Bowing Before the "Village Guardian"
We have lived in our village for almost a year now. We have built friendships, learned to speak some of the language, and invited our neighbors into our home. And yet, we have had the feeling that they remain very closed to us. We have seen strange practices and when we ask people what is going on, they give us vague and evasive answers. We have prayed that the Lord would lead us to people who might be a little more transparent and believe that he has recently answered that prayer.
A few months ago Dave and I started going to another village once a week to meet with a different language partner and we are pleased to say that he seems to be more free to share with us about the beliefs and practices of the Bakoum people.
For instance, he told us that there is, in every village, a woman who is charged with guarding the traditional rites of the culture. It is she who leads the village in particular dances with a specific kind of drumbeat to call up the spirits of the ancestors. These spirits are invoked to come bring peace to the village when there are disputes. In the past they were called on before the people would go to war to give them courage in battle. Today they are also summoned to bring prosperity to their crops. This woman thus serves as the mediator between the people and their deceased loved ones who come back to give power or, if they feel wronged, they come back to torment them. She has a team of people under her who she trains in the village traditions at night. We have been told that she usually recruits these people young and then chooses one of them to be her apprentice. This apprentice will take her place as the guardian of the village when she dies. This team also serves as her eyes and ears in the village, transmitting back to her at night everything that goes on.
Our language partner also said that this is also a woman of power. Parents teach their children never to look her in the eye and warn their rebellious teenagers that if they disrespect her, she has the power to cause them to be killed in the bush, or strike them with deadly sicknesses. She also contains the powers of a sorcerer and can transform into animals at night and go and bite them. Also at night, she can travel even to other countries. Interestingly this woman is expected to give her stamp of approval to the village chiefs and she refuses to appoint any chief who is not a promoter and participant in these traditions. Our language partner and another lady with him said that the chief comes to her at night and bows down to her.
And, in our village, we are pretty sure that our village mediator lives right in front of us. A few church members told us that she declared that our village is not to be involved in our church any longer after she heard a message that God is a jealous God and he does not allow us to bow to anyone but him. It is also rumored that she is the one who â€œholds the batonâ€ which serves more-or-less as her staff of authority. There are always people coming from outside of our village to consult with her, and now we are beginning to understand why.
This information is very eye-opening to us and has explained many things that we have observed in our village. We will continue to talk with our other language partner, as well as others, to learn more about the spiritual beliefs of our people group. Although many of these practices are very dark, the Lord has shown us that he is at work in our people groupâ€¦
Many Encouraging Things Happening
Here are some amazing things that have been happening for us:
The grandson of the lady described above comes to our house almost daily to listen to us read Bible stories and lead the kids in memorizing Scripture.
I (Stacey) have met a woman from another Bakoum village who sells in our local market. She has agreed to let me come sit with her once a week and practice my Bakoum with her. I am so thankful because she is very patient and seems to be a very good conversation partner.
A neighbor and his wife had a domestic dispute one night and one of their kids called us over to break it up. The husband came over the next day and Dave went over some verses from Proverbs about how true strength is not how loud we can be but instead true strength is controlling oneâ€™s self and calculating oneâ€™s words. This neighbor was dumbfounded by these truths as it was the first time he has heard these teachings.
During the Christmas season, there was much drunkenness which led to a lot of domestic violence in our village. It was awful. But on Christmas we projected a film about Christ for the village. One lady who watched the film said that she had no idea that Jesus taught not to repay evil for evil and that she was guilty of seeking revenge. She made it her goal to seek to be reconciled to those she had wronged. That was tremendously encouraging.
Outside the church people seek to manipulate the spirits of the dead to get what they want, inside the church it seems like many seek to manipulate God to get what they want. A constant theme I hear preached is that if we do X,Y, and Z then God is obligated to give health and wealth. The other night, I taught through Job 1 with a group of ladies and showed them how the Lord granted Satan permission to cause Job to suffer even though Job was a righteous man. And Jobâ€™s response was to bow down and say that God has the right to give and he has the right to take and his name is to be praised in both instances. This was a completely radical, completely new teaching, but the women accepted it and we spent time praising the Lord together and acknowledging that he is good when he gives and he is good when he takes.