Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Giants in our midst

I have been thinking about the story of David and Goliath lately. There is a reason why this story has captured the attention and appreciation of people throughout history. It has some iconic imagery: An undersized and less-than-capable-hero amazingly overcomes the odds. Small of stature and yet, full of faith, this hero dramatically succeeds in knocking down the odds-on favorite. Through his victory, the little champion secures freedom for his own enslaved people. As I studied through this story with the church leaders from the Chipembe/Nkunama cluster, we all sensed that this story was about us. Here in a grass covered hut on bamboo basket chairs sits the “David” – six believers convinced (mostly?) that the power of the Living God can overcome any Giant. While out in the open stands the “Goliath,” the embarrassingly powerful and arrogant Giant, who has the respect, admiration and loyalty of the crowds. Goliath is calling out challenges to them…mocking David’s undersized appearance and oversized faith. When our small group talked about the Giants we face in this area we came up with a pretty daunting list. I’ve rearranged it some, but we basically named three Giants: Unfaithfulness, Drunkenness, and the Occult (Divination, Evil Spirits and Witchcraft).

Giant #1: Unfaithfulness and a lack of trust
There is a passage in the letter to Titus where Paul encourages his young disciple serving in Crete. He reminds Titus that “Even one of their own prophets has said, ‘Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons” (1:12). And while it is hard for us to imagine anyone having such a low view of their own people, this expression is similar to what the Makua we serve with have to say about themselves all the time. They say, “you can’t trust us…we will lie and cheat each other.” This lack of faithfulness could come from a number of places – broken family structures, poverty, the effects of war on a society. But, no matter where it comes from, this unfaithfulness leads to many problems within the church. Leaders won’t follow through on commitments to the church and to each other. The church is reluctant to give because they don’t trust each other to administer well what has been given. It makes Paul’s counsel to Timothy to entrust the message to “reliable” people ring true (2 Timothy 2:2). Reliable and faithful people make up the backbone of communities of faith. For the gospel to truly take root in this area – we need faithful men and women.

Giant #2: Drunkenness
Drunkenness is a problem in many parts of the world, but it seems to most severely effect cultures that are already saddled with poverty. Men (and women) give in to hopelessness and get lost in the escape of alcohol. All over this area village after village you find people distilling their homemade brew. We have been encouraged to see some of our friends succeed in leaving this lifestyle behind. While others escape for a while, and then sadly get pulled back in. Churches in our area talk about drunkenness as it leads to other problems within families (misuse of money, physical abuse). It takes the intervention of God’s Spirit, family, friends and the church to effectively break this cycle.

Giant #3: the Occult (Divination/Evil Spirits/Witchcraft)
Three weeks ago I was on my way home after spending some time with the church in Nekwaya. I had a number of people in the car with me (as usual). Joaquim was riding back with me. He is from the village of Kambiri, but now lives in the village of Namwaciko where he has helped start a church. Joaquim was going to stay in Kambiri for a few days and when we arrived there, he wanted us to go visit his sister who has been sick. We walked to the house and sat for a few minutes on his front porch. After the greetings, Joaquim shared the problem with me. His sister, Julieta, has been having seizures lately. When I asked what they planned to do about it, the family responded that they were going to take her to the Diviner. Around here seizures are usually understood as coming from the demonic, and many people in this area are afraid of the hospital. One lady I spoke to said, “Everyone I know who has gone to the hospital dies.” From our time here in Mozambique we’ve learned that when people do divination there is usually only one of two results. The Onkulukano, Traditional Healer or Diviner, will tell you that you have been possessed by an evil spirit or "macini" and need to receive instruction from another person who has that kind of spirit to learn how to appease it. The second option is that the Onkulukano will tell you that you have been hit by witchcraft by a certain family member or neighbor that is jealous of you and has cursed you. In conversations with our Mozambican friends we have sent that this act of divination more than often leads to further participation in the occult.

We talked about the stories of Jesus healing people with seizures who were possessed by evil spirits and I asked the family to wait a week before going to the Diviner while we (the church in Kambiri and myself) could pray and fast for Julieta – asking God to release her from this evil spirit. We prayed for her and later that day the church in Kambiri prayed for her. At the end of the week, though, the family showed up at my house and informed me that Julieta had died. One of her brothers said, “Obviously, the magic that she had been cursed with was more powerful than your god.” It is hard to know how to respond well to that. His analysis of the situation sure seems accurate – if this was a power/truth encounter – then we did not have access to the greater power.

This system of demonic oppression has a hold on the Makua-Meetto (the picture above is from a "macini" ceremony we witnessed in the town of Balama). They constantly live in fear of the evil spirits and their power to disrupt and destroy life. When we share the good news of the Kingdom with our friends here we talk about how through Christ’s death and resurrection we have been freed from the powers of sin, death and Satan. We have been released from this Kingdom of Death and can now live as we were meant to in the Kingdom of Life.

When I shared the list of these giants with my friend and father-in-law, Larry Wilson, he noted that these giants are not all that different from the ones the church faces in the US. They have different names and different expressions, but the “Powers” or “Giants” seek to dominate us no matter what culture we live in.

Thanks for thinking about us. Please pray for us to have David’s confidence as we face down these Giants under the power of God’s Spirit.

Grace and Peace,