Sunday, November 27, 2016

How God Has Worked Through Our Helping

by Dave

You may have read of our distress in thinking through when to give in a past blog “When Not Helping Hurts”. I wrote about a little girl in our neighborhood that was sick, our desire to help, and frustration in not knowing what to do. With much prayer and seeking counsel, we decided to help financially. And now, I thought I would give you all an update on how Madeleine is doing. I am pleased to say that she is doing incredibly well, considering her condition. First, though, I will tell you about her sickness.

The Sickness

Originally I just knew that Madeleine was very sick. Her stomach was extremely swollen and lumpy, definitely a bad sign. She also had pretty much no energy, her skin was yellow, and she just looked terrible. Her father told me she often woke up at night with extreme pain in her limbs as well. The family had taken her to a clinic who had recommended a particular test that she would need to get in Bertoua (the closest big city). Her father approached me for help with transport to Bertoua and money for testing. This was the first step in our personal dilemma, as I knew that he could find the money for these tests, but also that he would not. So, as a foreign missionary, would it do more help or hurt to give them money for these tests?

Well, we decided to give them money and they took her to Bertoua. It turns out that Madeleine has Sickle Cell Anemia. The sickness has caused damage to her organs, which is why her stomach is so bloated. This is a very sad diagnosis because there is no fix for this. Sickle Cell is something that she will have for her entire life, and her life will likely be short. In a moment I will talk about her needs, but first, I am so pleased to report that we have seen great progress.

She has so much more energy, has grown several inches, is losing baby teeth, growing adult teeth, and just looks so much healthier (praise the Lord!). Her stomach is still uncomfortably swollen, but she has said that some of the other symptoms have improved as well (i.e. she has less pain in her limbs). Though her family does not attend church, she often comes to our porch Bible studies and knows many of the Bible songs by heart. It has been a remarkable joy to see her improvement in this area. She went from a sad, lifeless, skeleton to a joyful, vivacious little girl. She giggles with our girls in the front yard, and leans her head on my chest when she sits next to me in church. We are so happy. However, we remain sober knowing that she is in constant mortal danger. Allow me to describe for you her physical needs.

Her Needs

Blood. The main way that Sickle Cell is treated is multiple blood transfusions. I just spoke to someone the other day who said that she knew a girl with SC that had to receive blood over 20 times in a single year. This is without a doubt the saddest part of this reality. There is no way that Madeleine’s parents could ever afford a lifestyle of blood transfusions. Further, the hospital in Bertoua could never provide her with all of the transfusions she would need. The only answer that I see for Madeleine would be for her to move to somewhere with a better hospital, and have funds for a lifetime of medical intervention.

Diet. One aspect of life in a Cameroon village that makes these issues even worse is that protein is hard to get. Meat, beans, milk, and eggs are all expensive and the diet of my neighbors is mainly starch. This is one area that I feel like we have been able to help. From time to time we give Madeleine eggs and beans and have been able to talk with her family about her diet. I believe that it is mostly because of this change in diet that Madeleine has greatly improved.

Prophylaxis. Because Madeleine is already anemic, we have been told that if she catches a major illness which also causes anemia (i.e. malaria) she will most likely die. She needs to be taking medication everyday pretty much for the rest of her life. This is yet another expense that her family cannot afford. We saw this as an urgent need, and all of our family takes prophylaxis every day (prophylaxis is a medicine that you take daily to prevent disease), so we decided just to invite Madeleine to our house every day to give her the medicine. We are able to buy the medicine in bulk, which means it is so much cheaper for us, than it would be for them.

The Ongoing Dilemma

In the decisions mentioned above, we have chosen to go against the principles that we previously held, and are normally given in helpful missions books like When Helping Hurts. Specifically, as I mentioned in the first post, we have always been told that we should not do for others what they can do for themselves. This applies to a few of the decisions we have made, including paying for the testing and for protein rich food. In both of these situations, there is no doubt that her family could do better than they do. But we have become convinced that they will not. Which leaves us believing that if we do not intervene, she will die.

Another missions principle is to not engage in unsustainable support. That is to say, we should not do things that make the nationals dependent upon us. In this case, if something would prevent us from being here, this family would have no resource for the prophylaxis. However, once again, we feel like to not give her the medicine is to just let her die.

I am not sure that any of our confusion from earlier has been resolved, but it has been such a grace to see her grow healthier. And as I reflect on the decision I most certainly do not regret it. However, had we decided not to give and she had died, I know I would have regretted that decision. I believe that as I grow in my understanding of missions I am leaning towards being more and more generous. I am coming to believe that many times the cost of not giving is greater than the cost of giving. I think the goal is to not only be wise, but to be generous. Perhaps my generosity will lead some to abuse me, perhaps they will think I am a fool, but I would rather be an abused, foolish, generous man than one seen to not love. And for many poor, especially when dealing with medical matters, to not give is seen as to not love. I am certainly not saying that I have all the answers, but I am glad that we erred on the side of generosity in this case, and I pray for wisdom in the future.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Does God Expect us to Change the World?

By Stacey

Imagine a child, just before his first trip to the ocean, telling you he is going to fit the whole ocean in his toy bucket. It is only when he stands on the seashore and soaks up the immensity of this body of water, that he is able to see the ridiculous nature of his ambitions. Why? Because no matter how hard he tries the ocean is simply too big for him to master.

This is how we feel about the problems in which we face on a daily basis: poverty, injustice, corruption, sexism, illiteracy, abuse, false gospels, and lack of access to good medical care to name a few. Before arriving, we had so many great ideas on how to help. But now, we find ourselves lost before a sea of complexity.

Generally, how we deal with this is to remind ourselves that the Lord has not called us to fix every problem in Cameroon, but instead to come be faithful linguists / Bible translators. We are not economists, doctors, or agricultural specialists. We have one main task ahead of us and giving people the Word of God in their language will be, in our estimation, the greatest thing we can do to serve them.

But, whereas I believe that God does not necessarily call his children to change the world, we still want to. Specifically, here are a few domains in which I hope to see change within my life-time: 


I was over at one of my closest friend’s house a while back. We were sitting outside her house on little benches talking. This friend is in her mid-30s, has 9 children, and 5 grandchildren. She nurses her young child and two of her grandchildren, often with all 3 of them fighting over her. She also works in her field every day in order to have food to feed her family.

When we were talking, one of the toddlers had to use the restroom and so went poop on the ground (she does not have diapers). The mom called for her other child to bring her some paper to clean it up. This child handed her a book and something in it caught my eye. I asked to look at it and saw that it was a book that talked about water purification, wound care, malaria prevention, and nutrition. It pretty much said everything that I would like to say to my neighbors to enhance their quality of life. My friend politely took the book, tore a couple pages out and used it to scoop up the poop and wipe her daughter’s bottom.

“WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!” I screamed inwardly to myself. But it was then I realized that there is no difference between toilet paper that one buys in the market, a book talking about malaria prevention, and the Bible if you cannot read. It is all just paper. Sigh. 


Most of the people in our people group are sustenance farmers and live hand to mouth. What this equates to is hours of back-breaking work and no money for medical care if someone gets sick.

The other day, our language partner was sick, so his sister and I went to go visit him at his house in a neighboring village. While we were there, a man who I do not remember meeting, approached me and said that it is not enough for me to just pray for our language partner but that I needed to reach in my pocket and give him money to go to the doctor (awkward).

Whereas I agree completely with what he said, sometimes I actually wonder if people would have a better chance of survival if they stayed away from the medical care centers here. The one in our region does not have running water and thus has a hard time keeping things sanitary. One time Dave was there when the nurses were walking through the waiting room carrying buckets of blood to dump them out outside. There are other stories.

So, what ends up happening is that people have medical needs and want us to help pay for them, but we are hesitant because we are not convinced that they will receive good care. We fear that our reticence communicates stinginess as opposed to the concern for their health that we feel. Sigh. 

False Gospels

I would estimate about 90-95% of the people group in which we work does not attend church. However, there are some churches present, which is exciting. That is, it would be if they were preaching the Gospel.

For the past three years we have tried to go to a new church at least once a month and have almost every time left grieved by what was taught. There are churches on the extreme end who abuse the “spiritual gifts” to the point that they have people who literally “die” and are “resurrected” during the service. There can be SUCH an emphasis on fertility and a desire for health that we have heard, “Holy Spirit, come down and burn our genitals (possibly for a purifying effect?)!” Or there was the group “vomiting” time where everyone “vomited” out the impure food that they ate that week.

Most churches are not this extreme, but a constant theme that we find is both the prosperity Gospel and the Gospel according to works. People teach that Jesus died to liberate us from negative forces and we need to follow him in order to receive all of his blessings. When we sin, we are inhibiting God from blessing us (with health and wealth) and that is why we need to stop sinning. Then there was the woman who preached in her sermon over and over that “The wages of sin is death, so abandon the bad and practice the good.” The sermons are consistently man-centered about what we can get from God and do not communicate that we have offended a Holy God who sent his Son to die for our guilt. Sometimes the “Gospel” is preached with no mention of Jesus at all.

But, what makes this even sadder is that though the church leaders seem to be humble, teachable, sincere and eager to grow in their knowledge of the Word of God, there is no one to teach them. Where would the rest of us be if we could barely read the French Bible for our only source of spiritual growth and had no one to teach us? Sigh. 

What Now?

Looking at all of these problems (and others that we did not mention) is like looking at the ocean and wondering how to fit it into a little toy bucket. Or maybe it is like looking at a mountain and trying to make it move from one place to another. This reminds me of something Jesus said:

Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, “Be taken up and thrown into the sea,” and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. Mark 11: 23-24

Jesus never asks us to pick up mountains or come to a poor region in the world able to help people in every area of their lives. He does not ask us to change the world, but instead to be faithful.

And yet, I think he gave us verses like these so that we would rebel a little bit against the “just be faithful” mentality. My own faithfulness cannot make an ocean jump into a bucket, nor can my own efforts cause mountains to move, but according to this verse God will do all these things if we just ask him in faith.

And so, I ask that the Lord will raise this people’s standard of living within my life-time. I ask that there would be access to good, affordable medical care. I ask that the Lord would raise up Bible teachers to come and spend their lives teaching people here who have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. I ask that the schools here would improve and that people would become literate. I ask that there would be anti-corruption laws put in place and that corruption would be purged from this country and I ask that “justice” would no longer have to be bought. I have no idea how the Lord may be pleased to answer these prayers, but I wait to see the impossible happen before my eyes. I know that I cannot single-handedly change Cameroon. But I know someone who can, and I am eager to see him do it.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

A Day in the Life of a Bakoum Pastor

by Dave
Bosco standing in front of the men working a large tree.
You know the typical “mom” response when you do not eat your dinner: “There are starving children in Africa who would love to eat this!”? I have noticed here in Cameroon that there really are not that many starving children. There are sick children, and children killed in accidents, but not really very many starving ones. So it was surprising to me the other day when we asked our language partner Bosco what made him happy and he said, “When I get to eat!” Bosco later asked me to come to the field with him one day to see what it was like. This is my account of our day.

We started out at 7:30am, I drove out to his village and we began walking to his field. He told me it was not long, and I enjoyed the walk. He talked about different birds that we saw and plants and told me the words for them in Bakoum. I noticed he was wearing a long sleeve sweatshirt, which seemed crazy to me. Until a branch reached out from alongside the path and ripped off a chunk of skin off my arm. Noted. He told me that there was a particular tree that had red flowers that only bloomed right before the dry season. He told me that a village custom was to call out that this tree was in bloom whenever the gendarmes (French-type police) arrived. The flowers are reminiscent of their red berets and if someone did not want to run into the gendarmes they would know to flee.

As it turns out “not long” is a little over an hour. After veering off the main trail we walked past a couple of men cutting up a gigantic tree with a chainsaw. We were at that point walking through the rain forest. His field was a clearing with only a few enormous trees and LOTS of brush that was taller than I am. It was a sea of leaves and vines. Our task for the day was to clear out this brush with machetes so that he could begin planting plantains. I have a bit of experience with this type of work, as this is how I cut the grass in my yard. But it is intense physical labor, and it did not take long for my T-shirt to be completely soaked in sweat. Just before we started I asked if there was anything in this valley of weeds that he did NOT want cut down. He said just avoid the plantain trees. So…I immediately cut one down. If you have never seen a plantain tree, it is more like a stem, very easy to cut through. And with the thick surrounding bush, I just did not see it. I felt bad but he said it was no big deal and that it would grow back.

After about an hour Bosco offered to give up on the work for the day. I asked if he usually only worked for an hour and he said, “Of course not.” So, after telling him I was there to help, we worked for another hour. I type this without a whole lot of feeling in my right arm due to this period of time. After we cleared a large section of his field he asked if I wanted to go hunting with him. I said yes, picked up his village-made shotgun, stuck a shell in my pocket and we headed out into the bush. We walked up large deteriorating fallen tree trunks, through a marsh, and deep into the forest. The ground was covered in decaying plant material and was soft and spongey. Bosco stopped in front of me at one point and looked up into the trees. He pointed, said there was a monkey, and told me to follow him and be quiet.

At this point Bosco turned into Legolas, walking on top of the leaves of small plants without them bending. I was much more akin to Gimli and could seriously not take a single step without breaking down entire trees. How does one be quiet when walking on a carpet of dead leaves? At one point he looked down and said forcefully, “Shuluku!” I looked down as he started to run away and saw the entire ground, as far as I could see, covered in biting ants. For the next hour I picked said ants off my legs and feet as we continue through the forest. I would have liked to stop, but could not bring myself to admit that I literally had ants in my pants. At the end of the two hours, he said the monkeys were hiding, but he was not sure why. As we were walking back to his field, though, I swear I heard a couple monkeys talking. One said, “I could hear the big one breathing from a mile away.”

This is looking across Bosco's "field."
We left the field and started heading back for home. I realized at this point that every thread of my clothing was soaked in sweat and I was very thirsty, and I did not bring water. Bosco seemed completely unfazed and did not bring water, though he did bring us some bananas. He started quizzing me on the Bakoum words that he taught me on the way, but I could barely open my mouth. I was pretty convinced I was going to die, but we did make it back to the village. We ran into Bosco’s sister on the way and she asked if I fell into the river, which sounded pretty nice at that point. Bosco answered for me, “No, it is just sweat” and we continued on our way under a barrage of laughter.

I asked Bosco what he would do when he got home and he told me that usually after the field he washes up and studies for Sunday. It was then that I really realized the cost of his life. It is true, Bosco and his family does not really know starvation. But they do know the curse far more than I have ever known it. I joked with Bosco in the field that when God said that we would grow food “by the sweat of our brow” he was not joking. He smiled and said that it was definitely not a joke, and that he appreciated every bite all the more because it cost him so much. My whole life I have had it so easy. I told him, "I cannot imagine doing this everyday. I cannot imagine even doing it tomorrow!" He said, "You get used to it." Bosco later confided in me that because we did not catch anything he spent the next two nights out hunting for his family, only catching two small monkeys. But through all of this he did not complain once, and he told me how much he loved being a farmer.

As Thanksgiving is approaching, I am seeing so many things to be thankful for. I am thankful for conveniences and an indoor job. I am thankful for coming from a country where we can listen to tons of great sermons by men who can spend much of their time studying. I am thankful that, even with great labor, the land here yields much fruit and my neighbors are not starving. And I am thankful for Bosco, who spends his life not lusting after the privileges of others, but thankful for the ones he has.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

How Can the Word be Alive?

by Dave

“For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12).

I love to read and I have read many books. I have read books that have deeply moved me, and books that have changed my mind on major issues. I have read books that were so powerful that I would have a hard time concentrating on other things during the day because I want to know what is going to happen. But I have always recognized that there is something different about the Bible. I am not always riveted by the Bible, not always moved, not always eager to pick it up in the morning. But I have seen that it affects me like no other book. I believe that the above verse gives the explanation for this difference: the Word of God is LIVING! Unlike other books, the Bible is alive. But what does that mean?

The Word is Profitable
As we were planning for our Tone Workshop Stacey mentioned that she would love for us to have a devotional each morning. I decided that since we are really building a foundation for a Bible translation project, it would be good to talk about the Word of God during this devotional time. So, throughout the two weeks we looked at different passages that addressed God’s Word. One such passage was:
“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (II Timothy 3:16-17).
In discussing this verse, I focused on the fact that the Bible is profitable for correction, and how it is meant to correct false ideas that are either natural or cultural. I wanted to be applicational, so I used an situation from my life to illustrate the point. I talked about how I used to consider myself a very patient person, that is, until I had kids. I found out pretty early on that kids try my patience like nothing else in my life. And my natural reaction to their disobedience is to allow them to see my anger. My brain tells me that if I am angry enough they will realize they should not do it again. However, I explained, the Word of God discerned my thoughts and the intentions of my heart and has reminded me on numerous occasions that, “the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” (James 1:20). My desired goal was to have obedient (righteous) children. But my method, showing my anger, could never achieve that goal, according the the book of James.

I said all this hoping it would make them think, but expecting to get straight on to business like the other days. However, one of the members of our group spoke up and said that she knew what the Bible said was true. She had seen that her anger did not bring about obedience in her children. Another piped up, explaining that he used to discipline his children in anger, hitting them all over their bodies. He explained that after becoming a Christian he repented of this practice. Still another, told us that once he beat his child so forcefully that the child fell unconscious. More than half of our participants used this as a time to confess that they had sinned in their parenting.

It is hard for me to communicate how shocking this was. I have almost never heard people confess their sins publicly here. We have observed that in the culture that surrounds us there is a lot of pressure to appear to be right at all times, which leads many to mask their errors and sins. This stems from another area of natural sinfulness, common in America as it is in Africa. We naturally prefer to justify ourselves when confronted with sin and weakness, which is the opposite of confession. So, what made the difference? Why would people, who are not used to confessing sin, start confessing at a linguistics workshop? 

The Word Gives Life
I believe the answer to this is that the Word of God is alive. Of the many books I have read, I have never read a book (save the Bible) that has brought me to repentance. When we say that the the Word of God is alive, we mean that it can do things that we cannot ourselves do. I often cannot see my own sin and I certainly do not have the power to bring about repentance when I do not even know that I have sinned.

I used the example of Lazarus with our work group. I am sure the idea did not originate with me. But when Lazarus died, he ceased to be able to act on his own. If I had called outside the tomb and said, “Lazarus, come out, you have one the visa lottery to go to the US!” he would not respond. Why? Because he is dead. But then came Jesus. And when he spoke, his words came with more than just hope, they came with power. When Jesus said “Lazarus come out!” along with the words came the power to come out. And guess what, he did! It was not the power of potential resurrection, it was the power of the resurrection.

That is what we mean when we say that the Word of God is alive. We are born dead in our transgressions and sins. We are powerless to change our situation. I have observed that my neighbors know something about feeling powerless. They believe in spiritual powers that are greater than them, but often do not have the resources to combat them. They understand and hate their poverty, but have no means for escaping. If you are wondering why we want to translate the Bible for these people, it is for these very reasons. Dead like Lazarus, they lack power, and they need power. Not power to overcome poverty in this life (Jesus was poor), but power to overcome sin. Not power to protect their houses from all sickness, but power to believe that a better life is yet to come. And in the meantime, they need not fear those who can kill the body. What my neighbors need is a living and active Word, able to convict them and convince them. And able to give life to their souls. What my neighbors need is the Bible.

It was exciting to see the power of the Word in action during this workshop. Can you imagine what we will see in the future? A people group that has almost no access to the power of God’s Word, reading it in their own language. I cannot wait to see that day. Pray that it will come soon.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Thankful for a Successful Tone Workshop!

by Stacey

All the participants in the workshop proudly holding our new provisional alphabets

I distinctly remember saying that I was willing to be a Bible translator but I was unwilling to translate the Bible for a tonal language, because that would be just too hard.

But after support raising, French school, culture shock, all with four young children, a tonal language did not seem so bad. Every stage of our missionary journey has seemed impossible, so why not add learning and analyzing a tonal language to the list?

We have sought not to focus on the life task of translating the Bible, but instead have tried to just conquer what is just ahead of us. And, for me, that means it is time to conquer the tonal aspect of this language. I have been pulling my hair out over it for years and I mentioned my frustration to a friend who is a linguistic consultant when she offered to come out and help.

After spending two weeks with her, her assistant, and 7 Bakoum speakers, I am now beginning to see that analyzing tone is doable. My knowledge of how the tone functions in the language and my ability to hear it has improved exponentially.

A Couple Highlights

Dave shared a 30 minute devotional every morning and the participants at the workshop drank it up like water. In fact, at one point, they were convicted by something Dave said and started going around the table confessing their sin. Dave also covered topics such as the Prosperity Gospel, the relationship between works and faith, and preached the Gospel throughout. I feel like since we have showed up here a few years ago we have just sat here in darkness, observing what has gone on around us, but unable to challenge it with the Word of God in any way. We now see that things are beginning to change.

Another highlight is how well the participants worked together. There was much potential for heated debate, but, by God’s grace they laughed, were kind to us and to one another, and worked really hard. They also bring me gifts like roses, turtles, fruit and plants for my bunny to eat, which is so, so sweet.

BIG ANNOUNCEMENT: We now have a provisional alphabet! I plan to start teaching it to our village kids this week!

The enthusiasm of the participants was incredible. They were elated to be able to understand their language better and want to start writing with it immediately. One lady who came, whom I had I met in the market about a year ago, said that out of all the ladies that God could have sent me to, God sent me to her. Because of that she can now leave the darkness of illiteracy. 

Hard at work trying to group verbs according to their tonal melodies

Technical Stuff

So, for those of you who are dying to know, what we have discovered is that Bakoum is most likely a 2-tone system with a high and a low tone and we found four main tonal melodies on their verbs. So, now when I memorize the verbs, I will memorize them in categories according to their tonal melodies. Now, when these verbs change tense, their tonal melodies typically change dramatically. Tonal Melody Group 1 for instance, will act accordingly depending on what tense suffix is put onto the verb. Thus, I hope to memorize these tonal melodies in the various tenses so that I know how Tonal Melody Group 1 will act when it is in past tense, recent past tense, more recent past tense, and so on. I hope to write a thesis on this on our home assignment, so if you want to know more, I will send you a copy in about a year and a half. Exciting stuff!

The Kingdom of God is Here

To a common observer, what happened these past two weeks is less than impressive: 11 people were sitting in a church made of leaves, getting bitten by ants and whistling tones all day. Big deal. But what they cannot see is that these little steps towards teaching the Bakoum the Word of God is like a little leaven being introduced into a group of people and this leaven will not be content to rest stagnant. These little workshops may be small and quiet but, by God’s grace, they will not stay small and quiet. The leaven of the Kingdom of God will expand, it will grow, and it will influence everything it touches. 

God is a Giver of Knowledge

And, for me personally, it was yet another poignant reminder that God does not command us to do something and then not give us the grace to do it. I am just going to say it – I am not smart enough to speak multiple languages and translate God’s Word. And yet, I am convinced that the Lord will continue to give me the knowledge that I need to do my job well at every step of the way. I read this promise everyday: “The Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding (Prov 2:6). It is He who made tonal languages and it is He who governs my intellectual capacities. He is a giver of knowledge and understanding and thus I can proceed assuming that he will come through, giving me what I need at every step of the way as we seek to conquer one impossible task after another.

I think I will take the liberty to add that the same grace that has proved true for me is also available to those who maybe have an inkling to pursue the mission field but are bound by fear or a sense of inadequacy. I encourage you to step out in faith, banking on God’s promise to give you knowledge and understanding when you ask for it. He is able and willing to give you all the grace you will have need of so that “You may abound in every good work” (2 Cor. 9:8).

Thank you to those of you who so faithfully pray for the Lord to work among the Bakoum people.

His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.

“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, therefore I will hope in him.

Lamentations 3:22b-24

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Slaying the Beast of Tone: Two Week Tone Workshop Starting Tomorrow

By Stacey

Our greatest enemy in the Bakoum language is hands down the fact that it carries its meaning in how high or how low one’s voice is. That’s right, it is a tonal language. And so far this great enemy is more-or-less defeating us. I believe that it is because of tone that we are not yet able to tell Bible stories in Bakoum to the children in our village. We have the right words, but we simply read the words using the wrong tones.

I wonder if there is anyone who can tell me the difference between column A and column B:

Column A                                                                         Column B

a ke                        “he will go”                                         a ke                        “he has gone”
pulo me no             “it rained”                                           pulo me no             “it is not raining”
jakuwa                    “to pay”                                              jakuwa                   “to say goodbye”
ko                           “tree”                                                   ko                           “navel”

We plan to teach the participants how
use the International Phonetic Alphabet to
 write out their words. We hope they are
as excited as Zoey.
Like most non-tonal-language-speakers, when we hear words, we hear them in function of their consonants and vowels and more-or-less ignore the pitch of our voices. But for speakers of tonal languages, the consonants and vowels need to be right, along with how high or low one’s voice is in order for meaning to be conveyed. The above examples have exactly the same consonants and vowels but their meanings differ simply due to tone.

Tone Workshop
I was lamenting over this thorn in my flesh with a seasoned missionary-linguist when she offered to help. I eagerly accepted her offer and so tomorrow we will start a two week workshop with 5 Bakoum speakers. We are praying that by the end of the workshop we will have a good grasp on how the tone in this language works so that we will be able to hear it, speak it and write it correctly.

Pray with us for a successful workshop!
These next two weeks will be a lot of work and I image that our heads will fill like they are going to explode by the end of the day. Please pray with us that…
  • The participants would all be humble and that there would be a spirit of unity among all involved.
  • That the Lord would grant intelligence to all of us.
  • That Dave and I would grow in our ability to speak and understand Bakoum through these next two weeks.
  • That our kids would seek to be servants to our house guests and those in the workshop as we will be sharing meals together.
  • And, the biggest prayer request of all would be that we would CONQUER tone. That it would no longer have mastery over us but that we would have mastery over it.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

The Goodness and God-ness of God in Tragedy

by Stacey

I cannot tell you how I felt when I first heard the news. Like, you know you should be feeling loss, but in reality all you feel is complete disbelief. She was only 36. She was a wife and a mother of six children. And she was gone. Even living here, in Cameroon, this would be surprising. But I am not talking about my neighbor. Lynn Shreve, a young American living in Louisville and attending every week our main sending church died in her sleep Thursday night. This is a tragic loss for her family and for our church, and it is a time for us to reflect on the realities of life and the God that we serve. Can it be true that a good, sovereign God would take the mother away from six children? And the wife from a loving husband?

We strive to share our lives with our neighbors here and as I have been dealing with my mom’s cancer, and now the shock of hearing of Lynn’s death, we have found our neighbors genuinely seeking to bear our burdens. One of the most common expressions of empathy comes in the form of a bold declaration that in the name of JESUS! my mom will be healed. I really appreciate that my friends do not want to see me sad and that is why they say these things. I equally appreciate these declarations as an outcry against all the sickness, death, and suffering that just should not be. And they are right. Children should have their mothers, cancer is bad, and death is an enemy.

But on the other hand, there is a dangerous posture in these pronunciations. They tend have the air of “God will do this because I said so.” Or, for some, it behind these words lies an ultimatum: “You need to heal my mom or else you are not good.” Are these attitudes…okay?

I do not think so.

The God-ness of God

I fear that the idea of God’s goodness in many minds does not leave room for God’s “god-ness” or sovereignty. Yes, the Lord is compassionate to those who suffer but he is also a powerful creator who has the right to do what he wants with the creatures he has made. He himself declared,
“See now that I, even I, am he, and there is no god beside me; I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal; and there is none who can deliver out of my hand” (Deuteronomy 32:39).
He is the one who gave us life and he is the one who can take it up again. It is he who gave us health and he can take it away as he sees fit. And even if we do not like this, we simply do not have the power to do anything to the contrary. The beating hearts of our loved ones are at his mercy.

The Lord is not a child that we can look in the eye and tell them that something precious to us is off limits for him to touch. Every aspect of our lives is fair game for God to “tamper” with. And once the Lord acts, we have no right to demand from him an explanation. He does not answer to us. We answer to him. Without the understanding that God is all-powerful and free to do as he likes, we end up fighting to make God submit to our will instead of making our will submit to his.

The Goodness of God

And yet, although the Lord is all powerful, he is also compassionate.

He is not obligated to care for and love his creatures and yet he does. Not only that, but he gave Christians the incredible gift of prayer. He does not have to listen to us and yet, he invites us to make our requests known. When Jesus was on earth, he showed us the kind character of his Father by healing diseases and even granting the requests of grieved parents to raise their kids back to life. He did not have to do any of this.

President Obama has never given me his cell number and told me to call him up and tell him what I would like to see happen. And yet, someone so much more powerful than the President tells me to ask for anything in the name of his Son, and it will be given to me. This is stunning.

There is no moral imperative requiring God to listen to us at all. But because he is a kind Father, he opens his arms to us and welcomes us to approach his throne boldly. We do not boldly approach as his counselors, or worse yet, his masters. But we approach as his children, boldness derived not from our own authority, but from our assurance of his love.

The God-ness and Goodness of God and our Prayers

If we as Christians approach God forgetting about his “god-ness”, then we end up coming to him with a “MY will be done” attitude instead of a “THY will be done” posture. The Lord is God and cannot be bullied. We have no right to come to him and tell him what to do. He is God and he will do what seems best to him and we have no right to critique what he does.

And, on the other hand, if we come to God forgetting about his “goodness” then we adopt a fatalistic “Que sera sera” attitude. “God is just going to do whatever he wants and there is nothing I can do about it. Oh well.” This posture comes from a poor understanding that even though the Lord is not obligated to listen to us, he chooses to. He wants to. He delights to. He calls his people to pray and he is a good father that loves to give good gifts to his children.

I believe wholeheartedly that God wants us to pray in faith. But we must ask ourselves, what should the prayer of faith look like? At the end of the day, I believe that our prayers ought to look less like the TV preacher telling God what he will do, and more like Shadrack, Meschack, and Abednego. When threatened with the burning fiery furnace if they did not worship the king’s idol they said:
“Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up" (Daniel 3:17-18).
Now, that is faith. Not faith that God will do something that he has not explicitly promised to do (save them from the furnace). But faith that he can, and faith that even if he does not, he is still alone worthy of worship. May I pray for my mom with that kind of faith, and wait for him to do what most pleases him.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

The Less Than Romantic Realities of Village Life

by Dave

For various reasons throughout my life I have heard people talking about the virtues of “village life.” I generally do not say much on these subjects, as they tend to be a bit touchy, and to be honest, I did not have a lot to say. However, I realized that after living for a while in an African village, I can offer some facts regarding village life that most people would not know. My goal is not confrontation in this blog, but just information. As you are making decisions regarding your family, raising your kids, and how you counsel others, I hope you will find this information helpful.

Family Life
A friend on Facebook linked to a blog about how Westerners rarely raise their children in a real community context. The author defines this “village” contest as:
“the way of life inherent to relatively small, relatively contained multigenerational communities. Communities within which individuals know one another well, share the joys, burdens, and sorrows of everyday life, nurture one another in times of need, mind the wellbeing of each other’s ever-roaming children and increasingly-dependent elderly, and feel fed by their clearly essential contribution to the group that securely holds them.” 
This “village” context is one in which there are many people that are involved in our lives and giving feedback regarding how we live, including and perhaps especially, how we raise our children. The author used the examples of villages in Mexico where she “witnessed, firsthand, the blessings made possible by the presence of a tribe, however disadvantaged.” I actually agree with much of the premise of this argument (i.e. a multitude of counselors is a good thing). However, I see very few things about living in an actual village that I imitate in my family.

Here are a couple of the problems in village life:

1) Kids “raised by the village” end up being raised by no one. What I have found here is that everyone expects everyone else to be involved in the lives of the children, and very little rearing is actually happening. We are teaching the kids in our neighborhood their colors, because no one else is doing it. When children offend or attack others, no one stands up to correct them. Instead, adults sitting just beside the children will call out “Take your own revenge” to the injured party. I do not let my children roam freely through the village for fear of what would happen to them.

2) Peer pressure. There is extreme pressure placed on everyone in the village to conform to the community standard. Our kids LOVE playing in the rain and mud. However, in the culture we are living, being dirty is pretty much a sin. So we get reprimanded every time. This is a pretty silly example. But when it comes to traditional religious ways of dealing with issues, it can be extremely hard to say “no”. This is particularly hard for Christians that are trying to be faithful to the Lord, while their relatives constantly demand that they follow traditional customs. In fact, I have heard Christians counsel other Christians to get OUT of their village in order to escape some of these pressures.

Really the problem is that no matter what type of community you are raising your children in, it is a fallen community. Most villages in the world are inhabited by unbelievers (we are working on that), so the community here is much darker than the one that you are living in. I think what this author is describing is not a “village”, it is the Church. In fact, if making sure that my children were being raised in a godly community were my number one priority, I would not be living in a village in Africa. I would have stayed in the States and would probably be going to your church.

In their book The Poverty of Nations, Wayne Grudem and Barry Asmus write that it is surprising that so many people,
“still believe that subsistence farming is soulful, organic, and proper. These earnest and well-meaning people believe that a community’s economic security would be enhanced if all the people grew their own food and produced the necessities of their lives. Then, markets would become irrelevant and families could ensure their own survival. If only this were the case.” (Grudem and Asmus, 110).
After spending time with subsistence farmers (nearly all of my neighbors), I too am surprised that there are so many that think this way. The days of traveling by foot out to their fields, seeking to tame sinfully affected soil, with women often carrying and nursing a baby, are terribly long. This leaves them with no time to seek education or to develop tools to make the work easier. It leaves them with no time to learn to read, or even if they know how, no time to study. We have very few old people living in our village, and lots of tombs.

Subsistence farming also leaves my neighbors with no way to get ahead. And one heavy wind, or devastating insect, and they find themselves in dire straits until they can plant and harvest again. The hopes of nearly every family in my neighborhood is that one of their children can find a job as a police officer, customs agent, or doctor so that they can escape the way of life that results from subsistence farming.

I know this is a contentious one, and I am in no way seeking to change anyone’s mind on the inherent morality of vaccinating children. But, one of the worst things that I ever hear in this area is when people say, “We do not need vaccinations, look at people living in villages. They do not vaccinate and they are doing just fine.” Where you live, have you ever heard of someone having a bad case of the measles? I had not until I moved here, and five infants under two years of age died in a neighboring village. There are two girls in our village that have been crippled because of polio. Their lives are so difficult.

A doctor friend of ours said in an email that it is just a given here that children will be exposed to vaccine-preventable illnesses. I long for my neighbors to get vaccinations. I am so tired of seeing people die from diseases that we can control. You have no idea what it is like here. I have seen so much death, and we have not even been here that long. I am so tired of seeing sick kids. The average life expectancy here in Cameroon is 54.59 years. Compare this to the average life expectancy in the US: 78.74 years. Of course, there are a number of factors at play here. But the idea that people are so much healthier in villages in Africa is just not true. And my neighbors wish that they could have the healthcare that we constantly complain about.

My goal in this blog is not to condemn your perspective. However, I do find myself in a unique situation to speak to what “village life” is really like. I hope that, in reading this, you are armed with more information so that you can make better arguments. The truth is, for most people living in villages in Africa, life is very hard and very short. And while some in the West are dreaming of being able to live the “simple” life, they are longing to escape it. My goal is that when you make your arguments, you stop saying “like they live in the villages in Africa” to support your points. You do not want to live like they live here.

Another goal I have is to challenge us to be content. Paul (probably in prison at the time) wrote:
“Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:11-13).
Just as we seek to help our neighbors have better lives here in Cameroon, it is good to seek better lives for our families and friends. But we must not miss out on contentedness. I think one of the ways that we can seek to be content is to remember all of the things we have to be thankful for. If you go to a church with people that want you to raise your kids in the fear and admonition of the Lord, thank Him. If you had time to read this blog because you were not in a field planting corn again because the first crop was eaten by rodents, praise God. And if you do not have to watch your neighbor’s little girl lift her feet with her hands, bent over with every step because of polio, thank our Father for his kindness. And pray for our village.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Sorrowful Yet Always Rejoicing

by Stacey

“This is what I mean, brothers: the appointed time has grown very short. From now on, let those…who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing…For the present form of this world is passing away.” 1 Co 7:28–31

There are two main burdens weighing on me right now. The first and foremost being the fact that my mom has stage 3 ovarian cancer (as we have written in our previous blog posts). This is a deep sorrow that is just always there. The second burden has been the growing hardness of heart that I see in 3 out of 4 of my children towards the Lord. I know they are “just kids” and I know that kids go through stages, and yet this “stage” has been long, grievous, frustrating and exhausting. And these two deep sorrows seem to make the day-to-day stresses of missionary life a little more stressful.

And mysteriously, side by side with the tears and frustrations, is a perfect peace. I think one has to be a Christian to understand this. It is like being a little child who is weeping in her dad’s lap due to the loss of a pet. She cannot imagine a sorrow deeper than what she feels at that moment, and yet there is at the same time a perfect stillness because she knows that she is with her Dad and therefore everything is going to be OK. His kindness is always there. His love is always there. His concern for her well being is always there. He, at that moment, is like a rock to her and she begins to appreciate his constant, faithful love even more.

Even outside of God’s constant, faithful, loving character, there are always reasons to rejoice at his work in the world. For instance, this past week, I spent a good bit of time working with a language partner to do a rough translation of Romans 5 because this coming week we will be teaching the kids in our neighborhood (in Bakoum!) about how it is because of Adam that sin and death entered the world. We have been told that at every Bakoum funeral, lots are cast to see who was responsible for the death of the deceased. There must always be someone who used some type of witchcraft to cause each and every death. You can imagine the kind of suspicious and paranoia this can create. Anyway, this week we are all going to tell the kids to point the finger at Adam and then at themselves for death. Adam is the one who invited death into the world through his sin, and then all of us are guilty of following him. We are going to encourage the kids to not follow in the practices of their parents of accusing people of murder through witchcraft, but instead to put their trust in the “Second Adam” who brought righteousness into the world and promises life to all. Are these truths not reason to rejoice? Is it not thrilling that these children will be hearing these truths for the very first time? Even in a season of sorrow, these truths bring great rejoicing.

And then there is God’s work in our son Kaden. To give a little context, in our front yard there are on average 30 children there playing. We break up fights often and sometimes cannot hear one another talk in our own house because of the noise level. It is intense. We have a bike and the kids take turns riding it. But what happens is the “big boys” end up riding the bike the whole time and the little kids and girls do not even get to touch it. So Kaden, our son, said that this practice had to stop. He wrote down rules that said that little kids and girls got to ride the bike first. Now he stands outside and blows a whistle if a big kid violates this rule. He does not even ride the bike. And this is incredibly counter-cultural. Here “might makes right.” Whoever is bigger, older, and louder is the one who is “right” and can do what they want. So, here you have a little 7 year old kid standing up to 12-13 year-old-machete-carrying-not-wearing-shirts-muscles-popping-out-everywhere-boys telling them to let the 5 year old girl in a tattered skirt ride the bike. Only God can grant such courage. Even if God cannot be seen at work in the lives of all my children, it is remarkably encouraging to see his work in the life of Kaden.

And lastly, I am so encouraged by the simple faith of my parents who are content to take one day at a time and let tomorrow worry about itself. If they are at peace in the Lord in the midst of hospitalization and chemotherapy, then the rest of us have no excuse, do we?

To those who do not yet know this peace, I leave you with an invitation that Jesus gives:
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. Matthew 11: 28-29
Come to Jesus, confess your sin, let him be the ruler of your life, and benefit from his gracious gifts, such as his peace, forever. He is the only way that in the midst of seasons of sorrow one can also be constantly rejoicing.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

How to Provide For and Hate Your Family

by Dave

We are facing a situation right now that is no doubt very common for missionaries, but very difficult. As you may have read in our last post, Stacey’s mom has cancer. We have been overwhelmed by the outpouring of love and prayer that we have received. Stacey is frequently in communication with her parents and they also are receiving much love. Thank you for those who have reached out.

Beyond encouragement, we have also received counsel from those who have contacted us. Thank you for those of you who have recounted your experiences with sick parents and helped us think through our current options. Being that this counsel has been conflicting at times, I thought it would be worth a blog post explaining what we are thinking and why. Specifically, some have told us we need to catch the first plane to be back with Stacey’s mom and walk with her through this. While others, including our pastor here, have said that this is the cost of missionary work and, as difficult as it is, we need to stay.

I believe that this conflict in counsel is due to two different biblical concepts that can appear to be conflicting. I hope to deal with these two apparent contradictions and apply them to our situation today.

We Ought to Provide for Our Families
“But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” I Timothy 5:8.
God calls us to provide for our relatives, and especially the members of our household. It is so important that Paul says that someone who does not do this is worse than an unbeliever. As Stacey and I are thinking through our situation, we know for sure that it is of high importance that our families are cared for. The priority in this verse is the members of one’s household, though it is extended to all of their relatives. The idea is that if you have members of your family that are in need and are not being cared for, your soul is in danger. We are not taking this reality lightly, as we spend time everyday in prayer for Margie and for wisdom as to how we should respond.

I would like to point out what this passage does not say, though. This passage does not say that one must be in physical contact with their family. This is vital not only for missionaries, that live far away from their families, but also for the large number of believers that do not live in the same town as their families. No one claims that to be a faithful Christian we must see our families every day, or once a week, or at least on holidays. The truth is that “providing for relatives” looks different in every family. And there is a lot of freedom in this passage.

We Ought to Hate Our Families
“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple” Luke 14:26.
On the other end of the spectrum, Jesus at one point called great crowds to himself in order to remind them to count the cost of following him. Here he says, in the above verse, that if anyone truly wants to be his disciple he must “hate his own father and mother.” I have struggled to understand what Jesus means in this passage. I believe that the language is intentionally strong, and hyperbolic. But I do not think that means that we ignore it, or just explain it away.

Many commentators think that in this passage the issue is comparison. We ought to love God SO MUCH that comparatively our love for our family is so small it does not seem to be love at all. I really love hamburgers. And my love for hamburgers has only increased since coming to the land-of-no-hamburgers. But it would be foolish to compare my love for hamburgers with my love for my wife. You might even wonder if I should use the word “love” for my hamburger relationship. This dynamic should be similar for our love for God. If we were to compare how much we loved God with our love for anyone else, it should seem wrong to even use the same word for the two. If what I have for God can properly be called “love,” hate must be the closest thing for my relationships to others.

While I have no doubt that the comparison interpretation is true, I think that what Jesus is calling believers to is greater than even that. Being a missionary I have been privy to comments that many people do not receive. One such comment has been that becoming a missionary means that I hate my family. “How could you take your grandkids so far away from their grandparents?” “How could you take your kids so far away from Western medical care?” When others, mostly nonbelievers, look at my life, many of them see hatred. I think that this is because, for a large portion of the population, family is the highest value. The idea is that you must be willing to do anything for family. “Blood is thicker than water” and all that.

I kid you not, the look in some people’s faces when I have told them that we are going to raise our children in a village in Africa is quite similar to what I see when people talk about a deadbeat dad. That is because being here in Africa is a choice that we have made that prioritized the salvation of the Bakoum over family. And to many people in the world today, that actually looks like hatred. And these are often people that do not even really understand my love for God. They are not comparing our relationship with our family to anything. They just see that we do not place our family as the highest priority and what they see instead is hatred. I believe that this is a fuller image of what Jesus had in mind in this passage: prioritizing Jesus over family to the point that, to an outsider, it looks like hatred.

What Should We Do?

You can see why there would be conflict in the counsel that we receive: these two passages seem to be contradictory. But at the end of the day, they are not. The Scriptures do call us to care for our families, which is the earnest desire of our hearts. It has been extremely hard to concentrate on language learning because we would much rather be comforting and caring for Mom. We long to do everything we can to help. But the world’s expectations of what this should look like are not the same as ours. We know it is vital (even eternally impacting) to provide for our families, but at times the way this is played out in our lives looks like hatred. This is because of the fact that, while family is of great value to the Christian, it is not the ultimate value. If family was the ultimate value, we would not be here in Cameroon. Ever, let alone when our mom is sick. But we must consider what it means to follow Jesus first, before even our families.

All of that to say, in some situations there is no doubt that missionaries leaving the field to care for sick or aging parents is the right choice. This is when they would not be provided for apart from such an event. For the time being, this is not our mom’s situation. She has an incredibly loving, healthy, and retired husband caring for her (thanks Dan). She is surrounded by the love of her physical brothers and sisters, as well as many Christian brothers and sisters. I cannot tell you what a great comfort that is to us. But it still tears us apart. We talk frequently, and seeing Margie sick and weak is so painful. We long to be with her. And we will be with her soon (furlough starts in March 2017), and even sooner if a need arises. But for now we stay here, working to see the Bakoum people saved. Why? Because we love Mom more than most, but God more than all. And we are so thankful to have a mom who can say to us that she understands.


If you would be interested in writing a card to Margie (or Dan) as they go through this tough time, please email me and I can give you their contact info: Margie loves receiving cards and especially drawings from kids. We have sent some but they take a really long time to get there. This would be an awesome way that you could help us provide for them.