by Anita Mae Draper
“The power of words lies not in the speaking of them but in the mental association the listener applies.”
This week I’ve been on an amazing journey. I’ve travelled by dugout canoe down the Balawa River and lived among the Wilos in the Amazon jungle. I’ve been bitten by rats and gnats. I’ve been fodder for laughter. I’ve been poked by people. And I've been stared at. Who am I?
If you answered, ‘a missionary’, give yourself a hand.
At this point you probably expect me to say I’ve always wanted to be a missionary when I grow up. Wrong. The main reason I didn’t yield to water baptism until I was 42 yrs old was because I was worried I’d wake the next morning with a pressing urge to go to Brazil or Africa or some other 'dark' place. Childish reasoning, I know… but that’s possibly because I haven't grown up yet.
Neither have I been inclined to read stories about the lives of missionaries. My sister and her husband are missionaries to Canadian natives – or First Nations is possibly more politically correct. And although I’m not well-versed in everything Bonnie and Magnar do, I know the first thing they do when they go into a new area is set up meetings to talk about God’s word.
Imagine my surprise then, when I read the autobiographical book, Our Witchdoctors Are Too Weak by Davey & Marie Jank, and discovered that is the last thing on this particular missionary’s agenda. Davey travels down the Balawa River in the Amazon jungle to live amongst the Wilo people and teach them about the Bible. Twenty-five years earlier, the Wilos heard about the Bible, which they referred to as ‘God’s Talk’ and requested missionaries to teach them about it.
Twenty-five years. And yet Davey and the rest of his team can’t tell the Wilos about God until they learn the Wilo language, cultures and traditions. To do so any earlier could pass on erroneous information taken out of context.
"Their spiritual beliefs revolved around the concept of fear; fear of the evil spirits, fear of the witchcraft of others, fear of the dead, fear of being helpless in the face of spiritual attack.”
The Wilos were tired of being ruled by fear and witchdoctors. They wanted freedom from the darkness fear instills. They wanted peace.
Using humor and wisdom, Davey taught me patience while I stamped my foot at his reticence. How many times can I say I never really thought what a missionary endures? Well, other than the Survivor-like diet of grubs and such. My son and I laughed as I read out pages of Davey’s descriptions about everything from the Wilos non-use of the word ‘no’ and ‘word’ to watching the ants do his housecleaning.
Yet as Davey struggled with the language barrier, he saw traditions enacted which curdled his stomach. He had to restrain himself from stepping forward and interfering in their culture. Yet, he did. Why?
Star Trek fans can relate – to do so would violate the Prime Directive which forbids interference with another civilization.
To put it in missionary terms, you need to look at the big picture. Interference before you know why they’re doing something could jeopardize teaching them why they shouldn’t do it. That takes you back to the agenda… learning the language, culture and traditions.
Amongst the humor and horror, however, were 2 heart-breaking moments. Here’s the first…
“Kanem was getting quite old. So were several others in the village. Did we missionaries arrive too late to give these senior citizens the chance to hear and understand God’s word? For Kanem’s husband it certainly was too late. We often prayed for Kanem and others like her in the village, that they would remain healthy during our time of language and culture study. Maybe it wouldn’t be too late for them.”
How Davey and his team suffered as they witnessed man’s seasons of life while struggling to learn the difficult Wilo language.
Of course the real tear-jerker came at the end. Let’s just say they were somewhat happy tears.
Throughout my journey through this book, I kept thinking of my Inky sister, Lisa, who served as a missionary – in Africa, if I’m not mistaken. I kept imagining her in Davey’s place, wondering how she'd react. And it dawned on me … I’ve never even bothered to ask about that part of her life or the trials she faced. Perhaps I can convince her to write a post about her experience about bringing God’s Light to His lost people.
“God didn’t have us there just so He could do a work among the Wilos; He wanted to continue molding and forming each of us into vessels that would honor and glorify Him.”
Non-fiction makes up about 5% of my reading time and yet Our Witchdoctors Are Too Weak caught my eye when Davey and Marie Jank guest posted on Rachelle Gardner’s blog. I don’t know if it was Davey’s humor or the Holy Spirit speaking to me, but I really wanted to read this book. Throughout this week, my 12 yr old son laughed along with me as I read parts out loud. He’s expressed interest in borrowing it.
My 15 yr old son hasn’t said anything about reading Our Witchdoctors Are Too Weak, but I saw him leaning against a doorframe listening. Perhaps he was interested because he’s going on a mission trip to Africa this year. Perhaps he’s just curious. Or perhaps he too is feeling a nudge.
After the boys finish with it, I think I’ll just leave the book on the back table at church for whoever else wishes to take the journey into the Amazon.
Have you considered being a missionary? Why or why not? We'd really like to know.
Credits: All photos and quotes are from Our Witchdoctors Are Too Weak by Davey & Marie Jank, Monarch Books, 2011