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Where is your brother? The Cain Spirit

CainI am sitting down to share these thoughts with you a day later than I had planned. I must say that my already full heart has been filled even fuller by the circumstances that God has allowed to intervene. I will come back to the subject of those unexpected circumstances in a moment, but for now let me share a bit about the subject that God has laid on my heart.

This month, as is commonly the case, I am sharing with you out of the things that God is doing in my heart and life. My life is filled with my responsibilities as a missionary to a largely unreached tribe. The things I write are heavily influenced by the scenes that meet my eye everyday and by the burden that I carry for my people, the Konkombas. I am not and do not try to be “balanced” in my writing, as I lean heavily towards the work of God among the forgotten and least-reached peoples of our day. I know that balance is essential in this as in every other area. I hope that my sharing as a voice from afar, tilted though I am in one direction, can be a challenge and a blessing to you there.

 I hope that it can possibly help keep us not only balanced but in line with God’s heart that is bleeding for the world.

I am writing all of this to explain why I continue to come back to the same burdens over and over again in these articles. The burden that motivates them is with me constantly, and I cannot get away from the realities that surround me. If you can bear with me, I would like to unburden my heart once again concerning the millions of Christ-less people that today pass on the road towards hell and share most specifically concerning our response to that plight. I ask you to bear with me, because you do not stand where I stand. Our perspectives are different. I am trusting that God can use the view I have from here to be a challenge to you there, even as He has used you to be a challenge and an encouragement to me here. I believe it was David Livingstone who said, “I have seen the smoke of a thousand villages.” The land on which the Konkombas are spread is too vast and the terrain is too flat to allow me such a view, but the Konkomba tribe alone fills two thousand villages. I have not seen or been in them all, but I have been in many. What I have seen and felt in them has given birth to these thoughts.

“And the Lord said unto Cain, Where is Abel thy brother? And he said, I know not: Am I my brother’s keeper? And he said, What hast thou done? The voice of thy brother’s blood crieth unto me from the ground.”
Genesis 4:9-10

These verses were on my heart yesterday as I prepared to sit down to write this article. Over the previous week or so God had been laying them on my heart every time I was in a village. Now I was searching for a way to put into words the burden I was feeling.

Just before I was to begin writing, I noticed a little cluster of men coming up the trail to our compound. I could tell by their demeanor that they had something they wished to meet with me about. I took a bench outside and greeted them, as is customary before inquiring about their purpose in coming. They came requesting that I take the Land Rover to a nearby village and carry their sick brother home, as he was near death. As is usual, I inquired into the facts surrounding the case. I found out that the young man had been sick for some time and had gone to a number of hospitals without being cured. The last resort here is to take a case like this to the local juju doctor/herbalist for treatment. That is where the young man was now, in the home of one such medicine man in a village a few miles north of us. I agreed to help them in this way as soon as I was certain that he was too sick to be carried on a motorcycle. We set off with a couple of his relatives.

When we arrived at the house of the “doctor,” we again went through all of the greetings before we were informed that the young man had died only thirty minutes before we arrived. The relatives sat there in silence for a couple of minutes before going into the room where their brother lay. A few minutes later they carried him out, wrapped up in a cloth, and laid him in the back of the Land Rover. We said goodbye to the medicine man and headed home. The village where the young man was being treated was from another tribe. I noted with the interest of a cultural learner that though they showed almost no emotion in the village, as soon as we got in the car they began moaning softly, especially the young man’s mother, who was with him when he died. I have been at a number of funerals among our people, but since these are held at a later date than the death and burial, I have rarely experienced their initial response to death.

We drove slowly back the ten miles or so to their home village, mostly in silence with an occasional word of grief from the boy’s mother or one of his brothers. As we neared the village, I thought about the fact that the village expected us to be bringing home a sick young man rather than a corpse. I wondered what the culture dictates as a right response in such a situation.

We drove up to the young man’s house. His father was standing there watching our arrival. We parked the vehical under the tree by the gate, and the brothers, who were in the car with me, got out and wordlessly removed the corpse. They carried it into the big round room, which serves as a family room in a Konkomba house. The father looked on with not so much as a blinking eye to signal that he was understanding the scene before him. That is the emotional reserve of a Konkomba man. The mother, however, climbed out of the car and walked into the family compound to meet her fellow wives and daughters. As soon as she crossed through the gate into her own compound, she began to wail. The women and girls of her compound picked up the wail. As I stood there for a few minutes surrounded by stoic, silent men, the information was quickly carried throughout the village, evidenced by the men who began streaming towards the house and by the wail which arose from each house as the sad news reached the women in it.

I sat silently with the father and brothers of the deceased for a few minutes, and my mind went to the verse in Ecclesiastes chapter seven, “It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting.” So for a while I did that. I sat in silent mourning with those who silently mourn. I pondered over the burden of what I would have been writing had the call not come to go to the house of mourning. I knew as I sat there that this interruption was not a coincidence, for the young man who had just died was a Konkomba. As far as I know the sorrow that I was observing was not only Konkomba sorrow, but it also was the sorrow of those that have no hope. I shared a few words of sympathy with the father, asked permission to leave and headed home again with a heavy heart. I could not help but think about the difference it would have made in my heart and in the hearts of the grieving had we had the assurance that the deceased was not permanently dead but only resting in God’s care, awaiting the resurrection. I fear the reality was far from this for these idol worshippers, and the only solace that I could give were mere words of sympathy.

I pondered the helpless feeling of trying to console the sorrowing. The reality of the flames the young man had newly entered was ten times worse than anything the family was able to grieve over. To no avail was their careful handling of the body, for he could know no comfort now. To no avail were the rituals that would be carried out over the corpse before burial, to no avail were the offerings poured on behalf of the deceased and to no avail were the all night drumming, dancing and drinking. For, dear ones, as we know through God’s word, the afterlife is not decided by such means as these carried out after the death of a loved one, but rather by the faith that is or is not in the heart of the individual towards God and His Son. You and I are privileged to move towards the precipice of death, not in the grip of an unanswerable fear, but in the firm confidence that our Savior has gone to prepare a place for us. We have an assurance that because of the blood of Jesus we are qualified to inhabit the place prepared for us. But, alas, the young man and family of whom I am writing did not have such a confidence. In their grief and mourning, their own fear of the unknown future found expression. The Bible describes them in these words, “they which have no hope.” More poignant words could hardly be found to express the atmosphere in which I found myself yesterday as I sat in the house of mourning. No Hope!

Let’s leave this scene and go back to the verses in Genesis. Because God is all knowing, we can be sure that when He asks a question such as He asked Cain, He is not trying to gain information. This conversation, which started with a question and ended with one of the most serious curses verbalized in scripture, was an attempt to get Cain to face up to his guilt. “Where is Abel thy brother?” Cain, as we know, denied not only the ghastly deed he had committed but went further in his insulting answer to assert that he was not his brother’s baby-sitter! Abel was a shepherd. It seems likely that Cain used this almost like a pun as he retorted to God’s probing questions, “Am I the keeper of the sheep keeper?” Notice that God did not answer Cain’s attempt at interrogation but rather informed Cain in no uncertain terms that He knew both the nature and location of the crime. “The voice of thy brother’s blood crieth unto me from the ground.” Cain judged himself by his own words and attitude. God’s judgment of him was just, but it is still quite staggering to meditate on the curse God pronounced upon his head, “The ground shall not henceforth yield unto thee her strength, a fugitive and a vagabond shalt thou be in the earth!”

I know and trust that no one who will be reading this article would ever think of having such an uncaring attitude and lack of concern towards his or her brother, much less dream of carrying out a bloody murder on a blood relative. You may be wondering what the connection is between the Konkomba burden I mentioned above and the biblical story of Cain. I beg you to bear with me as I try to connect these two in the way that God has impressed them on my heart in the last days. In chapter ten of the book of Luke we find the parable of the good Samaritan, in which Jesus broadens the category of neighbor to include basically everyone with whom we have contact of any sort. He did this to break down the justifications of a self-justified man, who felt that by sending an occasional gift to the three people whose properties touched his own, he had fulfilled the law about loving your neighbor. Jesus pointed him back to the spirit of loving your neighbor and in so doing let him know that he had a long way to go before he could boast of perfection according to the law.

If Jesus redefined the concept of neighbor to include all those in need of our help, wouldn’t we be not only safe but also wise to broaden our idea of who our brother is? I know that we are applying and not interpreting scripture when we use it in this way. But if you will walk with me through these verses in this new light, I think that you will agree that God can use an old and familiar story from His word to convict and challenge us in totally new areas. I mentioned above, my perspective is different than yours because my surroundings are so vastly different. Here then is what I see when I look at Genesis 4:9-10 in light of the scores of Konkomba villages I have seen and in view of the hopelessness that I have observed at numerous funerals in those villages.

God comes to the church quite often with a question, the same question that He asked of Cain thousands of years ago. Now, as then, He is painfully aware of the answer before He even voices the question. The knowledge of the answer makes the question come forth as the mournful longing of a father seeking for a lost child. God finds us, the church, busy with whatever it is that we may be busy with. But whatever we are doing shouldn’t really matter in light of the question that is etched on the face and heart of God as He comes to us, “Where is your brother?” We hear the voice of God clearly asking a question that He has repeated thousands of times, yet as He begins to speak the intensity of His demeanor could make us believe that we were the sole subject of His eternal interrogation, “Where is your brother?” He voices the question, His eyes looking for an answer in our face, but His voice sounding more like that of a judge pronouncing His verdict, “Where is your brother?”

The only thing that could make such a heartrending query more heartrending would be if the question and the questioner were ignored or unheard in their moment of lonely agony. Alas, this is what commonly happens! For though God asks this question with an intensity born out of intense agony and a clarity acquired through a thousand repetitions, the noise created by our own little kingdom with all of its little projects is enough to banish the questioning voice of God into the nether regions of our consciousness.

Alas for the question which falls on unhearing ears, but a thousand times alas for the times when the voice is faintly heard but is brushed aside with a self-justifying question in response, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” The truth, horrible as it may seem when we are faced with it, is that we rarely hear the question that flows like an unending river from the heart of God. When we do hear it, we are often so blinded by our own way of life that we do not even think the question applies to us. We deign to ask, like the misguided man in Luke chapter ten, “And who is my brother?” as if by the definition of this word we can prove that we are of no relation to the brother of which the question speaks. Even if we give mental assent to the idea that we are in fact brothers with the one in question, we easily brush off any possible responsibility by sarcastically asking whether we are in the end responsible for every action our brother may take. We stress our brother’s free will, as if that negates our blood link and moral obligation to care for his wellbeing. We make a great ado of the fact that we are so busy trying to keep track of ourselves that we have little time to even think (much less actively care for) our brother. We think that we remove guilt from ourselves by this confession, when in fact we only incriminate ourselves still further.

Like Cain, we as the church may try to wiggle our way around the question that pounds in the heart of God and occasionally whispers its query into our hearts in a quiet moment. When all of our excuses are exhausted and our self-serving questions have died unanswered, God’s question still remains, and He adds another to it, “What hast thou done?” You and I may prefer to think of our neglect of our brothers in every nation as something that we have not done, rather than as a sin that we have done. We think as though a sin of omission is less grave than one committed more overtly. But in this exchange it is God who asks the questions that really matter. He is asking what we have done. Actually, He is not asking, for He gives us no chance to respond, knowing as He does exactly what we through our unconcerned neglect have done. He is distinctly aware of what we have done, for His bleeding heart has been yearning and watching over our forgotten brothers all the while we have been actively engaged in neglecting them. He speaks again, “The voice of thy brother’s blood crieth unto me from the ground.”

From this point on in the story of Cain, God announces to Cain the curse that He has placed on him because of his sin. Though some part of what is said to him may equally apply to us, only God can truly judge. So I will refrain from commenting on the curse which God pronounces on Cain. I hope that the point of all of these words is manifestly clear by now, but I will clarify a couple of points.

In this New Testament era, in which all humanity is one and equal in Christ, I think we can safely say that every human being is our brother both by creation and by merit of the blood that Jesus shed equally for the sins of the whole world. God is, through Jesus, redeeming or buying back His sons and daughters who entered the realm of Satan through sin. Hence every person alive is a lost child in some sense. God’s word is clear that He is actively working and longing for the return of each one. The church, as the gathering of the redeemed, bears no small responsibility in bringing back to the Father, by persuasion and example, our brothers still lost in sin.

Because of this responsibility—or maybe I should say because of our neglect of it—God’s heart is always crying out to anyone who will listen. He is asking His lost children and hoping that maybe some will join Him in His quest to find and redeem the still remaining millions of our lost brothers. Historically, and in current reality, the church for the most part has found ways to get around its responsibility by being engaged or entangled with our own little worlds. We rarely hear and even more rarely act on our duty to our brothers, whether they be Konkomba, Haitian, American or otherwise. Through the ages, multiplied thousands of our brothers have died, uncared for and forgotten by the people who should have cared most about bringing them back to the Father. While God holds them accountable for the choices they have made, God also places a heavy weight of blame on us for our uncaring inactivity in the light of such need. The sum total is that although many of our brothers are being redeemed to their rightful Father, many more remain to be found. God’s heart still rings out through time and eternity with the question posed so forcefully to Cain and now applied to us, “Where is your brother?”

Dear ones, I beg you to understand that I write not with judgment in my heart but with tears in my eyes. Yes, tears for my failures. Tears for the complacency that is common among you, and tears for the inactivity of the church before us that brought us to this deplorable place. I am far too attached to the things of this world, and hence I am far too insensitive to the call and question of God. I do have some tears for my lost Konkomba brothers and for our mutual Father, who bleeds for my lost brothers and for my own dullness of heart.

I am watching my people die in hundreds of villages without the knowledge of the One who seeks to redeem them back to Himself. I am burdened. I share with a heart that desires that we, myself included, would pull back from our fevered activity long enough to hear God’s question and long enough to allow some of the burden that God feels to flow into our own hearts. This burden and vision will then drive us to care for and be active in the finding of our brothers, lost in sin but already purchased with Christ’s blood.

I am praying that God will find in us not the spirit of Cain, who looked for a way out of his responsibility to his brother. I pray that He would find a spirit that looks for those to whom we are related by creation and blood and willingly picks up the burden of helping them back to the Father. My dream is that we could one day bring joy to our Father, who looks daily for His lost children, by being found not busily engaged in our own pursuits, but actively answering the question of the ages, “Where is your brother?” May those who surround us when we stand before our Father one day in heaven be our answer to that question!

For Our Konkomba Brothers,
Daniel Kenaston and Family

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