. As one of my friends told me, “you and Dave are doing well during this time of waiting, seeing that you are not exactly given to patience.” I think she was trying to be encouraging, but I walked away realizing that this was an area that I need to grow in. Perhaps that is God’s good intention behind all the delays. May he teach us what he wants us to learn through whatever he means he chooses.

So, in sum, our days seem to be a mixture of “is this really happening?” moments, grief over lostness and death, prayers asking God to make us useful in this place, and building shelving for our house. And yet, as always, the Lord has been our rock and our hope during this time of extreme change.
 
Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. - Romans 12:12  
 
 
 


Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Canine Redemption

by Dave
As many of you know we are currently living out in the forest with a team of missionaries among the Baka people. In recent days, the Baka laugh at me pretty much every time I go out of my front door. Why would they laugh at you? You ask. They laugh at me because about a week ago I bought a sick, skinny and injured dog named Police. Why would you buy a sick dog? Well, that is what the Baka are asking and why they laugh at me. But let me tell you the story.

I was in our kitchen homeschooling our kids the other day when in the background I heard an agonized yelping. It took me a minute to figure out where it was coming from and I saw Stacey looking out the window across the way. And there was a small dog, tied up with a rope, and his owner was beating him with a large branch. For a moment I thought that it had stopped and I went back to teaching, but it started up again. So, after some pleading from Stacey, I decided to go over and talk to the owner. Pajero is a man that I know a bit. He has done some work for me at the new house and we have talked, in fact just a couple days before he told me how much he hated his dog. So I just walked up to him and asked why he was beating Police. “He ate our eggs,” he told me. Looking at the poor little guy it was not hard to imagine why he would have eaten their eggs. He was so small you could see every one of his bones. A wound on his face was bleeding and there were flies in the wounds on his ears. I told him that it was wrong to beat his dog and referenced the verse in Proverbs that says “whoever is righteous has regard for the life of his beast.” Pajero told me he would stop and so I went back home. Stacey said after that she saw him throwing rocks at the dog.

Later that night we decided to inquire about buying the dog. I did not want a dog, mind you. But I saw how much Pajero hated him and I knew that one day he would just kill him. Stacey and I talked and we were hoping at some point to get a dog that would bark if people approached our house at night. Would Police be that kind of a dog? We had no idea, but at least he would be alive. We talked to others that told us that Pajero would just buy another dog and treat him the same. But we thought of that silly story about the boy an the starfish (“I can save this one…and this one…”). So, we did it. We bought a sick little dog that probably will never be an amazing guard dog. And, inspired by some friends that live in Indonesia, we changed his name. 

So, I introduce you to Rachat.

Rachat? What kind of a name is that? Well, I do not think it is really a name, but it is a word. It is the French word for “redemption.” What does redemption mean? According to The New Bible Dictionary “Redemption means deliverance from some evil by payment of a price.” I actually like the French word a little bit better because achat means “purchase” so rachat just means to purchase again, or to buy back. I think it removes some of the mystery. This is what happened to our dog. He belonged to a cruel master who bought him as a puppy, who did not feed him, who beat and hated him. And then I bought him, the second purchase. And he is now part of our family. We feed him, take him to get his vaccinations, put a balm on his wounds, pet him and play with him. The kids love him and, though we have to teach them to be gentle, treat him very well. 

But I like the name for another reason as well. I like it because it gives me the chance to talk about my own redemption. You see, I was once sold as a slave, bound in sin to a cruel master. This master offered me “freedom” and “happiness” but all I ever got out of the deal was pain and misery. But God, in his infinite mercy, bought me back. Colossians 1 says, “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” The price I paid for Rachat was pretty small (about $10), but God paid a price much higher for my life. He paid for it with the blood of his Son, Jesus Christ. But the inheritance that I have received is also worth so much more. Rachat will likely live a good long life with a full belly, plenty of exercise and hopefully a full-time guard job. Me? I get a new master, who is now my Father. My Brother is the King of kings. And I am told that one day I will even get to reign and rule with Christ (2 Timothy 2:12). How great a redemption!


I hope sometime soon to post some “after” photos of our new dog. He is already looking a bit better with some more meat on him and his wounds healing. He has started to bark at people he does not know at night, so that is a good sign. And, even better, I have had two opportunities to share the Gospel because of him! Praise the Lord!

Saturday, November 1, 2014

House Construction and the Kids in School

By Stacey

This past week has been both exhausting and exciting.
About a week and a half ago, Dave and I realized that the construction of our house was moving way too slowly and that we needed to be on site to supervise the progress. Thus we moved into the bush to a little camp that is about 15 minutes away from our soon-to-be house. Although we miss living with our Cameroonian roommates, we think this has been a good move. For starters, we are living in a more isolated location and thus do not have people around our house watching our every move and I do not think I have had anyone holler anything inappropriate at me for about a week now. It has been a refreshing change.


Dave hard at work with the mud-bricks to our office in the background
Besides the move, this week has been exhausting as Dave and I have been working hard on our house under the hot African sun. We have shoveled dirt, determined what furniture to have built, and have done a lot of supervising. It has been very physically exhausting but we are excited to see some progress. The most difficult aspect of being on site has been having to hire local workers, negotiate wages, and encourage them to work harder. We are still learning (Cameroonian) French and we know close to nothing about the culture here and thus we often say something to a guy just to have him stand there are stare at us…So, now what do we do?
Working side by side with these guys is a way to once again “be baptized by fire” as we try to understand this new world. Another difficult thing is that in the US we have an 8 hour work day, with very defined breaks.  Here, on the other hand, the line between hanging out and working is very fuzzy and often I wonder if the norm is lively conversation with some work in between. It’s necessary for a worker to do his job, but when is his conduct laziness and when is it just due to the fact that efficiency is not as much as a value here? These are some of the struggles that we’ve faced this week.

Welcome to the Neighborhood

The girls in our living room / kitchen
As we are shoveling dirt with guys and kids from our neighborhood, we are learning some of the Bakoum greetings. In fact, when we greeted a neighbor a couple doors down in French, he corrected us in saying that French was not welcomed in their “Bakoum speaking” neighborhood. I guess it’s time to move onto language number two! This is actually very reassuring to us because if the language is continually used and if there is a sort of identity and pride found in it, chances are the people we really “own” a Bible in their own language. At least, this is our prayer.

However, this is going to take a work of God. For instance, another neighbor approached Dave the other day and said that Christianity was not welcomed in the neighborhood. Little does he know that he is actually living in a village that the Christian God owns and that we he gave us “permission” to do his work there. We are praying that the Lord would save this gentleman and many more like him.
The Kids at School

Probably the biggest change that has occurred this week is that we enrolled the kids in a public preschool about a 20 minute walk from our new house. We have been praying about this for some time, and we are happy to say that it looks like the Lord has answered our prayers. The kids LOVE their new school and are very happy there. Well, Kaden cried the first day and said “I want my mommy” all day (isn’t he the oldest child?), but besides that, everything is going well. We had three reasons why we wanted to put them in school: we want them to keep up their French, we want them to make friends, and we would like to have more freedom to work on language learning. And it looks like all these things are happening. All their teachers even say that they are bilingual and that they are having no trouble understanding what they say. 

However, the school is definitely different then what we would be used to in America or in France. There are around 50 kids in each class with only one teacher; there are no toys, games or activities, but instead just a lot of children and a big chalk board. The kids go to the bathroom either in the field next door or in a hole in the ground…and our kids have reported that they don’t wash their hands...not exactly ideal. On Friday the kids came home and said that they did not learn or do anything but that the teachers talked the whole time while the kids just hung out. Makyra told me that the others just sat there but that the four of our kids “made rap music” and danced the whole time. That is another great difference: the kids at the school are considerably smaller then our kids and do not seem to have much energy. Or maybe we just happened to adopt the four loudest, most energetic people on the planet…that must be it. It was also surprising to have Kaden come home and say that a doctor came to their school and gave all the children an oral polio vaccination and vitamins. We are not against the vaccination, but I just assumed they would ask us first. And what else is funny is that although the director told us that the teachers to not use corporal punishment in the classroom, our children tell us otherwise as Elias has already gotten several spankings (but he said he deserved them). So, the school experience is a bit different and a little shocking some days, but in the words of Kaden, “even if the teachers don’t teach, they still take care of us.” So, as long as the kids are happy, learning French, safe, a
nd making friends, we’ll count this school as a blessing. And for those of you wondering, we are still doing homeschool with them in English in the afternoons. And yes, this makes for a LONG day!

To our Praying Friends
We cannot start full-time language study until we are moved into our house. Will you please pray that we will be moved in by November 11th?

Please pray for Elias – that he will love wisdom and instruction and not despise it. Pray that he will learn self-control in every area of his life.

Pray for our kids at school- that they will continue to make friends, speak French, and be safe and happy.

Pray for the Bakoum people – that God’s Kingdom would break into this people group.


The kids playing "restaurant" (note Zoey's "straw")


Kaden learning to sift flour

Kyra with a millipede


Kyra enjoys using a pillowcase to do her hair like the Cameroonian women



 

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Being a "Have" in a "Have-Not" World


One night we ran out of food and therefore Kaden was not able to have his typical forth helping. He looked up at me with horror in his eyes and asked in a trembling, hushed voice, “Mom, are we…poor?” 

Maybe you have had a similar experience in your home where your child comes home from school, buries his head in the sofa and cries because his family too “poor” to buy him the $100 shoes that all the other kids are wearing. 

Living like Kings

If you are like us, you remind your kids that compared to the majority of people living in the world today, we live like kings. When there are thunder storms we sleep soundly. Why? Because we have a roof over our heads. We have never known hunger and we have always had clothes to wear. Not only that, but we have the “extras” like DVD players, blankets hand-made by grandma, and even dress-up clothes. When we lived in the States, we had the category of “the poor” with whom we compared ourselves, but these people remained as concepts who were “out there” rather than unique individuals. This, however, for us, is no longer the case.

The “Poor” are now my Neighbors

I was never bothered by owning a car in the States, even though I knew that most of the world was not as fortunate as I was in this way. But now, I drive a car that costs more than the net worth of everyone in our entire neighborhood combined. Nor was I bothered by buying fruit juice. Now, I buy some and come home to look in the eyes of my housemates who spent the same amount of money that I just spent on a liter of juice on a few days worth of food. When in the States, I used a washing machine and dryer without shame even though I knew that I was in the “privileged minority.” Here, I put a load of laundry in our washing machine, sit down to read a linguistic book and then calmly get up to get the laundry out when it is finished. I then go outside to hang it to dry and see all the women in the neighborhood who have spent half the day scrubbing their clothes with a bar of soap. And then there are the prayer meetings like the one I went to the other night where I heard prayer after prayer of people crying out to God to provide money for their kid’s school fees, money for medications, and for daily needs. Now, have these people become poorer since we moved into the neighborhood? No, but now they have names and faces and are becoming my friends.

So, Now What?

Honestly my knee-jerk reaction is to reject the “rich” status that I now have. I hate it. My skin color already automatically puts me “on the outside.” And then there is my accent and country of origin. All these things I cannot change, but as far as our economic status, this is something I could change, thereby eliminating one difference. So, why not give away the washing machine and sit on the porch with the ladies and a bar of soap? Why have a refrigerator and only go to the market once a week? Why not go every day with everyone else? Why have a car when everyone else walks? That is what it means to “become all things to all men”…right?

But the thing that I keep coming back to is that we are here to translate the Bible and adopting this way of life would make this work impossible.

For example, in our temporary housing, we went without running water for over a week. This meant that Dave had to spend an entire day hauling water from the local well. This water lasted us 2 days. As for me, I used this water to spend hours scrubbing a couple articles of clothing. Today I spent an hour picking all the rocks out of our dried beans so that they will be ready to eat tomorrow. Between “just living” and homeschooling our children, we often go to bed sore and tired. And we have realized over and over again that there is no way that we could live just like the people and ever learn the language or translate the Bible. So, as of now, we are convinced that it is more loving to use the conveniences that we have to free ourselves up to do what we are here to do: translate the Word of God.

But honestly, in the day-to-day when people see us “sitting around” in our house it does not feel more loving. It feels awful. It does not feel like love when we will be the only ones in our neighborhood who are able to turn the lights on at night and do not have to hand carry our purchases home from the market. Although we are seeking to be generous with what we have and share “along the way” I do not know if our neighbors will ever see that our motivation for living differently than them is not because we love comfort, but it is because we love them and want them to have the Word of God.

Conclusion

In spite of all these tensions that regularly swirl through my mind, there are a couple truths that bring a bit of clarity:

My understanding of glorifying God as a “have” is a process. I have never had to ask the question “how can I please the Lord as a ‘have’ in a ‘have-not’ society?” Nor have I been faced with people regularly asking for money. I think that is why Scripture both calls us to “try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord” while also reminding us that God is a generous giver of wisdom to those that ask. Instead of having a polished, documented philosophy on giving while living in a 3rd world country, I am content to ask God for wisdom in every circumstance while continuing to search the Scriptures as to how to be pleasing to God in these kinds of situations.

Love is the goal. Poverty is not the goal of the Christian. Nor is giving out of guilt or a felt need to level out the economic classes. No, love is the goal. As Paul tells us, “If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.” So, in the face of a pretty dramatic different standard of living, the knee-jerk reaction of “what can I do so that I do not have more than this person?” is not the right question to ask. The right question is rather, “how can I use what God has given me (whether that be time, money, giftedness, etc) to best love this person?” Paul gently reminds us not to act out of guilt, but instead to let all that we do to be done in love.

My economic status is not what saves. We share in Paul’s desire to “becoming all things to all people, that by all means we might save some.” We want to be servants of the people among whom we live and we do not want to put any stumbling blocks in the way of the Gospel. But at the end of the day, God does not only save the kids who had perfect parents and in the same way God does not only save the people who hear the Gospel from the lips of the perfect missionary. If this were the case, no one would be saved. We acknowledge that the Gospel is powerful to save even when it is preached by missionaries who are still trying to figure things out.

 
Well, here are the tensions that we face on a daily basis. And yet, even in a season full of more questions than answers, the Word of God once again proves a source of wisdom and comfort, a Word that we are here to share.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Praising God for a Boring Testimony

by Dave

Have you ever praised God for your conversion? I am sure that you have. I have heard many of you rejoice in the way that the Lord saved you. And we often here amazing testimonies and they can be quite powerful. I remember hearing one while I was on a mission trip that has stuck with me to this day. A man was a professional thief in Jamaica and got so good at what he did that he would actually wear a three-piece suit, walk up to a house, pick the lock, go in and steal whatever he wanted and then leave. On one occasion, however, he made a mistake and the end result was him, trapped in a house surrounded by the police. I do not remember all of the details, but there was a fire fight and he killed at least one police officer.

After fleeing the scene, he came up to a roadblock and was in a long line of cars. He knew that they were there for him and so sitting in his car he decided that he would rather die than go to prison. Raising his gun to his head, he pulled the trigger and…did not die. He just sat there in his car as the police ran up to him, bleeding from his head as the bullet had pierced the skin but fragmented hitting the skull and not leaving any lasting damage. He was captured, tried and convicted of murder. In prison a godly Christian woman visited him and told him of Christ, whom he resisted at first. But after finally breaking down and praying to Jesus, he received notice that through some error of paperwork he was allowed to go free. Considering this an answer to his prayers he became a Christian and now tours around Jamaica telling his story and calling others to follow him in serving Jesus.

On this same trip I met another man who became a Christian after being attacked by bandits. These violent thieves left him lying on the side of the road bleeding after they cut off both his arms and left machete marks on his head. He considered it the grace of God that he was still alive and glorified him in my presence. Neither of these men asked for my testimony, but it goes something like this: when I was about four years old I was sitting in my bed one night and thinking about God. I do not remember a lot, but I do remember realizing that there were two sides: God’s and not-God’s. I knew that I wanted to be on God’s side but I did not know how. I went out to the living room and asked my mom for help. I remember praying with her and walking away believing that I was on God’s side. And…that is it. No fragmented bullets or machete attacks. Just the grace of God through godly parents.

One of our responsibilities here in Cameroon as new missionaries has been to read a bunch of books on ministry, theology, and culture in Africa. In one book I found the following quote by a missionary in Kenya:
“As a child I grew up in a rather sheltered Christian atmosphere. Having been saved at the tender age of five and having been preserved from gross sin by God’s grace. I never really had a moving experience of conversion from sin. In my own experience the truth of God which bore deeply into my soul was the providential grace of God in calling me to His service and leading me step by step into the ministry. I can recall vividly over the years a certain measure of distress that the redemption of Christ from sin was not as meaningful to me as it ought to have been, so it seemed to me. God’s presence was real. His sovereign control over my life was beyond dispute. With profound awareness I knew that God had separated me from my mother’s womb to be His child and to serve Him in Africa” Richard J Gehman, Doing African Christian Theology pp. 6-7.
Richard, like me, has a “boring” conversion story. No one is going to tour around the US telling the stories of how we became Christians. And yet there is something here for which we must praise the Lord. Richard reflects that he has a profound awareness that God had set him apart from his mother’s womb. And in this he is less like Paul and more like John the Baptist or Jeremiah.

And so I ask myself, ought we desire dramatic conversion stories? And I thought of it like this: do I want dramatic conversion stories for my kids? The answer is no. I want my kids to start to seek after Christ now, follow him throughout their lives, be used for his kingdom, and spend eternity with God. I do not want them to be saved out of prostitution, or theft, or murder. There is great power in stories of people who leave great sin or tragic lives to seek after the Lord, and the Bible is full of them. But there is also great power in the testimony of a brother or sister that has been preserved from such sin, faithfully discipled, and demonstrated a life characterized by obedience. These are not natural things. It takes a supernatural act from a good God to have a testimony like that.

So, I have decided to praise the Lord for my boring testimony. I have decided to abandon any efforts to spice it up with other events in my life. Christ told us that the way is narrow and few find it, and by his grace I found it when I was four years old! God has been kind to me, and I have decided to thank him for his mercy.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Daily Challanges and Joys

by Stacey
 
I met an American Peace Corps worker today who had also just arrived in country. When I asked her how she was adjusting she said that she goes through one emotional extreme of feeling like she is seeing progress in adapting to life here to the other emotional extreme of feeling like she is completely lost all the time. And, since the days feel so long, usually she goes from one emotional extreme to the other several times in a day. We both nodded our heads as we listened to her as we could very much relate. So, we thought we would share some of the things that we find difficult and some of the joys that we are experiencing.
 
Some of our Joys:


This is across the street from the house that we will be living in
As far as I am concerned, I just love nature and this country is absolutely beautiful. I love looking at the stars at night, being woken up by powerful thunderstorms, and more then anything I love the chickens and goats running around on the dirt roads. I love all the exotic flowers, plants, and all the different types of dead animals I see hung up on the side of the roads (sad, but still cool).
 
I LOVE the fact that people here wear full blown winter gear as I am sitting here sweating. I love the wool stocking caps worn by 20 year old guys and little babies walking around in puffy winter coats and I love that parents explain that their children are sick due to "the cold."
 
 
Yep, that's an infant driving a motorcycle.
As far as Dave (and myself a bit too), he loves the driving here. In America, we are so "constrained" by that little dotted line in the middle of the road, by the stop lights, and by all the rules of the road. Here, on the other hand, it is like driving in a river of motor-cyclists, street venders, and little children in their brightly-colored school uniforms. It's like an extreme sport that gets your adrenaline pumping and makes a part of you come alive. Who needs video games?


Another one of our joys is the Christian community in the city that we are currently living in. Tomorrow there is a brother in Christ who is coming over to talk to us about how to share the Gospel in French in a way that rightly confronts the sins of the culture. Then Thursday, Dave is going to go evangelizing with him. Our housemates regularly serve as a "buffer" between us and all the people who want to come to our door to sell us things like chameleon eggs. They told us that we are "their missionaries" and that they have a duty to take care of us.
 
Another daily joy is celebrating the little victories. If I can drive to the market, not hit any pedestrians on the way, stomp through the mud, get hollered at by half the city, and come home with what was on my list, I am thanking God. I love that our kids cheer when the electricity is working and I love when a street vender looks me in the eye and warmly smiles.
 
Some of our Challenges:
 
I detest our celebrity status. We were already a little bit of a circus in the States and in France having Ethiopian children and all, but this hype has been greatly intensified. It seems to me like people cannot walk past me without exclaiming "oh my goodness, you are white!?" I am not saying they are malicious, but I am very used to being white and am very used to having black children, so it just gets so old. I go on jogs in the morning and I have had entire high school PE classes see me and scream, holler and yell. They even started jogging with me. Everywhere I go, people are trying to get my attention and often some of the men here are screaming out "I love you!" and other mildly inappropriate things. I cannot step out of my house without seeing at least a dozen children at my gate just watching my every move. I pray that the Lord will somehow use this for the advancement of the Gospel but until then, it is truly the thorn in my flesh.
 
 
Another challenge is being a "have" in a "have not" society. Malaria, typhoid, living without running water, and not having enough money for daily needs are the norm here. Yesterday a lady asked me to pray for her extremely ill baby. As I was holding the baby it was gasping for air and looked as if it were blind. It just broke my heart. We are facing so many sorrows here and frankly want to be a help to them all. In one sense, it is a blessing to be able to give rides to people, to help them with their kid's school fees, and try to get them hooked up with the right medical missionaries, but on the other hand the problems and financial needs are often beyond us.
 
 
On a lighter note, Dave hates the roosters. He had previously been confused by apparently fictional accounts of roosters waking up the barnyard at dawn. It seems in reality roosters just crow whenever they want, and that usually means outside our window at 3am. I've on occasion heard him muttering to himself that he wants to zip tie their beaks shut.
 
Feeling lost is another daily challenge. We are able to celebrate the daily victories because usually they shine so brightly among our constant state of confusion. Today we got pulled over at a routine security check point and a not-smiling AK-47-toting police officer walked over to our car and said something to us and waited for a response. The only problem is that we had no idea what he said. When we first arrived I waved to a cute little kid. He then walked up to me and just stared, without saying and word and would not go away. It turns out that type of waving means "come here". Our housemate went to the well one day for us and filled up our reserve water barrel. I thanked him saying, "You didn't have to do that, that was so kind, thank you." He responded that he was very upset that I would say something like that! He had taken my words literally and thought I meant "I really wish that you would not have done that". We are constantly asking ourselves "what am I missing  here?" All the cultural bloopers may seem "cute" but in the day-in-day-out staining to understand and be understood feeling lost is such a burden.
 
 
So there is a small taste of our challenges and joys in adapting to our new life. There is much more that we could write, but we'll save them for another blog post...
 
 
Our four constant joys...


Plantains are our new favorite food!
 
 
Giant hairy googly-eyed bee?
 
 
 

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Contextualization for Creating Barriers

by Dave
I am still a bit new to missionary life and methodology, but if there is one thing that I have heard over and over again, it is that contextualization is vital. What is contextualization? Well, I am told that one of the weaknesses of my predecessors in the missionary field was that they confused biblical Christianity with their own culture. So, they brought with them their own customs and traditions and taught them as necessary alongside the Bible. Here in Cameroon, for many years the majority of church services have been conducted in French. The songs, the sermons, the prayers are all in French and they take attendance. The pastor in every church I have been to here wears a Western style suit with the coat, collared shirt, and tie. I am confident that this is not a clothing style native to our new country mere miles from the Equator.

Contextualization asks, “Must Africans wear suits to preach the Gospel?” and “How can the message of Christ be taught in an African way?” These days you will often see missionaries wearing Cameroonian clothing to church and dancing and clapping and singing African songs. There is a very strong movement to see nationals teaching and preaching instead of Westerners, to the point that some people would say that we as white missionaries should not even be in the country. Church services are starting to more and more be conducted in the indigenous languages and African theologians are now writing to address African issues.

Contextualization for Removing Barriers

Much of what I see in regards to contextualization is good, and probably should have been done years ago. But one question I really want to ask is “Why do we contextualize?” One answer is that we contextualize in order to remove barriers. One should not have to dress like an American to become a Christian. English and French are not divine languages that must first be understood to know God. In one sense, the reason we want to translate the Bible is because of contextualization. I am reading a book right now called Doing African Christian Theology and the author, Richard Gehman observed that in Kenya where he worked as a missionary there was one people group, the Akamba that embraced Christianity faster and more fruitfully than other groups. In discussing several possible reasons why this is the case he said:

"The universal conviction of the older missionaries and the Akamba with whom I spoke, is that the strength of the A.I.C [African Independent Church] among the Akamba is due to the Akamba trained in their vernacular tongue, using their own vernacular Bible for a long period of time since 1928. The truth of the Word of God was able to penetrate the hearts of the people more effectively because it was communicated in their own mother tongue” (Gehman 29).
We are here in Cameroon to translate the Bible because the Gospel is more effective when it is taught in the mother tongue of the people. If I communicate that people cannot really know God unless they become an American, I am teaching something that the Bible does not teach and creating unnecessary barriers to their salvation.

Contextualization for Creating Barriers
However, I think that there is another answer to the question. Yes, we contextualize in order to remove barriers, but we also contextualize in order to create barriers. In a conversation with a Cameroonian Christian the other day I learned something about the culture. He told me that while working with Campus Crusade for Christ he saw the effects of a particular evangelism strategy. They would go out and use the tract Four Spiritual Laws and preach the Gospel, and many people would accept Christ. However, he found that these people were continuing to practice African traditional religion with its rites, rituals and even sacrifices and just adding in the church. The end result was what we would call syncretism: the combining of two religious world views rather than the replacing of an old with the new. On the surface this method of evangelism was extremely effective, but underneath we see that the new “converts” were still lost.

Thus, this brother is advocating for new and more contextual methods. These would be methods that reveal the impossibility of worshipping Christ and continuing in African traditional religion. And if we were to evangelize in this new way, what would be the result? I think it would mean fewer “converts.” Why? Because in contextualizing we would be creating barriers for these people to accept the message. Or rather, we would be clarifying the barriers that already exist. This is not a new idea, Paul tells us that the cross was a stumbling block for the Jews and folly to the Gentiles. Thus preaching the Gospel does in and of itself create barriers to accepting it. In confronting the worldview of the target culture, this kind of contextualization reveals that the Gospel is not easy, though it is simple. The Gospel is a call for all of us (Americans, Cameroonians, etc.) to forsake anti-biblical methods of seeking salvation in order to follow Christ alone.

To give an example, in some people groups here parents place charms around the necks of their children in order to protect them from evil spirits. To preach a contextualized Gospel in this environment I would have to call people to trust in Christ and not in charms. At first this would be unthinkable, endangering the lives of the children. But if they come to a place where they accept this contextualized Gospel, they will see that Christ is so much better. It is Christ that can protect them from the demonic world, and a small sack of hair and bones on their neck cannot do it. Can you imagine if I said that in the States? Would we ever add something like that to our tracts? Of course not. But here in Cameroon there is a need for a contextualized Gospel that addresses cultural issues so that they can truly count the cost and thus truly be freed from the bondage of their former lives and religion.

American Contextualization
We should not think that there is only a need for African contextualization, however. Jesus contextualized the Gospel when speaking to the rich young ruler in Luke 18. When he came to Christ looking to “inherit eternal life” Jesus did not use the Four Spiritual Laws, he did not speak of grace, nor a personal relationship with God. No, he said, “One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” Jesus did give this man the Gospel, “come, follow me,” but he contextualized it to his own sinful heart. And the result? “When he heard these things he became very sad, for he was extremely rich.” In contextualizing the Gospel for this young man Jesus created a barrier. If he had just said, “come, follow me” it might be that this man would seek to follow him. One can, after all, “follow” Jesus and still love money (i.e. John 12:6). But, knowing his heart, Jesus called this man to count the cost of following him in the hardest way he could. Because this man was rich, and clearly loved his riches, Jesus called him to forsake his wealth (see the blog Do We Evangelize Like Jesus? for more examples).

I think that it is possible that this should be the contextualization method for Americans today. Not unlike Cameroon, we have a country where many people claim the name of Christ, step forward or raise their hands in revival meetings, but have never counted the cost. I do not know the hearts of others like Christ did, but I know my heart and I have observed the fruit that has been born of the hearts of my fellow Americans. And I think that many, even those in the church, store up their treasures on this earth. Perhaps it is time we contextualize a bit for us, and seek to make one another aware of the barriers that do exist to salvation. Because we cannot serve two masters.

I envision a tract with a picture of Jesus side-by-side with a hundred dollar bill. Emblazoned at the bottom are the words, “Choose today whom you will serve.” When you open the tract you are greeted with the words of Christ in Luke 12:33-34:

 “Sell your possessions and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with money bags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no rust destroys. For where your treasure is there will your heart be also.”
The rest of the tract would go on to call Americans to forsake materialism and seek after Jesus alone for fulfillment and salvation. Is it possible that there would be fewer “conversions” if we start evangelizing with this kind of contextualization? I think so. But maybe that would not be such a bad thing.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Life as a Minority

By Stacey

Some days I wish I could change my skin color.
To those on the streets of Cameroon I am referred to as “la blanche” or “white person.” Sometimes little children excitedly point and run to tell their friends when I approach as if I was some sort of exotic animal. I know they do not mean anything by it, and yet I feel like I am like the village attraction (actually, I think I am the village attraction). Adults in the market try to get my attention essentially by calling out “hey white person, we have great white people stuff here, come buy from me!” Can you imagine if in the States cell phone vendors called out to the people passing by, “Hey, you black person, I’ve got the perfect phone for you”? Or “Hey yellow man, come in here the products are made in Asia”? There would be law suits and maybe riots!

Since arriving in country, I have actually been told by a Cameroonian brother that it would more-or-less be better for me to not participate in a certain kind of ministry here because I am white. Now, I am not saying that there is not wisdom in what he is saying, but, from my American perspective, I cannot help but to think that this is simple discrimination. I should not do something not because of lack of qualifications or character flaws but because of…my skin color? The American side of me cannot help but to hate this.
I feel like when people see me, they do not see me, but instead only see my skin color and/or country of origin. I feel like they judge me based on the other handful of Americans they have known, or on what they have seen in the movies. A perfect example of this was when I was in France and guy heard me talking to Dave in English and approached us quoting a vulgar English rap song. He assumed that since we are from the same country as this particular rap artist, we must have the same moral code. Why would he assume this? Was it because I somehow communicated that I accept immorality…or was instead because he labeled me before he even spoke to me? It seems to me that, right or wrong, it is within human nature, no matter the culture, to judge based on appearance. And to the person being judged, it just stinks.

I have never been the minority before. All throughout my life people have generally treated me with respect, as if I was “one of them,” and even would hear me out if I wanted to share my convictions. Now, on the other hand, I feel as if my convictions and individuality seems to be lost behind this white skin. I know that I have to get used to this and honestly I do not fault Cameroonians at all for simply commenting on the obvious (whereas in America we notice the obvious but just do not comment on it), and yet being labeled is not something easy to accept.
To top this off, it seems like being white is often a positive thing in Cameroon. I cannot imagine going to a country where people assumed negative things as soon as they saw me.
I write this blog post because I think a lot of us simply do not know what it feels like to be the outsider unless we leave our country of origin and I want to call us to be more compassionate to those who are different then us. Specifically:

Try to Feel What They Feel
To those of you who have lived overseas, you know that there is a lot of stress involved. You have to learn new rules of the road which sometimes feel like no rules at all. You consider it a victory to go to the store/market and leave with food to feed your family for the evening. You are often wondering if people will accept you and if you will ever have a true friend.

When we in the States see refugees walking down the streets, have we for a second thought about the amount of stress and difficulty in their lives in coming to America? Have we considered that they may not think that the US is the best nation in the world and that they might actually prefer the way things are done in their own countries? I put forth the challenge to consider that every aspect of their lives is new for them and they are simply very overwhelmed. I imagine that if they are like me, they would be delighted to receive a warm smile or a helping hand.

See People as Image Bearers of God FIRST
I am not saying to deny the obvious. It does not offend us when people notice that we are white nor if they presume that our children are adopted. However, when you look at someone who is of a different race then you, do not mentally label them as “that Arab” or “that black-guy” but instead think of them as “that image-bearer of God who has his own convictions, preferences, personality quirks, struggles, joys, and who also (perhaps) happens to originate from a different country.” I am in no way supporting the American ideal of not acknowledging racial or gender differences, but I am instead asking that we hear people out and treat them as individuals before we slap labels on them.

Be Patient with Those Who Do Not Speak Your Language
Dave saw a bumper sticker that read, “Welcome to America. Now learn English.” I do agree that when we enter as a guest into a country, we absolutely should adopt that culture’s language and customs, and yet I wonder if the maker of this bumper sticker has ever tried to learn another language. Let me just tell you, it is H.A.R.D. What’s more, Dave and I do not have to find a separate job in Cameroon to pay for our monthly expenses, but can instead study French/Bakoum full time. I cannot imagine entering into a new country, having to support my family while also having to learn a new language. I almost think it is impossible. So, when you hear people speaking other languages in the mall, give them the benefit of the doubt and assume that they are doing the best they can with what they have got. 
To conclude, I must say that I am glad to now be a minority. I am happy to have my eyes opened to how minorities in my home country may feel and to maybe one day be able to relate to my children if/when they experience forms of discrimination. And I pray that my experiences may serve to help you too extend the warmth of Christ to those who are different then you.

“Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.”  Romans 15:7