We are currently (summer and fall 2017) on home assignment in the U.S. We appreciate your prayers for us as we represent the work of church planting among the Landumas, and as we seek to fellowship and encourage our family members and friends in our “home” areas.
This past spring we were studying Romans 2 with the local believers (Landumas as well as some from other ethnic groups) on Sunday mornings. Some passages are easy to translate and explain, while others are, of course, rather challenging!
A good example of the latter is 2:15. Here Paul writes that the Gentiles “…show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them…”
After reading this passage, we spent some time discussing the conscience, and how God wants us believers to allow the Word of God and the Holy Spirit to shape our consciences. God wants us to then follow our God-molded consciences, that is, the Holy Spirit’s guidance, when faced with ethical decisions.
Outward appearance or inner conviction?
But in the Landuma culture the conscience, or at least our conception of what the conscience is, seems to often be absent.
The Landumas, like many others in Africa, Asia, and other places, tend to act according to their perceptions of what others will think, whether their actions will result in them being honored or shamed by those around them. Thus they tend to focus on outward appearances rather than inner convictions of right and wrong.
We have seen that many Landumas can do wrong things and seemingly not be conscience-stricken until their deeds are exposed and they are publicly shamed.
Of course such can be the case with those from the so-called “Western” cultures as well. However, as many cultural anthropologists have noted, the predominant cultural theme for most of us who have grown up in the West is more guilt-focused than shame-focused.
A matter of enculturation
This difference in cultures is of course not genetic, but results from the way we have been enculturated, or programmed by our cultures to think and act.
All cultures have good elements and bad. We believe that God wants to use His Word and the power of the Holy Spirit to shape the minds and hearts of people so that those from every cultural background might learn to live joyful and fruitful lives in harmony with their neighbors and in fellowship with Him.
Yet the sin nature in every person, and the evil influences present in every culture, fight against God’s purposes, resulting in self-centered pride, discord among people, and rebellion against God.
As noted above, the only solution to this is that consciences might be influenced, molded, shaped by the Word of God. Thus a main focus of our ministry among the Landumas is translating the Bible into their language. The church can only grow and mature where God’s Word is clearly understood by God’s people.
Being judged by the liver
The conscience is such an unusual topic in the Landuma context that we had never heard it discussed before beginning to translate the Bible. Further investigation into Landuma language and culture revealed that if a person’s conscience is telling them what they did or what they contemplate doing is wrong, that is their liver “judging” them. (The figurative use of the “liver” in African cultures is often similar to the Western figurative use of the “heart.”)
So in Landuma terms, when your liver judges you, you are feeling bad about what you did or want to do, even if no one else knows about it, even if no public shame is involved. In other words, your conscience is bothering you.
With this new understanding we were able to translate and teach the Landuma believers what Paul says about the conscience.
- Please PRAY that the believers whom we are discipling would learn well the lessons we studied in Romans.
- PRAY that they would not decide what they should do based on whether someone will see them do it, but would instead bear in mind that God sees and knows everything.
- PRAY that they would act according to their Scripturally molded, Holy Spirit directed consciences, which are showing them what is right.