They have a church building here with a tile floor; it even has 12 volt and 110 lights, which is a huge deal when you have prayer meeting every morning at 5:30 am (and much earlier when they celebrate the Lord’s supper or have a Bible conference). Yes, they have the New Testament translated in their own language.
Sometimes I ask myself, “How can these people not know God? This very mission organization has been working with this people group for 60-plus years. How could they have missed the good news!”
As I think about this I am reminded of the Pharisees in the days when God Himself walked on this earth in human form, the man Christ Jesus. The Pharisees had never been separated from the message of God, not for a day not a week, month or even a year; how could they miss seeing God Himself, but they did. We all know they did. How do I know the people here didn’t get it either? That is a hard question.
I hardly know how to say “hello” in the language yet; forget the inner workings of the culture! However there are subtle things that give us hints about their lost state. All but one person in the village goes to church. The deacon is a medicine man, and people come from hours away to be cured. No one will steal from him because he has plants that can turn into jaguars in his crops and by his house. The “believers” all tell stories of how they have broken a taboo that has enraged the jungle spirits, which have suddenly sent storms with lightning and thunder to scare and punish them.
As I was preaching the other night (with the help of an interpreter) about the wickedness of Eli’s sons as recorded in the first few chapters of 1 Samuel, two things happened that stuck out to me. First, when I was preaching, my interpreter (who has been to seminary and is called a pastor) used the Portuguese word “Lenda,” or legend, when referring to the stories I was reading directly from my Portuguese Bible. How can God’s word be compared to a fairytale?
The other thing that happened while I was up front preaching, much to the embarrassment of my wife, was a single mom in the audience was asking my wife in her very limited Portuguese what it’s like to have sex with me.
It is not surprising that there is not a way to say, “let’s go to church,” in the language, but instead they say, “let’s go sing.” Church is a just another ritual that has become part of the culture. After 60 years from when the first missionary arrived, these people are no closer to understanding the truth that God is extending grace to them and all they need to do is believe what Christ has done for them. In fact, it seems strange, but in many ways they seem further from the truth than before.
They now think that they are in Christ and have all the blessings and confidence associated with being children of God. They think that by singing and doing the right things they earn favor with their ancestral deity, ampirikori, which they have equated with the God of the Bible, because He was their creator.
Doing these things is the gospel to them and anyone who teaches otherwise is to be considered anathema, just like the Galatian church was to treat anyone teaching a different gospel than the gospel Paul had taught them. Even though they have pastors who have been to seminary and beautiful church buildings, they are still unreached.