Sunday, May 22, 2016

Black Sunday: Saying Goodbye to Bonnie

by Stacey

I am calling today “Black Sunday” because tomorrow our home school teacher, sister in Christ, and friend Bonnie Marcum will be flying out to go back home to the US. We are happy for all the opportunities and relationships that await her there, but we are all sad to see her go. Let me share a little bit about the impact that she has made on us this past year…

When Bonnie arrived here, we were all more-or-less dribbling, slobbering babies. Dave and I were barely able to put a sentence together in Bakoum and, on good days, were talking like little children. “I am walking!” “You are sitting!” “He is working!” “I am touching my nose!” “He is touching his tummy!” “Yay!” We had hoped to be further along, but having to home school our children took a lot out of our study time.

And then there were the children. We would hand them a lined sheet of paper and they would just start writing their “letters” everywhere, as if there were no lines at all on the paper. They were learning their letter sounds but their “reading” was nothing impressive. We could not let Elias look at books because he would just tear the pages out of them. And to imagine this group of children being able to work on their own one day would have been absurd. They needed supervision all the time.
And today, I think it is safe to say that all of us have grown up a little bit. While Dave and I still have a long way to go in our language learning, we have made considerable progress to the point that Bakoum is mainly the language I speak and I rarely have to switch to French. This has led to closer relationships between me and the women in the village and I think is helping us win the hearts of the Bakoum little by little.

And the children! The children are reading. Elias, who once just destroyed the books we gave him now sits in his room and reads for hours. Had you asked me if I thought this was possible a year ago, I would have responded, “Not on your life.” But it happened. I have also heard the children read to one another and the other day Kaden sat down started reading the book  of 1 John on the couch…just because. Not only that, but conversations in our home are now about storms on Jupiter and how much 9 + 8 makes. I feel like overnight this group of hyperactive, drooling, kindergartners has turned into serious students with a thirst for knowledge.

And to whom do we attribute these successes? To God. And to Bonnie. Without her, this year would have been Dave and I spinning our wheels working on home school and Bakoum and excelling in neither. We would have been spread way too thin to produce quality work on either front.

And so, it is with great sadness, but mostly great thankfulness, that we accept that this chapter of our lives is coming to a close. The Lord has answered our every prayer for our ministry and for our children in sending Bonnie to us this year.

Thank you Lord and thank you Bonnie.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

VBS Recap

by Stacey
The Vacation Bible School has officially come to a close and all in all, it was … AMAZING. God answered every prayer that we (and you) prayed. He held off the rain during the VBS, the Word was taught, the Lord really helped us communicate clearly, and even our unsaved adult neighbors came to listen to the Bible stories (and color pictures!). We had around 60-80 kids each day and, miracle of miracles, they generally sat quietly and listened attentively during our lessons. And, all around our town, catechisms on the trinity, the ways of Satan, and verses of Scripture are being sung. We are elated.

Our goal when we were planning for VBS was to have every child walk away saying that the Bible teaches that the spirits of the dead do not live among them but instead are sealed forever in either Heaven or Hell. We wanted to do this because much of their religion hinges on the idea that one must spend his life seeking to appease the ghosts of their deceased family members. Grown men have shared with us how anxious they are that their dead mothers might be mad at them. Many people will often “share” their food with these ghosts which means that they take the little food they have off their plates and throw it on the ground. We wanted to set these children free from this bondage.

We are happy to say that even though the biblical perspective may have not been immediately adopted, the children now know that the Bible teaches that there are demons around us but not the spirits of our ancestors. And these demons have the power to tempt us, posses those who are not indwelt with the Holy Spirit, lie to us, and even cause physical disabilities like being blind or deaf.

They also heard story after story of Jesus’ power over the demons. We discussed his ability to conquer Satan in the wilderness with the Word of God. We talked about the promise that if we submit to God and resist the Devil, he will flee from us. We acted out the story of the rich man and Lazarus highlight the fact that neither the rich man nor Lazarus could leave their eternal dwelling place to go back and interact with the living.

The final day, we shared the Gospel explaining that there are two kingdoms: the kingdom of darkness and the kingdom of light. We are all born into the kingdom of darkness and manifest our allegiance to this kingdom in how we sin. But Jesus came and he showed his power over demonic powers and the power of sin. And whoever believes in him will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. And this Spirit is a good Spirit who dwells inside of us and who gives us love, power, and self control.

Truly, the Word was taught and the children heard the message.

So, So, So Much Work to Do
There were a couple things that really stunned us during this VBS week. First of all, we were struck anew on how the grand majority of these kids literally know absolutely nothing about the Word of God. The task of teaching them who God is and his work in the world as revealed in the Bible is daunting, to say the least.

Another thing that was a bit discouraging was that the kids, although very warm towards us, rarely opened up to tell us what they were thinking. Thus we do not know where they are at spiritually nor how much they are understanding. This may be because we are still foreign in their eyes or it may have more to do with the distance there is between adults and children in this culture. Kids do not open up to adults in general and are not encouraged to ask questions.

Also, there were adults who came, which was great. However, we were praying that the few Christians in our church would develop a love for the children and a heart to teach this up and coming generation the Word of God. We did not see that passion in these adults this week and thus we know we need to keep on praying for the Lord to work in their hearts. In September, we plan to introduce a new children’s curriculum on the book of Luke at our church and train the adults how to use it. We are praying that the Lord would use that to move their hearts to invest in children.

While We Are at It…
So, since we are talking about all the great need there is here, I thought I would put in a plug for a children’s ministry worker to join us on the field. Sadly, there seems to be a lot of neglect of children here and they are not taught as they should be. Our prayer is for someone to come and help churches implement biblical children’s programs, teach Christian parents the importance of teaching their children the Word of God and also teach the children themselves. So if you or anyone you know may be interested, please do let us know.

Anyway, we praise the Lord for his work this week and thank you all for your prayers and love for these kids. We could not be more pleased or excited.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

VBS Next Week: Satan, Demons, the Souls of the Deceased, and the Supremacy of Jesus Over All

by Stacey

Monday launches our annual 5-day Bible club for the local neighborhood kids! If it is anything like last year, we expect there to be 50-100 kids ranging from toddlers to teenagers at our door eagerly waiting for it to start each day. We plan to do games like tug-o-war, sing songs, have a teaching time, and then have them color pictures. To this day, when we go into people’s houses, there, hanging proudly on their walls are the now sun-bleached pictures that their kids colored last year. Needless to say, both we and our local young friends are looking forward to another VBS this year.

The Spirit World

Starting Monday, we will be teaching on Satan, demons, and what happens to people’s souls when they die. We plan to look at the following stories and then draw out what they teach us about the spirit world and about Jesus’ power over these forces of darkness. Here is the break-down of what we plan to teach each day:
  • Jesus heals the Gerasene demoniac (Mark 5:1-21)
  • Jesus heals a boy with a demon (Matt 17:14-23)
  • Jesus casts a demon out of a man who is mute (Matt 12: 22-45)
  • Are there ghosts? What happened to the souls of the rich man and Lazarus? (Luke 16) 
  • Theology of demons, spirits and Jesus’ power based on the previous lessons
Why the Spirit World?

We chose this topic because one of the core beliefs that we keep encountering is that people think that their dead loved ones become (often evil) spirits that dwell among them. Our goal for this VBS is to show children that when a human dies, their soul is sealed either in Heaven or in Hell. We also want to show them that the Bible says that there is spiritual activity all around us, but this spiritual activity is demonic. We are prayerful that these biblical truths will begin to chip away at their fundamental animistic beliefs and practices.

How can you pray?
  • Please pray that we will clearly communicate the teachings of Scripture in Bakoum/French.
  • Pray that we and the other adults present will be able to manage the children and that they will be attentive.
  • We are seeking to train the national believers how the Word of God can be taught to children. Pray that the adults who come to the VBS will become passionate about ministry to children (specifically for Audry and Balbine). 
  • Pray that these children will believe. Pray that their eyes will be opened to see that there is demonic activity around them and that they need to run to Jesus for safety and protection. 
  • Pray that there will be children who reject the teaching that the spirits of their deceased loved ones live among them. 
  • Pray that the Lord would give us incredible wisdom in whatever difficulties we might face this week. 
The Unassuming Kingdom of Heaven

In Matthew 13, Jesus shares the parable of a tiny mustard seed that a man sowed in his field. It was small and unassuming but when it grew up, it became larger than the other plants in the garden. It was so big that the birds even came and made their nests in it.

That is what these children are. They are not the “big men” among the Bakoum but our prayer is that these very children will grow up and become pillars of faith among the Bakoum people. Thank you for joining with us in praying to that end.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Radio Interview and Update on the Little Girl

by Dave

I had the recent opportunity to be interviewed for a radio program called "His People" on the Pilgrim Radio Network ( I was able to talk a bit about our ministry and also the challenges of helping the poor. We reviewed my recent blog "When NOT Helping Hurts" in which I talk about a sick little girl in our neighborhood. Below is the audio from the interview, and even further below is an update on that little girl.

After the blog, I sent some money to this family in order to pay for them to go get tests done in the nearest capable hospital. There it was determined that she has Sickle Cell Disease. I have been told that this is pretty serious and that there is not much that can be done for her here in Africa. Those with Sickle Cell in the US usually end up getting quite a few blood transfusions, which are much harder to come by here. Further, she will need to take Folic Acid and Malaria Prophylaxis everyday for the rest of her life. This is clearly impossible for our neighbors to do, as it would cost much more than they could ever make. So, it puts us even more into the situation I discussed in the blog. All that to say, we need wisdom to know what to do. Please pray for us as we seek to help this precious little girl.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Is This For Real?

by Stacey

Our lives here in Cameroon are becoming our “new normal” but every once and a while we look at one another and say, “Is this for real?” Here are some funny examples…

Daily Comings and Goings
The other day, I looked out our window and there was a 50-something year old woman with her dress lifted up, squatting in the middle of our lawn relieving herself. We have since posted a sign asking people to not urinate on the lawn…but it strangely disappeared last time we went out of town….
One thing that you would not find in America…fake hair everywhere. It is true-there are balls of fake hair all over the place here.
It is pretty hot here this year and Dave more-or-less sweats through his shirt by breakfast. But, when we have a Cameroonian friend over, Dave has to make sure to ask if he can turn on the fan because our neighbors often complain about being too cold. We often see people bundled up in sweaters and  stocking caps as we are fanning ourselves to keep cool.

At Church
Our church is pretty much made of leaves. We have palm branches for the walls and woven leaves for the roof. Often, in the middle of our services, our dog comes running full speed through one of the walls in the church to find us. It is so embarrassing.
One day a lady sitting behind me laid her head down on my back and fell asleep.
Today in church there was some sort of large (winged?) creature right over my head eating through the roof trying to get in. Would it be rude to look up to see what kind creature is about to fall on my head? Or should I just ignore it?  Luckily the service ended before the creature could get in.
There are tiny biting ants that fall from the ceiling in church and bite all of us during the services.

The other day Dave was in our kitchen drinking his morning coffee thinking that his life was not that different than his life in the States. The he looked out the window and saw our neighbor cooking up rats over a fire for breakfast. This jolted him back into the reality that, yes, our lives here are very different.
A while ago someone approached Dave in the market and asked if he would like to buy some meat. Still new to the field we were used to our meat being faceless and in nice packages. They man then opened a bag with a living precious little baby antelope inside. Dave looked down at this “meat” and all he could think of was Bambi. He later wondered if he should have bought it and set it free.
In the Bakoum language, there is no distinction between the world “animal” and the word “meat.” All animals, in their eyes, are “meat.” The Bakoum have words for different animals, but if asked for an animal they do not know, they just say “meat.”
Often I go over to women’s houses and sit with them. It is not uncommon for them to be sucking snails out of their shells for dinner while correcting my Bakoum. Or taking a bucket of grasshoppers and pushing the innards out of them so they can cook them up for dinner. I try to convince myself it is no big deal and I am starting to believe myself these days.
Before I brush my teeth, I have to pick biting ants out of my toothbrush. And before I go to bed, I have to sweep them out of my bed…ugh.

Kids and Parenting
We got new tires for our truck and now we keep the old ones outside for the kids to play with. The other day Kaden asked Dave if he could play with the tires and Dave looked at him and said, “You know, I think you are leaning too much on tires for your entertainment. I think you should go learn to be content playing in the mud with sticks.”
Seeing our kids interact with wildlife and the vibrant bug population here is always fun. The other day this large moth (or small bat?) was in the girls’ room. Dave was not home so I was trying to work up the nerve to kill it. Zoey asked to see the flyswatter than proceeded to chase the moth/bat thing around the room swatting it to death while pieces of its wings were flying around the room. In the words of Dave’s dad, “Out of all your kids, I sure would not want Zoey chasing me around with a fly swatter.”
To those whom we live among these happenings are as normal to them as the air they breathe. To us? These things are becoming more and more normal until we think back to the lives that we left and we realize that A LOT has changed.

Monday, April 25, 2016

How to Help: Recruit

by Dave

We just finished our annual field conference in Yaoundé. We met with our co-workers from all over Cameroon. It was a very encouraging time that led to a better understanding of what God is doing here. It also led to a better understanding of needs throughout the country. As many of you often ask what you can do to help our ministry, I thought I would give you the opportunity to recruit for our field. Below are some examples of needs in Cameroon right now. Of course we are always looking for church planting/Bible translation types, but look also at some of the support roles. We are looking for teachers for missionary kids, "dorm parents" for those kids that stay in the capital for the school year, and an administrator/teacher to help coordinate homeschooling among the missionary families. These are all positions where you will need to raise support (like us!), but World Team will help those interested.

Check out the job descriptions below:

1. Teachers for the Rainforest International School
The Rainforest International School is a school in the capital (Yaoundé) where many of our friends' kids attend. It is likely that when our kids get to highschool age they will attend RFIS as well. This is a great opportunity to help further the cause of missions. Missionaries care a lot about the education that their children receive.

Here are the teaching positions they are currently looking for:
  • English as a Second Language Specialist
  • Math - Middle School
  • Math - High School
  • Music - Choir, Lessons, or Instrumental
  • Science - Chemistry or Biology
  • Science - Middle School
  • Social Studies - Government or History
There are also non-teaching positions available. Check out more information:

2. Dorm Parents
For those families that do not live in Yaoundé, there is a dorm available right next to RFIS. This allows the kids to stay and attend the school during the school year. One big need is for a couple that can stay at the dorm to run things and help disciple the kids. Right now we have a couple planning on leaving their village ministry to do this for a year, but starting in 2017 we have no one to run the dorm.

Check out the job description:

3. Homeschool Teacher/Administrator
Living in the village, most of us homeschool our kids. This means that we need to have curriculum, schedules, advice and administration. We have had the blessing for many years of a homeschool coordinator named Elsie. She visits us in the village once a year, orders everything we need, and helps us to know what we are supposed to be doing. Elsie will unfortunately be retiring from this position within the next couple of years. She would love to train her replacement. The position is centered in Bamenda, one of Cameroon's most beautiful cities.

Do you know someone who would love to further missions by ministering to Cameroonian missionaries in this way? Send them the link:

Check out all the opportunities at:

Monday, April 18, 2016

What We Do With the Poor is What We Do With Jesus

by Stacey

The other night, I went on my nightly walk through village to visit with the neighbors and I was struck once again with the poverty that surrounds us. The problems seem insurmountable: open, untreated wounds; sick children; dark, mud-brick homes that contain few possessions outside of what our neighbors find in our trash pit. Then, as I walk back towards my house, I hear my 4 hyper-active children hysterically laughing and playing, without a care in the world. The contrast between their joy and my neighbors' sorrow makes the heaviness that I often feel even more profound.

How Does God Call Us To React to Poverty?

It is scenarios like these that lead Dave and I into lengthy conversations about how to improve the standard of living among our neighbors. We have plenty of dreams, but at the end of the day, we feel as if this problem is just too big. 

But, at some point I thought, maybe the problem is supposed to be too big. When Jesus said to his disciples, “The poor you will always have with you,” he revealed that poverty would always be a problem within this fallen world. A problem that will not go away until he comes again and finally establishes his streets-of-gold kingdom on earth.

So, what does God expect us to do with the poor until that day? After searching the Scriptures I have found that what God calls us to do is: 

1. Look at the Poor
“Whoever gives to the poor will not want, but he who hides his eyes will get many a curse.” (Proverbs 28:27).
It is really tempting to shield ourselves from the poor around us. How much easier is it to look straight ahead than to look at the man holding a sign on the side of the road asking for food? I am not saying it is always best to give to that man, but I think God calls us to think about what his life is like. The principle in Proverbs 28:27 is that the Lord is not content with willful ignorance. He wants us to look at the poor in the eyes and listen to their cries. He wants us to feel what they feel.

In doing this, we love far more than just the poor person, we are actually loving Jesus himself…

2. See Our Savior

In Matthew 25, Jesus indicts those who were indifferent to the poor with the following:
I was hungry and you gave me no food,I was thirsty and you gave me no drink,I was a stranger and you did not welcome me,naked and you did not clothe me,sick and in prison and you did not visit me.
Those who are in the judgment seat will respond:
Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?
Right before sending them into eternal punishment Jesus responds,
Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me (42, 44-45).
These people are being judged because they overlooked Jesus in the market when he was asking them to buy him some food. They kept putting off visiting Jesus when he was sick and in bed with malaria. When Jesus came to their houses unannounced, they waved him off saying it was not a good time to just drop by. 

The Lord identifies so closely with the “least of these” that he actually calls himself the “Father of the Fatherless” and the “Defender of widows.”  His desire is that when we look at the poor, we see him. And when if we fail to do this, when we see him again at the judgment, he will respond that he never knew us.  

3. Give Generously, Give Freely

In Matthew 25 listed above, there was also another group present at the great judgment: those who were kind to the poor. These were the people who gave food to Jesus when he was hungry. And when he came in from working all day in the fields all day with nothing to drink, they gave him water. There are those who saw Jesus in their neighborhood wearing rags and they gave him clothes. To those who looked at the poor and see their Savior, they are welcomed into eternal life (Matt 25:31-40)

What is remarkable about these acts is that they are so simple. Jesus is not calling us to change the world; he is simply calling us to see him in the begging eyes of the person asking us for food. He is calling us to treat each individual poor person with same the dignity and honor that we would treat Him with. In the words of Proverbs 19:17: 
“Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the Lord.
Of course we want to say that it is more complicated than this. We eye beggars with suspicion and often do not give because we want to be "good stewards." Without a doubt, we ought to be careful to not do more harm in giving than we would in withholding. But I cannot contend with the repeated principle in Scripture that God wants us to give generously and freely. And in doing this, we are following the example of our God. Psalm 112:9 says of God, 
“He has distributed freely; he has given to the poor; his righteousness endures forever.”
The Lord freely distributes his gifts throughout the earth and, when given to sinful men, these gifts often lead to coveting, stealing, and even murder. Yet he still gives. I love the end of the above verse that affirms (despite all the sin that might result from his gifts) “His righteousness endures forever.” He is still righteous in his giving even though his gifts are misused. He is not charged as an enabler, but instead is praised for his generosity to the poor. This is a very liberating idea. I am not judged for how the poor handle what I give them, I am judged based on how I reacted to their needs.  

At the end of the day, poverty is a complex issue. And as much as I would love to solve all of the problems of Cameroon, I have come to realize that more than my solutions, God is seeking my faithfulness. He does not call me to save the poor, he calls me to look at them, to see them as I would see my Savior, and to give generously. I may not be able to end world poverty, but by his grace and I seek to walk in faithfulness to these principles.


Whoever oppresses a poor man insults his Maker, but he who is generous to the needy honors him. Proverbs 14:31

Sunday, April 10, 2016

When NOT Helping Hurts

by Dave

“Can you help me? My daughter is sick,” my neighbor asked me the other day. He showed me her swollen stomach and her hands are turning yellow. I looked into her sad eyes knowing that children die here often, usually from curable diseases. My missions professor in seminary called it the “stupid stuff.” There are so many people dying from preventable causes, and that is how it feels: stupid. It is stupid that this little girl might die because of intestinal worms that could be cured with one round of meds. But then again, it could be that she has a swollen liver because of hepatitis. Truth is, I have no clue. Which means that what they are really asking me for is not medical advice, but for money to go to the hospital. 

This puts me in a classic missionary situation. One like those covered in books like When Helping Hurts by Brian Fikkert and Steve Corbett. We read through this book before coming to Cameroon with our missionary mentors and found it extremely helpful. In the book we are called to “alleviate poverty without hurting the poor.” One major principle is to not do something for someone that they can do for themselves. Good-hearted giving from Westerners sometimes (maybe even most of the time) creates dependency, encourages sinful habits and removes motivation to work hard. That is exactly where I find myself. My neighbor is asking for money for his child, when I know that he either has, or can find the money himself. I know this because of our conversation last week when he asked me to give him money for a relative's funeral. 

There are tons of expectations on people here for funerals. Depending on your relationship to the deceased it will be expected that you bring food to feed mourners, wood for the fire, or alcohol. I told him that I was not willing to give him money, so he asked if I had any beer as it was his responsibility to provide the alcohol. Having seen the drunkenness that usually accompanies these parties, and not having any beer, I offered him food. After some arguing about the quantities (he wanted to provide for many people) he walked away with three medium-sized bags of rice. He seemed content. Later told me that he was somehow able to wrestle up the money to bring a good amount of beer to the funeral as well (great…). 

So now, knowing that he found a way to bring a large amount of alcohol to this funeral, he is approaching me once again for money. The reason is different, a sick child, but the request is the same. What I really want for my neighbor is for him to save his money, not buy alcohol, and to instead use that money for when his child is sick. Giving him money to take his daughter to the hospital means that he will have more money to get more alcohol later. So, I do not want to give him money. I want him to take responsibility for his own child. I do not want my “helping” to hurt him and his family.

But here is the rub: do I let a child die to get across this point? I am absolutely persuaded that this girl could die. I am not a medical person, so perhaps it is an exaggeration, but she looks really rough. And one thing that you learn here quickly is that if you do not have the money, the hospitals will let you die. Not long ago I was told that a woman went into labor, had a complicated delivery, did not have enough money for the necessary surgery, and she and her baby died. So, what would you do?

Stacey and I have come up with a slogan, one that we try to allow to motivate our giving decisions. It is a mixture of two differing parables used in these types of situations. Here it is: 

Teach a man to fish, and throw a few starfish in along the way. 

I am sure you have heard of the two sayings: 1) Give a man a fish, he will eat for a day. Teach a man to fish, he will eat for a lifetime. And 2) is a story about a beach where thousands of starfish had washed up on the shore. A man approached to find a young boy throwing starfish, one by one, back into the sea. He responds to this sight by saying “There is no way you could save all of them!” The boy replies, “No, but I can save this one, and this one, and…” So we are mixing our metaphors and it is probably a bit cheesy. But our idea is that we want to be wise, encourage hard work, teach when we can, but sometimes you just have to give. Sometimes children die if you do not. Sometimes NOT helping means a greater hurt than helping. 

So, what am I going to do? For now I have sent off information to a medical missionary, to see what really needs to be done. I am hoping for a simple solution, some meds and good rest. But if it is more than that, I am prepared to pay for surgery. Why? Because I love them. Because this little girl comes to my porch when we read Bible stories to the kids in the neighborhood. Because I want her to live and come to know Jesus. I have had conversations with her father about working, drunkenness, and the Gospel. But for now, I am going to throw back a starfish. I am not sure that it is the best thing to do. I do not know if Fikkert and Corbet would agree with my decision. But it seems right and I pray that the Lord will use my efforts. 

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Monsters, Ghosts, and Demons…All in a Day’s Work

by Stacey

I have spent my life studying the Bible seeking to ground my beliefs in God’s Word. Biblical truths are those that I have spent years thinking through, debating, considering and reconsidering. In contrast, being dropped into a new culture has revealed to me that I have many beliefs that are not so well thought out. In fact, there is much of my worldview that I have never thought about at all, just accepted. The earth is round, mangos do not cause malaria, not everyone who is white is a European, and germs cause sickness. You can imagine Dave’s shock the other day when he was confronted after mentioning his illness had been caused by a virus. The response was, “Oh yeah, you Westerners and your ‘germs’.” You can imagine him blinking in front of this skeptic not knowing what to say.

From an outside perspective, we are often equally stunned to see what our neighbors accept as truth without thinking. In a language session with our neighbor, a slip of the tongue meant mispronouncing a Kwakum word. Instead of “speaking quickly,” the word meant “the monster that lives in the woman’s womb and often will be born with the baby.” Once again, there was a lot of blinking and stunned silence. After a few follow-up questions, we were convinced that there was not a shadow of doubt in his mind that such a monster existed.

Kwakum Spirits

Such beliefs are not merely humorous, however. Some of these beliefs relate directly to the Word of God and our neighbors relation to the spirit world. A recent language/culture session with a different partner revealed that in the Kwakum mind there is a whole host of spirit beings that impact their day-to-day life. We were told that the souls of the deceased become ghosts when they die and are free to roam about the land of the living, often tormenting the members of their family. Outside of deceased family members, there are four types of spirits named among the Kwakum:

  • First of all, there are the kishashalembe, which are actually the spirits of local sorcerers who transform themselves into evil monsters. We have learned that sorcerers have supernatural power and, with the help of a sacred staff, they are free to turn themselves into pretty much anything they want at night, often to do harm to those in the village. 
  • Another spirit named ikono is a spirit that we can see at night. It is actually a cloud of smoke but when one follows that cloud, there is no fire at the bottom. When the person realizes there is no fire, then they know that what they are looking at is not actually a cloud of smoke but instead is again the spirit of a sorcerer who has transformed himself. 
  • Then there are the water spirits named the ijim. These spirits used to be people who lived miserable lives on the earth. They are both male and female and the women are said to have breasts that are so long, that they drag on the ground. These spirits trouble those who try to fish in the river, stealing their fishing poles and splashing up on land to put out their fires at night. 
  • The habija, however, are kinder ancestor spirits. They are omnipresent and omit a certain kind of cry to warn people that something will happen in their village, like a death. 

Christianity Has Not Yet Touched These Beliefs

The man who explained to us these practices is a rare find among the Kwakum. He is literate and reads his Bible in French regularly and is also a catechist in his local parish. We have never met another Kwakum person who holds a candle to his knowledge of Scripture (given, most have never heard or read Scripture). And it was this man who calmly explained to us all these beliefs as matter-of-factly as we would sit down and describe the reality of germs to someone. He did not communicate any disbelief or any conviction that these beliefs are not in accord with the Bible.

So What do We Do with All This?

I fear that as you read of these spirits, you may shake your head and chuckle. We as Westerners tend to think of such beliefs as superstitions, fables believed only because the people are ignorant. Perhaps, some might say, if the Kwakum were just a little more educated, they too would see the folly of such ghost stories. And this would be the wrong response. It would be to chuckle at something that has eternal significance. These beliefs are not childish, they are demonic.

There are no Ghosts, but There are Demons

The story of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31) explains that when we die we in fact do not come back to the earth but instead we go directly either to Hell, a place of torment, or Heaven a place of bliss. We are then sealed in one of these two fates with no possibility of escape.

If this is indeed true, then how can one explain supernatural encounters that people have, supposedly with their dead loved ones? Granted, some of these encounters may have more to do with imagination mixed with fear, but I have no problem saying that some encounters really are an experience with the supernatural.

Paul talks to the church at Corinth about making sacrifices to idols. He pauses for a moment to ask the question: “What do I imply then? That food offered to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything?” (1 Cor10:19). He then responds to his own question: “No, I imply that what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God” (v.20).

Idols are nothing. They are just wood. Or in the case of our pastors people group (not Kwakum), they take the skulls of their ancestors and put them up on their houses and offer sacrifices to them. And these skulls, they are just bone and there is nothing about them that intrinsically has any type of power.

But, Paul says that these kinds of pagan sacrifices are actually sacrifices to demons and not to God. And so there is a spiritual component to sprinkling water in the corners of one’s house for protection and throwing part of one’s food on the ground for ghosts of one’s deceased grandparents. God considers these acts as sacrifices, not to one’s dead mother, but instead to demons. Paul then summarizes in verse 20 with “I do not want you to be participants with demons.” In other words, he does not want people to make sacrifices to what they think are their deceased loved ones.

This Knowledge is not an End, but a Means

We are not anthropologists. We do not learn about these spirits as facts to be noted in a journal and forgotten. These insights into the culture are not the end of our research, but instead are just the very beginning of a life of learning. Practices that lead people into bondage to demons are not “cool” or “exotic” but instead are weighty and have eternal consequences. Our desire, by God’s grace, is to learn all that we can about this people so that we can introduce them to a God who can set them free from all the aspects of their culture that enslave them.

In the words of Job, “He uncovers the deeps out of darkness and brings deep darkness to light” (Job 12:22). God is the one who reaches not just into darkness, but into the deepest pockets of darkness and brings it out as light. May he do that with the Kwakum people.

Monday, March 28, 2016

The Hardest Thing About Being a Missionary

by Dave
I am coming down off of a pretty difficult time with my own attitudes regarding missionary life here in Cameroon. I can honestly say that right now I feel content, excited, and motivated. But not everyday is like that, and some worse than others. When I mention these struggles what comes to your mind? What do you think is the hardest part of being a missionary? People have told me the hardest part would be the heat, bugs, snakes, isolation, sickness or language learning. But I would say that none of these things are the “hardest” part of being a missionary. The hardest part, at least for me, is the people. 

Our neighbors, the people we work with, and everyone we relate to everyday are sinners. I have given money to some for transport, so that they could come dig a well, and they never came, keeping the money. I have been lied to countless times and drunkenness and violence are common. But probably the most painful of all is when we are sinned against by those that we are seeking to disciple at our church. Those that claim to be our brothers and sisters acting like our enemies. I have realized that people can hurt you a thousand times more than a snake, sunburn, or an amoeba. 

I should not be surprised by these things, first because I know that all people are sinners. But also because if I am really honest, the hardest part of ministry in the States is also people. We ministered with Speak for the Unborn with our church in Kentucky, trying to persuade women not to go through with abortions right in front of the clinic. I have heard people refer to this as the most difficult ministry at the church. Why do they say that? Is it because it gets really cold to be standing in front of an abortion clinic at 6AM in Kentucky? That part was difficult, but was that why it was a hard ministry? No, it was because of the vacant look in women’s eyes as they go to kill a child, and you can tell they know exactly what they are doing. It was because clinic escorts volunteer their time every week to prevent us from speaking the truth. S4U is a hard ministry, not because of circumstances, but because of people. 

And again, in the same way as above, the hardest type of conflict is when you are hurt and attacked and sinned against by those in the church. People leave churches in the US all the time, bitter and frustrated. Is it because of the color of the carpet, or broken air conditioning? No, we do not leave churches because of carpets, we leave churches because of people. 

As I was working through these issues, I kept running into passage after passage in the Bible that calls us to love. We are called to “bear with one another” and be patient and long-suffering. None of these calls would be necessary if living with other people was easy. So, I decided for this blog I am going to give three reasons that we ought to love even when it is hard. I do this because I need to hear it, and I figure some of you might need to too.

1. We love because we can be unlovable too.

As I was reading all of these verses calling me to love my neighbor, I realized that these verses were written to my neighbors too. I have no doubt that if you were to ask some people the hardest part of their time in the church, my face would pop into their minds. Why? Because I am a sinner too. 

I was convicted reading about the confrontation between Paul and Peter in Galatians 2 the other day. Here was the Apostle Peter who, in spite of earlier failings, had been so bold to preach the Gospel in Jerusalem in Pentecost. He had followed the Lord to preach to Gentiles, even when that idea had originally disgusted him and he knew it would be opposed by other Jews. He was one of the first leaders of Christ’s church. But Paul had some pretty strong words for Peter: Paul said “he stood condemned,” that he had been “fearing the circumcision party,” and “acting hypocritically.” This godly man sinned in such a grievous way that he needed public confrontation.

If such a conflict can arise between two authors of Scripture, we should not be surprised when we find ourselves clashing with others. I know people that have chosen to attend another church because of me. I have hurt my brothers and sisters with my words and my actions. I am not better than my Cameroonian neighbors and it is far too easy to condemn others without considering the log in my own eye. We ought to love hard people, because (at least some of the time) we too are hard to love. 

2. We love because he first loved us.

Keeping in mind the above point, that I am a sinner, it is astonishing to realize that I am to pattern my love after the One who loves me. When Jesus calls us to “love [our] enemies and pray for those who persecute [us]” (Matt 5:44) he is calling us to do something he has already done. Romans 5:8 tells us that “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Loving our enemies is being Christ-like because when he chose to love us, he was loving his enemies.

Would I call my neighbors my enemies? Yes, sometimes. Many of them are not committed to my holiness, in fact, some of them encourage me to sin. My honest prayer and hope for these men and women is that they become my brothers and sisters, but for now, I love them as my enemies. And even if I do not count them as my enemies, how much more should I love them as my friends. For me, loving them means venturing out into the neighborhood and talking to them in Kwakum, knowing that some of them will make fun of me. It means repairing things that have been broken without a begrudging spirit. It means praying for them when I feel like knocking the dust off my sandals. It means bearing with my brothers and sisters when they fall right back into the same sin. Just like Jesus pursued me when I did not love him, fixes the relationships I break in spite of me, and forgives me when I fall right back into the same sin. I love my neighbors because God first loved me. 

3. We love because God tells us to.

Of all of the verses that I found that relate to loving, this one was a whopper:
“Let all that you do be done in love” 1 Corinthians 16:14. 
God calls us to do all things in love. For me, that means that when I am sitting in my room studying Kwakum, I ought to be doing it out of love. And when I work up the courage to go out to speak to my neighbors, I ought to do it in love. When I remind the neighbor kids (for the 10,000th time) that the reason that I built a fence in the front yard is so that the grass can have the time to grow without them stepping on it, I ought to do it in love. Should I be faced again with the decision to leave (or not leave) a church, the decision should be made in love. When I confront others in sin, it ought to be in love. I love when it is hard, because God says to love always. 

I will conclude considering one of what I consider the most striking verses in all of Scripture:
“If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen” 1 John 4:20.
I realized that I view life quite the opposite from this verse. I consider it easy to love God, but hard to love people. But John throws my natural view on its head. He says that if we do not love our brother, whom we can see, we CANNOT love God. I believe that John is referring to Christians when he says "brother" here, but I can see my non-Christian neighbors as well, so I think the principle applies. When I see my neighbors sinning, I am tempted not to love them. When they hurt me, I want to run away. And if I do, I am lost. Because I cannot love God, or even claim to love him, if I hate my brother. If you are leaving a church, or even just holding a grudge, because you cannot love a church member, you cannot love God. Love is not an option.

As I mentioned, God has blessed me recently such that I find myself loving my neighbors easily. I have taken delight in the neighbor kids playing in my yard. I spent the evening talking to Stacey about the graces that we see in the culture here. There is no need for S4U in Cameroon, as the people know that abortion is wrong (not to mention illegal). Our language partner Simon has been a delight and is selfless in his service to us. I am so thankful to be here, so glad to be working among the Kwakum, and I cannot wait to watch the Word of God transform this culture. I write this blog to remind me of the truths I will need to hear on harder days. And hopefully to help you get through them as well.