By midday, the stifling humidity inside the tiny African mud hut was becoming unbearable. Beads of perspiration gathered on my forehead, and my clothes were sticking to my body. It was difficult getting used to living without electricity and fans!
It was October 1987, but despite the prickly heat, these were exciting days. Marina and I had moved to this isolated area in north-east Ivory Coast, West Africa with our four young children just six weeks earlier. We were anxious to be a help and blessing to the Loron tribal people, and also to the other missionaries who were living and working among them.
I had spent the best part of the morning trying to analyse some of the verbs and pronouns in the Loron language, and it was encouraging to feel like I was, at last, beginning to make some progress in recognising and understanding some of the complicated patterns in the language.
As I pored over pronoun charts spread out before me on the simple plywood desk my concentration was interrupted by the sound of footsteps approaching the screened door of the little mud hut. Two men appeared at the entrance. Instead of knocking they said the now familiar ‘kaw kaw’ to let me know of their presence.
One of the men I already knew. His name was Chavaray. Over the previous few weeks he had helped us a lot in settling into village life. That morning he had been drawing water from the hand-dug well just outside our house to wash some clothes for us. The other man was a stranger. I had never seen him before. He wore a long religious gown, but he looked like a Loron man.
I invited the men into the hut and Chavaray introduced me to the newcomer. His name was Hovaray. As we greeted each other and firmly shook hands, I could feel the roughness of his skin. He had obviously been working hard, probably in his fields, growing food for his family. As I looked into his eyes, I sensed an unusual intensity and alertness. He was one of those people who make a lasting impression the first time you meet them. Hovaray had some questions that he desperately wanted answered, and he thought that we might be able to help.
As we had been living in the village for only a few weeks, I was not yet able to communicate very much in the Loron language. We had learned some basic greetings and a few practical phrases, but it would take years of concentrated language study before we would be able to communicate effectively with the Loron people in their own language. Hovaray could only speak his native tongue. He didn’t speak any French, the national language. However, Chavaray explained to me in French why Hovaray had come.
Hovaray was on a quest for truth. He was disillusioned with the idol worship that permeated every aspect of Loron society. On one occasion he had moved to a town far away from his people, and had tried to find ‘the truth’ by following the major religion of that region, but found no peace or satisfaction there either. Having returned to his village, he was having a recurring dream, but he could not figure out what it meant. When he heard that there were white people living close to his village, he was sure that ‘the Whites’ could help him discover the meaning of his dream.
Hovaray told us that in his dream he had seen a book. There were certain words on the cover of the book, but as he could not read, he was not sure what the words were. He said that if he saw the book, he would recognize it. In his dream, he had seen a walled enclosure, and within that enclosure, he had discovered the book. He had also seen people being put into a swamp, and being completely covered with water. He did not understand the meaning of the dream, but as it kept coming back to him, he was very anxious to find out.
As Hovaray repeated the words that he thought he had seen on the book, I struggled to understand what he was saying. The words did not seem to be from his own language. I took out my English Bible and showed it to him, and asked him, “Is this what you saw in your dream?”
He replied, “No, that is not the book.”
I showed him a French Bible. No, that wasn’t it either. I couldn’t think of anything else to show him and didn’t know what else I could do to help him.
Hovaray was sure that he was at the right place, because, when he had arrived at our home for the first time that morning, he had noticed the wall of mud bricks and stones surrounding the house. The walls were there to keep the village cows and goats out of the yard, but for Hovaray, it was just like the enclosure he had seen in his dream. He was certain that this was where he would find the book. He kept repeating the words that he thought he had seen in his dream.
Then I remembered about the Gospel of John that had been translated into the Loron language by a Swiss translator. This portion of Scripture was the first ever to be printed in Loron just a year or two earlier, but as there were no Loron people in our area who could read, hardly anyone had ever seen it. There were a couple of these booklets sitting high up on a shelf just under the straw roof inside the little mud hut. I reached up and took one of the booklets from the shelf. As I turned around with the book in my hand and asked Hovaray if this was what he was looking for, I heard a gasp, and an excited response. “Yes, that’s the book!” he said.
I handed it to him and he grasped it with both hands. He stared at it with wide-open eyes and slowly repeated, “Yes, this is it!”
That day we had no idea what the Lord was going to do in and through Hovaray, or indeed, in and through many other Loron men and women as the gospel took hold of the Loron people of Ivory Coast. Hovaray started to attend the weekly Bible studies we were holding under a large mango tree on the edge of the village. A couple of months after our first encounter with him, he put his trust in the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation.
Hovaray, we believe, was one of the first Loron people to come to a clear understanding of the grace of God. He quickly grasped that God’s offer of salvation had nothing to do with our good works, but was by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.
After believing in the Lord Jesus he had no more dreams about books or walled enclosures or waters of baptism. He had found the truth. No longer a stranger at the door, he had entered into the glorious richness of God’s grace and love.
For almost thirty years Hovaray did everything he could to share with his family, his neighbours and other people groups in the region the good news of the Gospel of Christ. He was involved in every aspect of church activity among the Loron people and served the Lord with unbounded enthusiasm and love.
He was an inspiration and challenge to dozens of young Loron Christians who have become engaged in serving God through Bible teaching, literacy, Bible translation and community development.
On July 27, 2016, after a short illness, Hovaray went to be with His Saviour. We thank the Lord for the life and ministry of our dear brother.