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.


Critters
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.”
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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: http://rfis.org/staffing-needs-20132014/

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: https://us.worldteam.org/go/details/dorm-parent-in-cameroon

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: https://us.worldteam.org/go/details/teacher-administrator-in-cameroon


Check out all the opportunities at: https://us.worldteam.org/go/

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.

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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. 

Sunday, March 20, 2016

A Modern-Day Threat to Bible Translation

by Stacey



Bible translation is a messy business. It always has been. Whereas there are always “external” threats to this great task (being refused visas, terrorism, trouble finding nationals to work with), I am convinced that the greatest threat that faces us today is internal. Like the armies mentioned in the Old Testament that lost battles because they turned on one another, I fear that we too may be disoriented, thinking our colleagues are really our enemies. Instead of encouraging one another to press on in battle, I fear that we may actually end up destroying one another.


Hot-Button Issues
Here are a couple of the issues that I see leading to division among the world’s Bible translators:
Efficiency vs. Integrity
There are thousands of languages that do not have the Word of God in their language and thus there are many individuals dying apart from Christ. This is a tragedy and should make us feel a sense of urgency to get the Word of God translated for each and every language. And so there is a huge push to get as many Bible translation projects started as soon as possible. New, and sometimes controversial, methods are being considered and employed to speed up the process.
And then there is the other side that agrees that it is an urgent task but that it is also a sacred task that needs to be done well. These are those who often believe in God’s sovereignty to save every one of his elect and thus concern themselves not as much with the speed of translation but mainly with the integrity of translating the Word of God as carefully as possible. The new methods being employed to speed up the Bible translation process are at best suspect, if not rejected, by this camp because they are believed to compromise the integrity of the translation.
And so there is tension. One side looks at the other and says, “Why can you not feel the urgency here?!” while the other responds, “If we compromise the message through bad translation techniques, what’s the point?!” Both agree that there is urgency and both agree that we should translate the Bible well, and yet methodologies end up looking very different.
Role of the Nationals vs Role of Ex-Pats
There is quite a spectrum of opinion regarding this issue. Some missionaries see themselves as the principle translators who call the shots for the translation project from start to finish. On the other side of the spectrum, some missionaries see themselves in more of a PR role, crossing the ocean to convince the nationals that they themselves need to do a Bible translation and pointing them in the right direction to get the needed training. And if the nationals do not show any interest in the project, they are no longer pursued by the agency.
And then there are a million questions and opinions in the middle such as: Can an animist be on a Bible translation team? How much theological training should nationals get in order to be translators, if any? What is the role of the ex-pats? Are they there to lead the project through to the end? Or are they to wait until called upon to offer their expertise? If an ex-pat is part of the translation project, will the local church automatically assume he will do everything and fund everything and not take any initiative themselves? Should not the role of the ex-pat be to empower the local church to respond to the call of Bible translation? But what if the local church in the people group is steeped in heresy and syncretism? Are they qualified to translate?
Those involved in translation ministry come down on all sides of these issues and unfortunately there can be tension between the various camps.

I have listed just two hot-button issues among many, not even including theological issues like the “Son of God” controversy. And I mention these topics of debate to show that Bible translation is messy and there is room for lots of very strong opinions. But when there are differing opinions, we find ourselves at a crossroads: Either we will grow bitter and see “them” as opponents or we will humble ourselves and seek to sharpen and be sharpened by those with whom we disagree.  Whereas I turn mainly to those in Bible translation circles now, I think the same principles can be applied to anyone we disagree with in the church.
What is it Going to Be? Bitterness or Love?

Who is the Real Enemy?
When we start to grow bitter is when we think that those that disagree with us are our enemies. But, if they are Christ’s, they are not. Ephesians 6:12 says “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” It is not this person with this opinion or that who is “the problem” but instead there are real evil spiritual forces that are telling us lies about one another and seeking to pit us against one another.
Have we Been Forgiven Little?
Maybe there are those in our circles who are guilty of being belittling and insulting. Maybe there are agencies that have come in and booted us out of our projects that we have labored over for years. Maybe we have been wronged. Maybe we are frustrated with people always trying to micro-manage everything we do, making sure we do it their way. Maybe we have been sinned against.
So what are we going to do about it? Are we going to be like the man who chokes his debtor and demands that he repay every dime? Are we going to, like him, forget that we have a great King who has forgiven our great debt that we had towards him? Are we going to demand someone pay a debt they owe to us even when we have been forgiven of such a greater debt? (Matthew 18:23-35)
We are Christians and the very heart of our message is that we have a mighty King who has graciously chosen to forget our sins through his Son Jesus. As children of this great King, we are called to forgive in the same way as we have been forgiven.  
Making a Mockery of the Word of God
Finally, I pose the question: How can we go all throughout the world heralding a book that speaks of the love of God for sinners when we ourselves do not extend that same love to one another? Jesus said that all people will know that we are his disciples, how? By our love for the lost? No. By our commitment to the Bibleless peoples of the world? No. By our missionary zeal? No again.
What testifies to the watching world that we belong to Jesus is our love for one another. It is how we forgive one another, how we use our words to build one another up and not tear one another down. It is how we pray for one another and bear one another’s burdens.  This is God’s megaphone to the world that we belong to him. This is God’s missionary strategy.



To conclude, to fellow Bible translators, I write this not try to gloss over any issues that need to be discussed, but to call us to discuss the issues with love for our brothers in our hearts. I call us to not see our fellow-soldiers as the enemy but to see our sin of bitterness as the enemy. I call us to pray for one another’s ministries, to rejoice with Bible translators who rejoice and weep with Bible translators who weep. I call us to challenge one another, confront one another, and admonish one another all with the desire to sharpen and be sharpened, and never to tear down.

And to those who are supporters of the ministry of Bible translation, we ask you to pray for us, that we would show the watching world that we are disciples of Jesus by our love for one another. That we would honor Jesus not just in seeing the Bible translated but in working together in a way that honors him.



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


Sunday, March 13, 2016

A Very Muddy Update

by Dave

After almost 4 months of no rain, we finally had our first major rainstorm, complete with small hail and all! Since I have some great photos of us playing in the rain, I figured it would be a great time to give you an update about the family.

Kaden
Kaden is a joy in our lives. He is our most considerate and sensitive child. He loves to go out and play in the rain, though it really does not like to be dirty. For his 7th birthday, Kaden received his first personal Bible. We have started to do a study with him and he is very interested.

Pray for Kaden: Kaden has been having trouble learning to read. We have talked with several people who have dealt with learning problems and he seems to be exhibiting some symptoms of dyslexia. We are planning on having him tested when a professional comes to Cameroon in April. Please pray that we would figure out how to best help him.


Makyra
Makyra is a smart, fun kid. She loves to draw and has been showing some real talent. She is interested in homeschool and loves Bonnie (our tutor) and tries to imitate her in pretty much every way possible.

Pray for Makyra: Please pray that Makyra would follow her mom and Bonnie and become a godly young woman. Even though she is young, we already see in her a love of the praise of men. We want so much for her not to find her value in what others think of her, but in her Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.


Elias
As we have mentioned in past communications, Elias has been our most difficult child. And we have many times asked for prayer both for him and for us. And I am so happy to say that he has been such a delight the last few weeks. He is by and far our most polite child, and his obedience has made raising him so much more fun.

Pray for Elias: While we are so thankful for his behavior change recently, we still long to see heart change. Pray that Elias would repent of his sin and trust in Jesus.



Zoey
We are so thankful that the medical drama with Zoey is over. She has returned to her normal energetic self. In contrast to Kaden, she LOVES to get dirty and to help others get dirty. Zoey has the energy of three children and is bright and excited about everything (especially cute things).

Pray for Zoey: Once again, thank God for preserving her life. Please pray that she would love others and seek to be a servant. Pray that all of her energies would be used for God's kingdom.

Rachat
I have been wanting to update you on Rachat, the adopted dog that helps us share the Gospel. You can read his adoption story HERE. Rachat has since become a much healthier dog. He is very active and fun. I was just told today that he is a very good hunter. Apparently, when he is not in our yard he is out hunting porcupines, bush birds, and rats. We are not able to give him a ton of meat, but it seems he has figured out a way to supplement his ration.

You probably do not need to pray for Rachat, but if you decide to, pray that he would stick around a long time. We are fond of him, and he is a great guard dog.

Dave and Stacey
We are studying! It seems like we have always been studying. Right now we are learning Bakoum and starting to work on analysing it as well. Bakoum is not like French or English and we do not have a lot of helps. So, most of the work is just out in the village or with our language partner. We are thankful to be doing it, and enjoy the overall process, but sometimes get bogged down in the day-to-day.

Pray for Dave and Stacey: Please pray for endurance. Pray that we would continue to work hard and "not grow weary in doing good." Pray that we would love our neighbors and "endure all things for the elect."

Bonnie
We have been so thankful to welcome Bonnie Marcum into our family for the last 7 months. She has been patiently teaching our kids every day, preparing lessons, engaging with them, and having fun. She also helps with cleaning and dishes and cooks from time to time. We are so glad to have another godly young woman in the house for our kids to look up to. Sadly, she will be leaving to go back to the States in May. But we will continue to thank God for her even after she is gone.

Pray for Bonnie: Pray that Bonnie would finish well. She still has 3 months of homeschool, which is hard work. Pray that our kids would love her and consider her more important than themselves. And most of all, thank God for Bonnie and all of the help that she has been to us and our mission.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Hardening of the Lost as a Spiritual Fruit

by Stacey

I recently read a great article put out by our missions agency, World Team, and it inspired me to think through the following scenarios…
Imagine two pairs of Christian parents daily loving their children and presenting Christ in word and deed. In God’s mercy, one group of parents receives the joy of seeing their children worship and serve Jesus. The other couple witnesses their children go from hard to harder as the years go by. The couple with the believing children are sought after for parenting advice while the other mother and father are considered a little suspect.
Along the same vein, imagine two missions teams seeking to translate the Bible. Both are seeking to honor the Lord in their lives and in their methodology. One team, at the end of their translation project, receives the joy of seeing the Word of God paraded around the village. The other team’s Bibles sit in a storage shed collecting dust. The team with the positive reception of the Word of God is heralded as a model of good Bible translation methodology while the other is written off as a failure.
But could it be that both sets of parents were successful in God’s eyes? Or that both missionary teams accomplished exactly what God wanted?
The Same Aroma Leads to Both Life and Death
Biblically speaking, I believe that we can say that both sets of parents and missionaries were successful, so long as they were faithful witnesses to Christ. The same message that has the power to soften hearts also has the power to harden them. In presenting the message we leave the hardening or softening to the Lord.
For example, the apostle Paul was well aware that he was preaching the same Jesus to the Jews and to the Gentiles. To the former group, this message produced a further hardening whereas to the latter the message produced life. He explains this phenomenon in 2 Corinthians 2:15:
"For we are to God the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing. To the one we are the aroma of death leading to death, and to the other the aroma of life leading to life"
This is also seen in the life of Stephen. At the beginning of his famous sermon in Acts 7, the local authorities were calmly questioning him. But upon hearing his sermon, the people progressed from annoyed to enraged and went so far as to kill him:
          Now when they heard these things they were enraged, and they ground their     teeth at him…They cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together at him” (7.45,57).
It was the hearing of his message that drove them to mob violence and thus his death was a direct result of his faithfulness to communicate the Word of God. Nothing communicates this idea better than this quote cited in the article I read:
Calling the hardening of the lost a spiritual fruit is a concept not well understood or frequently discussed. Yet it recognizes the fact that the Spirit-filled disciple impacts people both positively and negatively: "For we are to God the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing. To the one we are the aroma of death leading to death, and to the other the aroma of life leading to life" (2 Corinthians 2:15).
As a Christian deepens his relationship with his Lord, the fragrance of Christ on him will grow stronger. This does not mean, however, that his spiritual aroma will have an increasingly positive influence on people. On the contrary, those who oppose the sovereign rule of God will smell the aroma of death on him [or her] all the more strongly! The Christian has no control over people's responses. Our only duty is to keep the fragrance of Christ pure and unmixed with other aromas . . .
The overall picture that we need to see is that the harvest at the end of the age includes both the elect and the lost. Our Lord has sent forth His disciples to participate in the harvesting of both. As much as we desire that all should come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9), we must accept the fact that many will be hardened by the fragrance of Christ upon us. This hardening is very real fruit of the Spirit’s work in people. (Bryan Fraser, The Hidden Life: Living Inside-Out to Release God’s Blessing.)
Our role as believers is to present Christ. Period. It is then God’s prerogative to use our ministry either positively or negatively. These may not be super cheerful thoughts, but I think they are the bedrock which keeps both missionaries and parents from serious discouragement.
To the Discouraged
We live in a community where people live off of what they can grow. Thus, many spend day upon day clearing their fields and planting seeds in order to provide for their families. Occasionally, rodents come at night and dig up and eat every single seed that has been planted. The following day our neighbors will return to their fields and find that all their sowing was in vain. They know if the rodents continue to eat their newly planted seeds, they will not harvest and thus will not eat.
Thankfully, God’s economy is not like this. With God, everyone who sows will be rewarded sooner or later. Note in the following verse who receives wages:
Neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. 1 Corinthians 3:6-8  
We as Christians are not rewarded based on how many souls are saved through our ministries or how well our children turn out. Instead, we are rewarded according to how hard we have worked. Everyone who sows the Gospel, even if the response is further hardening, will be personally rewarded by God for all his prayers, all his pleadings, all his faithfulness.
So to the parents who faithfully teach the Word, discipline in love, and call their children to repentance to no avail, know that you will receive what is due you by God for all of your labor. Your every call to your children has eternal weight even if your child never repents. Further, your child’s increased hardness may not be because you are doing something wrong but because you are doing something right. Maybe you are being so shaped into the image of Christ that your child cannot see you without seeing Him. Perhaps his rejection has more to do with the Son of God shining through you rather than you.
And to the ministry worker who sees zero conversions, yes, examine your personal holiness and methodology, but also take heart that the Lord’s ways are higher than our ways. It could be that, like the ministry of the prophets, the Lord has sent you to a hard people just to glorify himself in your perseverance and faithfulness. Even if you have devoted your life to a people group without one “thank you” or conversion, know that your life was not spent in vain and Jesus himself will repay you for all your hard work. So press on, looking forward to your heavenly reward.

Believing that God is glorified to use one’s ministry to harden is a difficult reality. Jeremiah was known as the weeping prophet for a reason. But it is also an opportunity for us to have faith, trusting that God knows what he is doing. And this trust leads to peace beyond understanding. This peace lets us sleep at night, even if our children are rebelling and even if people are not reading their Bibles. Because we know that we are not in control, God is. And we know that is a good thing.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Fear, Trust, and Missionary Kids

by Dave

Most missionaries are not scared of death, at least not substantially. We have weighed the risks. We chose to become missionaries even though there might be terrorists not far away and we live in a region where nearly invisible bugs can bite you without you knowing and deliver an illness that kills more people in the world than any other. Early missionaries packed their belongings in coffins, and it is not surprising to me that ominous warnings like “You will be eaten by cannibals” did not keep men like John Patton off the field. Why? It is simple really, we believe that the Gospel is worth more than our lives. And becoming a Christian means that we have laid down our lives for the service to the cross. 

Threat of physical harm and death do not keep missionaries off the field, but there is something that does. I have heard it from the mouths of Americans unwilling to consider missions, and ringing in my head these last few weeks: my kids could die. This last week I was bent over my daughter on the floor of my house, laying in a pool of her own blood. I was trying desperately to get the bleeding to stop, but it just kept coming. And I knew there was no ER and I felt lost and afraid. If you have followed the Zoey Saga, you know that we were able to find a solution, and in fact, it was not as serious as I had thought. Two stitches placed by expert hands in a far away hospital stopped the blood and Zoey is doing fine. But sitting in my house, 13 hours away from that hospital, I knew that she could die and that it would be because of my choice. 

That is when the thoughts go through your head. When you realize that you chose to risk your life for the Gospel, but Zoey did not. As far as I can tell she is not even a believer, she does not even understand the value of the Gospel. And death for her might mean eternal separation from God. And I was afraid. 

Mighty David and Fear
I have very fond memories of my father talking to me about David and his mighty men as a child. Stories of mighty acts of valor, enemies defeated, and undeniable victory. This is the image that I have of my namesake, a great fighter among great fighters. The kind of man who stood bent over his friends as they died in pools of blood. And I imagined him sad, but unflinching, kind of a God-fearing Jack Bauer. So I am a bit surprised when I read something that David wrote in Psalm 56:
“When I am afraid I put my trust in you. In God whose word I praise, in God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can flesh do to me?” Psalm 56:3-4
Before, I had always thought of a little girl scared by a storm when I thought of this verse. But what we actually see here is a godly warrior, who had been seized by his enemies the Philistines and he was afraid. Maybe he was afraid of death. He certainly did not have all the revelation that we have about future hope in eternal life. Maybe it was torture, maybe he was afraid for his men. 

Where did his thoughts turn in that moment? Was he hoping in an ingenious escape plan? Did he trust his mighty men to overpower the guards and pursue violent revenge? No, that is not what we see here. When David was afraid, he put his trust in God. He says here, “What can flesh do to me?” I can think of a lot of things. I just read recently that the Boko Haram were burning children alive in Nigeria. Sounds pretty bad to me. But because of his faith in God, I believe that David thought of torture and violent death as what Paul calls “light and momentary affliction” (2 Corinthians 4:17) not worthy of being compared to the glory that we will one day see. 

I see myself in a similar situation as David. There may be some debate about this, but I think that America is pretty tough. We have a big army and are generally not afraid to use it. When I am at home, I feel like David surrounded by his mighty men. If I was to determine that I could not live in Cameroon due to my fear for my children, by default I would return to the States. In doing so, I would reveal that I am putting my trust in the wrong place. I would be trusting in a safer country and not in God. 

Just as David did not say, “When I am afraid I will trust in my mighty men,” I cannot say, “When I am afraid I will trust in the United States of America.” David is calling me not to return to my “safe zone,” but to trust in God. David thought he was worthy of trust, will I?

Trusting a God Who Did Not Spare His Son
God has a son, a son that he loves. In fact, the love that we have for our children is only a foggy mirror reflection of the love that he has for his son. He has loved his son from before there was time. Multiple times he lit up the sky when his son was on this earth to say “This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased.” God loves Jesus and yet, he led him to his death. Isaiah even tells us, “It was the will of God to crush him” (53:10). God the Father did not just “allow” it, or stand by and watch it. It was God’s will that his own son be crushed. Of course, it was not for no purpose. “He was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities” (53:5). God crushed his son for love. 

The truth is I trust a God who killed his son. I trust a God who did NOT prioritize the physical safety of his child. Instead he willingly lead him to death for a greater cause. I do not want my kids to die. We make them wear long sleeve shirts and bug spray to avoid mosquito bites. They are pretty much always within our sight and they have been trained to look out for one another and alert their parents if they see danger. I do not treat the physical safety of my children casually. But I believe (and I am raising my children to believe) that there are more important things than their lives. And for me to believe that, and for them to believe that, we must trust God. Trust him when he says our affliction is light and momentary. Trust him when he says that all things will work together for our good. Trust him when he says his Gospel is worth more than our life. Trust him when he says that we ought to love him more than we love our children. 

This is a choice that missionary parents make. It is a choice not to be controlled by fear. It is a choice to trust. Not to trust that God will take care of everything, and everything will be ok. We have no promise of that. But it is a choice to believe that God is good, even when (especially when) everything is NOT ok. It is a choice to believe that in the face of danger and death, we have nothing to fear. 

When I am afraid, I choose to trust. 

---

“O Lord my God, in you do I take refuge;
    save me from all my pursuers and deliver me”
Psalm 7:1