Our first few days in the tribe have been challenging to say the least. I have to be honest, and tell you that I didn’t expect it to be. You see we are in a place that is sort of a rare jewel for tribal church planting. Most of the people in the village are believers and they are real “go getters.” They all speak Pidgin along with their tribal language. So coming in here, I knew that the church had lots of activities planned for us to help train us in what it is like to live with a tribal group and to help us speak Pidgin. I knew that we would be safe and that the people would be friendly and loving. I honestly thought that my biggest challenge would be planning and packing all the food we would need while we were in here (that did prove to be quite challenging since we made it in here with 100 bags of cheese balls and no milk, sugar, butter, coffee, or laundry detergent.).
However, my assumptions were destroyed about 4 hours after we got here. We were eating dinner with the missionaries who live here and are hosting us. (we’ll call them “the Joe Missionary family”) We were all talking and laughing until we heard a drum start beating. “Why are they beating that drum?” asked Joe…“That’s the death call,” said their teenage daughter… he calls out to find out who died… it was a little 12 year old boy who was thought to have had dysentery. In fact, right before we got on the plane to come here the missionaries radioed for us to bring the medicine he needed on the plane with us. After getting us settled, Joe went down to give the medicine to the boy and make sure the parents knew how much and how often he needed it (the people now believe that the boy had a ruptured spleen and not dysentery.)
Everyone was in shock. Joe and JMG went down to see the family, and I took my kids home so that Mrs. Joe Missionary could settle her kids and go down there too.
I spent the next hour bathing my kids, putting them to bed, and continued to unpack all with the sound of a drum and loud wailing in the background.
JMG came back and told me a little bit about what went on in the house, and that the family were all believers, in fact the dad teaches Sunday School at the church. And we went to bed.
The next morning Daughter Missionary came to tell us that the people had invited us to come to the funeral, so we made our way down the hill not knowing exactly what to expect. As I entered the house where the family was mourning, I saw a small box carved out of a tree and a mother leaned over it crying and wailing. It was incredibly difficult. I immediately wanted to leave. I didn’t know how long I could watch this woman grieve…watch her live out what was my worst nightmare. But as I sat there, I felt the Lord telling me, that I needed to stay. If I wanted to do this work, I had to stay.
You see living in the jungle and dealing with the heat and the bugs and figuring out how to live on solar power and rainwater are not what will be hard for me. What will be hard for me to do is to go “all in” with these people and their lives. To watch as their children run around naked and die of curable diseases. I have a tendency to want everything to be nice and pleasant and rose colored. When something is difficult, I like to make a sarcastic comment or joke about it and go on. I like to rejoice when people rejoice, but when they grieve, I like to go hide in my house and turn on something funny and happy and pretend nothing is wrong. But the fact is, living in the middle of nowhere with people who do not have access to what I consider necessities in life is not pretty… or funny. It is dirty and dangerous and full of death. But Jesus reminds me that He was there for people, and he quite literally grieved when they grieved. I have heard a lot of sermons on the shortest verse in the Bible, “Jesus wept.” And I have heard many pastors give very lofty reasons why they think Jesus was brought to such grief…reasons that are nowhere in the Bible. What is in the Bible appears in the verses above that, “When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled.” Their heartache made His heart ache. So, if I am to continue on this journey, I have to know that it will be painful. If I am to love these people it is going to expose my heart to some serious grief and pain.
The beauty of this situation is that, though these parents have to suffer the agony of losing a child, the little boy and his parents are believers, so they have hope that he is with Jesus and one day they will be too. But I know that there will be many years that I experience this same situation without that hope. Those years while we are learning the language before we present the gospel to the people. I will have to watch helplessly while people die without a relationship with Jesus Christ. This is the cost that I must count. Not the malaria or the centipedes or the fact that I can’t feed my kids chicken nuggets when I am feeling tired or lazy. Being here has opened my eyes to my weakness in this area, and I am now daily praying for the strength to face this fear and dive in completely.