The following story is both timely and moving — and came from some of Discovery’s friends in service abroad. Many of you have directly participated in one of their translation projects through your designated giving. We have permission to share this with all of you, as long as we avoid certain words for the security of those involved. And when you are finished reading, take a moment to pray for them…
Dear friends and family,
I don’t know if you’ve ever gotten a chance to meet someone who has actually tried to kill one of your loved ones, but a couple weeks ago I did.
If you’ve followed our updates, you are familiar with a man we’ve called Alvin – the only totally open local believer we have ever met on our island. Just to recap, Alvin and I met to pray regularly for about two years. During those two years, I witnessed the difficulty of Alvin’s life – abuse, threats, homelessness, rejection. One day Alvin was gone. Just gone. A few weeks later we heard he had left for another country.
A few months ago, I had my first conversation with Alvin in over 2 years, and he told me the story about how M, a local cleric, had asked permission from the president to have him executed. The president had refused, and Alvin (remarkably calm about the incident) stayed on the island. But one night the police came to Alvin, and warning him of threat, helped him board a fishing boat that same night and flee to a neighboring country; apparently, M was still at work.
I’d never met M although I have heard much about him—that he always dressed in religious clothing, had a beard, and that his fundamentalist rhetoric was not liked by our islander neighbors who prefer a moderate, peaceful expression of faith. A year ago, we had a turnover in government, and M was named as a religious counselor to the governor. M immediately made efforts to seek out one of our team members and tell him that he would be working to have us expelled from the islands. Rumors swirled. Now, almost a year later, we are still here. And so is M.
And so it happened that one day I was sitting by the side of the road waiting for an unlikely-to-show-up taxi during one of our fuel shortages. After a long time waiting, along came an old car, and I flagged it down. Inside were 4 children and a man, and, since he stopped, I got in. The front seat had a sleeping infant lying on it, and I asked if it would be OK to sit there and hold the baby. Soon we were slowly driving through my village, and stopping regularly (as we often do in cars here) to talk to people on the road. We got to chatting amusedly about how drivers are so bad in our island yet so polite. One might stop in the middle of the road blocking all traffic while buying bananas, but the other drivers mostly wait patiently for the sale to finish without honking.
You know where the story is going… Eventually I asked his name. “You don’t know me?” he said. He gave me his name. It started with M. And so, I found myself sitting next to the man who tried to have my friend killed, cradling his baby and joking about drivers’ habits. Twenty minutes later he dropped me off at work.
Persecution and humanity. What a human moment with our persecutor. I got to see him as a human with a beautiful baby, he got to see me as an English teacher needing a ride. Praise God.
It is easier to persecute something different from you. It’s harder to recognize their humanity. One neighborhood child is terrified of our white skin. Her family makes full use of this in a way that we find demeaning and dehumanizing. Whenever I walk by they start yelling that I’m coming to eat her, and laugh when she runs away in terror. One day they dragged this 2-year-old, screaming, to the doorway of our house as a punishment – “Don’t do that again, or we’ll take you to the foreigner’s house!” they warned. It hurt our hearts.
But today I sat with the little girl and shared a lollipop with her. (I know you aren’t supposed to share lollipops, but then again, you aren’t supposed to hold babies in your lap in the front seat of the car…)
It’s not all persecution. There’s also humanity – by which I mean we are all made in the image of God, and that love shines through often and in encouraging ways. A man who stutters in my wife’s English class saw me in the market the other day… “Come buy from me!” he yelled, and of course I did. “How much are onions?” I asked. “For you, 1000 francs a kilo, but for everyone else 1250! And I’ll give you the good ones too!” It sounded like good salesmanship, and I asked for a kilo. Soon my friend was sorting through the sack of onions to find the very best ones. As he did, others came and got onions, and sure enough, he charged them 1250 francs and no bargaining! When he was done selecting the premium onions he put them on the scale – far more than a kilo. I started taking them off, but he refused. “They are all for you. 1000 francs. You are my teacher and my friend.”
We are these peoples’ friends. We love them even when they don’t love us, because we have the love of Jesus in us. We praise God that his image shines through them in their love for us.
Pray for them, pray for us. Pray especially today about an agreement we are working on with the government right now to better establish our work in the Islands. This process has gone on for a long time, and God has been with us through it all, and all its moments of persecution and humanity.