Last month Chris took a short trip into the village to see how things were going. He was encouraged that, for the most part, things are carrying on fine. The community has plans to build a new church/school building with a tin roof, so Chris helped them organize the transport of the sheets of tin, first by truck and then by helicopter, to get it all into the village. Maybe in February we’ll be able to send a guy or two in there to show them how to screw down the tin so that the intense rainy-season winds won’t blow the tin off the roof and send it wheeling down the mountain. Right now the only things keeping down the few sheets of tin on village buildings are rocks and logs, which just don’t cut it.
People continue to meet every Thursday evening in their villages to read and review the passages from Scripture that were taught on Sunday. There has also been some renewed interest in the post-literacy program that our coworker recently revamped to help people improve their reading and comprehension skills after they finish the literacy course. Sunday teaching responsibilities are being overseen by our four Bible teachers, both in the local church and in the one that’s a 3-hour hike away. And the small “clinic” is still giving aid to minor illnesses and injuries for many surrounding villages, some from other language groups. Praise God for all of the Pal people who are invested in helping believers to grow in their relationships with God! And pray that God will give them strength–there is much labor and few laborers.
In addition to all this, life goes on as usual for everyone. Contrary to their hopes before we taught through the Bible, people who follow Jesus still need to clear ground, plant and harvest gardens, and work hard to provide for their families. And people who follow Jesus still get sick, still have bad days, and still have to deal with everyday life in a fallen world. In fact, for an outsider, maybe the difference between a believer and a non-believer in Pal is not so easy to see. But it is there.
For a non-believer, daily life is not only full of hard work, it is full of fear. There is the fear of an unknown future, the fear of bad spirits and what they might do, and the fear of people finding out what you did and seeking revenge. But mostly they are afraid of sickness and death. There is nothing that drives people to seek a spiritual solution more than a serious illness.
People have all kinds of ideas about how to manipulate the spirits into making a sick person well. They believe that a certain woman who has the power needs to wash the sick person with water or mud. They believe that if the sick person’s entire clan will confess all their sins–dating back for generations–the spirits will remove the punishment of sickness. They believe in the power of certain words and certain plants and certain rituals, as well as the blood of sacrificial pigs or chickens. Sometimes they will remove a sick person from the village or speak their name only in whispers so that the spirits can’t find them and continue to make them sick.
And sickness is feared not only for the sake of those who are already ill, but also for those who might become ill. They will listen to anyone who seems like they know any kind of secret for keeping them from getting sick, and it all has to do with “cleansing” the ground or village or clan or person of bad spirits, which are the only causes for sickness that they know of.
That is how everyone in Pal used to function. The fear drove them to search out ways to placate spirits–they were willing to do anything they thought the spirits might require, which put them entirely at their mercy and filled them with fear. However, in the years since God has redeemed many of them from their bondage to sin, a new way of thinking has begun to grow. Take Kiabam, for instance. She became a believer in 2015, and right from the start God gave her incredible insight into and understanding of His Word. If I was ever at a loss as to how to communicate a concept from Scripture to a group of ladies, Kiabam was right there telling them what I wanted to say with crystal clarity.
Today Kiabam’s husband has TB. He was able to go to a hospital, get a diagnosis, and get started on some medicine, and we are praying for him to get well. If he does, he will be the first Pal person that we know of to actually survive TB. Anyway, when he got back from the hospital, Kiabam was visiting me one day and she started telling me how things were going in their house. She told me that she never gives his leftover food to anyone else–she always throws it in the bush. And she makes him stay on his side of the fire and keeps their children away from his area. And he has his own special dish and cup and spoon and clothing which she washes very carefully after each use and doesn’t let anyone else use. As she’s telling me this, my head is full of the recent incident with all the Bible teachers drinking magic water to ward off sickness, and I’m thinking, “Oh no. Not Kiabam, too! I thought she would see right through all this ritualistic stuff!” But as she keeps talking, I realize that she’s not talking about spiritual rituals–she’s talking about quarantine!
Kiabam is not trusting in magic water, or dead chickens, or some random lady with a bunch of mud to help her husband and keep her family safe; she is trusting in the God who made the world and gave us immune systems and gave his people instructions about hygiene and quarantine on Mt. Sinai. And that is where we see the difference. If you look closely, it is there.
Believers are no longer afraid to walk from village to village alone, like unbelievers are. They are no longer terrified that a lightning-bug is actually a hostile spirit that might come in their house and do something horrible. They no longer give in to the pressure to commit adultery to make their gardens grow better. Their lives are still physically demanding, and they still struggle with the things that all fallen humans struggle with, but now they have a God to turn to in the struggle who actually has the power to help them, and they no longer live in fear because they trust Him.
Please pray for the Pal believers to cling to their trust in God and to reject the temptation to return to “old thinking” when they are faced with trials. Ask God to give them faith and wisdom and discernment, as well as boldness to stand up for the truth. Please pray for Kiabam’s husband Movegam to recover from his TB and ask God to keep it from spreading to anyone else. Chris will go back to the village again in November. Please pray for him to make good progress in translation and lesson-writing. The growth of the believers is real and evident, and we are asking God to equip us and Pal church leaders to encourage that growth. Thank you for partnering with us!