In just a few days, we will be packing up to leave our village so that we can spend 16 months in the States completing our MAs in Applied Linguistics / Bible Translation. As we pack up our suitcases, we are reminded of the thoughts and feelings that we had when we left America 4 years ago. We are coming to realize that many of the perspectives that we held to on the plane ride over have changed. For instance, we now realize that…
Language Learning is a Beast.
If you think about it, our children grow up hearing English from inside the womb and we start school them religiously the moment they are born. And STILL, after 7 years of being schooled in English, I still look at my kids regularly and say, “I’m sorry, I have no idea what you are saying. Could you please ask your question in a different way?” Why then would we expect to speak like an adult after only a couple years?
We have realized that speaking to and understanding others is a life’s task and all the promises on the Internet that one can learn a foreign language in 6 months are just lies.
The Role of Miracles Among Animistic Peoples.
The God that we know from reading the Bible loves to do miracles. Jesus came to heal the sick, give sight to the blind, and even raise the dead. So, coming to a place where there is almost no access to good medical care and the physical suffering is rampant, we came with hopeful expectations that God would show his power to this people in miraculous healings.
But what we must have overlooked in the Bible was the role of faith in the person being healed. People here believe in miracles, are eager for them. They want their sickness and sufferings relieved. But many of them want the miracles without the Jesus that calls them to take up their cross and follow him.
One of my neighbors “came to Christ” years ago through the Lord miraculously saving her from her abusive husband (she says that mid-attack he became paralyzed and could not move his feet to continue abusing her). But today she bears zero fruit of one who knows Christ and is steeped in the sins of this culture. She clearly never understood the Gospel, or never counted the cost of following Christ. People here are looking for miracles and prosperity without having to publicly confess their sin, bow the knee to Jesus, and obey all that he has commanded.
They are like the people in John 6 who came to Jesus for bread, but when promised them something greater (himself), they would not believe.
They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.” Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe" (John 6:34-35).Jesus was well aware of those who would pay him lip service for self gain without hearts that loved him. And when this happened, he refused to do miracles. In Nazareth, “He did not do many mighty works there, because of their unbelief” (Matthew 13:58). Because of the hardness of peoples' hearts and their lack of belief that he was what would really satisfy them, he left the sick in their sick beds.
So, we now offer our neighbors prayer and give them any medications that we have that could help them, but we do not consider God healing them to be the greatest demonstration of his power. We believe that the greatest demonstration of the power of Jesus is to have our neighbors burn all their cultic fetishes and witch potions that could “cure” them and then come and worship Jesus, whether he chooses to heal them or not. The greatest demonstration of his power would be to take a people that just try to manipulate him and their dead ancestors to get good health and make them hope in the resurrection. A question I have asked people before is, “We all know that Jesus has the power to heal you, but will you praise him if he doesn’t?” May the Lord raise up a submitted people here that loves him more than health and wealth.
The Lies of Animism.
Along the same vein, when we came to Cameroon we were really open to the idea that Satan works differently in different parts of the world. And we have heard that often, in majority world contexts, he works through demon possession and supernatural manifestations in order to hold people in bondage to fear. We are Americans who believe in scientific explanations for things, but we also know that the demonic realm is not necessarily subject to the same scientific laws that we are (for instance, they are invisible). We did not come over here as skeptics, but came ready to take any story of demonic manifestations at face value.
This has all changed. We now have come to believe that Satan does not have to be nearly as dramatic in order to hold people in bondage. This is because many people just believe everything they hear. For example, a person may come from a hunting trip in the bush and claim that he experienced a ghost. His testimony is accepted without doubt as our neighbors rush to find traditional methods of protecting themselves from this apparition. Perhaps the original encounter was supernatural, but the reality of that experience has nothing to do with the reactions of the people. They believe the testimony, feel an incredible amount of fear, and (with minor effort on behalf of the devil and his angels) hundreds of people are driven deeper into the bondage of traditional religion.
Another example is that many people here believe that in the uterus of some women, there live monsters that can come out during sexual intercourse and trouble the man. So far, no one I know has ever seen one such monster, but many are afraid of them and seek whatever means necessary (often involving witchcraft) to protect themselves from them. It is superstitions like these that send people on hour-long hikes to find special leaves that will kill the monsters instead of coming to our Bible studies.
We now see our role here is to call people to repent of these fears, to put their trust in Christ, and to live as children trusting in a loving father. And if the Lord wants to use the curse of some village witch to kill me, then so be it. I am going to Heaven. May he liberate them from their superstitions so they will have the time to learn to read and write and read the Bible as it comes out.
A More Realistic View of Missions.
And finally, we have developed a more realistic view of missions. The Lord may have used John Piper’s passionate sermons to get us to the field, but we have found that any missionary zeal is often sapped by one round of malaria. We have learned that missions is a daily putting of one foot in front of the other. Missions is years of doing things that do not necessarily feel spiritual (like memorizing all the words for their different kinds of ants…), praying that, one day, the name of Christ will be exalted here. We are convinced that missions is 98% raw endurance and 2% zeal.
All in all, we are thankful that just as the grace of the cross is available to the people we are ministering to, so the grace of the cross is available to us. We have realized our frailty and finiteness and our need for our Savior more than ever during our first term. May he continue to lead us and our brothers and sisters in wisdom day by day, year by year.