Yesterday morning Kwakum people from near and far gathered together for a joyous dedication of the Kwakum house, a newly-built center for literacy and translation. It was in this building that the new, approved Kwakum alphabet was presented. There was singing, there was dancing, there was a time of thanksgiving for those in America who helped fund the building project, and there were speeches given. A new alphabet song was sung. It started with:
We are overjoyed that God has opened the door for a writing system in Kwakum! We are so happy with the letters that have come into Kwakum!
Being that Dave and I were the ones who orchestrated the building project, it was appropriate for us to cast a vision for how the building would be used. This is what I said to my Kwakum friends and neighbors (this is a “loose” translation of what I said in Kwakum)…
“Today, as you all walked in here, you may have seen writing on the front doors that says, ‘Here, we learn, we change, and we go out to teach others in a spirit of love.’ I want to explain to you what this means.
First of all, this Kwakum house is a place where we learn. God alone knows everything, whereas you and I do not. In order for us to know, we need to study. For instance, when we arrived here in Cameroon, I had never used a machete before. You use machetes every day. I said to myself, ‘How do these things work?’ I would watch you as you cleared your fields and with much time and practice, I have learned to use a machete; albeit not with the same skill that you possess. With much trying and trying again, I have learned to use a machete.
This Kwakum house is a place where we try and try again until we finally accomplish what we are trying to do. It is not a place of knowing, it is a place of learning. It is not a place where we scold people, nor is it a place where we beat people. In this place, we study. We study the Kwakum language and we study the Word of God. Both the Kwakum language and the Word of God are not easy to understand which is why we need to study them. As we study every day, we will grow in our understanding. God alone knows everything. The rest of us, whether man, woman, child, black or white, all of us are deficient in our understanding. This center is to help in our intellectual deficiency.
Secondly, this is a place where we change. The point of learning is not so that we can know more than our neighbors. Instead, we need to learn so that our hearts and lives can change. God alone is holy and God alone does not change. As for the rest of us, we are far from being holy like God which is why we are in need of change.
I will illustrate this point with a story from my country. In the past, Americans would come take Africans and made them into their slaves. They committed atrocities. However, I praise the Lord that Americans came to realize the evil nature of this practice and repented. This change is so evident that ten years ago, this same country elected an African American, Barack Obama, to be their President. Americans needed to change because their actions called for it.
Just like in America, there are evil deeds here, among the Kwakum. The center that we have built exists to show us what in our lives and culture needs to change. Here, we are going to constantly be changing two things: 1) Our lives. As we translate the Bible, we need to pay close attention to what it says to us. It has the authoritative word over and above our culture, our family, and even over our churches. We are called to listen to the Bible more than we listen to those around us. We will also constantly be improving 2) The Kwakum writing system. Where there are problem areas, we will work to improve them.
Finally, this center exists so that we can go out and teach others in a spirit of love. Let me illustrate this point with a story. Imagine that there is a woman who stays at home when her husband goes to the field and her children go to school. This woman, all throughout the day, cooks couscous and beef. She finishes and then takes a great big bowl. She puts couscous in it. Then she takes another great big bowl. She puts the beef in it. Then she sits down and starts to eat. The food is delicious and she is she eats until she is satisfied. Later, her husband comes home with the children and they are really hungry. They smell the scent of the food and then start to take some couscous and some beef. Imagine the woman slaps their hands and says, ‘This is mine!’
Is this woman a good woman? Far from it! No good woman would refuse to share what she has with her family. This woman needs to learn that what she has is not only for her, but it is also for her family and her village.
Did you know that just as we are called to share our food, so we are called to share our knowledge? Whatever you study here in this Kwakum House is not for you alone. It is for you to take and go out and share with your children and with your village. For instance, if you learn the letter ‘a’ here, then you should go home and write the letter ‘a’ in the dirt for your children to learn. When you learn a Bible story here, you should then go home and repeat the Bible story to your children. We are going to share our knowledge with you and we call you to then go out and share your knowledge with others. Proverbs 15:7 says, ‘The lips of the wise spread knowledge.’ It is the people who are wise who freely share what they know. If the Kwakum people share what they know with one another, then they will be a people of great knowledge. And the manner in which we share what we know should be one of patience and love.
To conclude, here at the Kwakum house, we will 1) Always be learning, 2) Always be changing, and 3) Always be going out to share that which we know in a spirit of love with others.”
These are some among many of my prayers for the Kwakum people. We are so thankful for a successful meeting and excited about literacy. But, on the other hand, we are grieved daily by the deep, deep sin that we experience around us. We are praying that the Lord would use His Word to open all of our eyes to see that which seems normal to us but is in fact sin. And when we see this sin in our own lives clearly we can repent, be changed, and go out and teach others in a spirit of love.
Here is a video of the Kwakum singing their Alphabet song (for the first time for many of them!)