A Tale of Two Baptisms

A Tale of Two Baptisms
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Before I wander too far in my ramblings, celebrate with me both the Baptisms of my son Samuel Hauser and my (formerly) Muslim friend Dawda.   WhoooooHooooo!!!
 
As Ramadan drew to a close, I found myself mentally preparing for two baptisms.  Many of you have been praying with my teammates and me as we prepare to baptize a young Jula (Muslim) man named Dao (short for Dawda or David).  My teammate who will be officiating the baptism wrote asking if I had any thoughts about the words to be spoken at this occasion.
 
A few days earlier, my oldest son Samuel (9) told me with a shy smile that he wants to be baptized.  As missionaries, we are forced to live a somewhat schizoid life and consequently are looking for constants in the different facets of our lives.  It gets tiring changing your lenses all the time.  So, I decided to intentionally align Sam and Dawda’s passage through the baptismal waters as closely as possible.  
 
I decided to use Biblical stories, rather than verses pulled from their context, to talk to Sam about what it means to follow Jesus—almost exactly in the way I walked Dawda through that decision.  We talked about the first disciples’ decision to follow Christ: what they gave up to follow, what they knew/believed about Jesus at that point, and the blessing/reward they gained by following Christ.  
 
We read through Peter’s good confession and Jesus’ consequent hard words about what it really means to follow him.  We parsed out “Christ” as “King,” including his promises to save the lives of those who lay theirs down for Jesus…but emphasized his Lordship.  We took turns reading Zaccheus’ and Bartimaeus’ stories, trying to put ourselves in their places.  Sam diligently spent time meditating on these passages and the costs and the joys of following Jesus as one’s King.  
 
We read and memorized Acts 2:38 basking in our King’s good gifts: forgiveness of sins and the Holy Spirit living in us.  We spent a healthy amount of time talking about repentance (what it means) and walking through repentance (both of us confessing sins and sinful attitudes that need to be turned away from).  Let’s face it: there’s plenty of evil in the world, and it has an uncanny ability to get into our hearts.
 
We talked about the new community of the King.  How Jesus replaces what we’ve had to leave behind a hundred times over with a new family in Christ (and suffering with it).  A family that is much bigger and often truer than our biological families (though we are blessed that so much of our family is also a part of this new family in Christ).
 
In fact, my time on the mission field has prompted me to go back to older, more extensive litanies (worship words) to be spoken at baptism.  We tend to stop at: “Do you believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God…and do you accept Him as Lord and Savior?” followed by “I now baptize you in the name of Jesus for the forgiveness of sin and to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”  Below are a few traditional emphases that we wanted to reclaim in preparation for both Sam’s and Dawda’s baptisms.
 

God-parents and other members of the Christian community committing to helping the new believer grow in Christ.  Below are the traditional questions asked of parents and God-parents at a child’s baptism in the Anglican Church.  I’d love to hear questions similar to these posed to the community as new believers are baptized in our churches:

Will you be responsible for seeing that the child you present
is brought up in the Christian faith and life?
Parents and Godparents : I will, with God’s help.
Will you by your prayers and witness help this child to grow
into the full stature of Christ?
Parents and Godparents : I will, with God’s help.

 

In my decade in Africa, I’ve become convinced of the value of formally asking the baptismal candidate to renounce all spiritual allegiance other than Christ.  I guess it only takes one person coming up from baptism screaming under demonic oppression to come to that conclusion.  Time after time, we’ve seen people try to hold on to a little spiritual security on the side—amulets, rings for protection, “harmless” sacrifices to ancestors.  Time after time, we’ve seen people hold on to sin and sinful attitudes, especially those that aren’t taboo in that culture.  At least we’d never do that in ‘Merica (read sarcasm).  We need to renounce and turn away from the evil “trinity” of the devil, the world and sinful desires in order to turn toward and follow God in Christ.  I like the stark line in the sand drawn by the old confessions:

Question :    Do you renounce Satan and all the spiritual forces of wickedness that rebel against God?
Answer : I renounce them.
Question:    Do you renounce the evil powers of this world which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God?
Answer : I renounce them.
Question:     Do you renounce all sinful desires that draw you
from the love of God?
Answer :  I renounce them.
 
I thank you for being a part of Dawda’s and Samuel’s communities, and ask you to commit to helping them grow up into Christ (recognizing geographical limitations) by prayer and witness.
 
Let’s remember and celebrate our own baptisms–the joy of that new life, forgiveness and the gift of the Holy Spirit living in us.
 
Join me in re-stating our confession:  “I believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God.  I accept him as my saviour and bow to him as my King.”
 
Join me in renouncing:  “I renounce Satan and all the spiritual forces of wickedness that rebel against God.  I renounce the evil powers of this world which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God.  I also renounce all sinful desires that draw me from the love of God.”
 
The Peace of Christ to you all,
 
Brian

 

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That time I yelled at God, “Throw me a bone!” And he said, “Eat me.”

I wrote the following to be part of a devotional booklet for Lent for one of our home churches. It never got very finished, but it reflects some important truth I learned during what was a very difficult time for me. I debated about whether to write it up and send it out because Tab’s illness was fairly dramatic and provoked some serious drama in my spiritual journey. While i don’t want to write just to be sensational, I’ve decided that what i learned might benefit someone else. So forgive my mess and drama while embracing the stunning testimony of Christ’s incarnation and death. If you’ve found yourself wondering where God was in your mess and if he cared, stare with me for a while at the bread of heaven who came down to earth and was broken for us.

When physical and spiritual hunger ambush a weary pilgrim in the desert, things get confusing–like a bad Kung-Fu movie.

The Jews, starving for God’s kingdom, went looking for Jesus in the wilderness, fixated on filling their bellies with fishes and loaves–a mere sign of the Feast that was before them.

As my better half lay sweating on a hospital bed, pale as death, my worse half sobbed quietly in the bathroom. I asked God where in the Sahel he was and if he couldn’t throw this dog a bone ’cause the whole of me was dying.

As I was laboring through John 6 then next day, Jesus surprised the Jews and me by showing up in the desert. Neither I nor the Jews seemed to be following the dialogue. It was all lost in the translation/dubbing ’til I heard Jesus say, “Truly I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.” (53)

WHAT? Despite my excellent theological education–i had no idea what this really meant. But, i knew that i had to know–or you know, die. So, I immediately called two theologically astute friends and said, “i need to know what this means, RIGHT NOW.” They either thought I was joking or were afraid of my intensity and verbally backed away slowly without making any sudden movements.

So i rewound and re-watched the scene unfold trying to see beyond the dubbing and I latched on to verse 33:
“The Bread of God is He who comes down from Heaven and gives his life to the world.”

Me and the Jews were looking for just a mouthful from the Messiah to last another day in the desert. That God Himself came to the desert is the bread of my eternal feast, that he then gave his life to save this world (and this sorry dog) is the heady drink that streams and pools in the desert, transforming it into paradise.

Come to the table.

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Distractions

One of the things i love about doing Chronological Bible Storying in Africa, is that one often engages a group of people right where life happens. Chickens and sheep are underfoot. Crazy people sit down and join in the conversation. Ladies stop by to try and sell you fish, etc. It reminds me a bit of Jesus’ teachings on the road, at the table, on the hillside and in the midst of the unruly crowd. Some of Jesus’ best teaching happened in the midst of interruptions. Whether a sick woman snuck up on him to touch his clothes in the midst of the crowd or Jesus himself interrupted a funeral procession to raise the dead—the Kingdom was breaking into people’s daily lives. Often enough, people and their daily needs broke into Jesus’ teaching about the Kingdom. Think about the four friends dropping their paralyzed friend through the roof as Jesus taught in a packed house—or the lady that interrupted Jesus’ table talk to plead for her daughter’s healing like a dog snatching for crumbs. Do we have any record of Jesus calmly teaching in a synagogue without interruption: demons howling at Jesus, his enemies laying traps for him daring him to heal on the Sabbath? The Sermon on the Mount does seem pretty calm, but I’m guessing Matthew left out some interesting moments to focus on the content… I mean, Jesus was surrounded by crowds of people gathered on a hillside. I’d like to recount a couple of my recent interruptions as they illustrate the challenges and opportunities of being an agent of God’s Kingdom in this place.

My family lives in the large village of Sindou, pop. 5,347. (we make up the 7 at the end) Sindou has been very closed to the Gospel up until about 20 years ago. It became the capital of our little region and government officials began to live here and a couple of churches were started. Up until that point, the Animistic-Muslim population had refused to let Christians evangelize here or have any property. Sindou is still very closed, but the door has cracked open a bit. Otherwise, we couldn’t live here. I was certainly surprised to hear that an evangelistic “Crusade” was coming to town. (Yes, they called their evangelistic outreach in a Muslim community a “Crusade.”) I carefully stayed away because, although I consider these well-meaning Christians brothers and sisters, my experience has shown that these events do more to close doors and reinforce bad stereotypes than advance the gospel in a Muslim community.
Anyway, Tabitha and I had gone to a Muslim friend’s courtyard and recounted the story of Creation and the Fall. I felt almost like I was in an African version of one of Wendall Berry’s books. My friend Siaka and his wife Fatima were there with all four of their kids. Fatima’s ancient mother (very hard of hearing) and a marabout’s (think mostly benign Muslim Magic practitioner) daughter were there. All outrageous characters. We had a lively discussion and were approaching the application/obedience part of our study. After recounting a story, we ask the group to tell the story back to us until they get it right and then we follow up with three open ended questions: 1) what did this passage teach you about God? 2) about humankind? 3) Now that we’ve listened to the Word of God together, what do we need to do now to obey?
We had some great discussion about God’s power, creativity, holiness and grace. We talked about humanity’s tendency to grab an easy solution that they can touch and taste rather than trust in God. As we began talking about how we might obey this Word, “HALLELUJAH”s started raining down on us and some lady with a booming voice started warbling some praise songs at a volume that made our bones vibrate. The crusade had begun. We moved closer and tried to yell at each other. The ancient mother-in-law looked around trying to figure out what had set her body vibrating. The Swiss guy preaching in English-to French-to Jula, booming his way through the dozen mega-phones atop tall bamboo poles, and into every house in the village ended our discussion.

Just yesterday, Tab and I were back at Siaka’s telling the dual story of God making a covenant with the Israelites and giving the 10 commandments immediately followed by their making and worshipping the Golden Calf. Siaka and Fatima were there along with Lagi (a tailor with a crippled hand and a descendant of the first Muslim missionaries to come from Guinée to convert Sindou). Half way through the story a lady came to sell us fish. She taunted us in a friendly way when we declined, saying “What, white people don’t eat fish?” A friend of mine was guiding some white tourist through town out to see our village’s rock formation. He stopped to free a kid who was trapped under some large clay pots that were stacked near by. (a goat’s kid, gotcha!) And then a young lady that looked vaguely familiar sat down to listen to the last half of the story. When we got to the questions, she made a couple of responses that were hard to understand, exacerbated by the fact that she insisted in speaking in (very bad) French. After a bit she thanked us for the study and went on her way. Siaka leaned over and said, “She’s not right. She’s got the Djinn (evil spirit) sickness and has become crazy.” At the end, we prayed for God to help us trust in him, not people, not idols…and to heal our friend Salimata with the Djinn sickness. All in all, two pretty average storying sessions.

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Cornbread and Ashes, Stars and a little Sweat Tea

As Ash Wednesday drew near, I got word that a dear friend was laid up sick in the hospital.  It got me to thinking of the times we chatted in his truck after church, listening to a little bluegrass and talking about the stars.  I wanted more than anything to be at the hospital visiting with him and his family.  The sorrow I felt as I imagined Joe in a hospital bed and Dolly by his side, the sadness I felt for being so far away made Ash Wednesday and Lent much more real to me (so much so that cornbread and sweat tea may become our traditional Ash Wednesday meal.).  We are broken waiting for the hope of resurrection and restoration.  We are longing for our King and the fulfillment of his Kingdom that seem so long in coming.   So, since I can’t pull up a chair and visit with Joe and Dolly over some cornbread and soup beans for Sunday dinner, I’ve decided this Jula Journal is for them, a chat with Joe that the rest of you can listen in on if you’ve a mind to.
 
Joe, would you believe that I learned as much from you and my other friends at Westside about being a missionary as I did in college and seminary?
 
It’s true.  You being in the hospital the other day got me to thinking about the time I visited you and Dolly a looong time ago, back when Uncle Jim was sick in the hospital.  You probably don’t remember that day, but I do.  I’d been mowing and ran the mower over a nest of yella jackets.  They got stirred up and a hand full got into my pants leg and shoe and stung me about a dozen times before I could hop out of my pants.  I didn’t know you all very well yet and didn’t really know what to say, so I mentioned that thinking it might break the ice.  You went on to tell about a time you were a going fishin’ and decided to use yellow jackets for bait. (I thought that was plain crazy.) You said you found the hole to their nest and put a jar over the top of it and started stomping around the hole.  Said you never noticed their back door, and Dolly spent quite a while doctorin’ up the 50 plus stings you got on your back that day.  Seems like Ron told a story about a fella who ran his bush hog over a big nest of yella jackets too…anyway, I learned at least two things that day.
 
First, the beauty and power of a story…to draw people together.  When I share the good news with my Muslim neighbors over here, we use Bible stories almost like you would in children’s Sunday School.  It draws us in to the Word of God together.  Second, the importance of visiting people when they or their family are down.  Later, I learned from you all the importance of honoring the dead and comforting their families by going to funerals and even visiting graves.  I always admired Dolly’s steadfast love in taking care of and visiting the graves of your loved ones.  That’s one of my biggest lessons to learn here.  Funerals are so important to Africans in general and Muslims in particular.  Muslims get the family together 3 times (besides the burial that happens the day a person dies).  The third, seventh, and fortieth day after the death the whole family and much of the village gets together to pray for the person who died.  Or if they can’t afford all three, they just have one big get together on the 40th day.  It gets expensive, because the family feeds everyone who comes–hundreds of people.   The visitors contribute, but still it’s a huge cost.  People leave work and travel from neighboring countries to come to the funeral of a family member they haven’t seen in years.  If you don’t go to funerals, people assume you don’t love them.  I’m glad you all got me started on learning that lesson.
 
Now I’m gettin’ hungry.  I can’t hardly think of you and Dolly without cornbread, beans, chicken dumplings and sweat tea coming to mind.  It’s a wonder I didn’t gain 50 pounds while I was at Westside.  Tabitha and I have decided to make our home a welcoming place like yours was.  We’re still beginners, but the last visit we had from our Muslim friends, we served them some rice and peanut sauce with my best attempt at copying Dolly’s sweat tea to wash it down.  They liked the tea.  Usually they drink their tea in shot glasses.  Its hot, strong and very sweet.  It’ll give you a headache the first time you have a shot.  Hospitality is also very important here.  Whenever I go to tell the gospel story in a village, they always serve me a meal.  It’s usually cabato–that is corn meal boiled and then set to cool in a bowl.  It forms up like jello and then you pinch off a piece while its still hot and dip it in some spicy sauce.  Not exactly cornbread, but it still hits the spot.  The day we heard you were sick, I had Tabitha make up some cornbread and sweat tea to go along with our chili and I told my kids some stories about Uncle Joe.  I pray that in the same way you took this northern, city boy into your home and showed me God’s love by making me feel a part of the family, I pray God gives us the grace to welcome our Muslim friends into our home as family that they might discover the love of Jesus.
 
You’ve always had a way with words, Joe.  I’ve read lots and lots of poetry in my time, but very little of it sticks in my mind like the little line you wrote for Dolly at a sweetheart banquet: “As sure as the vine grows ’round the stump, you’ll always be my sugar lump.”  Do you remember that?  Something about that simple line and the way you said made everyone in the room either laugh or get a tear in their eye.  I’ve never even written it down, but it is engraved in my mind and heart.  I’m hoping to tell God’s stories in a way that sticks like that.  They like to tell proverbs over here, things like: “No matter how long a log stays in the river, it won’t become a crocodile” or “It’s best to learn to walk on one foot before your leg is broken.”  I’m trying to use these and make up some new ones to make the gospel stick.  
 
One of the things you taught me by example was to qualify my plans with, “Lord willin.'” It’s easy to get ahead of ourselves and forget God is king.  But here in Burkina, Muslims have a similar expression.  They say in Arabic Inshalla or in Jula Ni Alla sonna.  They quite rightly think a person to be a bit prideful if he doesn’t qualify his plans this way.  Beyond that, there probably never was a job that went less according to plan than being a missionary.  Our plans are often upended as God steers things back onto his course.  
 
Do you remember the times we’d chat out in the parking lot after church while the choir was practicin?  Sometimes we’d listen to bluegrass on the radio.  That’s another love you helped plant in my soul, bluegrass.  I just learned that the banjo came from West Africa.  People still play it over here, although it looks a bit different, being a goat skin stretched over half of a big hollow gourd with a neck and strings.  They call it a cora.  Apparently the slaves brought it along with them when they were forced over here hundreds of years ago.  Anyway, one time you got to telling me about the Zodiac and the phases of the moon.  You told me stories about how one field of corn planted during the new moon grew twice as tall as the field next to it planted during the old moon, or how wood shingles nailed on a roof during the new moon would peel right up.  After telling Bible stories, I sometimes sit out with the village elders and look up at the stars.  I point out a few constellations and they tell me their names for the same stars.  I tell them stories passed down to me by another elder back in Jonesboro, TN named Yusufu (That’s Jula for Joseph).  These stories about the stars and about planting get them started on their own stories and we’re drawn together to a place where this white, Christian city boy from America and these dark skinned, old Muslim men from a little village in Africa can listen to God’s Word together.
 
Well, I wish I was sitting with you back in Tennessee, but I’m also thankful for these memories and all that you and Dolly have taught me over the years without even trying to.  We’re praying for you and I’m praying that my son Joseph (and the rest of us) grows up something like Joe Crain.  I think he has your sense of humor and your love for life.  I’ll get him started on the harmonica here pretty soon.
 
Brian
 
P.S. There’s a huge beaver like rodent over here called Agouti , some call it a “grass cutter.”  Best eating in all Africa, tender like roast beef.  Always makes me think of that ground hog sausage you gave me a few years back.
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Jula Journal 6.2 The Rhythms of Creation and Free Falling


This is my reflection on storying back on January 10-11.

          I heart me some creation narrative.  It might be because it is the story I know best at this point in Jula.  It might be because of all the rhythmic repetition, of “God said…and it was so,” God saw that it was good,” and “there was evening and there was morning, the first day.”  These lines punctuate the melody as it reaches into each new day boldly incorporating new chords and syncopation.  Then the sixth day, the Master himself takes matters into his own hands and puts his soul into the music, improvising with bold inspiration that no one could have anticipated, but is the perfect climax to everything we’ve heard to that point.

         It might be the raucous fun we always seem to have trying to figure out what in all creation it might mean to be created in God’s image.  Usually,everyone stares at their toes when I ask the question, wondering no doubt, “what does the white guy want us to say?”  I usually follow up with a mildly inappropriate question like, “Well, I want to know, does God look like me or like Sumayila over there?”  Slowly, we explore together the mystery of what it means to be created lovingly in God’s image: intelligent, eager and able to create, merciful, capable and ready to bless, full of life, powerful.

         The story of the fall is more like the Jr. high band version of the Jazz I tried to describe above.  It starts off a little out of tune and ends up in a train-wreck.  Just one note a little out of tune in the first chord–the serpents subtle lie.  A missed entrance–you know the part where Adam steps in and reminds his wife and the rest of us how the Creator’s song really goes.  Fits and starts as everyone gets lost and tries to play over the other lost musicians–Adam and Eve hiding in the Garden and blaming each other for the disaster.   The Director trying to pull the threads back together–God’s judgement and mercy to Adam and Eve.  

 

         I told these stories in three villages in as many days, and while some of my memories have gone flat, I’d like to relate a few highlights:

 

Kangoura: Really good discussion on what it is to be made in the image of God.  We also finished the story of the fall on a very high note talking about our mutual responsibility to help each other respect the Word of God.

 

Jɛliso:  There had been some lingering tension between myself and a friend name Isiaka in Kangoura.  He’d been asking me for a long time to take him out to Jɛliso with me to see Babuna.  He’s apparently mad at me for trying to “force” people to change their religion.  I thought giving him a ride might soften his attitude toward me…and I thought that if he had a problem, Babuna the Imam with whom I study, might be able to give him a little perspective.  (I don’t think Isiaka really believed that I actually did Bible story sessions with our province’s most eminent Marabout.) Ah, the best laid plans of mice and missionaries…

         Turns out Isiaka and Babuna are old friends and are soon deep in conversation with an occasional polite nod in my direction.  At one point, when they nod in my direction to see if I have anything to add, i venture, “Actually, I hoped we might chat a bit about the Word of God like we usually do.”  Isiaka seemed a little surprised, but Babuna didn’t hesitate in saying that would be great.  We all enjoyed the rhythm of creation, but Babuna asked a couple of his “stump the missionary”questions.  I can’t tell if he does this to subtly remind me that he is the Koranic master, or if it’s out of a genuine desire to inform a misguided youth he has become fond of…probably some of both.  “On which day did God create light?” he asks.

         “The first.”

         “Which is which day?

         I give the Jula word for Sunday and we are both relieved.

         “Soo…What did God create the earth upon?” He asks me innocently.  

         “God created the world by his Word, so i would say he founded creation upon his Word.”   I say, proud of my allusion to Christ and medieval cosmology.

         “Which Word?”

         …awkward hesitation on my part which i hope looks like a language issue.

         Babuna explains, “Well God placed creation on the waters, which were placed on the wind, and below that nobody knows.”

         “Oh”…and awkward silence, then, well shall we continue?

         “Yes lets.”

         I continue with the the story of the garden and the fall and i am getting increasingly frustrated with Babuna’s added commentary.  The Koran or the Hadith have lots of apocryphal sounding stories about how Eve ate the fruit, but the fruit got stuck in Adam’s throat and when he cried out, out came all the languages that are now spoken in the world.  

         Babuna asks, “You do know why Kain killed Abel right? You see, Kain had a twin sister who was really beautiful and Abel had a twin sister who was rather plain, so when God said they had to marry the other brother’s twin, Kain got mad and killed Abel.”

         I’m thinking, “How do you even engage that?” but i say the missionary equivalent of “I’m taking my Bible and going home.”  I say, “Those teachings you just gave, where do they come from? The Koran, the Hadith?”  Thinking if its just the Hadith, we can agree to limit our discussion to what’s in the Word of God.”

         “Some from the Koran, some from the Hadith,”  he says, followed by awkward silence.  His wife brings us some yummy steamed yams and we eat together, thankful for something simple that brings us back together for a while.  Then the the clock strikes midnight and the carriage turns into a pumpkin–I mean the call to prayer sounds, and i am faced with a difficult choice.  Do i pray with my Muslim friends, or do i sit out as a spectator and reinforce their prejudice that Christians don’t take their faith seriously–people who don’t pray.  

         After my two “older brothers” have ritually washed themselves, i also take the plastic teapot and retire to the shower to prepare myself for prayer.  In fact i do quite a bit of praying in there, asking God to forgive me if i’ve unnecessarily offended my friends and asking him to guide and empower me with his words and love for the rest of the afternoon.  Then i methodically wash myself in preparation for prayer.  Muslims in their “apocryphal” supplements to the word say that you wash: 1) three times the hands that picked the fruit, 2) three times the mouth that ate the fruit, 3) three times the nostrils that smelled the fruit, 4) three times the face/eyes that beheld the fruit, 5)three times the arms that reached for the fruit, 6) the head and back of the neck on which the shadow of the tree fell, 7) three times the ears which listened to the serpent/Satan and 8) the feet which walked to the tree.

         When I come out I’m surprised to find that they are waiting on me.  I assumed they would pray together and then leave me to pray the Lord’s prayer with similar prayer postures on my own. They motion me on to the mats and we begin a funny dance.  Relational space is important here, so i place my sell a little behind Babuna and Isiaka like I would if we were walking through the village.  Isiaka motions me up level with them, but I am standing all of 6 inches away from him.  They are not content until we are standing shoulder to shoulder, touching each other, as if we were in a crowded room.  And we pray.  

         Afterwards we take our seats again.  Babuna asks me innocently, “So, where do your teachings come from?”  I explain that these stories come from the Torat, the Word of God given to Moses, that although there are lots of stories out there about Adam and Eve, I limit myself to the Word of God, but i know that its a rhetorical question.  Babuna is saying, “I’m your older brother by 40 years, one of the highest ranking Koranic teachers in the region.  I sit and listen patiently to you my friend–Christian missionary that you are.  We eat together, we pray together.  Don’t get huffy, listen and learn.”

         Touché.

 

Kawara:  My storying here was a pleasant surprise.  In Kangoura and Jɛliso, I often feel like my hosts are trying to contain the story sessions.  They humour me and even listen with interest, but limit who is listening.  In Kawara, we had 4 old men, 4 older women and up to 6 young men.  The extended family, listening intently together.  I don’t know if this will continue, but it was very encouraging.  

 

Join me in praying that these rhythms of the Word of God surprise the listeners, that they find themselves tapping their feet and singing along, and then–and then dancing along the Way, following Jesus.  

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A Very Long Day in the Life of this Mish (Jan 3-4)

May God’s light Illumine us all in this New Year,

Many apologies for the long period without updates.  This is partly due to our being very busy, partly due to a terrible internet connection where we now live that can’t send out the old format of Jula Journals with pictures and partly just my bad.  I’ll catch you up on the last half of last year in a series of e-mails over the next couple of weeks.
 
-At 5:30 PM, during that golden hour before sunset, I am still frantically packing (amid a seemingly never-ending stream of visitors) for my trip to the village.  
-At 6.15PM I finally roll out of Sindou on the mtorcycle.  The sun sets at 6:40 when I discover that (thanks to a little accident a friend had on the motorcycle) the headlight is pointing straight up into the trees.  This doesn’t illumine much of the road, but it does attract lots of bugs which in turn attract several bats who are daring each other to see who can grab the most bugs and careen away just before smashing into the visor of my helmet.
-At 7PM I arrive in Kangoura.  The plan is to chat with the guys who work on the farm (especially Chek–our tentative Muslim Background Believer).  We cook up some spaghetti and omelets.  We eat and later sip tea while watching the stars come out over Africa.  At first the moon is so bright, you can only see Venus.  But soon you can see Orion.  I learn that they see the 3 stars in his belt as a hunt across the sky–a monkey running from a hunter and his dog.  Pleiades is a mother hen and her chicks.  They try to point out to me the four stars that Imams use to mark the foundations for Mosques.  
-At 10 PM Chek, Baboukari and Jakaridja head inside to go to bed.  I pull my cot outside, wrap up in a Maasai blanket and listen to Acts chapter 1 a few times in French and Jula before putting  “A Shortcut to Mushrooms” (a chapter from the Fellowship of the RIng) on the I-pod while I fall asleep gazing at the stars.  Each time I wake up (often, thanks to the tea) the moon is dimmer and the stars are brighter.  A sleepless night of worship.
-At 4:30 AM The roosters and turkeys lift up their rusty voices to call up the dawn and flies start buzzing around my head.  The 30 minutes before sunrise are a stunning symphony of color. By 7:30, we have eaten breakfast and prayed for the start of work on the farm, reading Psalm 1 together.  Chek and I have also found a little time apart to read through Acts 1 again.  We plan to study Acts 2 next week.  I take care of a little farm business for the Gordons and then roll into Kangoura town to visit with the chief.
-At 8:30 AM  I find the Chief dressed-up all dapper-like to go to SIndou.  We exchange blessings for the New Year and lament the fact that the network has kept us from calling each other and planning this meeting.  I tell him I’d really like to see his orchard of Mango and Cashew trees today.  Since he’ll be back by 2PM, I decide to continue directly on to Jɛliso and catch the chief and the orchards on the way back. 
-At 9:30 AM I am exchanging New Years’ blessing with Babuna (my Imam/Marabout friend).  He says, “you rode your motorcycle in this freezing wind? (70 degrees)”  I remind him I was wearing a helmet (which keeps said freezing wind out of your nose and mouth.)  He invites me in his living room, and as I sit down, a wave of emotion hits me as I see that this holy man of Islam has put my Christmas card up on his wall.  On a field of green construction paper, a large yellow star bearing the words of Luke 2:13-14, “And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” beams over the rock formations of SIndou (which look a bit like people) that Tabitha traced and cut out of red construction paper.  We then talk at length about his cashew trees and his agricultural plans for the coming year.  (I’m trying to do an informal survey of the needs of these communities.) 

-At 11:30 AM I’m at the far edge of Babuna’s field of Cashew trees, driving slowly along a 6 inch wide track he assures me is a short cut straight back to Kangoura.   

-At 12PM my back wheel falls off a little ledge into some sand and me and the motorcycle take a little tumble.  Not hurt in the least as I was only going about 15 miles an hour, but glad no one was around to see it, because that person would have wet his pants from laughing so hard at how I fell.
-At 12:30 I drive through a little market/camp for gold-miners in the middle of nowhere.  It’s weird.  I don’t stop.  
-At 12:45 my suspicions about missing a turn are confirmed when I end up in Konandougou (almost back to Sindou).
-At 1:15PM I’m back in Kangoura resting under a Cashew tree listening to “The Old Forest” (Next chapter from FOTR) on the I-pod.
-At 2PM I’m in Kangoura eating “To” ( congealed corn mush) and okra sauce with the chief.  He also has his Christmas card with Luke 2:13-14 hanging proudly on his wall. WIN.  Santigiba and Adama join us and we ride double on the motorcycles on sandy tracks out to see his orchard.   It’s huge.  The first trees were planted 2 years before I was born.  And we want to help them do a tree project?  God’s sense of humor is grand.  We will do tree projects with their invaluable help and learn a lot in the process.  
-At 4PM We are back at the chief’s house and I’m stuffing my face with corn mush and spicy okra sauce.  I step back and watch myself eating away with my hand in a common bowl with my friends…throwing down corn mush and okra sauce like its lasagna!!!  I laugh as I lick my fingers clean.  Mamadou (the chief) asks me if I’ve put straw around my avocado trees yet (I asked him about it at our last visit).  I have to say no and then he shows me his trees.  I ask him if he can teach me some proverbs that use trees as illustrations.  When we sit down again with Santigiba and Adama, Mamadou looks at us seriously and says, “The elders used to say, ‘He who plants a tree, digs a well, or buys a mortar (for pounding grain), will have great reward in this life and the next.”  It was a bit odd, because he made it so theatrical, but it’s truth, and it’s given me a lot to think about.  I pray that our physical and spiritual ministry in these communities will have the same kind of enduring blessing for the community.  How to produce disciples that are wells, trees and mortars blessing multiple generations in the community?
-At 4:30PM I can hardly keep my eyes open and I start to ask for the road.  Mamadou asks, “What about our chats? (Bible Storying)”  When are we starting that up again?  Next Tuesday, we’ll start all over again.  As I ride out of town, I thank God for their interest and beg him to sharpen me up for the task.
-At 5:30PM, during that golden hour before sunset, I ride into SIndou and my front gate listening to Claude Debussy’s Claire de Lune.  I wonder what I’ve done to deserve such a blessed life as my wife and kids poor out the doors to welcome me home with their own symphony of sound…  
 
Brian Hauser
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Get the WORD Out

In 2011, we celebrate 400 years of the Bible translated in English with the publication of the King James Version.  We need to get on our knees and thank God that we have the Bible in our heart language, and we should stand up and cheer for those men and women around the world who are translating the Bible for the 2000+ groups who still don’t have the Bible in their heart language.  It is an essential step toward the fulfillment of the great commission.  Merely possessing the word of God, however, is not enough.  Let me tell you a story or three.

            Before the Israelites entered Canaan, Moses retold them the mighty acts of YHWH, the one God, who brought them out of the land of slavery and made them his treasure and his priests to make him known among the nations. “Engrave God’s mighty acts and his law on your hearts,” he said, “Teach your children how God redeemed his people and to keep his laws—never stop telling them about it: in the house or on the way, laying down or getting up, write it on your doorposts, tie it to your hand and forehead if you have to, but don’t forget!!!  When you settle in the promised land, don’t you forget all the Lord has done for you and start following after idols.” (my paraphrase of Dt 4.9-14 & 6.6-15)  

            Well, Israel forgot, and by the time young king Josiah had come to the throne of Judah things were a royal mess.  The kings before him had led the people deep into the wasteland of idolatry.  While the majestic temple Solomon built for the Lord fell apart, the people offered sacrifices to idols on every hill and high place in Judea.  Even at eight years old, Josiah could see there was a problem and set about making things right.   When he ordered workers to begin repairing the temple of the Lord, a priest found the Book of the Law.  (It was apparently misplaced among the Asherah poles, idols, the women weaving tapestries for Asherah and the male cult prostitutes that filled the temple of the Lord at that time.)  “When the king heard the words of the Book of the Law he tore his clothes” (2 K 22.11).  He repented and then he called together the whole country to listen as he read them the words of the Book of the Law.  King Josiah and the people made a covenant to live according to God’s law once again.  Josiah systematically swept idolatry out of the country and they celebrated the Passover feast for the first time in hundreds of years—a feast that remembers and retells the mighty acts of God to save his people.

            Rightly so, we marvel at the power of God’s word to change the heart of a nation.  If only they’d had their own Bibles all along!  You see, like any good Christian Church/Church of Christ lad, I am was a Bibliolator.  You know what I mean.  At 17, I saved my hard-earned pennies from working at Taco Bell  ($4.25 an hour) to buy my own navy blue, leather bound, NIV Study Bible and paid a little extra to have my name engraved on the cover in silver ($85).  Then I dropped another $20 for a zippered leather Bible cover with pockets.   I highlighted the texts of Daniel and Revelation in a complicated multicolor system to prepare for Bible Bowl.   I jammed to Southpaw’s “Baby got Book.”  People who needed to know Jesus, well, I gave them Bibles for presents.

            I remember sitting in a room full of budding Bibliolators at Milligan College when a professor rocked our world.  Someone had dutifully quoted Hebrews 4.12 to underline our devotion to the powerful written word of God. (SWORD DRILL! Who can find it first?):

             “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword,             piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”

The Rabbi looked at us over the top of his glasses and asked, “You do know what this verse is talking about don’t you?”

            Several of us responded a little too quickly, “Well, the Bible, of course.” 

            The Rabbi continued to study us over the rims of his glasses, “Or should I say Whom?”  Uncomfortable silence.   After taking a deep breath the Rabbi broke the feet of our idol: “Jesus Christ.  Jesus Christ is the living and active Word of God who became flesh and lives among us.”  The Bible, the word of God, enables us to encounter this great high priest, the Word of God, through whom we may in confidence draw near to God to find mercy and grace in our time of need. 

            Possessing the written word of God is not enough.  If it is not written on our hearts, if we aren’t retelling God’s story of redemption to those around us, if the word of God stays zipped up in our Bible covers, it might as well be lost in the temple of Josiah’s day. . .   I live and work in Burkina Faso, which has the 4th lowest literacy rate in the world at 28.7%.  The continent of Africa is home to the 14 lowest ranking countries in literacy.   Throughout the world, most people don’t read.   Even those who can don’t read more than they have to.  In America, about 50% of adults operate on an illiterate or functionally illiterate level (National Adult Literacy Survey, 1992.)  We spend 12-20 years in school becoming literate, but 58% of high school graduates and 42% of college graduates never read another book.  Missionaries at the Lausanne conference summed up the challenge nicely:

            “From the time of the Gutenberg Bible, Christianity “has walked on literate feet”                         and has directly or indirectly required literacy of others. However, 70% of all people in the world are oral communicators—those who can’t, don’t, or won’t learn through literate means. Four billion in our world are at risk of a Christless eternity unless literate Christians make significant changes in evangelism, discipleship, leader training and church planting”  (LOP 54, 2004 ).

 

            The majority of people in the world (reached or un-reached) are primary oral learners and will not pick up a Bible and read it to encounter Jesus.  Not only that, most of our preaching and presentation of the gospel is abstract and reads like an essay.  Not many enjoy reading or listening to an essay, but just about everyone from the age of 3 to 103 can understand, and usually enjoys a story well told.  The irony is that most of the Bible is oral literature: Psalms are prayers to be sung, the Prophets and Wisdom literature are mostly poetry, proverbs and parable are oral forms, much of the Old Testament, Gospels and Acts are dramatic narrative, even the letters of Paul were intended to be read out loud.  Strangely, we tend to shackle Scripture by transforming its oral artistry into an abstract outline.  We need to tell THE Story.

             When Jesus, the Incarnate Word of God, called his disciples, he said “follow me…” (Mark 1.17; Mt 9.9).  When would-be disciples wanted to know more about Jesus or questioned if anything good—much less the one of whom Moses and the prophets spoke—could come from Nazareth, the answer was “come and see” (John 1. 35-51).  For three years these men were with Jesus observing him and listening to him teach, often through stories.  After his resurrection, Jesus walked them through God’s grand story of redemption to help them understand who exactly he was: “Beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Lk 24.27).

            Once we landed in Ivory Coast and began making friends among our Muslim neighbors, we naturally found ourselves in discussions about who Jesus was: whether he was or wasn’t the son of God, whether he was or wasn’t crucified, and whether the one Jesus promised would come after him was the Holy Spirit or Mohammed.   While everyone remained friendly and respectful, nobody budged an inch.  We all dug our trenches deeper and lobbed scriptural bombs back and forth.  Even when I was “winning,” I was losing my friend and he was closing his heart to Jesus.  We decided to try a chronological Bible storying approach.  I was—am stunned at the difference. While doctrine repels people and puts them on guard, stories draw us in and catch us off guard.   I’m still amazed every time I find myself sipping tea with my friends—Muslim holy men, tailors, farmers and village chiefs—retelling God’s stories.  

            My wife Tabitha and our friend Juli began a storying group with our Muslim friend Fatou and the young people that hung around her house to watch tv.   Fatou’s husband Noufou was a nominal Muslim who worked nights at a hotel in town.  It annoyed him that a group met in his living room listening to Bible stories while he was trying to sleep.  Noufou tried but could not keep himself from listening to the stories on the other side of the wall.  He started to look forward to the visits and was disappointed if they were cancelled.  Before long, he put aside his pride and joined the group.  In Old Testament, they listened to stories of prophets familiar to Muslims.   The stories of Adam and Eve and Noah (Noufou’s namesake) vividly illustrated God’s holiness and steadfast love in the face of man’s willful sinfulness.  The stories of Abraham, Moses, David and Daniel showed God at work to redeem his people and whispered of one to come who would redeem all people.  And then Jesus, they met Jesus.  Muslims “know” a lot about Jesus, but our friends had the chance to “come and see,” to walk along beside him and experience his compassion, his power, his teachings, his death and his resurrection.   After the story about the day of Pentecost, Noufou, Fatou and a young man named Dao decided to follow Jesus as his disciples and we had the honor of baptizing them into Christ. 

            Not long after, Tabitha and I went on furlough and then on to serve in Burkina Faso.  Our three friends have had a hard time living out their faith for a number of reasons, so during a recent visit we turned to Bible stories to encourage and disciple them.  We told the story about Jesus healing the man with a “legion” of demons and how Jesus told him to go back and tell his family and friends about what God had done for him.  God convicted us ALL to share what God has done for us with specific people around us.   We retold Acts 3-4 where Peter and John refuse to stop speaking in Jesus name under the pressure of threats from the Jewish leaders.  We prayed the believers’ prayer asking for boldness to share our faith even in the face of threats (and there are real threats for Noufou and Fatou).  And while the house wasn’t shaken, God chased fear from our hearts and replaced it with boldness and joy to tell God’s story.  In our last meeting, we showed Noufou and Fatou how we tell Bible stories and pray with our children every night and admonished them to diligently teach their children about God’s story of redemption, lest they forget.

We live in a post literate world where 70% of people are primary oral learners.  So while we celebrate the translation of the Bible into English some 400 years ago, and every Bible translation since, we must dig out the word of God from where it’s hidden in the temple or zipped up in our fancy Bible covers to tell and retell the stories of God’s redemption to all people.   By retelling God’s stories, we engrave them on our own hearts and we invite people to “come and see” who this Jesus is, to encounter our high priest, the living Word of God, through whom we may in confidence draw near to God to find mercy and grace in our time of need. 

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