May 2009

May 2009

My village family

"It seems I'm to treat them and be treated as part of their
family too."


Sarome (who I call Andy's mother) is a pastor's widow and mother of five.
The oldest three boys live away much of the time for school.

Andy is the eldest, doing Grade 10, having chemotherapy for nasopharyngeal cancer. Pio is
doing a welding course. Joshua is at Primary School. Tobowa (9yr girl) is at elementary school in Dande. Krunu (6yr boy) just runs around with us. I share a room with Jenifer
(29yrs). She is a relative of Andy's mother, but staying with us purely for my benefit.She works for the church in women's and youth ministry, and at times Bible translation. The village family is much bigger than that though. Many of their extended family live in the village, with houses arranged in clans and many activities done together. One of Sarome's brothers is the local Pastor. It seems I'm to treat them and be treated as part of their family too.


"Hang your clothes properly," I'm told. "Don't put your hands that way, you must put them this way" (when making sago). "Not like that" (when washing clothes). My flawed and Western mind rebels. Why? What's the difference between what you're showing and what I did - don't they both get the job done? And pragmatically, isn't my way better because the peg is in the thinnest place, and if I wash sago your way it hurts my hands? And what about tolerance and individuality? My mouth forms a solemn "okay" ('bryoku') and a forced smile. I don't have the language to say much else, and anyway, what should I say? I have told them I want to learn their way of life, but it's hard to be incompetent and confused much of the time.

I sat down in the afternoon and try to write my cultural observation for the day, wondering what was going on when we clashed. What values do my feelings reflect, and what values underlie their instructions? The next day my morning Bible reading in Hebrews explored how the law of Moses and sacrificial system was an unclear picture of the work that was accomplished by Jesus - making perfect those who come near to God. The Bible notes I read were written by a guy translating Hebrews with a tribe in Vanuatu. He commented how those island people really understood ritual, that in traditional culture things must be done properly to get the right result.

It had involved sacrifice and special words and actions too. As they came to understand for the first time the Old Testament rituals that had been fulfilled by Christ, His perfect sacrifice took deeper meaning. I thought of the people I was with. Melanesians are said to be influenced more by wisdom of the ancestors than a pragmatic logic. Making sago was traditionally a deeply spiritual activity, with every step of the process regulated to appease ancestors and beings to ensure big harvest - Andy's mother's prayers and songs during the process showed it was still a significant spiritual activity for her, but focused on God.

So maybe what I'm noticing is ritualised and communal behaviour, some of which has lost it's original purpose. Somehow that stills my rebellion against adapting to their way, for I can see logic in it now. I can be tolerant of that. It seems like a valid cultural difference. In fact it is now fun to look for other examples to test my hypothesis. Some of the traditions of the ancestors have been lost, but the ways of thinking remain.

I wonder how this insight could be used to impact my friends' Christian understanding. How about looking at how law taught about God and people. We can look at how it prepared the Jews for accepting Jesus. My friends' ancestors have been tricked to follow rituals that have not made them perfect before God, but maybe it can prepare them to understand the good news. There is a way to be perfect: believe in Jesus, who did completely what God wanted him to.

May I learn obedience too. I can, because His grace is sufficient for me, giving me freedom to relinquish my "rights" to comfort and autonomy and independence. I really appreciate your prayers and emails. I'm relying on God to work through you & me to accomplish His purposes in this world. I'm glad we can do that together.

Prayer & Praise

Thanks for my village family who loves God and is committed to teaching me.
  • Pray for Jenifer's mother (widow) as she stays alone in her house while Jenifer helps
    me - a real sacrifice.

  • Pray for humility and a knowledge of God's grace as I'm constantly
    corrected and watched and given instructions.

  • Pray for opportunities to boast in my weakness and share His grace.

  • Pray that I will know God as my friend at the course and when communication is difficult in the village.

  • Pray for my physical endurance, opportunities forrest, health.

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