A few years ago, as we were having our house built in our village, I noticed an older gentleman peeking at us through the tall grass that was behind his house. My immediate thought was, “What does he think of us?” and after spending the next few years getting to know this man, I am sure he was thinking the same thing: “What do they think of me?” Both of us did not know what to expect from the other, but I am sure that both of us did not expect friendship.
This man (Simon) was an unexpected blessing from the Lord. He lived in front of us and did not speak a word of English and only a few words of French. While I am sure he was fluent in Bakoum, he was a bit hard to understand because he was missing teeth. Simon was different than the rest of the people in our village. He was calm, stayed out of fights, and minded his own business. He was a breath of fresh air.
Every morning, when I would go on a jog, I spent a few minutes talking to him on my way home. He usually had a couple coals going and was roasting a potato-like-root for his breakfast. Sometimes he would be sharpening his machete in order to use it in the fields that day. Simon would head off to tend his fields in the bush and I would head off to start my studies for the day.
Then, in the evenings, when I would go out to talk to my neighbors, I would always sit and talk to Simon. He would often talk about how proud he was of the latrine he was digging. I noticed that after his project was complete, he had nailed up some wood around the latrine and padlocked the door shut. Dave and I would giggle to ourselves at night wondering who would break into someone’s latrine. He was so proud of this latrine that we had our kids come over to look at it and compliment him on his hard work. He smiled so proud. When we weren’t talking about his latrine, we would just sit and watch the dog chase the chickens and laugh.
Our relationship continued to grow with Simon. We would send one of our kids with some “American” food for him to try in the evenings and in return he would hike out to his field and bring us back delicious pineapples. One night, he got all dressed up and came over to our house to tell us stories in Bakoum. We had no idea what he was saying (no teeth), but we made some popcorn and I think he had a great time.
Simon was poor and alone. He lived by himself in a very dark house with a mud floor and never had family around. Often, as I would pass his house on my way to go jogging I would pray that the Lord would move him from a life of dirt and mud up to streets of gold. I don’t think he even knew what gold was.
Simon would come to our church, but I was never sure how much he understood because it was conducted almost exclusively in French. Dave and I lent him an audio recorder for him to listen to the French Bible and we would often pass him while he was listening to it. He claimed to believe in God, but I am not sure if he understood the Gospel. My language, unfortunately, was too limited to be able to share the Gospel with him.
Simon was older and a few weeks ago, he became ill. Instead of our village rallying around him in his suffering, they said that he was sick because he went into someone else’s field and was therefore cursed. They wanted to do some type of religious ritual to cleanse him of this transgression, but he did not want to. Our friend and pastor, Boris, was by his side and told us that Simon was trusting in the Lord. However, due to Simon's limited French, it is hard to say how much he really understood about Jesus. Even though we sent money for him to be cared for at a local clinic, we got word this morning that Simon had died.
I don’t know if Simon passed from death to life this morning or if he passed from death to eternal death. My prayer for him these last few weeks has been that the Lord would grant him understanding of the Gospel, even if it was only spoken to him in French. I would pray that the Lord would surround Simon, in his tiny, dark house with angels that would take him up to Heaven. I don’t know where Simon is now, but I trust the Lord in whatever decision he made regarding his soul.
Dave and I have always said that our ministry of Bible translation is for the next generation. We have always known that the 60-70 year old people would likely not hear the Word of God in their language. Like my Dad has told me, the Word of God will come “in the fullness of time” to the Bakoum people. I know that is true and yet, I want the older generation to hear the Gospel too (as does my Dad). I am persuaded more and more that we need to teach the Bible as we go so that the grandpas and grandmas will have the opportunity to repent and believe before they die. May God give us grace, energy and the ability to teach and may he provide us with more co-workers who can teach men, women, and children the Word as it is being translated. And may there be no more Bakoum people who face God as judge without first being given the opportunity to hear the Gospel in their own language.
May God be their Refuge, Psalm 91
May God be the refuge and fortress of the Bakoum. May he deliver them from traps and deadly pestilence. May the Bakoum find refuge in God and may the faithfulness of God be a protector to them. May they no longer fear the terror of the night nor any threat that is present during the day, nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness. May no terrorists, no bandits, no riots come near them but may they only look at the judgment of the wicked.
May the Lord be the dwelling place of the Bakoum and may evil not be allowed to touch them. May the Lord command his angels concerning the Bakoum to guard them in all their ways. May they be handled with such gentleness that they don’t even let them strike their feet against rocks. May they tread on the lion and on the puff adders and may they trample every kind of serpent.
May they hold fast to Jesus in love and may Jesus deliver them. May they call out to Jesus and may he answer them. May he be with them in trouble and may he rescue and honor them. May they be given long life and be shown eternal salvation.