Imagine a child, just before his first trip to the ocean, telling you he is going to fit the whole ocean in his toy bucket. It is only when he stands on the seashore and soaks up the immensity of this body of water, that he is able to see the ridiculous nature of his ambitions. Why? Because no matter how hard he tries the ocean is simply too big for him to master.
This is how we feel about the problems in which we face on a daily basis: poverty, injustice, corruption, sexism, illiteracy, abuse, false gospels, and lack of access to good medical care to name a few. Before arriving, we had so many great ideas on how to help. But now, we find ourselves lost before a sea of complexity.
Generally, how we deal with this is to remind ourselves that the Lord has not called us to fix every problem in Cameroon, but instead to come be faithful linguists / Bible translators. We are not economists, doctors, or agricultural specialists. We have one main task ahead of us and giving people the Word of God in their language will be, in our estimation, the greatest thing we can do to serve them.
But, whereas I believe that God does not necessarily call his children to change the world, we still want to. Specifically, here are a few domains in which I hope to see change within my life-time:
I was over at one of my closest friend’s house a while back. We were sitting outside her house on little benches talking. This friend is in her mid-30s, has 9 children, and 5 grandchildren. She nurses her young child and two of her grandchildren, often with all 3 of them fighting over her. She also works in her field every day in order to have food to feed her family.
When we were talking, one of the toddlers had to use the restroom and so went poop on the ground (she does not have diapers). The mom called for her other child to bring her some paper to clean it up. This child handed her a book and something in it caught my eye. I asked to look at it and saw that it was a book that talked about water purification, wound care, malaria prevention, and nutrition. It pretty much said everything that I would like to say to my neighbors to enhance their quality of life. My friend politely took the book, tore a couple pages out and used it to scoop up the poop and wipe her daughter’s bottom.
“WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!” I screamed inwardly to myself. But it was then I realized that there is no difference between toilet paper that one buys in the market, a book talking about malaria prevention, and the Bible if you cannot read. It is all just paper. Sigh.
Most of the people in our people group are sustenance farmers and live hand to mouth. What this equates to is hours of back-breaking work and no money for medical care if someone gets sick.
The other day, our language partner was sick, so his sister and I went to go visit him at his house in a neighboring village. While we were there, a man who I do not remember meeting, approached me and said that it is not enough for me to just pray for our language partner but that I needed to reach in my pocket and give him money to go to the doctor (awkward).
Whereas I agree completely with what he said, sometimes I actually wonder if people would have a better chance of survival if they stayed away from the medical care centers here. The one in our region does not have running water and thus has a hard time keeping things sanitary. One time Dave was there when the nurses were walking through the waiting room carrying buckets of blood to dump them out outside. There are other stories.
So, what ends up happening is that people have medical needs and want us to help pay for them, but we are hesitant because we are not convinced that they will receive good care. We fear that our reticence communicates stinginess as opposed to the concern for their health that we feel. Sigh.
I would estimate about 90-95% of the people group in which we work does not attend church. However, there are some churches present, which is exciting. That is, it would be if they were preaching the Gospel.
For the past three years we have tried to go to a new church at least once a month and have almost every time left grieved by what was taught. There are churches on the extreme end who abuse the “spiritual gifts” to the point that they have people who literally “die” and are “resurrected” during the service. There can be SUCH an emphasis on fertility and a desire for health that we have heard, “Holy Spirit, come down and burn our genitals (possibly for a purifying effect?)!” Or there was the group “vomiting” time where everyone “vomited” out the impure food that they ate that week.
Most churches are not this extreme, but a constant theme that we find is both the prosperity Gospel and the Gospel according to works. People teach that Jesus died to liberate us from negative forces and we need to follow him in order to receive all of his blessings. When we sin, we are inhibiting God from blessing us (with health and wealth) and that is why we need to stop sinning. Then there was the woman who preached in her sermon over and over that “The wages of sin is death, so abandon the bad and practice the good.” The sermons are consistently man-centered about what we can get from God and do not communicate that we have offended a Holy God who sent his Son to die for our guilt. Sometimes the “Gospel” is preached with no mention of Jesus at all.
But, what makes this even sadder is that though the church leaders seem to be humble, teachable, sincere and eager to grow in their knowledge of the Word of God, there is no one to teach them. Where would the rest of us be if we could barely read the French Bible for our only source of spiritual growth and had no one to teach us? Sigh.
Looking at all of these problems (and others that we did not mention) is like looking at the ocean and wondering how to fit it into a little toy bucket. Or maybe it is like looking at a mountain and trying to make it move from one place to another. This reminds me of something Jesus said:
Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, “Be taken up and thrown into the sea,” and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. Mark 11: 23-24
Jesus never asks us to pick up mountains or come to a poor region in the world able to help people in every area of their lives. He does not ask us to change the world, but instead to be faithful.
And yet, I think he gave us verses like these so that we would rebel a little bit against the “just be faithful” mentality. My own faithfulness cannot make an ocean jump into a bucket, nor can my own efforts cause mountains to move, but according to this verse God will do all these things if we just ask him in faith.
And so, I ask that the Lord will raise this people’s standard of living within my life-time. I ask that there would be access to good, affordable medical care. I ask that the Lord would raise up Bible teachers to come and spend their lives teaching people here who have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. I ask that the schools here would improve and that people would become literate. I ask that there would be anti-corruption laws put in place and that corruption would be purged from this country and I ask that “justice” would no longer have to be bought. I have no idea how the Lord may be pleased to answer these prayers, but I wait to see the impossible happen before my eyes. I know that I cannot single-handedly change Cameroon. But I know someone who can, and I am eager to see him do it.