Do We Treasure God’s Word?
Greetings to all of you, dear brothers and sisters in Christ from our little house in Bunbonayili. Trust that all is well with you in heart and soul and that you have entered the new year with a heart full, not of New Year’s resolutions, but of the Holy Spirit! If we would be more resolute about maintaining our walk in grace, I think most of our resolutions would be unnecessary. I do not have any major new determinations for this year, but I am setting myself and yielding my heart afresh to walk with Jesus on a daily basis. Maybe one of the reasons so many are disappointed in their ability to fulfill their New Year’s promises is that they are made too far into the future. God’s commands are almost always given for us to obey in the present time, and as we obey what is set before us now, we are blessed now!
I am reminded of the song/chorus which says: “Moment by moment I’m kept in His love; moment by moment I’ve life from above. Looking to Jesus ‘til glory doth shine; moment by moment, O Lord, I am thine.” Let’s walk with Him totally and truly right now, in this moment of time, and just trust that as we walk with Him, He will do in us all that is necessary to ensure our future walking with Him. A clear and free relationship with Jesus today is all that God asks of us, and truly, nothing we could do would better prepare us for walking with Him in the future than to be 100% yielded and clear before Him now. Do not allow the fear of future failure to limit the heights to which your relationship with Him could soar now in this moment, “for He is faithful that has promised.” In this new year, filled with spiritual and physical uncertainties, let’s set our hearts to walk with Him just for this day, and then give it our best grace-enabled effort! Out of the close relationship that will result will come a tremendous motivation to stay close, and a deep security for our spiritual future.
Dear ones, once again it is my privilege and responsibility to share with you some of what God is doing on the other side of the globe. Hopefully I can challenge you with the perspective that being here throws on life there. We have been uniquely blessed in the last couple of weeks with several chances to view the fruit of God’s work here in the lives of Konkomba Christians and village churches. We go through times of ministry which could be best described as seasons of planting in faith and with tears—times we have certainly experienced in the last year. But there are also seasons of reaping and rejoicing, and the last few weeks have been that for us. We have had several larger group meetings recently which have afforded us with the opportunity to view the work that God is doing here on a corporate scale rather than village by village, and this has certainly blessed and encouraged us. God is working among this tribe, and we count it an honor to observe what He is doing here!
Most recently, we organized two three-day training sessions for the leaders in the various village churches. Observing these gathered men and seeing in my mind’s eye all of the villages that they represented was one of the singular blessings of my year. Many things blessed me: the number of men and villages that were represented, the strong sense of fellowship and attitude of learning from each other, the clear leadership provided by several more mature brothers here, the earnest early morning prayer meetings which rang out over Bunbon, and I could continue. For almost all of the men and villages gathered, I could remember the first time that they came asking to hear God’s Word. My first visit to their village is still etched in my memory. Now to observe them gathered together in a group, all seeking earnestly for growth and a deeper knowledge of God’s Word, was thrilling indeed. We have been humbled and filled with thankfulness many times lately as we have observed this fruit that has grown out of the seeds planted. We have only had a little part in the work God has done, just a finger that God has used to accomplish His goal of receiving glory from the Konkomba tribe. What an honor is yours and ours, for we have both been little tools in the mighty hand of our Father!
Observing these young Christian leaders over a period of six days not only blessed me but also challenged me in many areas. I would like to share one of these provocations to love and good works with you. I have noticed an almost ravenous hunger in these young Christians for the Word of God, and it is this perspective that I would like to use to challenge you. I believe that we as mature churches and/or second-generation Christians are lacking in the simple but tenacious belief that these dear Konkombas have in the Bible. We are even more sorely lacking in our love for and appreciation of it. We live, or should I say, you live so surrounded by God’s Word: a Bible in every room, five study versions on the shelf, and Bible mottos on every wall. Could it be that instead of this virtual immersion in God’s Word creating in us a greater desire to love and live it, we have been cozied to sleep by the mere comfort of its presence all around us? I fear that this may be true for some of us, and it is certainly a danger for all of us. Hence the title at the top, Do We Treasure God’s Word? To communicate to you the perspective I have gained by observing my dear brothers here, I would like to share with you three scenes from the last weeks.
Kwuame is a young man from the village of Nabila, which is about 4 miles away from Bunbon by a little tractor path. His legs were crippled by polio several years ago, so he gets around by means of a three-wheeled bike that he can pedal with his hands. If the bike can’t go where he wants to go, he scoots himself across the ground to his destination. Almost exactly one year ago we started going to his village to preach after his people came begging us several times. Now there is an infant but growing church in his village. Though he may never lead because of his handicap, Kwuame has proved very faithful in coming to church and any other meetings we organize. He is always the first to show up from his village, and so it was again last week when we gathered the leaders for training. Like the large majority of our Christians here, Kwuame has never learned to read or write. He and many others were very anxious to copy down each Scripture reference so that they could go back later and have someone read the verses out loud to them. Imagine never being able to read, and the one book that you want to read is over 1500 pages long!! Someone may be willing to read to you, but where should they read? Maybe you are the one who leads out in your village when the church gathers, and you can barely read. You want to read something that can bless your people and something that you can then explain to them, but again unless you have some direction it is hard to know where to begin.
So, everyone wanted to write down the Scripture references. We made a sheet of all of the references for each lesson we taught so that the services would not be disturbed. Then during every available break or in the night, men would be crowded around these sheets of paper writing down their own copy of the verses from which we just taught. It took hours because we used scores of verses in our days together, and each letter was painfully copied down, mostly by those who had never learned to write and who did not understand what they were copying.
Let’s come back to Kwuame and the scene that impressed me. I went up one evening around 9 P.M. to the room where the men were sleeping for the night. Some were bathing, some were still eating, and others were sitting around in discussion. I found Kwuame, or I should say I nearly stumbled over him crouched on the porch floor copying the Scripture references stroke by stroke. It was almost painful to watch him as he labored over each and every line, looking back and forth several times for some letters. But all I could do was cheer him on, knowing that he was excited about what he was doing and that he would achieve his aim, a copy of the Scriptures we read that day. I walked away wondering if I love God’s Word enough to make that kind of effort, especially since he will still have to find someone willing to read to him. Kwuame’s painfully copied pages of Scripture references, coupled with the Bible he suffered to buy, must fill God’s heart with intense joy, and I felt a little of that joy as I walked back down the path to my own house.
It is early morning in the village of Kobilsung, and the sun is just starting to rise in the sky as a man walks out of his thatch-roofed house and walks towards a tree in the center of the village. Carrying a tape player with him as well as a Bible, he greets his neighbors with all of the traditional questions about the quality of last night’s sleep and the condition of all and sundry as he passes their houses. When he arrives at the tree, several others are already there to meet him. After greetings all around, the few who have gathered begin singing to alert those still in their houses that the time has come to gather. As they sing, several other men plus some women and children stumble out of their rooms and come towards the tree. All of these men are farmers, and as they come toward the tree you can see their patchwork trousers and shirts with no buttons. They are off to farm for the day, but being unable to read the Bible for themselves, they are taking time to listen to God’s Word before heading out for the day’s labor.
Yes, that is correct—this early morning gathering is to listen to the Bible on cassette! The man whom we mentioned at the beginning, leads the small group in prayer, and then they sit listening intently to a couple chapters from the book of Romans. The leader, who can read a little, tries to keep up with the playing tape to improve his reading skills, and all of the rest murmur their understanding or questions as the tape continues playing. After a few minutes, the tape is turned off, and there is a little discussion about the chapters they just listened to, a few questions answered, then some songs and a prayer. The sun is moving higher in the sky, and every man is anxious to get out in the farm to get some work done before the air heats up any more. The women need to cook the morning porridge, so the little group disbands and heads in a dozen directions to their various farms and houses. Another “morning prayers,” as they call it, is over. For this little group, privileged enough to have the Bible on cassette, another day as baby Christians has begun on a good note. How simple and sweet their love for God’s Word is, yet how profound is their grasp of the Bible as our essential daily food, and how thrilling it is to see this solution to the problem of a church full of people who cannot read!
I have spent many hours in the last two weeks listening to the leaders of young Konkomba churches hash out what it means to obey God’s Word in a Konkomba setting. Bible discussion Konkomba style is a very noisy and animated affair, which certainly would not conform to Robert’s Rules of Order. But it is the informal discussion times that help to cement the truths that they are learning into their hearts and helps them figure out how to apply it practically. People take turns (more or less) asking questions and telling stories they think will aid in making the point clear, while the rest of the group grunts or clucks along with the narrative or question. Almost everyone contributes something to the discussion, and occasionally the more mature leaders draw the meeting to order so that they can read a verse that throws light on the subject or can correct a line of reasoning that is not biblical. The deliberations must be guided by these wiser men, because it is easy for the meeting to degenerate into confusion and equally easy for the men to come to wrong conclusions. At the same time, the value of this open sharing time is immeasurable when it comes to discerning what God is saying and then applying it in a new culture. These men are charting the course of the Konkomba church in this area!
Much of what they discussed would hold little significance to most of us, but for them it is the real life issues of how to relate to idols and juju since becoming Christians, and how to go about weddings and funerals since they have left off the pagan traditions associated with these occasions. What about smoking and chewing the kola nut? Do we need Christian names now that we are following God? Should we continue to uphold the old taboos of our people, like not whistling in the night, or since we believe in Jesus, should these things not matter to us? These and many other similar questions were discussed during our time together. They care deeply about these issues and are zealous to find answers to their questions that will be in line with God’s Word and will also meet the cultural needs of their people at the same time. They are looking at these issues in their culture through the eyes of the Bible for the first time, and though sometimes they are shocked to see what Scripture says about their old traditions, many do not shrink from obeying what they are learning. To leave some of the Konkomba traditions means to be ostracized from their family and to suffer ridicule in their village, but by God’s grace they are making these choices and finding strength to stand alone in their communities. God’s Word is being lived out in many villages, and the Konkomba men and women who are living it out love to obey it!
There you have it: three scenes that we have been privileged to gaze upon in the last weeks. This is the perspective from afar that I mentioned several paragraphs ago. Does this view of another culture’s simple love for God’s Word challenge your heart as it has mine? Can we learn something from our new Konkomba brothers? Can their newly found love of God’s Word be an iron to sharpen the iron of our more mature and grounded outlook? I hope it can!
I could also make a list of the many problems we are facing with our infant churches here, and could give you a window into the massive inconsistencies that are a natural result of being so young in Christ. But the fact remains that in spite of being young and very immature in Christ, these Konkomba believers love God’s Word and love it with a practical depth that I think far surpasses our own. If they continue to love God’s Word as they do now, we are filled with faith that they will grow into mature, holy Christians and churches.
But the point of this narrative is to challenge us who through oft-repeated saturation without practical application (obedience!) may have extinguished or at least dimmed the early flame of love for God’s Word that we may have felt. I am not in any way suggesting that we should limit our intake of God’s Word so as to heighten our hunger for it. Far from it. Rather my desire is that the next time you pick up one of the many Bibles in your home, you will think of the many who do not have even one. As you page through and settle in for a nice time of reading, remember what a marvel it is that you know how to read and can so easily read several chapters at a sitting. Maybe you can remember your Konkomba brothers and sisters the next time you feel too lazy to turn to the text or to write down the Scripture reference, and you can be challenged by their tenacious desire to study and know God’s Word. Maybe, just maybe, the testimony of the Konkomba church in this area can help us to realize again the treasure we have in the Bible, and can help us to respect, read, and realize its truth more in our own lives!
Preaching God’s word among the Konkombas,
Daniel & Christy Kenaston and Family
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