On the "front page" of this issue of our newsletter, Diane writes about our Kwong church services (which we did not invent, incidentally) and expresses our distress over their frivolity. On the "back page", Mark takes up the paradigm shift that the ministry of TEAM in Chad is undergoing and makes an appeal for a "few good men and women" to meet the challenges of the future.
Diane describes the frivolity of a Kwong worship service
Standing behind a rickety, termite-infested table (a.k.a. pulpit), the visiting preacher allows his voice to trail off to an inaudible mumble signaling the imminent "amen." To his left three church leaders slouch to the 120° angle of their papa fatigués (wooden recliners), heads resting against the upper edge of the chair, eyes closed, undisturbed by the "amen" signaling the close of the message.
The choir sings a "response hymn," although I have my doubts that it is a response to anything from the message. Seven teenage girls forming the front row of the choir display a rainbow of dresses and head scarves in red, orange, yellow, green, blue, pink, and purple, not to mention fluorescent green. The young fellows, less ornately clothed, rattle gourds, pound drums and blow into the PVC tube trumpet resonating its "oompa, oompa." The three leaders remain asleep unaffected by the racket.
The offering follows. Rather than plates and ushers, each person parades to the front and places their real or imagined coins in the respective men's and women's pouches of a fluorescent green cloth hanging from the "pulpit." First, the choir walks solemnly forward in a line, depositing their coins before circling back to their seats to sing for the duration of the event. The men take their turn next. Most simply walk forward, however several follow the admonition of an elder to "dance" forward in a snaking line that originates at the front left side (the men's side), works its way along the outside wall, around the back and then up the center aisle. Among the men is an apparition from Star Wars Episode 1: It's the spitting image of Ja Ja Binks! Upon closer look, it's merely Raymond, our house worker, who has been endowed with precisely the same gait.
Once the men have finished and the dust begins to settle, the women rise en masse. They need no admonition to dance, in fact it's as if it were this very moment they've awaited throughout the whole sermon. I wonder sometimes if it might not be the principal reason for some to come to church. They literally "whoop it up," their ear piercing "you-yous" bordering on screaming. Snaking slowly to the back and up the center aisle, they do their utmost to prolong the dancing time. The dust casts a fog over the scene (not to mention giving us sinus infections). At last the men on their "recliners" are fully conscious. The women dance in close proximity to their seats until the final drumbeat concludes the offering. With that, the service is effectively completed, except for various announcements, admonitions, "chewing outs," and commentaries which consume another 30 minutes.
In general, church services fail to edify us, and likewise we have our doubts as to their effect on the Kwong. We are so often at a loss to know what we can do to make a difference, to impact the lives of these people that they might grow and mature spiritually and go beyond the motions of "playing church." We see so much that distresses us. As an example, during communion following today's service the local pastor took the opportunity to vent his own gripes and offer remarks which made mockery of the entire communion service. Our hearts were deeply grieved
Lord, we pray, may Your Spirit move and work in the lives of these people. Show us what we can do with our limited time and manpower. Send others to work with us to strengthen and build the Kwong church for your Name's sake.
Mark takes a look at the paradigm shift in TEAM's ministry in Chad
Missionaries, like anyone else, need a reality check once in a while - something to wipe the mist off of our missiological spectacles. The recent unexpected departure from Chad of two more of our star missionary couples was just such a clarifying event for us. If these were the first two, we would not have been so shaken, but in fact, they are only the latest in a long string of departures from the field in recent years.
These departures have coincided with - and depending on who you talk to have been in part caused by - a profound change in the role of missionaries in Chad. Traditionally we have worked among the negroid, “southern”, post-pagan believers who are the spiritual heritage of the first missionaries of 75 years ago. With the passage of several generations of believers (and missionaries) this fruitful relationship has matured (or devolved, again depending on your point of view) to the point where it is a fair generalization to say that the Chadian church no longer wants what we as missionaries think we have to offer , and is more or less content to do things their way, whatever the missionaries (let alone Scripture) might say to the contrary. In a word, excepting a few unusual situations such as we enjoy among the Kwong, missionaries in Chad are out of the loop. As a result, they are often under-employed and frustrated, and it goes without saying that under-employed and frustrated missionaries don’t have much to hold them back when family, health, or other opportunities suggest a return to the homeland.
The Apostle Paul was faced with similar attitudes. Upon his arrival in a town, he would first go to the synagogue where he would announce the Gospel to the Jews and God-fearers. Invariably, it turned out that they didn’t want what he had to offer either, and so he would say a strained farewell and seek out a more receptive audience among the Gentiles.
An analogous farewell is taking place here in Chad - less by design than by default - as the remaining missionaries turn from their traditional roles as facilitators in the “southern” negroid church to evangelism among the Muslim populations of Arab stock further north and east. Such a role shift is easier said than done. Besides the legendary intransigence of the Muslims (here the analogy with Paul breaks down) they live in inhospitable, inaccessible regions of Chad. Two families who have taken up this challenge drive a week through the Sahara desert to reach their home. It takes a very special person to do this kind of work. Some of the families who have left Chad, their zeal and spirituality notwithstanding, realized that they simply weren’t the “right stuff” for this kind of frontier outreach.
Yet the need is great. TEAM, together with AIM and a German mission are establishing a “beachhead” in a part of Chad not-so-affectionately known as “The Swamp” – 5000 square miles of Muslim territory which, when it’s not under water, is the bread-basket of Chad. Never in human history has the Gospel of Christ been preached here, yet the civil authorities have given a clear welcome to this missionary effort. The problem is that we simply do not have the people to do the job - which is why we’re writing this you.
This effort needs men and women to do the basic work of evangelism, as well as medical personnel and development workers. We are looking for those whom God has called to this work - people willing to give up their careers, spend several years in preparation for ministry, commit 10-20 years of their lives to this effort, learn a minimum of two languages (French and Arabic), and then live in danger and privation, be rejected by their hearers, and gain for themselves a “crown of righteousness” after having run a good race (2 Tim 4:8). Drop us a line if you’re interested, and we’ll fill you in on more of the details. And even if you’re not, pray that God would sovereignty put the desire in the heart of someone else.
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