Of all the sorrow, frustration, and pain we have felt during our time in Cameroon, this last week has proved worse. The spiritual warfare has been so intense that I have found myself crying day and night. Without going into too many details, there is one Kwakum person I have invested in more than anyone else and has become my closest friend here. This young man is currently furious with me because I confronted him in sin. At least for now, it appears that he is walking away from the Lord.
All at once I feel a deep sense of loss and a continuous longing for the Lord to grant him repentance. There are others here in our village who are also angry with me (mostly due to the aforementioned situation). To be honest, I am tired of the dirty looks, false accusations, and disdain. But more than that, I am grieved by the hardness of my neighbor’s hearts towards the Lord. To add sorrow upon sorrow, Saturday night something unimaginable happened…
After hearing some shouting in the neighborhood, someone called me to come over to the house of a young, physically handicapped woman (we will call her Sarah). Sarah was scheduled to be baptized Sunday and I was concerned that she was losing her nerve. When I arrived, I discovered Sarah’s mother beating her and screaming awful curses in her face. She repeated over and over that Sarah had ruined her life because of her handicap. I called for Dave and asked him to escort the woman out of the house so I could try to calm Sarah down. Fortunately, she wasn’t seriously injured, but was deeply hurt by her mother’s cruel words.
When I asked her what happened, she said that earlier her mom had been violently attacking other family members. Sarah confronted her and so her anger turned against Sarah. Sarah cried out to me, “Stacey, I was beaten for telling the TRUTH!” I told her, “I know Sarah, you were persecuted for doing what is right and the Lord is so pleased with you. He will reward you for this.” After about 30 minutes of encouraging her and comforting her with the truth, Sarah calmed down, we prayed together, and she thanked me for being there for her.
In the meantime, the mother bit her own brother (who was trying to calm her) and continued with her violent behavior. Because of the violence, Dave was about to take her to the police station. However, those who were just moments ago angry because of her violence, began to beg us not to take her away. They said that the police are known for beating offenders, and have even broken the bones of those in their custody. So, I turned to Sarah’s mother (who was sobbing on the ground) and said that she either pull herself together and do exactly as I say, or Dave would take her to the police station. The mother then stood up still weeping and I walked her to a friend’s house, put her in bed, and told her not to leave. She agreed. Before I left, I asked her how I could pray for her. She asked that I pray that God would forgive her. So, I did.
In reflecting on the deep sorrows and the brokenness that I see all around me, I am led to believe that God sent me here to show these people, through my tears, the pain that they are causing God. I think that, in the past, the Lord did this often through the prophets. Hosea, for instance, was commanded to marry a prostitute. In this, God sacrificed Hosea’s own joy in order to communicate the pain of infidelity that he feels. I believe that, in some way, this is my role here. My life is far from happy, but I believe that the Lord wants these people to see the effect of their sin on the heart of God. I can’t say I’m excited to play this role, but my life is not my own.
Last night, when Sarah was crying, people scolded her, telling her to stop. I think that is wrong. The world we live in is broken. And I think we do a disservice to this reality when we do not cry over it. Handicapped people should not be beaten by their mothers. The police should not beat poor people. And my tears show people that what they accept as normal is actually grotesque.
For the Least of These
I believe that this week was so difficult because of Sarah’s baptism yesterday. First, let me introduce you to Sarah…
Sarah had polio as a young child and was then abandoned by her parents. Raised by relatives, she has never been to school and rarely leaves her house. A couple years ago, I told Sarah that literacy classes would be starting up soon. Her grandmother overheard and told me not to waste my time because Sarah would never be able to read.
Around this time, I also told Sarah we would be starting translation work and I wanted her to come and listen to what we did each day. She hesitated, but I insisted. Sarah has thus spent the last two years listening to many complicated exegetical issues in Genesis and Exodus. Then, about a year ago, she began to attend literacy classes. And little by little, she began to read. In fact, she reads so well now that I am praying that she will one day be a Kwakum literacy teacher.
Then, six months ago, Sarah asked me to teach her The Book of Good News, which is an evangelistic curriculum we developed primarily for the Kwakum. Sarah and I spent months slowly working our way through the truths of who God is, who we are, the cost of our sin, and the price that Jesus paid. And through that process I had the privilege of watching the Lord convict Sarah of her sin, change her heart, and transform her into one of his children.
Yesterday, on Easter Sunday, Sarah shared in her testimony at church. She reminded us that handicapped people are sinners, and that she was no exception. Yes, Sarah is a victim in many ways, but she is also guilty of sin and needs Jesus. She told us of how the Lord saved her, with her mother sitting a few benches away. Then, with the entire church in tow, we made our way down to the river. And Sarah was baptized in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
Last night, I went over to her house to tell her how encouraged I was that even though she was beaten and heartbroken by her mother, she went through with the baptism. This was her response: “Stacey, I remembered how Jesus suffered for doing right. I also realized that my baptism is a visible symbol that I am committed to follow him. Therefore, suffering for doing right is my new normal and I accept it.” Even with the cross on her shoulder, Sarah was beaming with joy. In her joy, she has also committed to reading through The Book of Good News with one of her blind neighbors.
I take by faith that all the sleepless nights, the hatred for doing what is right, the sickness, the violence, the never ending work, the mocking and insults, and the tears will disappear in an instant the day I see Sarah leaping into the arms of Jesus safe and happy. The life that we lead here is difficult, full of sorrow, sickness, and frustration. However, today more than ever I realize that even if no one else ever reads the Bible we translate, or is saved or discipled through our ministry, this one soul was worth it all.
“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” John 12.23-25