Scott and Noel Hardaway

Scott and Noel Hardaway

missionaries in training at Northview Community Church

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I duck carefully as I step into the small thatched hut.  The air is dark and smoky, embers of a small fire still smoldering in the middle of the floor, built on a layer of sand at the base of an indoor fire pit.  The fire stays lit continually, Mumbi explains.  It is where they cook their food, dry their clothes, and tell the stories of their lives.  I feel honored and humbled to be invited in to this intimate place to hear the account of how the message of Jesus Christ had transformed an entire people group.

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As I make my way to take my seat at the place indicated by my hosts, the wooden planks of the floor flex beneath my weight, and I worry I might go straight through.  The structure holds, but I have no doubt it is the first time it has been asked to support anyone of my size.

Through the dim haze, I see Patrik retrieve a few small pieces of wood from the corner of the hut, where they had been drying, and carefully place them on top of the embers.  Soon a small flame begins to grow and illuminates the room.  He asks me what it is I wish to know.

Through my interpreter, Craig, I respond that I want to know about what life was like in Mibu before the missionaries came, how the message of the gospel was received, and the difference it has made in the community.  Mumbi and Patrik smile.  I can tell I am asking them to share one of their dearest and most favorite stories.

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Before the missionaries, they say, we were all Lutherans.  There was a small Lutheran church in the main Mibu village with a pastor who didn’t speak our language.  Lotu (worship service) was held every week or two in the trade language of Pidgin, but almost nobody attended it.  We didn’t see any reason to go—it didn’t have any connection with our daily lives.

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The Lutheran church told us we were Lutherans, so that’s what we called ourselves.  But in truth we were under the control of Satan.  He used to laugh at us and the way he could get us to believe things that are not true—like where we came from, and how to control the spirits.  We lived in fear of the spirits every day, and so we were in bondage to Satan.

When the missionaries came, we thought they were the spirits of our dead ancestors.  We believed they had lost all their color in the world of the dead, and that’s why they were white.  They told us they had a message for us from God, and we thought they were going to give us secret ways to control the spirits and get wealth.  They told us that was not why they had come, but we didn’t believe them.

We were glad to have them with us, and we were happy to teach them our language.  We thought if we gave them all the words of our language, they would be able to say the right words to access the hidden magic power of our ancestors that we had lost long ago.  Then they could teach it to us.

When they learned our language and started teaching us how to read and write our language, we were excited.  We believed this was the first step in recovering our lost magic powers.

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Mumbi and Patrik laugh as they remember their old way of life, partly I think because it now seems so incomprehensible even to them, and partly perhaps from embarrassment.  It is hard for them to admit, especially to a white American, that this is how they once lived, but they also know it is an important part of their story.  It is their initial blindness that makes their current vision so miraculous.

Patrik’s wife asks if I would like a plantain, which I gratefully accept.  She throws it and several others into the fire to cook inside its peel.  I adjust my position on the hard floor, physically uncomfortable but spiritually mesmerized by the story unfolding from these first-ever disciples of Christ in the history of the Mibu people.

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When the missionaries started telling us about God’s message, they were very careful to make sure we understood everything.  They started at the very beginning with creation.  We learned that the earth did not come from the belly of a snake, as our legends had told us, but that Father God had created everything with just his words.  Some of us were uncertain about this new teaching, but we wanted to find out about the magic power we had lost, so we continued to attend the teaching times.

At each teaching time, the missionaries would ask us questions, and if our answers showed them that we were confused, they would explain it again.  They had us act out the stories in God’s book, like Adam and Eve eating the fruit from the forbidden tree in the garden and Cain killing his brother Abel.  These stories made us sad, but we were sad most of all that we ourselves had done some of these very same things.  We began to feel the heaviness of our sin.

By the time we realized that the missionaries were not going to teach us the lost magic of our ancestors, we didn’t care anymore about that at all.  We were so interested in what they were teaching us that we didn’t want to hear about anything else.  All we wanted to know was what to do to fix our sin problem.  The missionaries just kept telling us that God had made a solution for us, and if we kept coming to the teachings, we would hear about what the solution was.

Finally, we learned about Jesus, who was God’s Son.  We loved all the stories about how he taught the people about God’s love, and how he healed the sick, and even raised the dead!  We could see he was no ordinary man—he had power over the spirits and even the wind and rain.

There were people who didn’t like his message and had him put to death, but he rose from the dead and returned to his Father in heaven.  And we learned that in his death, he paid the penalty for our sin, and because of Jesus we could be forgiven and have our guilt and shame taken away from us!  Jesus was the solution!

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Patrik’s wife fishes the steaming plantain out of the ashes of the fire and hands it to me.  I carefully peel it and put it to my mouth.  It doesn’t taste at all like the banana it brings to mind—there is no sweetness to it.  It more resembles a sticky baked potato in desperate need of some salt, pepper, and butter.  Though I succeed in eating it all, I find myself wishing for the water bottle I left with my pack outside the hut.

But the sweetness of the story of the power of the gospel is more than enough for me.  Craig and I had hiked hours to reach this village—the

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most perilous hike I’ve ever undertaken, with a vertical cliff wall to the left and a sheer drop-off to the right of the narrow, rocky ledge that served as our path.  But I would have gone anywhere to hear this story from these men who had witnessed the gospel’s arrival among the Mibu and Mina peoples.

Patrik and Mumbi are talking about the transformation that has taken place in their villages.  As nearly the entire population has embraced the good news of Jesus, the impact is nothing short of breathtaking—problems with theft, domestic violence, revenge, and sorcery (which had all been commonplace) are now extremely rare.  The people no longer live in fear of the spirits or Satan, and they trust in God to protect them instead of their charms, taboos, rituals, and witchcraft.  There is unity and love among the people instead of suspicion, and they eagerly serve one another.

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As we thank our hosts for their hospitality and prepare to make our hike back to the home where we are staying, Mumbi motions us to stay seated just a while longer.  He wants to emphasize the importance of passing on the knowledge of Jesus to the next generation.

The young children, he says, they don’t know what life was like here before the missionaries came.  They don’t know about our old way of life, or the legends and magic rituals our ancestors taught us.  But we tell them what it was like.  We tell them how we were slaves to Satan, trapped in darkness, and how we have been set free by the light of Jesus Christ.  We have to make sure the young people each come to their own acceptance of God’s grace through Jesus, so that Mibu will continue to be a light for truth in the Finisterre Mountains.