This month’s blog is longer than normal, but I hope you will read it through to the end. It should be worth your time. Several years ago I found a used book entitled A Leopard Tamed by Eleanor Vandevort which I have read twice now. She had been missionary to the Nuer people of South Sudan a little more than a half century ago. In this book Eleanor gives an honest, sobering assessment of her 13 years of labor for the Kingdom of God. She asks many searching questions which lead us to realize that there are no simple answers. Even though at the time I had no thought of traveling to Africa, her story greatly challenged my concept of what it takes to effectively share the Gospel of Jesus Christ cross-culturally. How many assumptions do we have about our understanding of God and the nature of our relationship to Him that are founded in our own culture? Who is more correct? We are called to share the Gospel message, yet we need discernment to be able to share the Truth of Jesus Christ in a way that is not colored by our own cultural lens. What seems so simple for us to understand can be so challenging to communicate with others. It doesn’t have to be with an African people, it can even be difficult for us to effectively aid our neighbor next door to understand these spiritual truths. This can lead us into frustration unless we step back and realize that it does not depend on us. It is God who moves by His Spirit in the hearts of men. We may plant the seeds and water the plants, but it is God who gives the increase. We may assume that we are doing SO much for Him. But, are we really?
The following is an excerpt from A Leopard Tamed.
“The plain was green with standing grain ripening in the sun. The broad leaves faced me like crossed swords as I walked into them. They brushed harshly against my face and arms and rustled in my ears, reminding me of the white-veined leaves of the corn in the fields back home.
The drab-colored cones of thatch on the huts and barns topped the grain, and both the cones and the grain pointed to the brilliant sky with its great pillars of cloud so white and clean. The ground in the grain fields was drying out, crusting and beginning to crack. I walked along beside the path and could feel the spongy ground spring under my feet. It felt good. I was on my way to visit Meer.
Meer had been with us for over three months and had come faithfully each day, taking milk back again for her little girl. She had come to church too, and had come often to talk. Meer never saw me without saying that she wanted God to give life to her daughter. And always when she said it my heart sank. Life for the body and Life for the soul were one and the same thing to Meer. I had said to her, “Meer, has it not gone into your heart that the life of God is not for the body of a person, it is for the breath of a person?” I wanted to say “spirit”, but spirit and breath were the same word. There was no distinction. Meer just smiled.
“Is breath present with you, Meer?”
“Uh, it is present,” she said.
“How do you know?”
“I don’t know,” she said.
“It is because you are living. When a person dies his breath goes out of him, as people say. It leaves the body. Don’t you see?”
“Uh, it is so. It is so. That is what I want. I want the breath of God,” she said.
“Jesus said He would give us life, Meer, but not only life for the body. He meant life for the breath of the person also.” Meer looked blank, then smiled, then looked worried again.
“My sister,” she said, “all of my children are dead.” She held up her fist. “Five of them. They are in the ground. If only my last daughter were injected she might live.”
“Meer, that is not it. You cannot trust the magic of the white people. It is not to be trusted in. It is not God. The magic of the white people does not give life to the breath of a person.”
“But the doctor,” she said, “he has five children, he and his wife, and they do not die.”
“Uh, I know it. That is true,” I said, thinking of all the medical care those children had, and their father a doctor, and their mother a nurse.
“It is God’s talk,” Meer said conclusively, ending the conversation. It was the inevitable answer, the one always given, not just by Meer, but by everyone. What did it mean? It meant whatever happens, life or death, good or evil – all of it is God’s doing. He controls everything. And they were right. Man could not make the sun to shine, or bring the rain. He could not cause barren women to conceive, or keep a child alive. These four basic needs he could not meet.
As I walked along under the thick tops of white grain, I thought of how in civilized countries we had challenged God. From granaries to safety belts we had made it our business to protect ourselves from death. We spent our lives trying to outfox death, to keep it as far out of our lives as possible. So our understanding of God was very sophisticated. We had little reason to consider Him in connection with our physical well-being. We could take care of ourselves. Those of us who did consider Him more personally than others could hardly base the fact of being adequately clothed, for example, on an earnest consideration of the lilies of the field that they neither sew nor spin, subsequently to discover that our heavenly Father had seen to it that we had got the clothes we wore. No, we hadn’t put that to the test.
And food. If whether or not we ate depended on the harvest, we would have to reckon with God, not only to worship Him. As it was, we didn’t have to reckon much with God in order to live. At least I didn’t. I could evade Him if I wanted to. I could come to terms with daily living so long as I had money, or credit, and didn’t think too seriously.
Their knowledge of God came from nature. Mine came from a Book. There had to be this Book, else how could anyone have known that “God is love”? Or that God had revealed Himself in Jesus Christ? But the Nuer people never had this Book. That is, they never had the revelation. But they did have God and death. They have always had this. It is the revelation they have never had.
More and more I was coming to realize that between the two of us, Meer had had to face more reality than I. She had to face suffering. Like her people she was schooled in suffering and regardless of what happened, I knew she would not collapse.”
May the peace of Christ be with you,