Culture in Transition
For those not receiving a newsletter, a quick update is due. We finished language school and have arrived in Manokwari, Papua and are beginning our life here!
One of the strongest impressions that will remain in my mind from these first weeks will be the times that I have wandered up the mud path to the left of our house, up to the married student housing. The married student homes on this theological college campus are small concrete homes smaller than most of your living rooms. There is a well out in front that all the homes share. When I sit on their porches and chat with them I feel like I am in the highland villages, surrounded by murmuring in the tribal languages and the smell of cooking over fires.
I ask questions. Which tribe are you from? How long have you been studying here? Who lives here with you? What will you do when you are done? When did the gospel come to your tribe? How many people are their in your tribe? Can you get to your village by car now?
I asked one man from the Sougb tribe about their history. He knew the exact year and month that they embraced faith. I am amazed by what has happened here in the Eastern Bird's head of Papua, the way whole tribes decided to lay down their weapons, end their warring, and follow Jesus. The way the church grew, and spread, and now these people groups have a vibrant church and faith that is still growing, spreading, maturing.
The parents of these students, they were the classic stone-age tribal people groups, some even cannibals. Everything has changed in a generation. They have medicine, a road, they're a part of a nation, they can read and write, they wear clothes, they go to school. And yet, from the perspective of the outside world, these groups are still three or four tribes of about 15,000 people each, living in remote mountains, barely touched by the outside world. The guys that come to this little school here, the ones that Isaac will be teaching – they will be the most highly educated people in their entire people group and language. The professors here have their work cut out for them. They have to come alongside and do a lot of remedial education. The government schools in the mountains are staffed by teachers who were assigned to remote jobs with little accountability, and sometimes they might show up a day or two a week to provide a rather dubious education. Critical thinking and philosophical reasoning have little role in tribal society and yet are crucial now for students at this school and for the whole people group as they continue to become a part of the world around them.
I sit with these families and I am in awe. I see grandma with the tattoos on her face and I am amazed by what has happened in her lifetime. I see the children and I wonder how much about their people group will change in the next 50 years. I look at these men, the students, and I recognize that they are simply young men, caring for their families, desiring to follow God and serve the church. And yet the truth is that the future of their whole people group is on their shoulders. They will not merely be church leaders. As the most educated people and the men most fluent in Indonesian, they will represent this group to the government, to outsiders. They will also be the educators, the ones who know the past culture but also know the outside world. They will face secularism, Islam, materialism, heresy....
God prepared the hearts of these peoples, He made fertile ground where the gospel took root and grew. His church is here, and these are His people leading it. They are in a unique position in the world. I see their amazing story and the great burden on their backs now and I am glad that God has given us the privilege of coming alongside them. How can we help prepare them? What can Isaac teach in the classroom that will equip them? How can we empower them through our friendship and mentoring? Please pray for our work here.