It is amazing how easily the words “they” and “them” become “we” and “us.”
My journey to Africa started a couple of years before I ever stepped foot on the continent. We Baptists as a whole are a pretty missions minded group, so it was no surprise when our church adopted a tribe of people in Africa as a missions focus.
It is funny how that word “adopted” gets thrown around a lot when it comes to missions and evangelism. You hear about churches doing stuff like this all the time back in the States, but usually it really means no more than making sure said adopted group makes it on the weekly prayer bulletin and gets mentioned on occasion as a “focus.” Some churches go further and scrape up some money to send to a missions agency that is working with those people, and a select few will actually do the work necessary to put together a team to at least go and look at the people for which the church is praying. Now, before I offend, I readily assert that each of the aforementioned tasks are necessary to the work of God’s kingdom, and I do not mean to belittle any of them. I thank God for churches that will do any of the above, as most simply do nothing at all.
Yet, I hesitate in referring to that as “adoption.” Just ask someone who has adopted a child. Adoption is a commitment of the deepest kind, and one that, in my opinion, is a picture of what God has done for us in our redemption. Adoption is a word that, in its very essence, is relationship based.
On this point, I can brag on my church, because I genuinely think it adopted this people. My being here and writing this is proof of such. God used my church’s wholehearted embrace of this tribe to call me to live with them. An idea to adopt this people soon became a mission to reach them and share with them what God had shared with us, his precious son. Trip after trip, our church has come and watched as obedience turned into fruit. It changed the church, and it changed my heart.
I decided to come and began the process of applying with our sending agency. It was a year long process, and the longest application I think I have ever filled out (they actually asked me if I had ever had electro-shock therapy).
But through that whole process this tribe was simply a “they” to me.
As our church talked about our work, it was always with them. As a congregation, we learned about what they do here. We found out that:
- They were a small people group of just over a million people.
- They were almost exclusively Muslim.
- They were mostly illiterate.
- They were primarily all villagers, who still cooked over a fire and lived in a hut.
- They were farmers and fishermen.
- They were some of the poorest people in the poorest region of the world.
As the application process finished, and I was trained to be a missionary, I was finally put on a plane and sent to the middle of nowhere. I was sent to them.
Honestly, my mindset was no different for the following weeks, and even months. I had met them, and I now lived here with them. And as I observed their culture and customs, I continually found myself baffled by the strange things they did. “Why do they do that?” became my refrain.
- Why do they never go in their houses?
- Why do they use those little hand hoes instead of a long one to work in the fields?
- Why do they have four wives?
- Why do they have so many kids when they are so poor they cannot make ends meet?
Even the small group of Christians were a “they.” What they called church was so different from anything I had every experienced. I wondered, “Why do they sit on mats?”
I did not notice when it all started to change. It was slow and subtle, but something began to happen. It started first out in the tiny village where I began my stay in this country. I was out there for language study. In that little farming village, I made my first real friendships. Day after day, I lived with these people, worked with these people, talked with these people as I tried to understand who they were. Without realizing it, everything around ceased to be strange. It became life. I learned many lessons about life in a different world. I learned from the old men and the little kids. I even learned lessons from the animals! So many of my questions were answered, and I discovered the reasons behind the “whys.”
Somewhere along the way, my words changed. I no longer speak of them; instead, I usually talk about us. It may be a small change in words, but it is a vast change in mindset. They are no longer some people I am going to work with, they have become friends. We laugh together and we cry together. And those who are part of God’s family, are indeed my brothers and sisters. We share a bond that no force can sever.
- They are no longer staying outside of their houses, but we are sitting outside enjoying the breeze.
- They are no longer doing some strange service, but we are having church and worshipping our God through prayer.
- They are no longer chanting strange words, but we are singing praises to God almighty.
Now, I pray to God for our work here. God is doing many things, and we are busy trying to keep up with him. We are leading Bible studies in surrounding villages. We are working with students in town. We are all meeting together for discipleship training. God is using us, missionaries and the local believers, to build up his kingdom here.
Please pray for us.