Yesterday, we, along with about 50 people, sang praise songs to Jesus and danced in the streets for hours. Why? Like my son Kaden said, it was because we were joining in with the angels in Heaven who were rejoicing over sinners who had repented of their sins. We walked through villages as people came out of their homes to see what all the singing was about until we reached the river where three Kwakum people were baptized (two out of the three are our close friends). Let me tell you how the Lord has dramatically changed the lives of our two friends, Koo and Mami (pronounced ‘Mommy’).
Mami’s life story has been sad, yet all too typical among Kwakum women. She grew up with her mother, but when her mother died, Mami found herself all alone. She would sleep in a different person’s house each night and didn’t really have anywhere to go. This all changed, however, when she met her boyfriend at 15 years old. She moved in with him, had three children, and was violently abused. Apparently, she was still living with him when I first met her. At that time I did not know her background, to me she was the pushy teenager in the market who incessantly tried to get me to buy her fish. Eventually, Mami got tired of being abused and decided, in her early 20s, to go live with her father who happened to live right behind our house.
By that time, Mami had already lost one child. She lost the second when he fell into a pot of boiling water and died. At barely 20 years of age, Mami had already seen so much suffering. When we started to get to know her she was living with her father, his live-in girlfriend, and the girlfriend’s adult children. Her father was blind and would often be led to church by one of his grandsons.
Mami started to come over to our house all the time looking for work. She was happy just to help us in our work projects even without being paid. She said she was bored at her house and just wanted something to do. I can’t say this with certainty, but I think that she just wanted to be around Christians because the Lord was starting to draw her to himself. She and I talked more and more and were becoming friends.
That is why, one day, she came to my house to look for comfort because her father had just been murdered by his girlfriend and her son. She told me this and I felt nauseous because just the night before I had heard loud screaming coming from her house. To be honest, I often hear violent screaming, so I didn’t think too much about it. What if I could’ve prevented this? I thought to myself. I went to the funeral and during the whole thing Mami was glued to my side and only wanted to be with me. It was then that my eyes were opened to the loveless, lonely life that Mami had lived. She was leaning on me, a foreigner who she barely knew and who always butchered her language. To read more about this event please see a blog article I wrote : Lord, Keep Me Weeping. This was when Mami and I became friends. Her stepbrother was taken to a prison in another city and her stepmother fled.
Mami continued to come by our house regularly looking for work and after three months of her asking, we agreed to provide her with regular work cooking and cleaning in our home. I took advantage of seeing her on a daily basis and taught her to read in Kwakum (I wrote all of our recipes in Kwakum…so what’s she gonna do?) and also did a daily Bible study with her. She sometimes seemed interested, sometimes not. We would read a simple story in French, I would translate it into Kwakum, and then would ask simple questions like : 1. Who is God? 2. Who is man? 3. What should I do in response to these truths?
One day Mami told me that her stepbrother who was partly responsible for her father’s death was in prison and was really suffering. She was concerned for his health. We have been told that they give prisoners very little food here, and they depend on their families to sustain them. Dave and I decided to make regular visits to the prison to bring him food and call him to repent of his sin. I asked Mami if she would like to come during a period of months and she declined every time.
Finally one day she said, “Jesus said that those who give people a cup of cold water, or clothe the naked, or visit people in prison in his name – are really ministering to Jesus. I have to go see my stepbrother.” She then started to visit him with us and they have since been reconciled and really love each other. The family of her father, however, has felt betrayed by her kindness to the one who was, in part, responsible for killing their loved one. They have thus retaliated and are trying to kick her out of the house she is living in and have taken her possessions. When I asked her if she regretted her choice to reach out to her stepbrother she said, “No way. It was for Jesus.”
Koo was another Kwakum person baptized today. He grew up a few houses down from us in our neighborhood. He is an orphan and grew up with his aunt and uncle who had him work the fields rather than go to school. He was one of the young men that I would typically avoid on our first term because he was on some kind of substance and would most assuredly harass me.
However, Koo approached us because he wants to learn to read. In listening to his Kwakum, Dave and I knew that even though he was uneducated, the Lord had blessed him with great intelligence. He is a clear thinker and an excellent communicator. He has been attending our literacy classes and Oral Bible Storying workshops and even comes to our literacy and translation center at night to study. He used to sit in the back during our workshops and now he is growing into a leader and inviting young men from our village to attend classes (and they are!).
Koo now regularly comes to our house and says, “I can’t read the Bible for myself, but all I want to do is obey it. Is there a verse in the Bible that talks about this or that? If there is, I will live by it. I just need to know so I can obey it.” We have had many long conversations with Koo and he has come to an understanding that he is a sinner (he has Genesis 3 memorized in Kwakum!) and that Christ came to take his sin. He wants to live for God.
Meet Koo and Mami
Just to make things even more interesting, I should tell you that Koo and Mami are a couple. They started living together probably about a year ago and as Mami studied with me more and more, she would tell me about how Koo wasn’t treating her well and how he was hard to God. Her and I prayed for him every morning and she kept inviting him to church.
He started coming to church and to literacy/OBS events and began to soften. Finally, Koo and Mami came to us and said that they wanted to be baptized and married. We offered to do a Bible study with them on what marriage is once a week and they have been coming ever since. I have prayed for them for a year that they would repent of their sexual immorality and have talked to Mami about it, but there has been absolutely no conviction of sin.
Two weeks ago, Koo and Mami realized that they were living in sin. They confessed it to us and said that they just had no idea that they were living in a way that didn’t honor God. They then asked the pastor of our church to baptize them and he said that he would, but that they needed to live separately. Unfortunately, other church-goers and even another pastor approached them and said to not live separately, but instead to keep living together.
Everything came to a head when Koo and Mami came to our house for their weekly Bible study. They were confused and conflicted. They said, once again, “We will do whatever the Bible says – we just need to know what it says.” After reading with them Matthew 5:28-30, and 1 Cor 6, we then spent the next hour and a half calling them to take up their crosses and follow Jesus by obeying him in sexual purity. Much was said, but at the end of the night, Mami asked me to pray for them– that they would do what God wanted and not what they wanted. The next day Mami came to my house and said that she had thought over the Bible passages we shared and was convinced, no matter what people say, that she needed to live separately from Koo. She also said she was abounding in joy. Koo is now living in the Kwakum literacy and translation center until they get married.
As I revel in the joy of seeing these two come to Christ, I am reminded that Bible translation is not about accomplishing a task (as much as I love accomplishing tasks). It is about Koos and Mamis having the hope of Heaven and the joy of forgiveness. I am reminded of Paul who said “My little children, for whom I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you!” (Galatians 4:19).
Honestly, so much about our lives here I would describe as anguish: the anguish of language learning, the anguish of learning tone, the anguish of the physical suffering around us, the anguish of working with people who are quick to anger, the anguish of getting yelled at (again) for this letter that in the Kwakum alphabet, the anguish of how long it takes to live here, and the anguish in response to the influence this violent culture has on my children.
And yet, all of this is anguish is so that Christ Jesus can be formed in people like Koo and Mami. All the worldly success and comfort I would trade in once again for these new young souls just now made alive. There is no greater reward; there is no greater joy. It is all worth it.