Sunday, October 28, 2018

4 Reasons to Teach Your Kids About the Persecuted Church

by Dave

When Stacey and I were teaching the Kindergarten – 1st Grade Sunday School class in Dallas, we studied and prayed for the persecuted church (using a curriculum put together by Voice of the Martyrs). When the kids left we would give them some prayer requests to pray through with their families during the week. In handing a prayer sheet to one of the kids' mothers, she said to me: "This is pretty heavy stuff for a Kindergartener." I thought about what she said, and I agree. It is heavy. However, I do think it is worth it to teach our children, even from a very young age, about the persecuted church. Here are four reasons that I believe this:

1. God listens to prayers (even of children)
There are a couple amazing promises in 1 John 5:13-15:
"I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life. And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him."
Of course, I recognize that in this passage (and the whole Bible) it is clear that God's ear is open only to the prayers of those who have faith (here: believe in the name of the Son of God). And I found in our Sunday School class that there were children that were not bearing the fruit of the Spirit. However, there were children in our class that bore a lot of fruit. And God demonstrated that he listened to them. For instance, we started praying for North Korea together in our Sunday School class in April 2018. In May 2018 North Korea freed 3 American pastors that were in prison. Further, the war between North and South Korea was declared over. Now, I know there is still much work to be done in North Korea, but should we say that this was merely coincidence? That is not what we told our class. These 5-7 year olds prayed with all their little hearts could muster. They talked to their parents about it, and prayed at home. And God used their prayers. When we told them of the results of their prayers, their faith was increased. You should have seen how excited they were!

God hears the prayers of his children, even when they are actually children. Should we deny our children the opportunity to be a part of God rescuing pastors out of prison? 

2. God commands us to pray
"Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body." Hebrews 13:3
It is not ambiguous in the Scriptures: God wants his children to pray for the persecuted church. If our children are believers, Hebrews 13:3 applies to them. What is amazing about this verse is that it does not just tell us to remember those in prison, but "as though in prison with them." God wants Christians to empathize with our brothers and sisters that are in prison. Our kids are not going to be able to do that if we give them vague requests or keep such requests from them entirely. In that, "protecting" our children from the difficult realities that the global church faces removes an avenue of obedience from their Christian walk. 

For those of our children who are not believers the command remains. Just like the command to worship God, obey their parents, and not steal. We do not tell our unbelieving children that they can lie because they are not believers. We raise them to be Christians, and pray that God would save them so they can put into practice what we have taught them to do. 

3. God commands us to be sober-minded
I confess that I was rarely sober-minded as a child. Some of that was my own fault, but some of that was a reflection of my culture. In America, we have this idea that children's lives are supposed to be filled with games and bubblegum. The greatest concern our children are supposed to experience is whether or not they will make it to the next level in their newest video game. When I was in college was the first time I really saw the biblical call to be sober-minded. One such call comes from Peter:
"The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers." I Peter 4:7
What an incredible statement! As a parent, I know I am often calling my children to be self-controlled, but am I also calling them to be sober-minded? The implication of this passage is that both are necessary for them to have effective prayers. I think this is true, at least in part, in that if our children are not sober-minded they will not be praying for things that God cares about. Honestly, God does not care about who wins their soccer game. God does not care about what they want for Christmas. God wants them to be sober-minded and to pray for people who are dying for Christ. If we protect them in such a way that they do not even know that such people exist, they cannot be sober-minded and they cannot pray. 

As an aside on this issue, our relative wealth in the West has allowed us to think that children do not have to obey this command. We think that childhood can be only fun, and try keep our kids from experiencing hard truths. This type of "protection" is not biblical, and is only possible where life is easier. Here in Cameroon, kids know about death because they cannot avoid it. Though in some ways we might think of this as sad, I am hopeful that as they become believers it will lead to sobriety that most children in America will never know. 

4. They will wish you had told them
I have been talking to a friend that was protected a lot during childhood. As they grew older and started to learn how the world really is, they did not wish for "protection." Instead, they experienced frustration. Particularly as a believer, they felt like they had missed out on opportunities to care for and pray for those in need. Parent, if your child does become a believer, they will not have wanted for you to keep these truths from them. If they love Christ, they will not long to forget the plight of the persecuted church. Christians love the Church. Christians love their brothers and sisters and pray for them. The greatest gift you could give them is to teach them the truth.

One truth from the Word seems particularly necessary:
"Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted." 2 Timothy 3:12
Keeping the reality of persecution from our children will one day put them in a difficult place. One day, if they desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus, they too will face persecution. If we have not taught them about our faithful brothers and sisters, they will not know how to respond. If we have not taught them about Richard Wurmbrand, they will not know that they could even love men who were beating them daily. Without the story of the Yao people, they will never know that God is able to break through to even the most difficult places. Without the testimony of Elizabeth, they won't know that Christians can remain faithful even with their own husbands beat them and abandon them. Worse, they may pity themselves instead of uniting with the Church. Teaching our kids about the suffering of God's people can only prepare them for what they will one day face. And when that day comes, they will want to be prepared. 

At the end of the day, it seems to me that any attempt to "protect" our children from the hard truths of the persecuted church will only hurt them. It will remove opportunities for greater obedience, it will prevent them from thinking about the world the way that God wants us to, and it may even lead them to abandoning Christ. However, when we teach them to pray not only will they be changed, their prayers will be answered. May each and every one of our children have the opportunity to be used by God in such an amazing way.

If you are looking for more resources to encourage your kids to think about missions and the persecuted church, check out our page Missions at Home.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

The Greatest Danger for a Missionary Kid

by Stacey

This week I saw the power of the Word of God transform someone before my eyes. Also, this week, I witnessed the Word of God further harden my children who are all too accustomed to ignoring it.

Starting with the happier story, a father of a 15-year-old Bakoum girl asked me to sit down and talk to her about some serious sin that was in her life. She wasn’t listening to him, but he was hopeful that she would listen to me. So, I sat down with her and asked her if she had heard the story of the prodigal son. She said she hadn’t, so I got some pictures and told her the story. I explained to her that the prodigal son did not see the love of his father, but just his commands. Leaning on his own understanding, he left his father and ended up realizing that his wisdom was inferior to that of his father’s. In the pig pen, he saw clearly his father’s love and his own folly. He went home and confessed that he had sinned both against God and against his father.

My young friend was captivated by this story and saw that she too was leaning on her own understanding rather than that of her Creator’s and her Father’s. She also saw that the love of her Creator was so great that he even sent his own Son to die for her sins. I watched her melt into repentance before my eyes as she said, “I need to go home now and tell my father I have sinned against Heaven and against him.” I have seen her since and she said that she did just that. Through a simple story that she had never heard before, she understood the gracious character of God and the seriousness of her sin. The power of the Word of God – making the dead alive right in my backyard.

Then…there’s my children. My husband, our homeschool teachers, and I labor to teach our children the Word of God each day. They know the languages the Bible was written in, they know the books of the Bible by heart in English and French, they understand the relationship between human responsibility and God’s sovereignty, etc., etc., and yet….they are stone cold to it (with the exception of our oldest son, Kaden). Hearing a story out of the Bible in broken Bakoum one time was what the Lord used to bring repentance in the heart of a young girl and yet in my own children, I get rolled eyes and yawns. And I realized that for a missionary kid there is a danger that is greater than all of the snakes, malaria, and violence combined.

The Greatest Danger: Greater Exposure
A friend who grew up on the mission field once told me that missionary kids often end up on fire for God, or atheists. Generally speaking, you are not going to find lukewarm missionary kids. What would lead to extreme responses in missionary kids? I think Charles Spurgeon answers this question when he says:
“The same sun which melts the wax hardens the clay. And the same Gospel which melts some persons to repentance hardens others in their sins.” - Spurgeon
My young Bakoum friend has seen God in nature and has resisted him up to this point. However, my children have seen God not only in creation, but also in his dealings with the Egyptians who wouldn’t let the Israelites go. They’ve seen and resisted the God who sustained Joseph in prison. They’ve seen how the Lord killed Ananias and Saphira because of a single lie. They’ve read of the miracles of Jesus and listened to the dramatized book of Revelation countless times. And for some of them, each encounter with the Gospel has not been an opportunity for faith, but for resistance. They have had an abundance of special revelation and they have said, “No!” to the God revealed in those Scriptures thousands and thousands of times. Instead of this Gospel melting them into repentance, it has served to harden them in their sins to the point that they can tell you the sinful desires of their hearts, Scriptures that deal with those sinful desires, and what their eternal consequence will be if they do not repent – all with a yawn. Spurgeon is right when he says that the Gospel is like the sun – melting some into repentance and others into rock-hard clay.

It is tempting to turn inward and ask “What I am doing wrong?” And I do ask that question, and we have sought to change some things after asking it. However, I take heart in the reality that Judas was around the Light every single day, witnessing miracles, seeing the true love of Christ, and listening to him preach. Judas had a million opportunities a day to love the light, but instead he chose to harden his heart to it a million times a day. Eleven went on to live and die for Christ, but for Judas, it would have been better “if he had not even been born.” It was the very Christ-likeness of Christ that turned Judas away. This has great implications for Christian parents. Maybe the resistance to the Gospel in our children isn’t because we are doing something wrong, but instead because we are too Christ-like for their tastes. As Jesus said, “Everyone who does wicked things hates the light” (John 3:19b). They have more exposure to the truth than most kids, and the result of this greater exposure to the light has been a greater hardness.

What now? 
So where does this leave us? I don’t think this reality should leave us in despair, but rather in awe of the miracle of the new birth – whether that new birth occurs in a person who does not have one word of the Bible in their language or whether that person has their walls wallpapered with it. In my ministry, I am daily faced with people who are without: people who are without food, without medicine, and without special revelation from the Lord. I then go home and find my children grumbling about the taste of their malaria-prevention medicine, refusing to eat their vegetables, and dead to the Word of God that we faithfully teach them. Honestly, this is maddening. I feel like because they have more, salvation and gratitude should come more easily for them. Ironically, in thinking this, I am adopting the same entitlement mentality that they have: because they have (the Word), thus they should receive (salvation). But in thinking this, I am losing sight of what a true miracle being born again really is. No one seeks for God on their own – neither children of missionaries, pastors, AWANA kids – no one. For anyone to have a desire for the Lord is evidence that the Spirit has taken a dead soul and made it alive. In the words of Jesus: “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:8). The Spirit, like the wind, is free to make alive whomever he wills, and children of Christians are not entitled any more than those who belong to unreached people groups.

I think a second response to this should be resolve to see them born again. In 1755, Jonathan Edwards wrote to his son: “I am full of concern for you, and often pray for you...Never give yourself any rest unless you have good evidence that you are converted and become a new creature.” I think Edward’s exhortation to his son should be the cry of our hearts for our hardened children – may they find no rest until they find true, eternal rest in Christ. And may we as their parents be Christ to them knowing that he is the way, truth, and life.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

A Case for Generosity

by Dave

When we came to Cameroon on our vision trip in 2010, I asked our colleagues for their highs and lows of Cameroon living. Without exception, each person told me that one of the hardest parts of living here was dealing with money. Knowing about these challenges we read a ton about the subject before crossing into a new culture. We found that most books written for Westerners moving to Africa deal extensively with the question of finances. We have already written about some of what we have learned from books like African Friends and Money Matters (read HERE) and When Helping Hurts (read HERE and HERE). Overall I would say, my primary goals arriving in Cameroon, as it relates to finances, were: 1) to make sure I was not being taken advantage of, and 2) that we were not creating dependency.

Well, we have begun our fourth year of living in Cameroon, and my perspective is continuing to be refined with both good and bad experiences. I have been taken advantage of. In one case a man asked me for money to buy food, I gave it to him, and while I watched he went and bought a beer. I have paid money for workers to travel to my house and dig a well, and they never came. As far as I can tell, we have not created any specific dependency, but there is always the tension. However, while I thought these concerns would be greatly burdening, I can honestly say I care very little about them.

My default stance has now changed and I my new mantra is: prefer generosity. This principle is founded on two main observations:

1. Jesus Calls Us to be Generous
As I read the New Testament, I tend to gravitate towards Paul's epistles. I like the logical argumentation and the theological content. I have a much harder time with Jesus' words. Why? Not because they are hard to understand, but because they are hard to obey. Regarding money, here is one of Christ's teachings:
"Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys." (Luke 12:33)
Man, have I tried to qualify this. I have tried to find ways around it. I have tried to re-define "needy" in such a way that I don't actually have to sell any possessions. But at the end of the day, I cannot get away with it. Jesus told me that I need to sell my possessions and give to the needy. Someone once challenged me, saying, "Sure we need to think about being good stewards and not creating dependency, but in what way are you obeying the command in Luke 12:33?" And to be honest, at that point, there was no way that I was obeying that command. And in being honest, I was confronted with the reality that I was storing up my treasure on earth and not in Heaven. 

I have also been struck by Jesus' foretelling of the final judgment in Matthew 25:31-46. In it we find the Son of Man sitting on his throne and all the nations are being brought before him. And he is separating out the sheep from the goats. And by what standards will he separate them? By how they have treated the hungry, thirsty, naked, imprisoned, strangers. He does not mention stewardship, he does not mention dependency avoidance (not that these are unimportant), he does not even mention faith! Jesus is going to separate believers and unbelievers based upon how they treated the poor. (NOTE: this is not works salvation. Jesus is judging people based on their works, but the Bible clearly teaches that we are saved by grace alone. For a more thorough explanation, see my sermon on this passage HERE). 

Since we have begun to prefer generosity, we have also noticed something about the culture...

2. Generosity is Love
Among the Bakoum, we have found that there is an expectation that those who have more are expected to care for those who have less. This expectation is repulsive to my American individualistic values. I honestly do not feel like they should expect anything from me. I am a foreigner in their country with the sole goal of trying to help the Bakoum. So, why should they expect me to take care of their other needs?

But the reality is that people here genuinely do not have what is needed in order to survive. When their children are sick, they often do not have the resources to seek out medical help. Often times there is not enough money to send all the kids to school. So, they choose one kid that they think will do well, and everyone will work together to put that one child through school. Among the Bakoum, they see their friends and family as a resource and when they are in need they have no shame in asking for help. Most of the time they are not trying to abuse me, but are genuinely just in need. This interdependency is, I believe, more in line with what the Bible says about how we should live as a Church. It is not a perfect system, and it is very hard on my cultural sensitivities, but I am thankful for it nonetheless. In observing this system I believe that this almost entirely unreached people has taught me how to be more like Jesus. 

But the point is not to be generous for the sake of generosity. In this culture generosity communicates love. I read a quote the other day from a man named David W. Augsburger: “Being heard is so close to being loved that for the average person, they are almost indistinguishable.” I like this quote because I think it is true. And I think it could be re-worked for the Bakoum: "Being generous is so close to being loved that for the average Bakoum, they are almost indistinguishable." This is so true that I believe that if we brought the Gospel, slaved for 20 years to translate the Bible, spoke words of love the entire time, but were seen as stingy, it would all be for naught. We would be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 

Unbeknownst to me, the Lord was planning all along to give me an opportunity to put this to the test...

Case Study
When I first arrived back in the village after furlough, my goal was to get the house liveable again. We had left my wife and the girls in the capital, and I wanted to be back with them as soon as possible. I was not here to study the language, I was not here to minister, I had a task and I wanted it completed. During the week I was here, a mother came up to me with her child. His head was huge! I thought he was around 2 years old, but she was carrying him (they usually only carry kids here until they can walk). She later told me he was about 3-months old, his head was continually swelling, and she didn't know what to do. I didn't know either. But I told her that I would talk to my doctor friend and went back to fixing the plumbing.

To be honest with you, I just forgot. There was a lot on my mind, I was feeling sick, and the task of repairing the house was overwhelming. But Natalie came back with her baby. This time I sent a picture to my friend immediately so that I would not forget. I got a response back pretty quickly: the baby probably has encephalitis and he probably needs to go to Bertoua (a city close by) if not the capital. This family is as poor as they get, and I knew they would not be able to save up enough money to go to the city anytime soon (let alone pay for an operation). We gave them some money to go consult with a doctor. Long story short, they were told they needed to go to Yaoundé (the capital) and they needed more money. 

What would you do? They were not offering to pay anything at this point. Should I offer to pay part? Should I turn them away for fear of dependency? If I pay, is everyone with a sick baby going to come to my house for help? I don't even know this couple. As far as I know, the first time I had ever seen this woman was the day she brought Patrick to me while I was plumbing. Well, as I said, my default stance is now prefer generosity. It is about a month later and I am over $1,000 into this thing. The child is in Yaoundé and they put a shunt in his brain to remove the fluid that has built up. And I just got a call that they need more money for medications! To be honest with you, in spite of their expectations, I can't do this with every baby in the village. $1K is a lot of money for us. And I feel a bit of anxiety about the decision. 

But after the surgery a woman in the hospital sent me a text message with a picture (seen above). I took it to the father who is still here in the village. Today is the presidential vote and this whole week everyone in the village has been out talking about the election. So, not only did he see it, but the whole village saw baby Patrick and his mother. And they told me that he would have died. There was no doubt in their minds. They told me they needed us, they were thankful for us, and there is no way the family could have paid for it on their own. They showed me that they believed that my generosity was the fruit of love. And I walked back home believing that we made the right choice. 

I wish that was it. I wish I could say that I can just be generous all the time and that all that will ever happen is love. However, just the other day a Bakoum woman asked me for $800 for a surgery on her arm and I had to turn her away, and she was upset. But at this moment there is nothing I can do. Further, Patrick's aunt was mocking me last week for stopping a man from beating a child in the street. She said I have no right to tell them how to raise their children. So, it is not all butterflies and rainbows. Most of the people are still not following Jesus and their lives show it. But, I do believe they know that we love them. I believe that they see a generosity in us that is not natural. And I pray that such generosity and love will lead them to Christ one day. 

So, I wanted to end by asking you the same question a friend asked me: "How are you obeying Jesus' words in Luke 12:33?" I still struggle with it, it makes me uncomfortable, and to be honest I just mess it up a lot. But I am happy to see that even my small obediences have brought fruit. I encourage you to consider your default setting when asked to give. Is it "avoid being taken advantage of"? or "don't create dependency?" If so, I would encourage you to consider the priority of generosity. What an amazing thing to learn from a lost people group in Cameroon!

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Lord, Keep Me Weeping

by Stacey

My day began by watching my deceased neighbor be buried in his front yard. My day ended by watching another neighbor beat a little boy violently. It has not taken long for us to remember that death and violence are a part of everyday life here in the village. And there is a part of me that asks the question: Is it ever okay to put my headphones in to drown out the constant strain of yelling that surrounds our home? Is it okay for me to look the other way while a grown man beats a whimpering child? Is there ever a reprieve from the wailing at funerals, the violence, the fighting, the disease, and the death that surround us in this place? Is there a time to just send someone away saying, “Be warm and filled"?

Wake-up call
A week ago yesterday, Dave and I went over to our neighbor’s house to talk about their grandson’s health. The grandmother was very thankful for the medication we brought her and the grandfather greeted us warmly and thanked us. This grandfather has been blind for about two years and I’ve seen another of his grandsons leading him around the village.

We regularly hear fighting coming from that house at all hours of the day and night. This past Tuesday night was no exception. I was having a rough day with my kids and went outside late at night to look at the stars and pray, and then I heard them fighting. I am ashamed to admit it, but my first reaction was not pray, but instead to roll my eyes and wonder if the hollering would ever stop. That is something I am ashamed of now. Why? Because yesterday I went back to this same house and found the grandfather lying dead in his bed while family members were digging him a grave outside. Women were in the house wailing and men were outside drunk; alternating between arguing and singing loudly.

When I went into the house, one of my friends (the deceased’s daughter) explained to me what had happened. Allegedly, her father had gone to the city to withdraw his retirement in order to pay for a surgery for his eyes. It was a considerable sum of money and when he got home, his wife (my friend’s step-mom) and her children demanded the money. When he refused to give it to them, they beat him, inflicting injuries that led to his death.

One week ago, he was greeting me at his front door. Yesterday he was lying dead in the middle of his living room, allegedly due to domestic violence. His second wife and her children have left town out of fear of retribution from the family.

And then it hit me - while I was rolling my eyes at the shouting emanating from their house, this blind grandfather was being beaten by his own family members. I am ashamed that my first thought was for myself rather than the well-being of my neighbor. I see clearly now that my response was not Christ-like. 

Blessed are those who weep

All over Scripture, we are called to not tune out the sufferings of the poor and needy. When my children ask what to do about the sufferings of our neighbors, I call them to consider that Proverbs tells us that we are to look them in the eye and breathe in the sufferings they bear. When we turn our eyes away, put the headphones in, ignore the screams we hear, and close our ears to the cry of the poor, we will ourselves “call out and not be answered” (Prov 21:13). For, “Whoever gives to the poor will not want, but he who hides his eyes will get many a curse” (Prov. 28:27).

I know what you are thinking: "You must be great at parties." But, consider the biblical characterization of Christ as a “man of sorrows.” Would I be flattered or insulted to be known as a “woman of sorrows”? Should I rather be someone who is carefree, loves to laugh, and is fun to have around? My home culture calls me to pursue “my best life now” but Jesus says, "Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh” (Luke 6:21). I am persuaded that a life of weeping and constant prayer is the only appropriate response to the sin and suffering that surround us. The lightheartedness knowing that “everything’s going to be okay” is not for this life now, but instead for the next.

But it's too hard
Someone may wonder if it is even healthy for someone to strive to bear the burdens of the blind, orphan, and abused as a way of life. In the face of this concern is the trusted verse, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Phil 4:13). I am confident that Jesus loves to answer the prayers of his children as we ask him to strengthen us as we seek to strengthen others.

With all of that said, I do long for reprieve. I long for a place where the sounds of peace fill the air. I seek a better country where an unimaginable joy takes hold of everyone, and we can laugh, really laugh. And I know that this is not just a fantasy. This place exists and I will one day live in the presence of my God. And so today I can choose to open my eyes, to listen to the wailing, to grow not in numbness, but in compassion. Because I know that for every wound inflicted on this Fallen Earth, I will one day feel the healing touch of my Savior. And by His grace, I will hear those same voices, no longer wailing, but worshiping with me. Until that day, Lord, keep me weeping.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Sometimes I Don't Even Know What to Pray

by Dave

As many of you  know, our family has spent the last 17 months in the US. And now, we have been full time back in the village for a couple weeks. Our hearts have been delighted to see the smiles of our friends and to hear them welcoming us back (and even understand them!). We see new babies and new houses. Our church has worked hard and is now a mud-brick building with a tin roof.

But nearly every encounter is also a reminder of loss. Our dear friends Simon and Carine died while we were away. Carine's father actually died just a few months before her, and there are at least two others that died in our absence. The pain and anguish that is the result of the Fall is so evident here and plays a part of many of our interations with neighbors. We sent a boy who probably has hydrocephalus to Yaoundé on Monday. Another neighbor boy is plagued with scabies and does not talk (his grandmother said she thinks he is possessed by a demon).

Then on Friday I went out and found a large group gathered around a house just in front of ours. I asked what was going on and was told that a baby had just died. Stacey and I went down to visit the family. As is the Bakoum custom, the deceased was laid out in the livingroom of the house on a mattress and people were mourning around her. And she was beautiful: a little chubby girl, around 1 year old, laying as if she were sleeping. I sat looking at her, hearing her grandmother wailing at her feet, and I could have sworn she was still breathing.

They told us that she had just fallen ill two days before. As is often the case, we don't know why she died. They told me it was malaria, but in reality they just have no idea. This is one aspect of life that is so scary for our neighbors. Without any medical knowledge, nor often the funds to go to the doctor, they never really know when their kids get sick if it is going to be fatal. I have seen people scared out of their mind because their baby was sick, and to me it looked like they only had a cold. And most of the time the babies are OK, but one mother affirmed to us that she had lost six children!

I posted the above picture to Facebook on Friday, which shows the men preparing the grave next to the house. I spoke briefly to the father who was sitting on the other side of the house on a grave of another child. I asked my friends to "pray that the sorrow would turn the family to Christ." Even as I typed that, it felt a bit disingenuous. This family is living in the home of the (alleged) "village guardian," a woman entrusted with the supernatural secrets of the Bakoum and charged with protecting it spiritually. This death means of course, that even the village guardian cannot keep babies from dying. But it also means that this family will be responding to the death within the framework of their traditional religion. Further, the Bakoum do not have the Bible in a language they can understand. They do not even have a word for grace! How in the world could the sorrow of this loss lead them to Christ? How in the world could we offer any comfort to them?

The reality is that at this moment in time we cannot. We genuinely cannot communicate the Gospel to them in a way that they would understand. And really anything that we say could confuse them, even reaffirming their beliefs. So, what should we pray? Can I really pray that they would turn to Christ if I know that there is no real way in which they could do that right now?

As these questions have been bothering my sleep, I have come to realize that my prayers are weak, sometimes misguided, often at least in part affected by my sin and selfishness, and always limited. My prayers are limited by what I know, by my understanding of God, and by my shortsighted view of time. In fact, I believe now that it is impossible to pray for the right thing in its fullness.

I was comforted, though, in remembering a quote I heard in a Tim Keller sermon. I found he had one like it in his book about prayer: “God will either give us what we ask or give us what we would have asked if we knew everything he knows.” I have put it this way to our kids: God answers our prayers according to what we would have asked if we knew everything, and were only good. It is an amazing truth that God tells us to pray (in spite of our weakness) and then answers our prayers. But I don't think that the fact that he answers our prayers means that he always gives us what we ask for. Think of what would happen if God just gave us what we asked for! Instead, I think that he gives us what he knows we need. And what a glorious reality that is. The all-knowing, all-good God is committed to giving his children not always what they want, but always what they need.

So, I have come to a response to the question: "What should I do when I don't even know what to pray?" My response is: "Pray anyway." And sometimes that prayer is going to come out as foolish, misguided babble. Sometimes nothing may come out other than just groaning. But Paul tells us in Romans 8:26:
"Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words."
He knows that we are weak. He knows that we don't always know what to pray for. But that is one of the reasons he he has given us his Spirit: so that our foolish babble does not remain foolish babble. The Spirit is with us to make our prayers better than what we meant. He makes our prayers understandable, reasonable, and efficacious. And when we look back we can say more than just "He answered our prayers." We can say, "He answered what our prayers should have been."

Specifically, I have decided to keep praying that my neighbors' sorrow will be comforted in Christ. That they may know the love of a God who has grieved the death of his own son. And I have no idea what an answer to that would even look like at this point. Maybe it is a prayer that will be answered in several years. But I am full of faith that his answer will not be anything less than what I prayed. And I am eager to see how he answers that prayer more fully than I could have ever imagined.

Monday, September 10, 2018

Back in the Saddle

by Stacey

When we were in Cameroon our last term, we would often spend our Saturday mornings working on our “yard.” This means that we tried to tame the jungle with a couple of machetes and a handful of 1st graders. We have about an acre of land and planted grass more-or-less blade by blade. Other missionaries gave us cuttings of their trees and we planted them in our back yard. Through the years of our first term, we tried to convert the land around our house from the wild jungle into something manageable and something beautiful. We worked really hard but only saw much of our grass dry up and little kids pull all the leaves off our growing saplings. But then…

...we show up to our village after being gone a year and a half and walk into a paradise of a yard. We have orange trees, moringa trees, every blade of grass has come back and even spread, we have red flower bushes, orange flower bushes, and yellow flower bushes. The trees that we planted now completely shade our backyard and reach taller than our house. The toil of our last term produced results while we were gone.

In the same way, our toil of language and culture learning has yielded incredible results while we were away. We have not come back to a foreign land with foreign languages – we have come back home. Granted it is a home filled with difficult memories and suffering all around us, but it is no longer foreign – it is familiar. There is much to praise God for and, as can be expected, there are also challenges that we are facing. Here are some specifics:

Good things

House intact. We weren’t sure if our house would still be standing, but it is! Some of the appliances still work and we have beds to sleep in, complete with mosquito nets.

Warm welcome. We have been very warmly welcomed back. Our village cut our grass for us and when Dave returned, they were inside the house cleaning the floors. Last term, we moved into the village and were surrounded by hardened stares for about a year. This term, however, we are welcomed with warm embrace. And, for me personally, I enjoy so many things about African culture - I love the boisterous markets, the communal feel, and always having people around me. It is so good to be back.

Language. Losing ground in French and Bakoum was my biggest concern in returning to Cameroon. Oddly enough, I believe through answered prayer, these languages are coming more naturally for me than when I left. It was as if those sections of my brain were neglected in the States and are very excited to be back in use. It is such a joy to see the looooong, exhausting days of language learning in Cameroon, then analysis in the States, pay off. I am praising the Lord.

Not only is Bakoum coming back, but our former language partners have committed to continuing to meet with us. One said that we need to start ASAP because he wants to see us get to a higher level. Another one of my language partners said that she would do anything she can to see me fluent in Bakoum (and she’s been through two weeks of a tone workshop…so she knows what it takes). We are so thankful.
Hunter. Our homeschool teacher for this year is named Hunter and having her here through all the chaos of trying to get re-settled has been a gift from the Lord. She bears our burdens with us and is a light in the midst of darkness.

Bad things

Burden of surviving. I simply forgot how difficult it was to live here. I spent the last week cleaning out piles of dead ants out of my house. Keeping our children clean, healthy, and fed seems like an uphill battle. I completely understand why people groups like ours never learn to read - they are so busy trying to survive the day that reading seems like it can be only a rich man’s pastime.

Today a filthy, half naked little boy sat next to me in church. He had sores all over his body, poop smeared on his skin, and flies buzzing all around him. Turns out his mother has died, his father is not in the picture, and his grandfather is blind. Then, our daughter asks me, “Mom, what are we going to do about him?” I remember now how many times the verse “Blessed are those who weep” brought me comfort as there are so many to weep over here.

Children regressing. Our children are happy to be back, some are eager to learn French and Bakoum, and especially Kaden is just thriving. We are so thankful that they love it here. However, as is typical with children in major transition, there has been some major regression. Victories that have been won, childish behavior we have put behind us, and bad attitudes which had been laid aside have all returned with a vengeance. It is a very difficult season of parenting in the midst of a difficult season of transition. They are not longing to return to America, thankfully, but are “kicking against the goads” of the instruction of their parents and teacher who only want to see them adjust and thrive.

Please pray

Children who follow. Please pray that the Lord would work in our childrens' hearts to follow, instead of resist, our lead. Pray that they will trust that we are out for their best interest. We teach a “team” mentality as far as meal prep, chores, and maintenance of our house as opposed to a "mom-does-everything" mentality. Please pray that they would learn to work around the house with joy in their hearts. Also, as far as homeschool, please pray that they would follow their teacher instead of  seeking to manipulate her and create a riotous classroom environment.

Language, language, language. This year we plan to work on language acquisition and analysis and test the writing system. Please pray that we would MASTER Bakoum and that we would have a solid provisional writing system. We believe the Lord is leading us to start translation by oral Bible stories (mainly from the Old Testament) and hope to start that next Fall. The better we are at the language, the more we will be able to ensure that the Bible stories being transmitted are accurate Biblically.

We are, all at the same time, thankful to be back, worn out, tired, saddened by the suffering, frustrated by the choices of our children, irritated by the biting ants, excited to begin full-time work in the language, and would choose to be nowhere else. 

The cry of our hearts in the words of the Psalmist, “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” – Psalm 73:26

Monday, August 20, 2018

Day #10: Pray that we could live a peaceful and quiet life

by Dave

Image result for 1 Timothy 2:1-4
We are so thankful to live in a country where the government is not opposed to missionaries. We entered Cameroon originally on visas that listed our role as “missionaries” and have never felt any tension in that regard. However, governments change, and even within an overall supportive government you can sometimes have individuals that can oppose you. We were told when we first met with the mayor of our town that if we did not have his blessing we might as well move onto a different people group. All of that to say, the government leaders in Cameroon can greatly affect our lives.

Paul asked for prayer in this regard. He said…
“First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:1-4)
You may think of our lives as anything but quiet and peaceful, but in reality that is what we are going for. We want to live in a village, work with the Bakoum people, and translate the Bible. We know that we need a government that supports us (or at least ignores us) for that to happen. So please keep this in mind.

Here are some specific things to pray for:

  • There is a presidential election scheduled for October 2018 (in just a couple of months). Pray that God would allow for a peaceful election in which righteous men and women are chosen to lead the country.
  • In the past months and years there has been much victory against the Boko Haram in Nigeria. Their violence has spread at times to Cameroon, but let's pray it away. Pray that the Boko Haram would no longer hurt people in Nigeria or Cameroon.
  • There is a lot of tension right now in Cameroon between the Anglophone regions and the rest of the country. Pray that peace would be achieved and that no more people would be injured or killed.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Day #9: Pray for a Ministry of Love

by Dave

As we go to Cameroon we have a lot of goals and there is much that we want to accomplish. We want to translate the Bible, teach people to read, help build the still small and weak Bakoum church, and all along raise our family and minister to our neighbors. 

But we also recognize that we can do all of that without love, and as a result it would be worth nothing. And we know that because God first loved us, we can go out and love others. 
  • Pray that God would give us a heart to love our neighbors, and even our enemies. 
  • Pray that we would find ways to show love that the Bakoum would understand as love. 
  • Pray that we would be known as loving people more than anything else.
  • Pray that we would see God's love change and shape the people around us. 

Goodbye America: Dread, Trust, Resolve

by Stacey

As we have been saying goodbye to friends and family, people have been asking us how we feel about going back to Cameroon. In the midst of trying to see how much we can shove into suitcases and eating as much ice-cream as we can, there are three main feelings that keep coming to the surface: Dread, Trust, and Resolve.

We know that we are soldiers going back into war. Our war is not one involving guns or tanks but instead we battle and against the spiritual forces of evil that have held the Bakoum people for generations. We know whose turf we are on (but we also know who owns the turf). We know that lies and animism have their claws deep in this people and that they will not be released without resistance. We are very aware of this reality.

Years ago, we helped start a pro-life ministry, Speak for the Unborn, which has since taken off under the great leadership of their current director. During those early days of casting a vision for the ministry, determining its core values, and creating a website, I was often clouded with these same feelings of dread. I sat down to create the website and the moment I put my fingers to my keyboard, I am convinced that I was surrounded by demonic forces trying to dissuade me to do anything in the world but the task at hand. Getting stuff done is not something I struggle with, but starting this ministry was much more than crossing off a to-do list – it was picking a fight with the Devil. I couldn’t think. I couldn’t type. I couldn’t articulate my thoughts. And I believe that was all spiritual.

In the same way, we know that Bible translation is declaring war on a force that is so much more powerful than we are. We feel that now. We feel as if we are throwing pebbles demonic forces, calling them to look out way. And yet, greater than the feeling of dread of going back, we feel a deep trust in the Lord…

With the Psalmist, we cry, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me" (Psalm 23:4). We know that we are going back to a dark place, filled with death, both physical and spiritual - and yet, we are simply not afraid. Why? Because the Lord of Heaven and earth is on our side! We don’t know what this next term holds for us. We don’t know what sickness awaits, or even if we will live through our next term. We don’t know if our house in Cameroon is still standing, or if Cameroon will be in a state of civil war when we arrive. We are not certain that the writing system will work, or if people will learn to read. There are so many unknowns, and yet what we DO know is simply enough: We know God is on our side. We know that the Lord will work everything out for our good and whether weeping or rejoicing, he will never leave us. We know that we serve the God of David who took out Goliath with but a few stones. And even though feel like we are leaving everything, we know that the Lord is not quarantined to the pews of American churches. The Lord is with his children wherever they are; and he is enough.

Finally, I feel tremendous resolve. I feel the resistance – I know it is there and yet, the greater the resistance, the greater the resolve. Going back again to the genesis of Speak for the Unborn, the more people slandered my husband and me, and the more they called the cops for this reason or that, the more, by God’s grace, we dug our heels in and ended up starting a secondary pro-life ministry that same year on a college campus. If discouragement is what the enemy is looking for, by God’s grace, what he will get is more versions of the Bible in Bakoum. If fear is the agenda of the great Slanderer, what he will get is Bakoum children singing Scripture songs in their own language. I know who’s on my side, and all the sickness, dread, questions, rejection, and loneliness cannot undo the promise of God to sustain me. The gates of Hell will not prevail against the building of the Church of Jesus Christ. We leave tomorrow to go back to Cameroon cognizant of our weakness, but as convinced as ever that we are on the winning team. 

I have set the LORD always before me; because he is at my right hand,
I shall not be shaken. - Psalm 16:8

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Day #8: Pray for Competent National Translators

by Dave

I once admitted to a pastor that I was hesitant to preach in churches because of James 3:1:
"Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly."
This pastor responded to me: "Do you think that the judgment is going to be LESS strict for those who are translating his Word?!" His warning has been well received. As we begin Bible translation this term, we are going to be producing the text that future Bakoum pastor's will preach from. Our task is both difficult and serious. Of course, Stacey and I will be careful in our exegesis and translation, we are only two parts of these extremely complicated machine of Bible translation. We will be working daily with men to wrestle with the meaning of the text. Then, other translators will take that exegesis and translate a rough draft. Then, another team will examine the draft and make recommendations. After revising, we will then have others who will bring the text out on the street and make sure that people understand what is translated. Then more revisions and more tests. We will also have a consultant that will check for accuracy and make more recommendations. All of that to say, we will have a team of people working together. And a problem in just one of those steps can slow down (and potentially stop) the entire process. We are desperately in need of good workers.

  • Pray that the Lord would provide us with Bakoum speakers who are competent and hard working. 
  • Pray that we would have at least one Bakoum speaker willing to wrestle through the exegesis of the text.
  • Pray that we would have Bakoum speakers that are willing to go out and read the translations to neighbors to make sure the correct message is being portrayed.
  • Pray for Stacey and me during this process, pray that we would understand Greek, Hebrew, and Bakoum well enough to make sure we are all doing a good job.
  • Pray that we would have a competent consultant who has the time to review our work and make recommendations.