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, the 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.

Friday, August 17, 2018

Day #7: Pray for Wisdom in Money Matters

by Stacey

Mary T. Lederleitner in her book Cross Cultural Partnerships writes about how money matters cause many divisions in cross-cultural partnerships:
Cross-cultural partnerships are on the rise. They have become a primary method in which churches and organizations engage in global missions. Partners from different cultures and contexts start working together with the hope of accomplishing great things for the kingdom of God.
Yet despite their noble dreams and aspirations, working through cultural differences that surround money can become overwhelming at times. Over the years I have witnessed often that these cultural differences about how funds are utilized and accounted for cause cross-cultural partnerships to come unglued. When this happens, many relationships are ruptured and the witness of Christ is hindered (20).
That the Bible is translated is of monumental importance, but so is the how of how the Bible is translated. It costs money to pay consultants to check the drafts produced, it costs to pay national translators, not to mention the cost of producing audio and print versions of the Scriptures. Where the money comes from (i.e. the English speaking church in America and/or the Bakoum community) communicates something and how money is handled can further or hinder the cause of Bible translation. 
  • Pray that the "how" of funding would further the acceptability of the Bible as it is translated.
  • Pray that the Lord would give Dave and I incredible wisdom in dealing with financial issues within the project. Pray that we would use "unrighteous mammon" shrewdly for the advancement of the Kingdom.
  • Pray that the Bakoum would take ownership of the development of their language and that there would be buy-in on the front end and all throughout the project.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Day #6: Pray for Future Co-Workers

by Stacey

There is so much work to be done among the Bakoum and surrounding people groups. The efforts of Dave and I are but a drop in the bucket. We would love to see full-time literacy workers, someone to come start a Christian school, church planters, people to work with children, and medical workers. The people groups around us are also without the Scriptures. We simply need more life-long workers beside us in Cameroon.
  • Pray that the Lord would send out more laborers among the harvest in Eastern Cameroon
  • Pray that the Lord would send out Bible translators for our neighbors: The Baka, Pol, Bebil, and Mbodomo.
  • Pray for Richie and Tabitha Rice, who are planning on joining us in Cameroon. Pray that the Lord would provide for them life-long prayer and financial partners soon so they can come to the field.
  • Assuming the Lord will answer the prayer for more co-workers, pray for Gospel unity in ministry, love for one another, and a like-mindedness in methodology. 

To find more about the Rices and their future ministry, check out their blog: https://ricesincameroon.blogspot.com/.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Day #5: Pray for the Writing System and for Literacy

by Stacey

Working through the kinks of a writing system can be a very emotionally charged process (in some countries it has caused riots). Therefore, please pray that the process of proposing, testing, and implementing the writing system would be peaceful. Pray that the Bakoum writing system would be standardized and used.

Pray also for literacy. If we attain an excellent writing system, but this writing system is not taught, then it is nothing more than a trophy without any function. Pray that we would have a thriving literacy program - that we would have writers’ workshops, that we would train teachers with excellence, that the teachers would be faithful and competent, and that reading and writing would be popular among the Bakoum. 

We have heard that in many minority languages, once a writing system is developed, it is only used by 10% of the population (if that). Please pray that this would not be the case with the Bakoum, but that the writing system would be used and that many would be able to then transition into also reading and writing in French.