Sunday, September 20, 2015

Spirit and Truth

I have had such a hard time writing lately. I told my husband that I think I have writer's block. Although, I don't know if that is a thing only real writers are allowed to say. But basically, I have a thought, open my computer, get ready to type, have a mini panic attack, slam the computer shut because somehow the few words that I actually hammered out fell down to the bottom of the page like ashes and rose as a Phoenix that came out of the computer and tried to eat me.

Is that writer's block? Or is that something that needs therapy?

Anyway, my husband told me to just write and see what happens. He told me to look at pictures and get inspired from the things I see in them. That was actually great advice and apparently he is a genius. (He's been telling me this for years, but it is hard to recognize someone's genius when you are constantly cleaning their toenail clippings off of end tables. He actually hasn't done that in a long time which may be why the veil has been lifted and I can now see him in all his intellectual glory). 

The pictures worked, I think, because everything here in this missionary life is starting to become normal to me. I don't have quite as many feelings about every single thing that I experience during the day like I did in the beginning. And it is hard to come up with words when there are no feelings attached.

But the pictures....

The pictures make feelings. Lots of feelings.

Like this one...

This is the day that Baby Girl's heart stopped beating several times and Susan breathed for her for hours until we all thought it was over, but God decided it wasn't and she became Talitha.

In the picture Susan is actually giving the baby chest compressions while the mother holds her hand over the baby's fontanel.

Hewans believe that the spirit of the baby can very easily slip out of the infant's soft spot causing the baby to die. It sounds crazy but it is actually pretty logical from their perspective. The infant mortality rate has historically been very high (around 85%), more than any other age group. So, what is visibly different about babies that makes them so vulnerable? This little spot on the tops of their heads that after it closes seems to significantly lessen the chances that the baby will die.

If you don't know any different. It makes perfect sense.

This is a great example on why becoming very fluent in your people's belief and culture is crucial in discipleship.  Is this truly an animistic practice or is it just like that time we all thought the world was flat? Understanding must precede teaching.

Sure the word "spirit" is involved, but the baby does have a spirit or soul. That is a Biblical truth.  We do not believe that a person can prevent the spirit of an infant from leaving it's body, and therefore control life and death. God ordains life and death and only He directs a person's spirit once the flesh is no more.

But for the Hewan, the spirit is just as much a part of the body as the arm or face or lungs or heart. As Susan breathes air into those tiny lungs and pumps blood through her little body with the pressure of two fingers to keep her alive, the mother does her part to keep the spirit in the body, so it can do its function as well.

But while this seems to be a more benign act than say, sacrificing a pig so that external spirits will intercede and save the life of the child, it does display the root of the belief that spirits, all of them, can be controlled or manipulated for the benefit of people. The simple act of the hand on that tiny baby's head says, "I have some control over the spirit of this child." It shows us, the missionaries, the disciplers, that there needs to be a distinction made over the flesh and the spirit. (Many of the more mature believers do already know this, but we still see it a lot with parents and infants, so it is still an issue). Does it mean that anyone who does this is not a true believer? Absolutely not. As people from a Western culture with heavy secular humanism influences, there are probably hundreds of things we do or say everyday that come from a non-Biblical worldview and we don't even realize it. It doesn't mean we aren't saved. It means we need to be taught and to grow and this will be a need we have until we die. This is true of all people everywhere in every cultural context.

The significance for us is simply in investigating and understanding the people. From our perspective seeing this act would simply mean the mother is trying to keep the baby warm or protect that soft spot. If there is no investigation then we would have missed a significant outward behavior of their internal thought process. (Fortunately for us, our co-workers are champions of not only language but also culture study and have been steadily showing us the things as they have learned about Hewa culture over the last 15 years). 

If we simply assume that a behavior has a specific purpose based on our own background then we miss huge opportunities for understanding the cultural context in which we are trying to teach. Without that context the message gets blurred, misunderstood, and often completely rejected.

One of my (favorite) Bible professors* in college used to always say, "The context is the message." Meaning that the Bible must be understood in the context that it was originally written. And is is equally important to understand the context of the opposing culture or worldview in which you are now introducing Biblical truth.

For instance, a person with a secular humanism worldview you would have to start with the truth that there is a spirit world. You don't have to do this with a Hewan. They know the spirit world exists, but need to know Biblical truths about the spirit world and what it means in their daily lives.

And this is applicable no matter where you minister. You have to really know where people are coming from, their background, their thought processes before you can speak deeper truths into their lives. It's why relationships are so important in discipleship and why YOU are so significant to in reaching the people that surround you in life. You have the opportunity to really dig into- just like we do- their worldview. You can hear their stories, know their thoughts and feelings as certain events play out in their lives, and you can really minister to them in deep in meaningful ways.

But just like us, you have to put in the time, energy, and sometimes awkwardness and difficulty it takes to get to know and understand someone. You can't just assume they think like you do.

It is a high calling that God has given to all believers everywhere. Because He wants us all to one day be able to worship Him in Spirit and in Truth.

*Big G, I dare not hope that you ever have or ever will read this blog, but if you do, please know that I consider everything I learned from you pure gold and have tried desperately to hold onto everything you taught me even though pregnancy brain and the long sleep-deprived infant years took most of my high-order thinking skills. I'm not even sure I was saved before I took your Teachings of Jesus class. I have also considered getting "the context is the message" tattooed several times. Thank you. That is all.

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