This is a followup to a previous article. Calvary Students Learn About Tribal Church Planting/
My name is Josiah Stout, and I am currently in my second semester at Calvary pursuing an interdisciplinary degree in Intercultural/ELL studies. Going to Wayumi over spring break was a fantastic opportunity to get hands on experience in cross-cultural ministry, specifically tribal church planting. What a great time it was: traveling, spending time connecting with friends and missionaries, learning about the nuts and bolts of work with Ethnos 360, hiking in the woods and staying up all night—take me back! Truly, I believe God spoke to each of us individually on this trip in ways that will make a lasting impact.
Since a significant amount of time was spent traveling to and from Jersey Shore, PA, our group had fun entertaining ourselves through stories, active games, snacks, music and exercise (yes, all on the bus). On the trip back however, sleep became the more desirable option. Certainly, a lot of the fun that came with the trip was involved in this small, communal, 16 hour bus ride. Although experiences by themselves may be impactful, the friendships make them all the more worthwhile and meaningful.
The Wayumi campus was extremely beautiful and had a number of trails that zigzagged behind the buildings and up into the tall forests. Our group enjoyed walks alongside a wide creek that flowed along the boarder of the property. Some smaller streams ran off the trails and waterfalled their way down into the larger creek. I’m sure you can get a picture of how nice it was to explore and relish the beauty of the nature surrounding us. A great deal of our free time was spent hiking, including an adventurous 2:30-3:30a.m. hike our last night there. Still, had our group come for the scenery alone we would not have fully enjoyed our time there.
Breakfast ranged from 7-7:45 each morning, with the first class beginning at 8. Greg and Steve Sanford were the two instructors for the entire week. Both brothers were tribal missionaries in different parts of Venezuela, Greg to the Yanomamo tribe and Steve to the Joti tribe. Their sessions consisted on how to handle each step in the process of planting a thriving tribal church. This includes pre-field training, arrival on the field, tribal allocation, language and culture dedication, pre-teaching, evangelism, the developing church, and the continuing church. This is an estimated 25-year process if all goes smoothly. Before the gospel can be shared, missionaries must learn the language AND culture of the tribe. This is a very time-consuming process, consisting of 8-9-hour days for 2-5 total years. Long as it may seem, Steve and Greg ensured that there are no regrets!
Our group had the chance to enter a demo-village and practice language learning acquisition with a Yanomamo lady (Greg’s wife). The setup was very real and initially startling! Sitting next to a woman communicating with me in a different language left my mind racing for words that did not exist in my vocabulary (not to mention her appearance was strikingly different). We had each been given a clipboard with a list of English words along with the Yanomamo phrases for “hello” and “what is it?”. Our objective was to write the Yanomamo translation for the English words. We did this activity twice, first focusing on getting the sounds written down and secondly focusing on using the proper phonetic alphabet in our translation. It was so fascinating…and a lot to learn!
Learning how differences in culture affect communication and Bible translation was a big emphasis. Words and concepts such as grace, love, believe, king, law, Pharisee…etc. do not exist in many tribes. Therefore, the translators are challenged: trying to explain these terms without adding or taking away from the original meaning. For our demo activity, we had the challenge of translating Matthew 2:1-11 and Romans 6:1-5 for a tribe of Grade School English speakers who think like tribal people. There was a long list of words which we were forbidden to use in our translation. As Jordan Teeter and I wrestled our way through the Matthew translation, we soon realized how simple words such as “king” and “ruler” were hard to translate distinctively. The more we translated, the more love I felt for the Word of God. The privilege to have His Word in my native tongue! To think, roughly 1,636± distinct ethnic groups are still waiting for this privilege.
From mornings full of classes to afternoons of activities and free time, there was so much information for my mind to cultivate. Along with this cultivation came fun, new experiences such as butchering a pig and cooking it in the ground (the style of a Filipino Mumu). I would not have expected hot rocks to be able to thoroughly cook multiple layers of meat and potatoes over a period of 4 hours. Yet sure enough, we ate well that night! On top of this, I was always impacted by the stories pertaining to both the Yanomamo and Joti tribe. Unique cultural facts and stories are always intriguing, but to hear of how God transformed both tribes was powerful. The reception of the Joti tribe to the gospel was particularly remarkable. The entire tribe turned to follow Christ! Since the Joti only knew how to read out loud, the entire village was engrossed in a loud buzz of scripture reading. Their love for God’s Word is an example for me.
Having gone to Wayumi, I can better picture myself working in a tribal setting. Indeed, I quickly realized the work is not as glamorous as the stories we may often hear. The work is great and hard! Laborious and discouraging seem to be fitting adjectives. But what is my life? Am I really in control of my future? Am I willing to go and do what the Lord directs me to? Seeing and knowing the joy that unbelievers attain when they hear and accept Christ for the first time is a joy worth celebrating! How rewarding it would be to fulfill God’s command in this much needed and timely way!
I am so thankful to have had this time to step back and examine what God is doing on earth and how I can be a part of his work. It is truly something we all must take the time to do. Wayumi is certainly for anyone. It has helped me know how to go, support, pray, and see God’s passion for his worldwide church.