A True Story

Saturday dawned bright and warm, large billowy clouds blowing across the brilliant blue sky.  If not for the cool wind, it would have been near 70.  As it was, spirits were high at the direct deviation from the forecast of rain.  Passports, visas, and cover story ready, the group headed for the border.

One hour and several bribes later, we were through customs and walking into the country of Bach Fortay.  Immediately we suffered out first setback - one of the women on the team was bitten by an African black mamba snake and was paralyzed for fifteen minutes.  Not wanting to delay in our mission, we distributed hers and Phil's gear among the other five of us, and he carried her.  She recovered just before we reached a central watering hole and the last regular toilet (well, port-a-john) for miles.  After taking advantage of both, we left the main road and started off in the general direction of our assigned area.  It wasn't long before we reached it, and began to look for signs of inhabitants.  Our missions agency had not been able to give us a specific location, as the country of Bach Fortay had only just opened to foreigners.  In fact, the government was still hostile to Christians, or "Istianschray" as they called us.

Finding the tribe ended up being easier than we had expected - in the end, we had to pick a tribe.  We were practically surrounded by various people groups, most of whom had never heard the name of Jesus.  Although we got to know two of the tribes - the Lgeaves and the Coachca - by afternoon it was clear we would be concentrating on the Coachca people.  Phil, Gigi, and I went to observe them, and found most of the tribe sleeping.  Only the chief and two of the women were awake.  Phil quickly picked up on their language, and we gave them water and candy.  One of the first things we noticed were the black headdresses they wore, and the bits of shiny material surrounding the village.  Aluminum foil and cans hung from trees and sat on rocks, and their happiness over the Snickers we gave them turned out to be focused not on the candy, which they threw out, but on the shiny gold wrapper.  The women impaled the wrapper on a tree branch and bowed before it several times, then affixed it on the chief's staff.  Phil was reminded of another people group of whom he had read that put up mirrors to scare away evil spirits.

We quickly learned more about their culture.  Women were very inferior to men, for one thing.  Okeyo, the chief, had three wives.  Katieka was the head wife, and when I went back to visit later, she and I hit it off.  During that visit, only Katieka and Heidiha were in the village; the rest had gone off to war with the other tribes in the area.  I learned that the head coverings they wore were to protect them from the sun, and the shiny things to protect them from the darkness.  The men's and women's headdresses were different, as Mark discovered.  He made the mistake of covering his mouth, and was taken for a woman at first by Okeyo.  It was soon sorted out, but when Okeyo found out Mark was single, he tried to get him to marry Sarahsa, one of the tribal women!

The tribe invited our group to dinner when they returned from the war.  It was only 2:45, so to kill time until supper, most of us slept.  The tribe was semi nocturnal, and we thought it wise to adapt.  When we arrived, the sun was beginning to set, and the tribe was performing a religious ceremony.  We waited outside the village and watched.  First Okeyo and Jeevesja worshiped before an alter.  It bore cans that reflected the light of the setting sun.  Some of the women worshipped at a nearby tree bearing foil that also shimmered in the sun.  Okeyo motioned for the other women to bow at the alter after he and Jeevesja were through.  When all were finished, they acknowledged our presence and welcomed us to their fire.

During the meal we learned more about their beliefs.  The Coachca people worshipped the Sun as their god.  The sun, they believed, had created them, and was happy when they did what he wanted.  How do you know what he wants? we asked.  He speaks to the men, the women told us.  When we are good, he gives us what we ask for.  They slept during the day when he was watching over them.  At night he slept, but his wife (the moon) and children (the stars) kept watch to be sure the people did what he wanted.  When they died, the people would become stars themselves.

We had a wonderful dinner of soup, chips, fruit, and a lingering desert of s'moas and roast marshmallows.  During that time we told stories.  Phil and Jeevesja went to pay a call on another tribe during desert, and Okeyo told us not to talk any more about our God till they got back.  It wasn't the place for the women to be talking so much about God; men, he knew, were the only ones who really knew anything about the subject.  During the conversation it came out that Katieka had lost a baby recently, and for the first time my heart was really touched.  I had been task oriented at first, but when I heard that I just wanted to hug away all the hurt and the pain.  She almost cried when Okeyo declared the subject of God taboo; we had been explaining how God could give her joy in any situation, even ones that are so bad.

When Phil and Jeevesja returned, Okeyo and Jeevesja had a quick conference.  They quieted us for an announcement - they had a gift to give.  Jeevesja called Mark up, and presented him with a necklace.  Mark was very happy, but when Jeevesja announced that it was an engagement gift, we all laughed.  They just wouldn't give up on getting Mark to mary Sarahsa!

Later Phil was asked to tell a story, and he shared in broken Coachca about a miracle God had done in his life.  When he was on a missions trip to India, he had become very sick.  The doctors ran some tests and found that he had appendicitis.  He had to have surgery there, and a few mistakes were made.  When he got back to the US, he was three days from being septic - meaning his body would release the toxins it had built up back into his system and kill him.  But people were praying for him, and he recovered.

Unfortunately, story time was short lived.  Okeyo got bored and declared that we would play games.  Then he found out that all the talk about our God had angered his, and the tribe had to do a dance to appease the sun.  The subject was officially closed for the night, at least for group discussion.

On the way back from a trip to the watering hole, Katieka confided in me that she only loved Okeyo when he gave her what she wanted.  This brought home for me for the first time the conditional love that their entire culture was full of.  At first the conditional love of the sun god was just an idea to me, something to compare to God's love to show them how much they were missing.  But when I saw the connection between her love for her husband and her god's love of her, it was evident how empty they were without true love, from the Author of love.  Without that as a basis, nothing else can be right either.

Part of my group went back to the camp sight with a load of our things, and almost as soon as they left, Sarahsa got sick.   Okeyo wouldn't let me see her to comfort her, never mind pray for her, but I had a feeling it was the gender issue again, so I went to get Phil.  Sure enough, Okeyo reluctantly agreed to let us pray when Phil asked, and as Gigi and Trina laid hands on her and prayed, her moanings grew less and less, till she finally slept peacefully.

With Okeyo's permission, I brought my things up to the village to spend the rest of the night with the tribal women.  After the other missionaries went back, the village settled down.  Most of the people were in a group off to the side, talking.  Sarahsa was lying near me, recovering her strength.  In reference to her illness, she said: "the sun god kicked me in the stomach."  I asked if I could pray, as it was my custom before going to bed.  She consented, so I haltingly prayed aloud,
"Fatherfa, thankta Youya forfa wonderfulwa dayda.
Father, thank You for wonderful day.
Thankta Youya forfa newna friendsfa, and thankta Youya mostma forfa healingha Sarahsa.
Thank You for new friends, and thank You most for healing Sarah.
Ii thankta Youya forfa Yourya lovela.  Ini Jesus'ja namena, amena."
I thank You for Your love.  In Jesus' name, amen.

"Canca Ii aska youya oneo morema questionqua? (Can I ask you one more question?)," Sarahsa asked.

"Ofo courseca."

"Area youya suresa - doesda yourya Godga reallyra lovela womenwa theta samesa asa menma?"  Does my God really love women the same as men.  I couldn't just say "of course" to that.  The answer was a heartfelt "Yesya."  I added thoughtfully, "Ii thinkta thata sometimesa Ii taketa thata forfa grantedga."  I often take it for granted.  No matter who I am or what I do, whether I forget to have my quiet time or spend extra time in the scriptures, nothing can make God love me any more or any less than He does now.  It's impossible.  To think of someone who doesn't know that unconditional love is heartbreaking.  It took all day - God's probably been trying to get it through to me for years - but I feel I understand more closely His heart for the people of the world.

It was a long night.  The day had been warm, but the night was cool and damp.  Grit sifted onto my face, and I only knew time was passing by checking my indiglo watch.  I drifted in and out of sleep.  Finally my watch read 6 o'clock, and I poked my head out from the warmth of the sleeping bag.  The rising sun and a lifting mist provided a lovely effect, though the air was still cool.  One other woman was just getting up.  Together we walked to the water/bathroom station, and when we returned, the rest of the tribe was up and ready for breakfast.

My group was not quite so ready to face the day.  After eating with the tribe, I returned to our camp site to find them all still asleep.  Slowly they woke up, and we decided to start the day with some time in individual prayer.  I found out why we are to hide God's word in our hearts - my pocket New Testament was the only scriptures to make it through the border!  Most of our group of 7 hadn't even tried to bring a Bible.

Before long, over the rise came Okeyo, minus his head covering.  It was the first time we had seen him bare-headed in the daylight, and we immediately knew something was up.  Indeed it was.  He said he wanted to know more about our God, and he and Phil walked off to talk privately.

Following soon after Okeyo were three of the tribal women.  One had been overheard approving of his decision, and another had reported it to Jeevesja.  They were chased out.  Mark went back to the village to talk with Jeevesja, while we women went out in the field to have some praise and worship time.

Such songs cross cultural lines, and it seemed no time had passed before I noticed Mark returning with the rest of the tribe.  I slowly walked over to join them, and found Phil explaining the plan of salvation.  They decided they wanted to be freed from their fear of the sun god and serve the true God.  I got to pray with one of the women, and then we hugged.  I was SO happy (and so was she!)  The tribe was reunited, one in Christ as well as culture.  Though their entire society didn't change, some aspects most definitely did.  They all removed their head coverings as Okeyo had, and some of the women went back to the village to take down the shiny "protection".  They no longer needed it - they now had God's protection!

The rest of the day was spent in prayer, sleeping, and sharing.

We taught them some English, and the men went off to explore the land and visit other tribes in the area.  The only crisis of the day was when the water supply ran low, but even that didn't last long.  The warmth of the sun quickly chased away the cold and dampness of the night, and some of us got a little burned.  Once it got really warm, we stayed in the shade.

  Finally around 2:30 we packed up and headed to shelter - a monsoon was reported approaching.  Along the way we met up with other missionary groups and tribes - they had all been reached for Christ.  It had been a successful weekend.  The people of Bach Fortay would never be the same, and neither would we!

The Unreached People Groups Retreat is a much anticipated event  among the interns every year.  Whether we play tribals or missionaries, we all learn a lot - and have a lot of fun!  The Coachca group was rather tame - some missionaries had to roll in the mud, go barefoot, or have jalepeno juice squeezed on their heads (that would be the Lgeaves tribe - some of our group did get that treatment).  But we would do whatever was necessary to connect with the people.  Our group wore head coverings to show respect for the culture.  As for beliefs - two tribes had already been reached by Mormons!  One's beliefs paralleled Christianity so closely that the missionaries couldn't find any important difference until Sunday afternoon.  The others had attacked the Mormons and had little use for missionaries of any kind.  The hardest thing with the Coachcas was that they laughed and said "impossiblei" every time we said our God had made the sun.  No, actually the hardest thing was staying in character.  Since we were all really interns, and some of us work together every day, it was hard not to just speak in English about everyday things.  Mark and Okey are even roommates!

And just in case you were wondering, the black mamba snake incident, as well as many others (malaria, wasps, blindness...) were just pretend as well.  To add to the challenge of the weekend (and make it seem more real) we were given envelopes to be opened at specified times.  Each held instructions.  For example, "The person to the right of whomever is reading this has been bitten by an african black mamba snake and is paralyzed for the next 15 minutes."  It certainly kept things from getting too easy.

All in all it was a wonderful weekend, and the memories and lessons will last a lot longer than my sunburn. JV

The unveiled faces
Reflect the knowledge of Christ
Crushing the shadows..."

The Light shines in the darkness.
And the darkness has not overpowered the Light.
John 1:5

Phil Boltz
Mark Betz
Gigi Iadicicco
Jo Anderson
Robbi Cowan
Michelle Black
Trina Hasebrook

Okey Wilson
Jeeves Urquhart
Megan Knapp
Katie Iverson
Heidi Jerkje
Hillary Loucks
Sarah Dailey
Gwen Land

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