Culture is the underlying meaning behind words and actions. Even more, culture includes the why behind what people do.
There you are as the new missionary, out in the middle of nowhere, barely able to speak a few sentences. Talking about abstract concepts such as grace, forgiveness, heaven and propitiation are a few years down the road. You are there to tell them about Jesus but you know little about what they believe or why. You took to heart those words which were taught to you from Proverbs 18:13, “He that answereth a matter before he heareth it, it is folly and shame unto him.” So, for now, you are the learner. Your mission is to discover what matters to your future audience.
You remembered the story about the missionary who unintentionally translated the Bible, “God created the world less than 20 years ago and I saw it happen.” You are sure that person meant well but you don’t want to fall into the same trap of miscommunicating your very important message. You must learn those things which will enable you to clearly and accurately communicate the truth about Jesus to their understanding.
There is a big ceremony in the village. You have been invited! You bring your camera. What does it all mean? What do they believe and why? How are their beliefs holding them captive?
What is the occasion of this ceremony?
Why is the ceremony necessary?
Which powers or authorities are involved?
What is being worshiped or given great value?
To whom does the ceremony apply?
Can just anyone perform the ceremony?
What is the position or status of the ceremony leader?
Can anyone do what the leaders are doing?
Why does each person have a glass of rice drink?
What is the significance of the bush knife?
Will any bush knife suffice?
What is accomplished by the ceremony?
This was not all theoretical for the missionary team who pioneered work with the Da’an people. The wedding day had come! The bride and groom sat dressed in their finest clothing with the entire village gathered around.
All was perfectly ordinary, in their thinking. Everything was going as it ought. An elder man spoke some words while holding a black rooster over the head of the groom. A younger man waved a red hen, wings flapping, over the heads of the bride, groom and everyone else.
A chicken struggled as another person collected its blood in a bowl. Which one was it? Taking the blood and his machete, an elder man dipped the machete into the blood and smeared it on the forehead and foot of the groom.
Somehow this did not seem to fit in with western wedding images of flowing silky white gowns, white table cloths and pink flowers.
Yet in the minds of these people, each part is just as necessary as the words, “I do!” and “You may kiss the bride!”
Their beliefs about sin, righteousness and judgment were just as complex and binding. To send away illness and sin they tied a vine across the river below the village, fed and armed the idols there, offered blood sacrifices at every house, chased the spirits out with wave offerings, and sent sin down the river to where all sin comes from on a raft laden with offerings.
Does sin originate downriver? Do illness and death come from offending spirits? What is the truth about overcoming fear? Does chicken blood atone for wrong deeds? To whom are the incantations spoken and do they have the power to deliver?
Only the truths of God’s word, lovingly applied to their strongly held beliefs, would set them free from the captivity of ritual performances to the unseen spirits.
Today God’s word has been taught there. Some people listened and some believed. The Da’an churches now carry the task of reaching their own people with the truth about Jesus. Would you pray for them today? Pray for us.
There are many other tribes of people who have not yet heard of Jesus. They will not hear until Christians intentionally train, equip, support and send someone to tell them. Would you pray for laborers who are willing to persevere in far away places to decipher mysterious cultures and present a clear Christ-centered message?