Monday, April 9, 2018

Squabbling over Kingdoms of Straw: War and Faithlessness

by Stacey

I’ve been heavy-hearted recently. Heavy hearted for the political unrest occurring in “our” region of the world: Cameroon, Africa. And heavy hearted for the “unrest” among my four second-graders. There are likely grave injustices in Cameroon that have gone unaddressed for years and now the alleged oppressed are lashing out towards the alleged oppressor: the government. Some are expressing concerns peaceably and others are taking this opportunity to burn villages and murder the innocent. Thankfully we do not have any burning or anything of the sort among our children, nor do we have (physical) murder. And yet, there is nonetheless no peace.

As people all over the world deal with the squabbling children and grieve deeply in the face of war, Scripture speaks and answers the question, “Why war?”

Why War?
Selfish ambition.
James 3:16 says, “For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice.” I think this verse is a sober call to civil rulers to think long and hard before they redirect tax money into their own bank accounts. I think it should open the eyes of presidents all the way down to beat cops that extortion, favors, and white lies will open Pandora's box to unmanageable people. Where there is selfish ambition mixed with power, there will be a disorderly country.

In the same way, where members of a society are out to “get theirs,” the society will fall apart. Children fighting over a teddy bear will lead to ripping off arms and legs and a teddy bear that neither of them end up wanting. A child rushing to eat the cookie before his brother gets to it means that he won’t even taste it as he smugly gulps it down. Where rulers, where children, where parents, where citizens are looking out for “number one,” God assures them that there will be disorder and a reign of evil. And yet this warning is not heeded, because is it not believed.

Faithlessness.
The offended and the offender alike want “the good life” and yet the Bible says that the way to a full life is not through seeking what is good for oneself, but instead it is by speaking the truth, it is by turning from evil, doing good, and seeking peace (1 Peter 3:10-11). I wonder if this counsel was given and heeded in cabinet meetings across the world how revolutionary it would be. I wonder how different the world would be if there were more political leaders that put aside their selfish ambitions and made it their goal to say what is true, reject evil, and spend their lives pursuing good and peace. I understand that it is almost laughable to say that if we spend our lives not seeking our own good, that we will find the good that we always wanted. And that is why God calls us to take this promise by faith.

God also calls the world to seek a better kingdom. I believe there are reasons to go to war. I believe there are occasions where such an evil may hold back even greater evil. And yet, war should never be to replace the Kingdom that can only be found in Heaven, where God is the perfect ruler. Jesus reminded people to not accumulate houses, cars, and jewels on earth because none of it would last. Instead, he called people to send it all ahead to Heaven where there are no more thieves, no more tax collectors, no more lovers of violence (Matt 6:19-20). He also made the promise that those who live for their own benefit, he will humiliate, but those who humble themselves will be the exalted ones in his Kingdom.

How many wars could be avoided with a fresh vision of the streets of gold promised to those who worship Christ as king? How much deeper would contentment under an unjust government run with an understanding that King Jesus will judge the oppressor? Without this vision, we are left to squabble over houses of straw because that is all we think there is. In the words of CS Lewis:
We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased. – The Weight of Glory, 26
We are too easily pleased when we settle for being rulers of the little kingdoms we set up for ourselves on earth. They are all temporary and will always disappoint. The little girl who cuts in line because she insists on putting herself first while everyone behind her is despising her is missing out on the nail-scared hands who would’ve taken her from the end of the line and made her first for all to see as they smile in admiration. She is far too easily pleased. And those who kill to either get power or maintain it are forgetting that all power belongs to God and his Son is coming back soon to take what has always been rightfully his.

There is a true and lasting justice coming to those who accept him now as their King. There are riches. There is honor. May this vision lead many to put down their weapons.

Monday, April 2, 2018

God is not Concerned with Our Efficiency

by Dave

Stacey and I got to know a very kind missionary when we first went to Cameroon on a vision trip. He allowed us to stay with him while we were in the capital, spent hours talking to us about his plans, and helped us a lot with our paperwork. As I got to know Shawn I learned that he had some learning disabilities. It took him a bit longer to get through college than average. But he finished. Somewhere along the way he decided to pursue the life of a missionary, leaving behind his family and their family business. It took him a bit longer to raise support than average. But Shawn was persistent, hard working, and he never gave up. And after many years of preparation, and planning, and support raising, and training, the Lord brought Shawn to Cameroon to work as the field administrator. We met him, I think, around a year into his first term and he really was thriving. Life is more challenging in Cameroon, but he rose to the challenge. And then, a few months later, Shawn died of respiratory complications.

Being that you, my reader, probably did not know Shawn, after a brief moment of shock and a little sorrow, what you probably are thinking (at least if you are an American) is: "What a waste! Why in the world would God allow this man to spend YEARS of his life and thousands of dollars of supporters' money to do less than two years of ministry in Cameroon?" There is an underlying concern in these questions that finds its way into a lot of American conversations about missionary work: efficiency. When I hear people in America talking about missions, they are often looking for the most cost-effective, time-effective, efficient way to do missions. This has led some to reject the sending out of Western missionaries altogether. And why? Because there is literally no more expensive way to reach people of other nations than to send an American family. For us to go to live among another culture, we need years of preparation, language learning, etc. We have to figure out how to live in a country in which we have basically no experience. And we often are far more concerned with health and comfort than any other nationality.

So, why would we do it? Why would we send Americans to do the work of missions at all? There are a lot of answers, but here is one: GOD IS NOT CONCERNED WITH EFFICIENCY!

This is a big claim, but I believe I can make a biblical case for it. There are three things I notice in the Great Commission that leads me to this belief:

1. He called us to go
Jesus told us (first his disciples and through them us) to GO. I know, I know, it's a participle. But read HERE if you need some persuasion that he actually was telling us to go. Jesus told the disciples to go to: "Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth" (Acts 1:8). Jesus told Jews to go to Samaria! The Jews did not have the best relationship with the Samaritans, in fact generally speaking Jews hated Samaritans and Samaritans hated Jews. But Jesus didn't say that they should try to connect with the Samaritan woman and see if they could fund her to reach out to her own people. He told them to go to Samaria. This is not the most efficient strategy, but it was the one that he chose.

But he did not only tell them to go to Samaria...

2. He called us to go to all nations
Jesus actually told us that we should go to all nations. John Piper says the following:
 “God’s call for missions in Scripture cannot be defined in terms of crossing cultures to maximize the total number of individuals saved. Rather, God’s will for missions is that every people group be reached with the testimony of Christ and that a people be called out for his name from all the nations” (Piper 2010: 179).
Piper uses an illustration, for another purpose, of two ships that are sinking. A rescue team comes to the first ship and begins to save people out of the water. In doing so, they look afar and see the other ship sinking and hear the cries of the drowning. Though compassion and love would no doubt cause deep anguish in the hearts of the rescuers, there is no reason for the to stop saving the first ship's passengers to move on to the second. From the perspective of efficiency, they would probably save more if they stayed at the first wreck rather than losing some people while they travelled to the second. In fact, I believe that rescuers are trained to save as many as they can, and would likely stay at the first wreck until they thought it would be more efficient to move onto the second.

But this is not how Jesus called us to minister. From the perspective of efficiency, it makes more sense to work with those whom you are most alike. It makes more sense to minister in your heart language. It makes more sense to stay somewhere where you can fund yourself, rather than having to rely on the funds of other Christians. Simply, it is more efficient to stay than to go. Following the method of using us to spread the message, the most efficient way I can think of is this:
  1. Work and minister in America to Americans.
  2. Bring people both saved and unsaved to America.
  3. Evangelize them, disciple them, send them back to their countries.
But this is not how Jesus called us to minister. He called us to go to all nations. He called us to go to places where they speak other languages. He called us to go to places that we cannot even get to without a few thousand dollars in plane tickets. He called us to go to places where we would die (and many have) unless we took malaria medicine EVERYDAY. And he called us to go not knowing the day of our own death. But don't miss something very important...

3. He called us
The whole method is inefficient. God is all powerful, has no lack of resources, and is all wise. And who did he choose to take the Gospel to the nations? He chose soft meaty creatures that have no protective shell and can die when an insect bites them. He chose people that stop learning language really well at the age of 18. He chose people who can't even get along well enough with one another to stay on the field (the number one reason missionaries leave the field is conflict with other missionaries). He chose me. 

Can you think of a more efficient way to do this? I can. I have always thought it would be amazing if every tree grew with the Gospel written in its wood. You peel off a layer, Gospel in Chinese. Another layer, Gospel in French. Another layer: Bakoum. Every tree, in the whole world. Could you imagine. It would be so wonderfully efficient. But this is not how Jesus called us to minster. He did not send a call out to every tree, or fish, or even angel. Jesus sent us. 

When I look at Shawn's life, I do not see a waste. I do not see a mistake. What I see is beautiful inefficient obedience. I see faithfulness that I envy and a final impact still to be fully known. And I think that if we look at such faithfulness and we think it is a waste, we have a long way to go.

I don't believe that God cares about our efficiency. 

Before you yell at me, I don't think we should be wasteful. I don't think we should spend money and time recklessly. Jesus honored the servant that took the money from his master and increased it five-fold (Matthew 25:14-30). I think it is good to strategize and plan, but never at the cost of obedience. If our strategy and planning and desire for efficiency drive us to ignoring the plain command of God, we need to rethink our priorities. Jesus said to his disciples:
"Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20)
Stacey and I have spent the last 13 years preparing to translate the Bible. We have studied the Bible, linguistics, French, Bakoum, and linguistics again. We are planning to begin the actual translation project in August. We know what book we want to start with (John), we know how we want to translate (faithfully and with much study and prayer), we know where we want to translate, and we know that we could die tomorrow. And if I die tomorrow, I pray you will not wonder why the waste. I pray you will not try to measure my efficiency, wondering if all that money and time could have been better spent. But I pray you will ask: was he faithful? Was he about his father's work? And if the answer is yes, I pray that you will trust God to use my efforts the way he wants, for his glory.

-------
Reference
Piper, John. Let the nations be glad, 3rd ed. MI: Baker Academic.
Also, to read more about Shawn's life: http://haretranslation.blogspot.com/2011/05/student-friend-colleague.html.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

All Safe and Blessed: A Tribute to a Sister (Not) Lost




by Stacey

Several years ago, a missionary from Burkina Faso came to Eastern Cameroon to tell people about Jesus. He lived in a city called Bertoua and while he was there he met a young lady named Audrey. He shared the Gospel with her and she believed. However, when Audrey shared the Gospel with her mother, Carine, she rejected it. She didn’t believe that Jesus was enough, but instead believed that it was her good works that would make her acceptable before God. Through many prayers and conversations, Audrey won her mother to the Lord. Audrey and Carine then began to worship with the pastor, Roger, and their small church. They found riches in Christ and yet they were facing financial hardship on earth.

As is the custom in our region in Cameroon, when a woman is widowed, the family of her deceased husband comes to reclaim all of “his” possessions. The custom is that all that the husband owned was his, and the wife shared no ownership of his possessions. Therefore, the family has the right to take everything from the wife. Carine had lost her husband and so the family came and took all that she owned, even her clothes, leaving her, her daughter Audrey, and her granddaughter almost destitute.

So the man that led them to Christ hired Carine to do odd jobs around his house. She was incredibly grateful, but then this pastor felt called to go serve in another part of Africa.

Around this time, we showed up in Cameroon and ended up renting a home from Roger. We felt instant community and like-mindedness with him both in our common faith in Christ and in our desire to see Eastern Cameroon come to worship Jesus. He recommended to us that we hire Carine to come help us in our home with meal preparation and cleaning, and so we did. We built her a house in our village and she worked in our home for about two years. It was a good two years for her and a good two years for us.

Blessed
Carine, you could tell, felt a little uncomfortable coming to work for “les blancs” (white people) but soon Dave’s teasing reassured her that it was HER that we cared about, not the cleanliness of our home. Anytime she dropped something or broke something, Dave would come into the kitchen and teasingly tell her that when she was angry she could come talk to him and didn’t need to throw things on the floor. “Monsieur David!” she would scold him while giggling.

We also teased with her because she would ask me how to do things in our kitchen and after I said, “I don’t know, let me go ask Dave” a few hundred times, she would just roll her eyes and throw up her hands. One time she said, “Madame Amélie (my name over in Africa), if you were married to an African man, he would have the right to divorce you for how you cook!” Then she would throw her head back and laugh.

Not only would she throw up her hands at my domestic incompetence, but she simply could not understand why I would fill up my house with “meat” from the bush and give this “meat” names (the concept of a “pet” is somewhat foreign over there). We had a pet western tree hyrax at one time that would hide behind whatever she was cleaning and scare her to death when she saw him. She would scream out “Madame Amélie!!” He also liked to stand on her feet when she would least expect it. She had to work around my pet bunny and at one time 10 cats. We always joked with her that the pets would drive her to quit. And she would just smile and shake her head and say, “No, no, no.”

To our kids she was auntie as she would pat them on the backs when they threw up in the toilet and whisper prayers under her breath throughout the day when they were in bed sick. She would tell me when my skirts were too short and chase away the neighborhood kids when they were interrupting mine and Dave’s studies.

Although she was 10-15 years older than me, when we hired her, I became a type of adopted mother to her. She would bring me her bleeding granddaughter to bandage and bring over the same granddaughter when she was misbehaving and needed to “have a talking to” from “Monsieur David.” She looked to us to care for her and her family like a daughter would look to her mother.

An unexpected loss
When we left Cameroon, we left Carine in charge of our home and called her every few months to check in with her. The last time we talked, she said she wasn’t feeling well, but we had no idea that would be the last time we would speak to her. I am not sure how she died, but the past few months she had been losing weight and been getting sicker and sicker. Then this morning, we received word that she had passed away. We are in shock.

Losing Carine is like losing a live-in aunt, and yet, we trust that this was her God-ordained time to go home. We grieve with her daughter and granddaughter and grieve that we won’t get to see her again in this life and yet we rejoice that she is with Jesus. I praise God for the missionary that came from Burkina Faso to tell her about Jesus Christ and I praise God that she was in our lives for a time and like our son Kaden said, “We’ll see her again in Heaven.” I praise God that Carine is far far away from the disease, the poverty, the suffering, and the death that was all too common in her life. I praise God that malaria and suffering will be but a faint memory for her and that she is safe and blessed in the arms of Jesus.

And in August, when we return to Cameroon, there will be a big gaping hole without Carine there and yet we pray that there will be many many more in Eastern Cameroon who Christ will claim as his own in the days to come.

Please pray for her daughter Audrey and granddaughter Estrella that she left behind - that the suffering they are walking through would refine Audrey's faith and cause her to yearn for the pleasures of being with God in Heaven more and more.

Monday, February 26, 2018

The Gospel and the "Noble Savage"

by Dave

In the final book in the Chronicles of Narnia, there is a great battle between those Narnians who follow Aslan and those Calormenes who follow a god named Tash. Aslan (a great lion, who we first encountered as he created Narnia by singing it into existence) is a thinly veiled image of Christ. Tash is a horrid bird like creature that smells of death, and could symbolize any number of false gods. An ape and a donkey joined together with a tisroc (a leader of the Calormene people) and claim that Aslan and Tash are actually the same god. Of course, in the end there is a great battle and their falsehoods are made manifest. When the Pevensies find themselves at the end of the story in Aslan's country, they are surprised to find Emeth, a Calormene, sitting under a tree.

Emeth, explained that he too was surprised to find himself there. He said when he first arrived, he met Aslan and was understandably afraid. But he said, "Nevertheless, it is better to see the Lion and die than to be Tisroc of the world and live and not to have seen him." But rather than killing him, Aslan "bent down his golden head and touched my forehead with his tongue and said, 'Son thou art welcome.'" But Emeth replied:
"'Alas, Lord, I am no son of thine but the servant of Tash.' He answered, 'Child, all the service thou hast done to Tash, I account as service done to me.' Then by reasons of my great desire for wisdom and understanding, I overcame my fear and questioned the Glorious One and said, 'Lord, is it then true, as the Ape said, that thou and Tash are one?' The Lion growled so that the earth shook (but his wrath was not against me) and said, 'It is false. Not because he and I are one, but because we are opposites, I take to me the services which thou hast done to him. For I and he are of such different kinds that no service which is vile can be done to me, and none which is not vile can be done to him. Therefore, if any man swear by Tash and keep his oath for the oath's sake, it is by me that he has truly sworn, though he know it not, and it is I who reward him. And if any man do a cruelty in my name, then, though he says the name Aslan, it is Tash whom he serves and by Tash his deed is accepted. Dost thou understand, Child?' I said, 'Lord, thou knowest how much I understand.' But I said also (for the truth constrained me), 'Yet I have been seeking Tash all my days.' 'Beloved,' said the Glorious One, 'unless thy desire had been for me thou wouldst not have sought so long and so truly. For all find what they truly seek.'" Lewis, C. S. The Last Battle: The Chronicles of Narnia (pp. 188-189). 
So, the Calormene was able to enter Aslan's country (i.e. Heaven) because he had been faithful in his worship of Tash. His good deeds (which he did in Tash's name) were counted to him as righteousness because all good deeds belong to Aslan and not Tash. This is of course fiction. It is a story about talking lions, beavers, and British children. This is not the Bible. However, as far as I can tell, this imaginary scene was drawn from the real-world theology of Lewis, which is not an uncommon one. The idea is that there are people among the nations who have never had the chance to truly know Jesus, but they are accepted by God anyway, because of a faithfulness to what they did know. No one uses the term now, but in the past such people have been referred to as "Noble Savages," living without knowledge of Christ, yet also not distant from their Creator.

Lewis is a fantastic writer, and this view is, for a number of reasons, appealing. However, at the end of the day, I believe that it falls short of the biblical teaching. There are three reasons I believe that we should reject this view, based on Scripture:

1. No one is faithful
"There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one." (Romans 3:10-12)
The Bible is hardly ambiguous when it comes to the state of man apart from God. None of us are good, not even one. None of us understands, we have all turned aside. And the Bible has a word for people who are in this state: worthless.

In the real world, I find this is true on numerous levels. The reality is that no one is by nature faithful to God's system. But beyond this, they are not even faithful to their own system. Let me give you three examples:
  • Let's think about us Christians for a moment. We believe in and love Jesus. Yet, we fall short of the system we have bought into. We still sin, disobeying God and hurting one another. If we, Spirit-indwelt Christians, still fall short of our religions expectations, why would we believe people in any other religious system would do any better?
  • Among the Kwakum, in our village, there is a strong emphasis on generosity and never withholding aid from someone when you can give it. And yet, they find ways to hide money, or dodge friends that might ask for it. And this causes fights and quarrels that often end in violence. 
  • Even among the non-religious, there are still values and standards which are upheld as important. I worked with a man who claimed to be an atheist in America. He was a staunch feminist and believed that women should be held in high esteem (even perhaps higher than a man). And yet, on more than one occasion he told me about how he had fought with his wife, yelling at her and hurting her feelings, which ultimately caused him to feel great shame. 
If we say that the standard for the non-believing is faithfulness to their own system, we find that all have fallen short of that too. Had he existed in the real world, Emeth would have a great problem, and it would not merely be growing up with misunderstanding about God. Like you and me, Emeth would be a sinner, violating not only God's commands, but his own.

2. Good works do not save (especially not works on behalf of another god)
"For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast." (Ephesians 2:8-9)
Of course, this problem is not secret. The Bible lets us know that we are sinners and are therefore distant from God. The truth is, every single person in the world needs to be saved. And God, in his infinite wisdom and grace, has offered to us a path for salvation: grace through faith.

When Emeth is talking to Aslan in the story above, Aslan points to Emeth's works to explain his presence in His country (i.e. Heaven). So, the difference between Emeth and any other Calormene was that Emeth lived for Tash the way he should have for Aslan. He kept his oaths, for instance, which Aslan considered a service to himself. But is this how God sees service offered to other gods? Listen to what God said to the Israelites who were trying to call upon him while still serving idols:
Will you defile yourselves after the manner of your fathers and go whoring after their detestable things? When you present your gifts and offer up your children in fire, you defile yourselves with all your idols to this day. And shall I be inquired of by you, O house of Israel? As I live, declares the Lord God, I will not be inquired of by you. (Ezekiel 20:30-31)
Does that sound like Aslan? No! God says that when the Israelites were worshipping another god, they were whoring themselves, going after detestable things. He told them that they defiled themselves. The Bible teaches us that God does not consider acts of service to other gods service to himself. Instead he hates them. Any act that is done in God's name or in the name of any other god, that is not done in faith, is nothing but a "filthy rag" before Him (Isaiah 64:6).

One may respond to this by saying that the Emeths of the world are acting in faith. They are doing righteous deeds on behalf of God, they just do not know his name. Elsewhere, CS Lewis said, "We know that no man can be saved except through Christ; we do not know that only those who know Him can be saved through Him." But again, we have to ask the question: "Is this what the Bible says?"

3. There is a need for conscious faith in Christ
"And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved." (Acts 4:12)
There is much that could be said in regards to the requirements for salvation in the Bible. Clearly there were many people saved in the Old Testament that never knew Jesus' name. However, it is also very clear that there is a shift in the New Testament. There were many mysteries that were elucidated through Christ, and through the teaching of his disciples. The requirement of salvation has always been focused on faith in what God has revealed. Abraham was told that he would have many offspring in Genesis 12. But God did not immediately give him a son. And in Genesis 15, Abraham expresses his angst and confusion, crying out, "O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?" (verse 2). But the Lord assures him that he will have a child of his own, and not only that, but as many descendants as there are stars (vv. 3-5). Then in verse 6, Abraham, "believed the LORD and he counted it to him as righteousness." Abraham had faith, not only that God existed, but that he would keep his promises. It seems clear to me that had Abraham continued to believe in God, but did not believe that he would keep his promise for an heir, that it would not have been counted to him as righteousness. Salvation (being counted as righteous) has always come through faith in what God has revealed.

And, amazingly, God has revealed himself fully now, through Jesus Christ. The stakes have been raised and there is now salvation in no one else. One can only be saved through Christ. Christ himself made this plain when he said: "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:6).

Of course, some might say this can still happen for those who have never heard of Christ. Lewis implied in the quote above that the Emeths of the world could be in fact saved, and through Christ, they just do not know it. One answer to this is that, again, salvation is through faith, not works. No matter how many good things people do, they can only be saved through faith. But further, the Bible teaches us that it is conscious faith in Christ. One of the clear indications that this is true in the New Testament is found in Romans 10:13-15:
For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!”
The manner in which someone can be saved according to this passage is through calling on the name of the Lord. Paul sets up conditions on that, though. In order to call they must believe. In order to believe they must hear. In order to hear someone has to preach. In order to preach people need to be sent. One cannot be saved, then, unless they hear, believe, and call upon the Lord. Paul was not out teaching a message that the Gentiles were saved, they just didn't know it. Instead, God called Paul to go to the Gentiles and tell them that they should "repent and turn to God" (Acts 26:20).

Those of us Gentiles who are now saved did not need a mere course correction, a revelation of a new name for the God we already worshipped. We needed a life change. We were called out of darkness and into his marvelous light (1 Peter 2:9). We were once dead and now are alive (Ephesians 2:1-10). And we are going out and calling the nations to nothing less.

At the end of the day, the "Noble Savage" perspective has a wrong view of man, a wrong view of salvation, and a wrong view of faith. There is no man who is faithful, not to God's system and not even to his own. And salvation has nothing to do with faithfulness to a system, but instead, salvation comes by faith. And this is not just faith in a god, this is conscious faith in Jesus Christ. Without this message, missions is crazy. Missions is hard, time and resource consuming, discouraging, and dangerous. If the nations are saved without hearing, it is not worth it. But I don't believe that the Bible is vague in this area. And my ONLY hope for the Kwakum, and all the unsaved of the world, is that they would know this Jesus and his salvation. And if their only hope is in hearing, missions is not only worth it, it is necessary.

If you want to read more about this topic, I recommend John Piper's chapter: "The Supremacy of Christ as the Conscious Focus of All Saving Faith" in Let the Nations Be Glad: The Supremacy of God in Missions. There you will find a more thorough discussion (though with decidedly fewer Lewis quotations) of this issue.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Self-Reliance in Parenting and Missions: Reflections from Nevius

by Stacey

The miraculous cannot be brought about through human striving or effort. The sacredness of preaching the Gospel both within the context of missions and of parenting is nothing short of asking God to take a pile of dry bones and make them into an army of committed soldiers.

The Teachings of Missionary to China, John Nevius
John Nevius, born in New York in 1829, was a missionary to China who spoke out against the missions methodologies of his day. At that time, missionaries were employing national Chinese helpers to go out and preach the Gospel in order to reach as many people as possible for Christ.

Nevius objected to this practice because he saw that many of the employed preachers were expressing interest in the ministry position mainly for the consistent income and not as much for the salvation of their fellow man. Further, Nevius was concerned that these paid evangelists were being sent out before they had developed the Christian character that was necessary to go along with the message. This approach produced numbers to be sent back home (X number of people heard the Gospel, X number of people prayed to receive Christ, etc) but, he argued, this approach would not lead to an independent, healthy church.

He therefore encouraged his fellow missionaries to avoid appointing new converts to the positions of leadership and to let all initiative in evangelism be incited by the Spirit in the hearts of the believers. He also exhorted them to faithfully teach “the whole counsel of God” in order to raise up qualified elders (even if it took decades…). He implored them to consider that:

Labor will not guarantee results

A desire to “frantically evangelize” the world and see hard numbers come out of this initiative should not be the goal. Nevius says that the seeds that we sow in this life may not yield results for another 50 years or more: 
It will be nearly fifty years hence to determine with positive certainty what an individual life has or has not accomplished. Only in eternity will every man’s work be fully made manifest of what sort it is. Results of apparently great importance may attract attention and secure general commendation, and yet prove only temporary and illusory. On the other hand, a good book or a word spoken in season, may produce important results, though the world may never be able to trace them to their true source (Nevius, 79).
If there are two missionaries laboring and one is yielding a harvest, and the other is not, that does not necessarily mean that the first missionary is more faithful than the second; nor does it mean that the second missionary’s ministry should be suspect. The Spirit blows where he wishes, and we do not know from where he is coming or to where he is going. He may choose to wait 50 years or more to bring life to the seeds of the Gospel that were sown into hearts.

And if the missionary is tempted to think that the fruit comes from his labors, God may very well humble him.

If we are self-reliant, God may delay the results

Nevius says:
It is so natural for us to feel that with a good knowledge of the language, sincere earnestness and sympathy with the people, together with prudence, common sense, zeal, hard work and perseverance, sooner or later great spiritual results must certainly be accomplished. This is by no means the case. Our labors may combine all the above conditions and yet be fruitless in the conversion of souls.
If we are cherishing a feeling of self-dependence in any form, God will probably humble us before He will use us. We must feel that if anything is accomplished it will be by the presence and power of God’s Holy Spirit, and be ready to ascribe all the glory to Him. Otherwise He will probably leave us to ourselves to learn the lesson of our own weakness (Nevius, 81).
With a lack of fruit, the missionary can easily turn inward and wonder what he is doing wrong. With an abundance of fruit, the missionary may be tempted to attribute his success to his fluency in the language and apparent love for the people. And yet, the first missionary may be the one who is most sincere, most pure of heart, most faithful in the eyes of God. It is easy to think that God’s work is like an equation: If I do A,B,C, then E is a certain outcome. Although the Lord uses means, he cannot be bullied into doing what we think he ought just because we’ve been laboring.

The Right Response: Humility
In Missions
Sometimes a decade of labors in support raising, language acquisition, cultural understanding goes before the first time a missionary is able to share the Gospel with someone who has never heard of Christ. Through those years of striving, the hope of people hearing, believing and being saved is what motivates the missionary to keep pressing on.

Then, when the message is finally preached, oftentimes the person’s response is “Naw.”

The missionary thinks to himself, “What!? I have done all this to get you this message and your response is ‘Naw’?!”

It is at this point that the Lord reminds the missionary that even if the message is preached well in an understandable way, it is still HIM who has mercy on whom he has mercy and hardens whom he hardens. Planting and watering the seeds of the Gospel does not guarantee that the Lord will give growth to what is planted. This reality ought to humble us as missionaries to our knees to ask God to do what only he can do: Send his Spirit to make dead men alive.

This call to humility can also be applied in parenting.

In Parenting
John 1:12-13 says, 

But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
Just as a missionary cannot rely on his own efforts to cause someone to be born again, neither can the Christian parent rely on his own efforts to ensure his child will be saved. The long hours of language learning do not make worshippers and the long hours of conversation, correction, and warnings do not make children love Jesus. It is the Spirit of God who makes children love Jesus.

The other day one of our children was tormenting another child at school and the teacher pulled him aside and said, “You can’t spit in people’s faces and hit them with your lunch box. Why are you doing that?” He looked right at her and said, “Because it is fun.”


It’s hard to admit, but the heart of the unsaved think sin is fun. My son thinks seeing other people angry is enjoyable. Now, I may be able to get him to do his chores, but that deep evil desire in his heart can only be changed by a miracle of God. My will does not change his heart, but instead it is the will of God that can overcome a heart that is dead to him.

A Question
A question for missionaries and a question for parents alike is: In what are we hoping? Are we hoping in our missions methodologies to change a culture? Are we hoping in our nice parenting charts to make our children love what is good? Are we hoping in our polished Gospel presentations in the language to cut people to the heart? Are we trusting in our persuasive arguments to win our children over to our side?

It is true that parenting charts and Gospel presentations (with all the tones exactly right) may be the tool in the hand of God to reach the heart, but ultimately it is not the tool that is doing the work – it is the skillful hand of the surgeon that makes a surgery a success.

God breaks us. He humbles us. He teaches us to not rely on ourselves. And then when he chooses to work through our feeble efforts in parenting and in missions we cannot but ascribe all glory to him. And until that day, we work, we labor, we pray and we say, “For God alone my soul waits in silence” (Psalm 62:1).



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Nevius, John. The Planting and Development of Missionary Churches
Tucker, Ruth. From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya: A Biographical History of Christian Missions

Monday, January 29, 2018

"If your God is so smart, why can't he speak our language?" The Life and Legacy of Cameron Townsend



by Stacey
“Understanding Scripture in a language other than the heart language in which we think and experience emotion is like trying to eat soup with a fork. You can get a little taste, but you cannot get nourished.” ― William Cameron Townsend 

William Cameron Townsend, or Cam, was one of the most influential missions leaders in the last two centuries. He founded three organizations: Wycliffe Bible Translators, the Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL), and the Jungle Aviation and Radio Service (JAARS). These three have the purpose of promoting Bible translation among minority language groups. 
His Life

Cam Townsand was born in 1896 in Southern California and attended a Presbyterian school in  Los Angeles with aspirations to be a minister and go overseas. During Townsend’s sophomore year, the Student Volunteer Movement’s lead visionary, John R. Mott, visited his college and challenged students to give their lives to the evangelization of the world. Cameron met with Mott and joined the Student Volunteer Movement, taking one more concrete step towards a life devoted to the Great Commission.

But, there was a problem. He had previously joined the National Guard in 1917, and was prepared to serve his country in the war. But then someone persuaded him to meet with a missionary on furlough named Stella Zimmerman. When he, and a friend who was with him, told her that they were planning to go out with the National Guard, she said

“You cowards! Going to war where a million other men will go and leaving us women to do the Lord’s work alone! You are needed in Central America!” (Hefley & Hefley, 26).

Cam didn’t like being called a coward and thus decided to obey his SVM commitment and go to the mission field instead of to the battlefield. He put in a request to the National Guard to be allowed to go overseas as a missionary instead of as a soldier. To his surprise, his commander officer heartily agreed to let him go.
The Beginnings

In 1917, Townsend started passing out Bibles in Guatemala among the Cakchiquel Indians. Many of the people he came in contact with had no idea who Jesus was. Whenever he would ask them, they would say “There is no Jesus who lives in our village; maybe he lives in the next village.” One day while he was passing out Bibles, Townsend struck up a conversation with an Indian man about God’s sovereignty and how all the answers to life’s questions can be found in the Bible. The Indian retorted back, “If your God is so smart, why can’t he speak my language?” Cameron had no words.
The question asked by the Indian haunted Townsend. Why wasn’t there a Bible translation in the Caqchikel language? This question tormented him to the point that he resolved to live among them long term so that he could translate the Bible into their language. 


So Cam remained in Central America and spent years pulling his hair trying to understand this difficult language. One day, this discouraged translator was visited by an American archeologist who encouraged him to stop trying to fit the Cakchiquel language into an English-language structure, but instead to simply describe what he was seeing. Cam followed this advice and started to look for patterns within the language. It was organized differently than English was, but it was nonetheless still organized.

This advice set him on a trajectory of learning the language and would eventually lead him to starting a linguistics program to help other future translators do the same. Townsand labored among the Cakchiquels until the New Testament was completed. When that work was finally finished, a fellow missionary sat him down and said, “Now that you’ve finished the New Testament, your work is just beginning…You know their language and their ways. They believe in you. Go back and train more preachers” (Hefley & Hefley, 66).

Townsand, however, did not heed this counsel but instead broke with this mission agency. His heart burned for the many other tribes who were without Scripture at all and so he turned his attentions towards reaching them through mobilization and training efforts rather than settling down in one tribe to plant a church.

In 1934, Townsend started Camp Wycliffe as a training ground for future Bible translators. The camp was on a farm where the trainees could get used to living in places where there was no air conditioning, and no chairs for that matter. The students sat on barrels while learning the art of how to learn and describe unwritten languages.

This particular group of students was praying that they would have the opportunity to serve the various Indian tribes in Mexico. There were two women, Eunice Pike and Florence Hansen who wanted to live in a Mazateco village. One of Cam’s friends disapproved of Cam allowing these two women to be sent out alone into the village because he had heard that there was a lot of killing. Cam respected the opinion of his friend and shared his concerns with the two women. The two women looked at Cam in surprise and said “'Why, don’t you believe God can take care of us?” (Hefley & Hefley, 99). Taken aback, Cam replied, “If you put it that way, go ahead.” And so the two women set out to translate the Bible into the complicated Mazateco language.
His Passion that wouldn't Die

After 50 years of ministry, instead of thinking about retirement, Cam decided to start all over in his translation work in a completely different are of the world: The Soviet Union. So, at 72, he flew to Mosco and started studding Russian for several hours a day and began conferring with linguistics and educators in the area.

However, Townsend was diagnosed with Leukemia in December 1981 and the doctors gave him several blood transfusions to keep him alive. On April 23, 1982 Townsend died peacefully at the age of 85 and yet his passion to see every people have the Word of God in their language lives on in thousands of Bible translators around the world. Even his grave stone located in Waxhaw, North Carolina calls out to the next generation: “‘Dear Ones: by love serve one another. Finish the task. Translate the Scriptures into every language.’ —Uncle Cam.

What we can Learn

There is much that we can learn, from the life of Cam Townsend but one thing that stands out to me is the idea that just as the Lord gives different people different passions within the local church, so he gives different people different passions within the missions world. And just as 1 Corinthians 12 tells us to honor and respect the different functions of the different members of the body of Christ within the local church, so I believe that we are to respect the different functions of the various members of the missions community. 

It can be a temptation within missions to pit various ministries against one another and I think that when we do that we are pitting the hands against feet against eyes. We all have different passions, strengths, and weaknesses but we are all members of the body of Christ who are working together to see Jesus worshipped in every tribe, tongue and nation.
And so, for Dave and I, we would've stayed and planted a church among the people group that Cam decided to leave. But the truth is that we are not Cam Townsend and the fact that he left that village led to a training facility that has equipped hundreds to go out and translate the Bible around the world. We as the feet praise God for him, the eyes, who gave such vision to a remarkable organization. 
And more than that, I pray that one day Cam Townsend could look down from Heaven and see every language community in the world able to see that God does in fact speak their language. 

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The details of the life and legacy of Cameron Townsend were taken from:
A manuscript given to me by a friend, Lisa Lageorge, who presented on the life of Cameron Townsend at The Master's University chapel. 
Uncle Cam by James and Marti Hefley  

Monday, January 22, 2018

William Carey's Greatest Obstacle: The Local Church

By Stacey

At the end of the 18th century in England, an impoverished shoemaker started reading a book called The Last Voyage of Captain Cook. This book catalogued the exotic adventures of sailor and explorer Captain Cook and caused young William Carey’s mind to drift outside the borders of his native land. This book “became a revelation of human need.” The "savages" that were referenced in the book “were now seen as God’s creatures and in need of a Sovereign’s mercies” (13).*

Carey then looked to the Scriptures and saw that the Sovereign's mercies were poured out on the lost of the nations as they heard the Gospel. And, he asked himself, how were they to ever hear the Gospel unless someone went to preach it to them? Carey knew that God did not only predetermine the ends (that people from every tribe, tongue and nation worship Jesus), but he also purposed the means: sending people, people like him, to them to preach the Gospel to the nations. He was ready to go.

But Carey had a problem...

Carey’s Greatest Obstacle: The Local Church
In the church, at that time, there was a prejudice in the hearts of believers that squelched compassion for the lost. He therefore knew that he had an obligation to convince church members and church leaders of the need for missions. Therefore, at a church elder’s meeting in the year 1786, Carey raised the question whether the command given to the apostles to teach all nations was obligatory for them at that present time. Reading between the lines, an older man present at the meeting looked at him and said,
Young man, sit down: when God pleases to convert the heathen he will do it without your aid or mine (15). 
In the words of biographer Daniel Webber, “The hyper-Calvinism of the day was more than capable of turning the sovereignty of God into a pretext for doing nothing” (15).

The local church was thus one of the biggest obstacles that Carey faced in his pursuit of missions. But he would not relent. He continued to bring the plight of the nations before the church until at last his fellow ministers started to desire to see the nations worship Christ.

However, they knew that mission work was truly an unbeaten path and thus “their minds revolted at the idea of attempting it. It seemed to them something too great, and too much like grasping at an object utterly beyond their reach” (18). Thus they went from seeing foreign missions as ridiculous to important, but still unattainable.

One minister, however, Andrew Fuller, caught the vision and became Carey’s ally. He addressed this attitude in his sermon The Dangerous Tendency of Delay. He looked his congregants in the eye and said:
There is something of this procrastinating spirit running through a great part of life, and it is of great detriment to the work of God. We know of many things that should be done and cannot in conscience directly oppose them; but still we find excuses for our inactivity…We quiet ourselves with the thought that they need not to be done just now.

We are very apt to indulge in a kind of prudent caution (as we call it) which foresees and magnifies difficulties beyond what they really are.

Instead of waiting for the removal of difficulties, we ought, in many cases to consider them as purposely laid in our ways in order to try the sincerity of our religion. (18)
Thus Carey and Fuller together called the church to no longer make excuses for inactivity, but instead to be goers and be senders so that the nations might worship Christ. This was no easy task for there was a spirit of “prudent caution” in the air among church members and church leaders that led to a stagnancy. The church at that time was waiting for a removal of difficulties before they sought to take steps towards going overseas. To this Fuller called congregants to embrace these difficulties and see them not as closed doors but instead as trials purposefully laid out by their heavenly father in order to test the sincerity of their faith.

Fuller and Carey refused to grow discouraged in their desire to persuade the local church of the importance of missions. They agreed that the Lord would save all of the elect in every nation, but they insisted that God would use means in order to do it. They essentially told their fellow church members to look to the left and look to the right in order to see the means that God intended to use to save unreached people groups.

Carey said that the church was to pray for the lost in the nations but he also said that
We must not be contented however with praying, without exerting ourselves in the use of means for the obtaining of those things we pray for (29).
He kept coming back to the Great Commission where God said that we were to go out into all the nations and make disciples. The church responded in saying that this command was just for the apostles at the time of Christ. To this Carey said that if the church wouldn’t claim the responsibility to go make disciples of all the nations then they had no business claiming the promise that Jesus would be with them to the end of the age, seeing that this command and this promise were couched in the same passage.

Little by little, the truth of Carey's arguments worked their way into the hearts of those on the pew.

Six Year Battle – Won!
Finally, after 6 years of fervent prayer and persuasion, the local church was finally won to the missionary vision. In October 1792, a group of ministers met in order to discuss Carey’s proposal of seeking to evangelize the nations. This is what they wrote in their records of the meeting:
Desirous of making an effort for the propagation of the gospel among the heathen, agreeably to what is recommended in brother Carey’s late publication on that subject, we….do solemnly agree to act in society together for that purpose (32).
Carey spent 6 years laboring in order to convince a local body of believers to let him go out and labor all the more on the mission field. And his labor paid off! The church was won and because of this faithful plodding, there are Indian people around the throne of Jesus right now, worshipping him.

Lessons from Carey
We often look to the ministry of Carey on the foreign mission field to draw lessons from. However, there are many many lessons that can be learned from his six year battle to get to the field. Carey's battle to get to the field lent towards...

The Strengthening of the Sending Church
God was sovereign in that he used William Carey to sanctify, correct and build up the church even though that meant delaying his ministry by 6 years. And this correction was not limited to his own local church but has expanded to the universal church. Carey wrote a paper which has blessed the universal church for decades. The Lord not only planned for the Indian people to worship Jesus through Carey’s ministry but also that Carey’s local church be jolted from their hyper-Calvinism that tied them to the pews.

If we as missionaries think that our role is just for the lost of the nations, then we may be missing good works that the Lord has for us to walk in within our local churches. Our plodding in Great Commission ministry does not begin on foreign soil; it begins in the hallways of the churches that we were raised in.

The Strengthening of the Missionary
Not only did the Carey's delay profit the faith of his local congregation but it also strengthened his own faith. In fact, I believe that the difficulties in getting to the field are the training ground for missionary labor on the field. To those that are trying to get to the field, I think Carey helps us to remember that any awkwardness in support raising, resistance from the local church, and dealing with fear are all trials used to work in us a resilient character that is resolved to never give up. If it took Carey 6 years to convince his church to send him out, he wasn’t going to be coming home any time soon.


We, thankfully, cannot personally relate to Carey's frustrations with his local church but there are missionaries who can. And so, to church leaders, let our knee-jerk reaction be to fan the flame of missionary zeal, not dampen it. And to those who are headed to the field and feel as if the local church is more of a burden than an impetus to the field, know that as you take measured, painful steps bearing this burden, you are developing a strength that will be essential for your future ministry on the field. Keep plodding and keep praying that the Lord would sanctify your local church through you. 

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* All quotes are taken from: Webber, Daniel. 2005. William Carey and the Missionary Vision. Edinburgh, UK. Banner of Truth and Trust.

Another book that speaks about Carey is: Tucker, Ruth. 2004. From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya: A Biographical History of Christian Missions. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Why Not Just Teach Them French? Revisited

by Dave

We have now been back in the US for over 10 months. Traveling around, talking about Bible translation, we occasionally get asked the question, “Why not just teach the people French?” I have asked this question myself. If the people could read French well, it would open them up to a wealth of resources: multiple translations, commentaries, sermons, and pastoral training materials. And Stacey has a great article examining some reasons HERE.

But along that line, I was recommended a book called The Finish Line, by Bob Creson, the current President of Wycliffe Bible Translators. Before arriving in this current position, he worked in Cameroon in various roles. He tells several stories in the book that are very encouraging. One such story is of a man named Léonard Bolioki, a Cameroonian who helped with the Yambetta translation project in Cameroon. Mr. Bolioki describes how he got involved in the translation project:
“I stepped to the front of the church I attended and began to read the story of Jesus’ crucifixion. Always before, this passage from John’s Gospel had been read in French, but this time I was asked to read it in my own language, Yambetta. 
As I read, I became aware of a growing stillness; then some of the older women began to weep. At the end of the service, they rushed up to me and asked, ‘Where did you find this story? We have never heard anything like it before! We didn’t know there was someone who loved us so much that He was willing to suffer and die like that – to be crucified on a cross to save us!’ 
I pulled out my French New Testament and showed them the passage in the Gospel of John and said, ‘We listen to this Passion story every year during Holy Week.’ But they insisted that they’d never heard it before. 
That was what motivated me to translate the Scriptures into the only language my friends and family can really understand – Yambetta!” (Creson 2014: 15-16).
The Gospel came to Cameroon over 100 years ago, and now there are thousands of churches. But most of these churches are conducted in French (or English for that part of Cameroon). And what many people are hearing there is not the salvation of Jesus, but instead incomprehensible words in a foreign language.

It is hard for those of us who only grew up speaking one language to understand, but, even though the Bakoum speak French, they speak it only in certain domains. So, they can trade and deal with the government in French. But they do not speak French like they speak Bakoum. You could imagine if you only had mastered the vocabulary for the grocery store in another language, church would be very confusing. And not only confusing, but foreign, strange, and empty. We heard recently that reading the Bible in a language you have not mastered is like eating soup with a fork. You can get the taste, but it does not nourish you.

But the question remains: “Why not teach them French?” If the Bakoum would be nourished with a mastery of French, it seems like a better option, doesn't it? But, you will notice that this was not the response of Mr. Bolioki. Instead, he was persuaded that his people needed the Bible in their mother tongue. I think there are a number of reasons for that. One of the strongest of these comes when you understand the history of Cameroon. Cameroon was originally colonized by Germany in 1884. However, with the defeat of Germany in the First World War in 1916, Cameroon was divided between Britain and France. These colonizing forces used extreme force at times in order to govern their new colonies. My friend Simon can point to the tree on which his grandfather was hanged for non-compliance.

And to those Cameroonians we would say, "You must learn French to know God"? For the Bakoum the French language represents the people who killed their grandparents. Could you imagine if the Germans had won WWII? And if they colonized America, then told us that they had a text though which we could know the true God. The only thing is, we have to learn German. How effective would that message be?

What is fascinating is that the very oppression of the Bakoum gives them an opportunity to understand the New Testament in ways that I never will. Jesus was born into an occupied society. The Jews were living in their own land, but they did not have the right to govern themselves. The Romans ruled them, taxed them, and killed them when they did not comply. And the freedom and victory that Jesus preached to his oppressed people could have such deep meaning for my friends and neighbors in Cameroon. But they do not know this freedom. They do not know the salvation of Christ.

The reality is that if French was sufficient, the old ladies in my village would already be weeping for joy. God Word is effective, it is like a two-edged sword that pierces to the division of soul and of spirit. The Word of God is like the rain, which gives life and without it we cannot survive. But it has none of those effects unless it is understood. Without the Bible in a language they can understand, Jesus just becomes another name they can use in their traditional religion. So, we translate, prayerfully, pleading that the Spirit would both aid our work and use it to convict hearts. And we trust that one day, we will be able to finally see recognition in their eyes, and that this would lead to genuine Bakoum worship.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Jan '18 Newsletter - The Firstfruits


The firstfruits.

Jesus was walking through Capernaum when he was suddenly approached by a high-ranking Roman officer. This man of status humbled himself and pleaded with Jesus on behalf of his personal servant who was on the brink of death. Believing that just one word from Jesus could make his servant well, this officer implored him to have mercy and heal him.

Jesus looked at this Gentile ruler and then turned to the religious, but loveless Jews around him and said,
"I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth" Matthew 8:11-12.
I imagine the mouths of the Jews hit the floor as they listened to Jesus say that people from outside of Israel would be with their ancestors while they themselves, the “true" heirs, would be thrown outside the banquet and into a place of suffering.

2,000 years later, in the month of December 2017, a Congolese man, a Cameroonian woman, and an American woman sat together and talked for hours about this passage, reveling in the fact that they were the fulfillment of it. They were the Gentiles who were from the “east” and “west” who belonged with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the banquet halls of Heaven, all because of Jesus. 
To read the rest, click HERE.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Finals Done: Tired, Enriched and Thrilled out of my Mind

by Stacey


We just finished up another whirlwind round of classes. The last two months have been filled with late nights, neglected emails, and hours spent pouring over Bakoum folktales and the Word of God. The Lord has once again proved faithful to help us wade through technical linguistic information, figuring out how to exegete the passage about Melchizedek and how to deal with squabbling second graders. The Lord’s faithfulness, plus all the incredible things we learned this semester causes the excitement to overshadow the fatigue. Here are a couple highlights:




Exploiting the Polygamous "god" for the Glory of Jesus

Dave and I took a class called Discourse Analysis where we were told to take a step back from the minutiae to look at the bigger picture of the language. We looked at texts as a whole to see how they were put together. This is where we learned to distinguish between starting the Bible with "And so it was that…" vs "One upon a time…" As you can see the former formula implies that the story is true whereas the later implies that it is false. These types of formulas are important to get right.

We also learned how languages cite speech acts. Some use direct quotation (Jesus said, “I am the way”), some use indirect (Jesus said that he was the way), and some a combination of the two. If the translator does not get this right, he could end up saying he is the “way the truth and the life” instead of Jesus (true story folks!).

Also, some languages use a lot of connectors to ground their arguments (“Since therefore you have been raised with Christ…”) whereas others use the order of the propositions without connectors (i.e. if Proposition A occurs first, it is the grounds for Proposition B which comes second).

During the course of this class Dave and I meditated on a Bakoum text called "God and his wives" day-and-night for the purposes of understanding the language. We broke it into sections, compared and contrasted every verb tense, along with every connector (thus, since, and, but) and every exchange (he said, she said).

This past Saturday I spent the day looking at how the language uses pronouns (he, she, it, etc). If someone were to come up to you and ask “How do pronouns function in English?” you would probably look at them blankly. It is the same with the Bakoum. They can tell us the word for “foot” when we point to it, but they are simply not psychologically aware of things like how pronouns function in discourse. It is just like how we might not understand all the functions of our liver even though it is an integral part of our daily existence.

So, Dave and I were the “doctors,” so to speak, who looked at the function of pronouns in Bakoum. After weeks of staring at the language and doing research, we have a pretty good idea of how they work. The way they do pronouns is very different than how we do the in English. Now, when we translate the Bible, it will sound Bakoum. After years of being confused in conversation with our friends, we feel like we will start to understand. We are thrilled!

During the late nights of analyzing the Bakoum story "God and his wives," I would often ask myself what good I was doing meditating on the story of a polygamous ‘god’ with a giant son of his twelfth wife referred to as ‘Pombo’. But now I know why: I was meditating on it so that I could exploit this polygamous god for the structure of the language in order to translate the story of the true God. This ‘god’ was showing me how the pronoun system worked so that it will (one day soon) be a vehicle by which the true Jesus will be preached.

Like Paul says, the ‘foolish’ ways of God (like using a story about a false god to help Christians understand a language) are wiser than our greatest missions' strategies. “For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men” 1 Corinthians 1:25.

The Power of the Word of God

We also took another class called The Theory and Practice of Translation where we learned how to translate the Bible from A-Z. Throughout seminary and linguistics school we have learned the Greek, the Hebrew, how to write down an oral language, tone, and so on…all for this one class. It was the pinnacle of about 10 years of preparation and it did not disappoint.

Through this class, we had to translate a passage of Scripture (Matthew 8:5-13) into a foreign language that we spoke. Its funny because I’ve been in church my whole life, through Bible college and seminary, but when I was asked to translate it into a foreign language that I realized I did not understand the passage. Its like how you think you understand a theological idea or biblical truth until your kids ask you a question about it and then you realize that if you cannot articulate what you know to a little child, you really do not know it as well as you thought you did.

For this translation project, I met with three different Christian Africans (two Cameroonians and one gentleman from the Congo). It was a lot of hard work, but I think our little translation team was edified and sharpened. At one point, in response to Jesus praising the faith of a Gentile in the Scripture, one of the ladies said, “All we need is faith! This man was not part of God’s chosen Jews and yet he believed and Jesus accepted him. This is all it takes to enter into the Kingdom of God!” The power of the Word of God grew her and my own understanding of what grace it is that God accepts people for any tribe, tongue, and nation not because our heritage, but because of our faith in Christ.

Also, for this class, my kids helped a classmate with her translation project where they spent hours discussing exegesis and translation principles with her. Kaden would come back from the library at about 9:30 at night, after working for a couple hours more wired and excited than after coming home from a party with his friends. The joy of being in the Word on such a technical level is a joy that all of us have tasted of this semester.

Through it all I kept thinking that this life’s work is far more of a privilege and honor than it is a sacrifice. I get to spend 20 hours seeking to understand one portion of one verse and then I get to communicate what I know to my Bakoum friends, showing them maps and pictures, so that they can help communicate truths into their language. There is nothing I would rather be doing.

Looking Forward

Many courses at our school (GIAL) are taught by people who have spent the better portion of their lives on the field doing Bible translation and literacy. They say things like, “When people become believers…” They can say this because they have seen the power of the Word of God among unreached peoples. Their confidence in this power is contagious and makes me that much more excited to see Jesus be glorified among the Bakoum people.