Saturday, December 22, 2012

Cat in a tree?

Bad Missionary, Part 2

I think the previous post deserves a follow-up. Or maybe it would be better termed a prequel. Either way…

Let me ask you a question…

Do evil spirits live in trees?

No cheating! Give me an answer before you go on reading.

I’d like to take you with me (as I usually do) to Tchad. At least in your imagination. (But those interested in coming literally should contact us at )

I live in a country that reports itself to be about 65% Muslim and 35% Christian.

And in my experience, it’s 100% animist. Animism is the attribution of a soul to plants, inanimate objects and natural phenomena.

If you undress a Tchadian, even a Christian pastor or a very good Muslim, you will find under their clothing an array of trinkets, fetishes, charms, etc, all meant to keep away the evil spirits or offer some sort of spiritual protection.

A Tchadian might find it completely rational to believe that an evil spirit lives in a tree.

Do you?

A Tchadian might believe that they require protection from that evil spirit whenever they pass by that tree. They pass the tree in fear. Perhaps they can get a trinket from the traditional healer (politically correct for ‘witch doctor’) that will protect them. Perhaps they need to sacrifice a chicken when they pass by the tree.

Now let me ask you… if a Tchadian believes that an evil spirit possesses a tree, and he lives in fear of that tree and of that evil spirit, and he puts his faith in a trinket obtained from the witch doctor to protect him from said tree… who wins?

Does God?

Does Satan?

You bet Satan wins! He has convinced that man to put his faith in something besides God!

Let me ask you another question…

Is Satan alone?


Who is with him?

We read that ⅓ of all the angels are with him!

Is ⅓ insignificant?

Thirty-three percent is a lot!!!

So would it serve Satan well if he sent out his angels to possess trees and convince the people living nearby to place their faith in a string tied around their baby’s wrist to protect them?

Let me ask you again… Do evil spirits live in trees?

So why don’t evil spirits live in American trees? Japanese beetle ran him out?

Well, let me ask you… Did you scoff when first asked the question, Do evil spirits live in trees?

Why would an American scoff at that question?

We presume that inanimate things are inherently and infinitely inanimate. And a majority of Americans suffer from atheism, agnosticism, apathy or a mix of the above.

If you don’t believe in the spiritual, has Satan won?

You bet! Why would he want to continually remind you that there are spiritual forces at battle behind the veil? You would likely put your faith in God!

So why the difference between the American and the African? Is it genetic? No, absolutely not.

African culture has not had the slide away from the spiritual that American culture has had. African culture has not had the luxury of self-dependence that 21st century Americans have had. Africans have had to rely on spiritual sources for their survival. And they have on occasion made the mistake of selling out to Satan via witch doctors. And it’s often been wholesale on the scale of entire tribes.

For centuries, Africans have put their faith in things other than Christ, despite having heard the good news of the cross.

Do you believe God is omnipotent? Do you believe God is all-loving?

If you believe that your God is all-loving and all-powerful, do you need anything else in this world? Do you have any reason to fear? Do you have any use for a witch doctor and his potions to ward off evil?

So what is my job as a missionary in this culture?

Do I come swooping in and start teaching them the doctrine of the Sabbath? Will they be saved by Sabbath-keeping? Will their lives become significantly better upon learning of the true seventh-day Sabbath?

Imagine going from a life of fear, a life of appeasing evil spirits, a life of indebtedness to a witch doctor… to a life lived as a child of the omnipotent, all-loving Creator and King of the Universe.

What an immense blessing we have to live under this understanding and promise.

So now… How do I bring them to know the joys open to them, the freedom from fear?

Well, first of all, I risk being mocked by my American contemporaries and I acknowledge the spirit in the tree.

Do you?

Bad Missionary???

Bad Missionary

We’ve now been missionaries for two years. It seems like some random sort of milestone. We’ve heard it said that it takes two years just to figure out what you’re doing in the culture, etc, before you actually start your missionary work. So I guess we’re now ready to start. Then why do I feel so tired already?

We often joke that we are bad missionaries. If the General Conference knew our viewpoints on mission work, they’d probably bring us home permanently and send out better missionaries in our place. (Fortunately for us, there’s not a lot of competition to come to Tchad!)

Caffeine has passed our lips. We’ve been known to expose knees and shoulders in public. When in the states, Danae’s even been known to wear a bikini to the beach.

But I don’t think those are our major offenses. Our dark secret is this: We are Adventist missionaries. And we don’t really feel a strong urge to preach doctrine. Don’t tell.

As Adventists, we pride ourselves so much on having the ‘right’ doctrine. We are the church with the ‘truth’. You won’t find an Adventist evangelistic campaign that’s not strongly focused on doctrine. And yes, if I sat down with a Bible in a locked room and created what I thought was the ‘correct’ theological doctrine, it would probably very closely resemble the 28 fundamental beliefs of the Seventh-day Adventist church. (I really liked the number 27 better. Three cubed is just such a nice, symmetric number.)

I believe doctrine exists. I believe there is correct and false doctrine. I believe theology exists. I believe there is correct and false theology. I believe ‘truth’ exists.

But how important is doctrine? I mean, if God came down to this earth and had a limited time to explain to us what was really important in life, what would He tell us? If only there was a way to know! Oh wait! That’s right! There IS a way to know! Jesus came to the earth, spent thirty years living life right and then three years in ministry. Three years is a long time to preach. That’s a lot of sermons. Surely He covered all the important stuff. All the really necessary doctrine. Right?

So I grab my red-letter Bible and read Matthew, just the words of Jesus. The most comprehensive account of the great Sermon on the Mount. And I’m astonished. I find no doctrine. No state of the dead. No nothing like that.

But I know the church has a published version of the fundamental beliefs of the Adventist church. So I grab my older version (just the original 27!) and start to leaf through it. Wow. So little of what we believe is based on the actual words that came out of Jesus’ mouth. As it turns out, I’m more a follower of the apostle Paul than I am of Jesus Christ! Could this be right? I believe in the entire Bible as the inspired Word of God, right? So is it all equal? Why didn’t Jesus talk about all this doctrine that Paul taught? What did Jesus actually talk about?

So I read through the red letters of Matthew again. It’s all about relationships! How to relate to God and how to relate to fellow man. Is that doctrine? I don’t know. It’s not the doctrine I find in the 28 fundamental beliefs.

Here’s a doctrine I believe in: The doctrine of Salvation by Faith. But faith in what? Faith in doctrine? I believe the Adventist belief that those who die are in a state like a sleep and know nothing. I don’t believe that my deceased grandparents are up in Heaven looking down on me. I don’t believe I can communicate with their spirits. I also believe the Adventist stance regarding the mortality of the soul. I believe that God is Love. And as such, I can’t understand why God would allow somebody to burn in hell forever. Who would benefit from that? Me? God? Satan? So is it my faith in this doctrine that saves me? Faith in another doctrine? Faith in all the doctrines?

I don’t know. My beliefs could be wrong. Is admitting that showing a lack of faith? I know some things. I know God loves me. I know He sent Jesus to take away my sins. I know that I’m saved only by the grace, love and sacrifice of Christ. I know God loves you. I know God did the same for you. I know I love you. I know I want you to understand God’s love for you. I know I want you to love and understand and know God as I do.

Is that doctrine?

So now I’m a little distraught. What am I doing? What’s my job? What does it mean to be a missionary?

I get help from Webster: A missionary is a person sent on a religious mission.

Well that begs the question: What is religion?

I get help from the Bible… James 1:27, Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: To look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. (Incidentally, all of James 1 is awesome. You should read it.)

So if I put these two definitions together, as a missionary, I am sent on a mission to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep myself from being polluted by the world.

Hey, you know what? I kinda like that!

And the better news is I’m not alone. There are lots of people who like to do that. Not just church-credentialed missionaries. And not just Adventists. And not just Christians. I’m in good company!

Do you? I suspect that if you’re reading this blog, you do!