These past two weeks have been filled with incredible disappointments.
To start with, I had been working alongside Kwakum colleagues in a particular village for over a year. We have been taking recently translated Scripture and then sit down with two people there, read them the story, and then ask them comprehension questions. These two individuals have learned to read in Kwakum and have begun to understand who God has revealed himself to be, specifically in the book of Genesis.
Then, out of nowhere, both of them started avoiding my calls and were “busy” when we arrived in their village. This went on for a month until I finally had a face-to-face conversation with one of them who said that they were tired of the work, were no longer interested, and had just been doing it to “satisfy Stacey.” When I told her that the work that we were doing with them was giving them revelation from God, she essentially said that she didn’t care. I have to ask myself:
Was the point of our work in that village for a reason other than the salvation of the Kwakum who live there?
Another disappointment came a few days later…For the past 7 years, I have been working to help the Kwakum create a writing system and then literacy materials. Finally, the day came where literacy classes started for those who had never been to school. The literacy/translation center was filled with about 30 people.
However…throughout the months, people started to come less and less consistently until the numbers finally dwindled down to about three people. A few days ago, one of my neighbors said that she and the rest of the village have more-or-less decided school was not for them.
This wouldn’t upset me so much if it weren’t for the fact that our literacy/translation center is the only place in the people group where they can hear the Word of God in their language and learn essential things that can dramatically enhance their quality of life.
For instance, people in Cameroon commonly buy and drink little packets of hard liquor. The other day in literacy class, I was teaching about the damaging effects this liquor can have on one’s health. That very evening, one of my sons told me that one of his friends (who is about 15 year old) regularly drinks these alcohol packets to avoid getting COVID-19. If this boy were to attend my classes, he would learn how COVID-19 is transmitted in addition to how these alcohol packets kill people.
Another example is that I teach how to make a basic rehydration fluid for those who are sick with diarrhea. People do not attend my classes and then when they children are dehydrated ask me to pay an exorbitant amount of money in order to send their children to the doctors.
I am trying to teach them to catch fish, but they just keep asking me for fish instead of learning how to fish for themselves.
It’s as if we come with diamonds and they reject them demanding rocks. We come with special revelation directly from God (diamonds) as well as knowledge that can improve their lives (more diamonds) and yet when we show up in a new village, they demand that we buy them alcohol (rocks). When we refuse to buy them alcohol, often they then want nothing to do with us.
The haunting questions
We have all heard the horror stories of missionaries that spent their lives translating the Word of God only to have Bibles sit in warehouses untouched. Some modern-day missiologists pick apart these missionaries’ methodology and harshly criticize them, declaring their ministries a failure. After a month like this one, I have to ask if they will one day criticize our ministry as well.
I found the words of a new Kwakum believer striking: “Stacey, you have to understand that people don’t want the Word of God around them all the time. They hide their traditions from the Word of God because they don’t want it to see what they are doing. Stacey, you are the Word of God and your presence keeps people in a prison, unable to live how they want to.”
If this is people’s view of the Word of God, then what are we doing here laboring to bring it to them?
Messengers sent before the fire
One of the Bible stories that we have already translated into Kwakum is the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. Oddly enough, this terrible story of wrath and destruction has brought me great comfort as I asked myself the above questions. In the story of Sodom, there were three “men” (two angels, and God in the form of a man) who came to see Abraham. The Lord said to Abraham:
“Because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great and their sin is very grave, I will go down to see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry that has come to me. And if not, I will know.” Genesis 18:20-21
In discussing this story with the translators, we found some confusion with this statement. Did God not know for sure? Why would he say, “I will go down to see whether they have done this”? We explained to our translators that the Lord knows all things, and yet before he sent fire down from Heaven on Sodom, he decided to first go down and experience their evil firsthand to make their condemnation even more sure.
Therefore, the Lord sent the two angels on to Sodom. When they arrived, Lot (Abraham’s nephew), welcomed them. However, the people of the city saw them not as guests, but rather as opportunities to exploit. Instead of hospitality, they surrounded Lot’s house and demanded he send them out so that they might sexually assault them. The two angels struck them with blindness and then urged Lot to leave the city because they knew what was coming…
“But he lingered. So the men seized him and his wife and his two daughters by the hand, the LORD being merciful to him, and they brought him out and set him outside the city.” Genesis 19:16
When Lot and his family were away from the danger zone, the Lord then sent fire and burnt up the cities. Lot’s wife, however, turned and looked (against the command of the Lord) and she was thus turned into a pillar of salt.
How is this story encouraging?
This story encourages me because it helps me to see that our presence here actually has two purposes: 1) to help people escape from the wrath of God, and 2) to show God as just when he judges the unrepentant on the day of judgment.
God did not send the two angels to save all of the inhabitants of cities from the wrath of God. Yes, they did save a few people by literally dragging them out of the city. However, their main role was to draw out and verify the sin that was in people’s hearts to prove God as just in his judgments.
In reading this story, I am reminded once again that it is not my role to save all of the Kwakum. Though he could, God does not save all people. In fact, he has told us, “For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few” (Matthew 7:14). God’s plan is to save a few.
That doesn’t mean that God will not save many Kwakum, but the truth is God decides who he saves, not me. Perhaps God will strike them with spiritual blindness after they reject the message we have labored so long to bring. Maybe I won’t be a missionary who sees the Gospel radically transform this people group.
It is a real possibility that I will be a missionary who pulls out of few and then watches God destroy the rest of them for their sin and for their rejection of his Word.
The story of Sodom gives me hope, not because it is a story with a happy ending. It gives me hope because it puts me in my place. I have come to Cameroon to speak the truth of the Word of God and to warn of the coming judgment. If I was the one in charge, would I choose the same ending? It doesn’t matter. I am just the messenger. Maybe I am like Jonah, and many will repent. Maybe I am like the angels in Sodom. I don’t have to concern myself with the ending, because it doesn’t belong to me. All I can do is praise and trust the Lord who controls everything.
“Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!” – Romans 11:33