Thursday, October 16, 2014

Open Grave

If you have heard us speak in the last several months, then you have seen this picture of our daughter in the waterfall not too far behind our house in Hewa. We use this to illustrate the animistic beliefs of the Hewa people. The people believe that evil spirits live in waterfalls and are afraid of them. They leave an area with a waterfall undisturbed as they try to evade those spirits when planting gardens and clearing hiking trails.

It is such a huge contradiction to our culture. We are in awe of waterfalls and will pay big money to travel to see them. Even hike through thick rain forest jungles just to get a picture taken while we are standing in one.

Many people are in shock when we tell them that our people are afraid of waterfalls. They can't believe that something that we cherish and love is considered evil to them. And we pity them, that they can't appreciate and enjoy this beautiful creation of God. We shake our heads and criticize the believers that know the truth, but still just don't like to be around this or any waterfall because it makes them uncomfortable.

This picture, however, brings up different feelings for us. In fact this picture probably makes us feel exactly how the Hewa feel about that waterfall. What is it?

It's an open grave.

The Hewa bury their dead in a hole and instead of filling that hole with dirt they put thin planks of scrap wood from the jungle (usually some type of tree bark) over the hole then put dirt over it and build a roof over the grave.

It doesn't take long before the wood planks underneath rot and the whole thing caves in. We would be completely disturbed by this and immediately fix it.

They don't.

It doesn't bother them. They don't get images of zombies crawling out of the grave or ghosts coming to haunt them. They know that the spirit left that body a long time ago and now it is just lying there, harmless, unable to hurt or bother anyone.

I bet they would shake their heads at us for still getting weirded out by an open grave. I bet they would criticize us who know the truth, but still avoid going near this place if at all possible.

As missionaries, we spend a lot of time evaluating our tribal believers. We wondered where they are in their walk and spiritual maturity because that tells us how well we are doing our job and of course, when we will be able to leave. Sometimes we get discouraged when some of our strongest believers won't join us in playing in the waterfall, but think nothing of the fact that we won't sit beside them against the open grave.

But we're all just weak, fallen flesh that is easily influenced by the world and culture around us. Sure we know that nothing is coming out of that grave, but we can't help that feeling it gives us. Just like they know that there is no evil spirit in that waterfall, but they just can't shake that feeling it gives them.

We are all in this world, but not of it together. We both have to decide daily to study God's word to know the truth and choose to believe it no matter what our culture is saying to us or how it is making us feel.

Maybe the open grave is not the best example though. I mean we all know that it is creepy, but I don't think any American over the age of 12 is truly afraid of it. It probably doesn't take much conscious thought and prayer to overcome.

But what about when you hear that someone is cured of cancer? We all give God all the praise and thank Him for that healing process, but in the backs of our minds we wonder if God had anything to do with it. We wonder if the outcome would have been the same without the surgery and the chemo and the radiation. We know that sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't and we give God the credit when it does and "trust His will" when it doesn't but we all know the medical science behind it and know that many who don't put God in either scenario have the same results.

Or we hear of some "miraculous" healing in a baby who was previously believed to have some sort of medical issue and want to give God the credit, but in the backs of our minds we wonder if the initial tests were just wrong?

Much more so than zombies, even with the popularity of the Walking Dead, Secular Humanism has hugely influenced our Western thought and culture. Everyday we have to choose to read and study God's Word. Everyday we have to choose to believe His truth and know that in He is in all things even when our culture tells us that He has nothing to do with anything because He doesn't exist.

But He is there. He is there in the tests. He is there in the diagnosis. He is there in all the treatment. He is there when it works. He is there when it doesn't. He is there when no one even acknowledges He is there. 

Everyday we have to renew our minds. To transform our thinking. To choose not to conform to the pattern of thinking of our world and culture. Everyday the Hewa believers have to do the same.  We're in this together. We struggle together and it is our job to mutually encourage each other.

So I was very encouraged by the testimony of one of our Hewa men, Kifeson when he told us how he felt after the two suicides in our village and the choice he made afterward. Jonathan recorded his story...

“I wanted to flee,” Kifeson said to me when I returned from the States. “When Nosem hung himself and then Atipz did the same thing I wanted to run as fast as I could to get away from the evil spirits. I seriously considered going to Yano. But then God’s Spirit said to me, ‘You can go to Yano to teach My words; that would be good. But don’t run to Yano in fear.’ When I heard that I decided I need to stay here in Yifki and not run away in fear like other people were doing.”

You see waterfalls aren't the only places where the Hewa believe that evil spirits live. They also live on flat places...places where you would say... build an airstrip. And if you clear trees and build in those places then the spirits will punish you for it. So of course all of the Hewans in surrounding villages gave our village a big, "I told you so" when we had so many deaths of young people so close together as we were working on the airstrip. And there were people who left the village out of fear.

But as you read above. Kifeson stayed. Not only did he stay, but he decided to build a house right next to the airstrip instead of on one of the higher places in the village. He chose to believe God's truth.

Kifeson's house on the airstrip

Sitting under the house with his daughter.

Lord Jesus, thank you for Kifeson, my brother in Christ. Thank you for the encouragement he is in my life. Thank you that he made the courageous choice to believe your truth when the people and events around him told him not to. Thank you that everyday his worldview is shifting from that of an animistic worldview to a Biblical worldview.  Please God, help me do the same. Help me to view the world through the lens of your truth rather than the one my culture is trying to force me to see through. Thank you God, that your truth is universal. Thank you that You transcend geography, culture, economics, and all the things of this world that could separate and divide your children, and instead unite us in our relationships with Your Son and through Your Holy Spirit. Amen.