The big tank out back filled with rain water that we used to "bathe" was a nice change of pace from the filthy river water we had been using for the last week. Something about rinsing off with water that I could actually see through just made me feel a little bit cleaner, even if the clothes I put on afterward were nowhere near clean. The mud caked on the bottom of my shoes was a pleasant reminder of the slippery trek uphill we had made earlier that day and as I fumbled around in the dark trying to find my towel, I quickly realized it had fallen onto the wet and muddy wooden planks I was standing on.
I smiled because I knew this was soon to be a normal part of my life, and dispite the inconvenience, I loved it.
We settled into the small home of Lolo, a missionary Indian we had met just a few days prior. His entire house was lit by one light bulb and the thin, wooden walls did very little to muffle the sounds of babies crying and dogs barking throughout the village and did absolutely nothing to keep out the resilient mosquitoes who seemed more than pleased with the fresh feast they had found on any exposed area of our bodies.
Lolo's wife and children were out of town so he had asked a little Indian girl to come and cook us dinner: rice, plantains, and fried spam. An interesting combination, but my stomach was telling me loud and clear that it would take ants and slugs if it's all I had to offer. As I watched the sweet Indian chopping garlic cloves and slicing the ripe plantains with a skill that came as natural as breathing, I felt very incompetent. I'm supposed to live up to that? I can barely make spaghetti with canned tomato sauce!
After some light-hearted chit-chat, our new friend Lolo began to share his heart with us. Though he was an Indian himself, he was a foreigner among this particular tribe and he gave us insight on what it truly takes to reach this people group. He told of the first few years of trying to become like them, only to have threats from the locals and problems with theft.
As he shared with us stories of trial and set-backs and frustrations, the overwhelming theme of his conversation was this: Be faithful. Be a servant.
As most Indians, he made little eye contact with us as he shared. He spoke in a quiet voice and nervously squished with his fingers little ants that had scurried onto the table to carry away any leftover rice that had fallen from our plates.
He was humble, teachable. And he was a faithful servant.
For more than eight years he had been faithfully forsaking his own culture, his own habits for the sake of becoming like this tribe he was living in. He didn't do this because he had to or even because he wanted to. As a matter of fact he shared with us his youthful desires of moving to the city and pursuing a career that was much more promising than being a missionary to this people group. His birth tribe has an ancient history of conflict with this tribe that he now considers family. It was no easy transition, but he was happy because he knew God was in it.
As I sat there, smacking mosquitoes on my legs and trying to hear his whispered voice above the sounds of the village settling in for the night, I felt both overwhelmed and excited.
I was overwhelmed because I saw in a new light what it was going to mean to forsake everything for the sake of the Gospel. I've never struggled with selling all of our possessions here in the States. As a matter of fact, the closer we get to our big move, the more ready I am to get rid of it all! The idea of leaving our families is painful at times, but I console myself knowing that we will likely see them at least one a year and, with the way technology is advancing, it's likely we'll have easy communication within the next couple of years.
But as I sat there listening to what Lolo was really saying, below the surface of his stories, I was realizing something completely new to me. I am going to have to sacrifice my culture, my very nature. I am going to have to unlearn 25 years of habit and thought process. I am going to have to surrender everything about myself.
It's that serious.
He explained that we must look like them, act like them, and think like them if we ever hope to reach them. And while I guess I've thought of that before, as I sat there in this dimly lit house I realized for the first time that it really did mean everything.
He told us stories of other missionaries who had come in and tried to live like they always had in their home country, just in a different place and how the tribe always rejected them. He told of well-meaning people coming in and trying to tell them to dress different and cut their hair to please God.
"It never works," he said. "They want to know God. They want to hear the truth and have hope. But they also want to be Indians. They don't want to change their culture. They want to change their hearts."
And then I had this overwhelming feeling of excitement. It had to be the Holy Spirit inside of me, because my flesh was saying, "It's impossible, honey. Have you seen how white your skin is? One thing you won't be doing is fitting in!"
But the Holy Spirit was saying, "I've created you for this. This is just the beginning. This is the excitement in the journey. This is what it's all about: sacrificing it all of the sake of the Cross. Not just possessions, but person."
And that's when my fears began to melt and I realized that I can't do it.
No way could I ever do this. I can't forget who I am. What am I supposed to do with the years of American culture built into my mind and heart? What am I supposed to do with my manners and instincts that are in conflict with so many of the Indian traditions?
And the Holy Spirit said, "Good, you finally get it."
I can't do it, but that's the point. God can and He will. My only job is to die to myself daily.
Lolo says that they will expect our doors to always be open. So they will.
Lolo says that they will expect to be able to come to dinner without notice. So they will.
Lolo says that they will burp after the meal if they think it was good. So I pray they burp!
Lolo says that they will expect our home to look just like theirs. So it will.
Lolo says that they will expect us to have a canoe like them. So we will.
Lolo says that they will expect us to wash our clothes in the river and bathe with rainwater. So we will.
Lolo says that they won't even begin to listen to us about our God until we act like them, talk like them, and think like them.
It'll be hard to adapt to a culture so very different from my own. But if that's what it takes to break down the barriers and to reach them with the Truth for the glory of God, then by the grace of God that's what we'll do.
It's going to be hard. Really hard. But isn't God's glory worth that?
I mean, that's sort of the whole point, right?