Wednesday, September 25, 2013

WARNING! Do Not Bathe or Wash Clothes Today and Tomorrow, You Must Not Eat!

This was the word on the street today! Anyone who walked through the market, down the road, or into a teashop heard this very serious warning from others. It was then your responsibility to pass the warning on to others.

You must be wondering, if there has been some kind of water contamination in the area. Nope. A jina caught a woman, gave her this warning, and told her to tell everyone she saw. Then, nothing bad would happen.

What in the world does that mean? A jina caught a woman?

Jina comes from the same Arabic word “jinn” from which we get our word for genie. Now we Americans believe that genies are mythical beings. In Liberia, however, jinas are serious business. After asking hundreds of Liberians about jinas, we’ve learned a few things about them. Jinas are spirit beings that you can’t see unless they choose to reveal themselves to you. Most people say the jinas are white, but they come in many different shapes and sizes. Some live in the water, some in cotton trees, and others in the forest. There are one-legged jinas, one-eyed jinas, dwarf jinas and giant jinas.

Some jinas are good and some are bad. Some can possess a person and cause them to lose their mind. But most are simply powerful spirit beings that can do good or bad. They are not nearly as powerful as Allah of course, but Allah is too busy with the affairs of heaven to be overly concerned with the daily lives of human beings. People can find the spiritual power or protection they need through the help of the jinas. Some people seek the aid of jinas to get rich or to cause a person to fall in love with them. A jina may appear to a person by a river or in the forest, and with certain offerings and sacrifices cause the jina to grant their wishes.

Of course, the common man simply doesn’t have the esoteric knowledge needed to manipulate the jinas. That is why they must go to a morimen (people who know about Islamic magic) for help. The morimen possess books of secret Arabic incantations that protect people against bad jinas, or cause other jinas to do their bidding. The morimen may give their clients “nesi water” (something that our Muslim neighbors keep readily on-hand). “Nesi water” is made by writing specific verses from the Qur’an on a wooden writing slate and then washing the ink off with water. This water is bottled and then drunk or used for bathing with the belief that it will bring protection or prosperity. Many people that we see around here also wear “lasimo”, talismans made from verses from the Qur’an written on a small piece of paper, wrapped in leather, and then tied around the waist or shoulder. These practices are part of a belief system commonly called “folk Islam”. The majority of Muslims around the world actually practice some form of folk Islam, although the specifics differ in each location.  Although this may seem strange, even the earliest traditions about the prophet Muhammad show that he too was concerned about the jinn and mystical curses.

So, in this particular instance, a woman claims to have encountered a jina that chose to show itself to her and give her this warning to share with the people in Voinjama. From what we can gather, people are taking the warning seriously. Our neighbors are waiting until early tomorrow morning to take a bath and say that tomorrow will be a hard day since they won’t be able to eat. No one has been able to tell us what bad thing will happen. Maybe someone will die or get very sick if they break this temporary taboo. Our neighbors respected our decision to go about our evening baths as usual and brought us our hot water. Mamasan said she would pray to God to protect us.

So far, the worst thing that has happened is that Audrey tipped her bath bucket over, flooding our living room floor. :-)

So how can we minister in a place where the average Muslim here seems to be much more concerned about the jinas and other unseen forces than they do about their eternal destiny. They are not asking, “How can I make myself righteous before God?” but rather, “How can I protect myself from the jina, or use they jina to get ahead in life?” To address these felt needs, we share stories from Scripture about God’s personal care for us. From the Gospels we teach about Jesus’ power over the evil spirits. Our Savior restored a man who called himself “Legion” because of the multitude of “jinas” that were tormenting him. And Christ died not only to free us from our sin, but also to “destroy the works of the devil” (1 Jn 3:8). When we are born again into God’s family, we can be free from the powers of darkness. We no longer have to live in fear of the jinas or mystical curses. For the folk Muslim, this truly is good news!

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Sheppard's September Update

Hello from rainy Voinjama. You would not believe it, but some days it feels downright cold here! Sara keeps very busy with the “twins”, managing our house, and learning the Manya language. She also has been pouring into the lives of our neighbors. The kids next door have a blast with the impromptu games she organizes and listen well to the Bible stories she tells. Even their mother is showing increased interest in the things of God.  
    We thank God that John-Mark and Ansu have been able to complete the second draft of Genesis. They are now taking it to surrounding villages for comprehension testing (making sure the translation is clear and natural sounding in the Manya language). Most of those who are helping with the translation at this stage are not followers of Christ, but are very interested to hear the stories of the prophets whose names are mentioned in the Qur’an. It is a delight to watch their eyes light up as they hear God’s Word for the first time in their own language.  Beyond minor corrections the helpers are giving very positive feedback so far. We pray that God would work in the hearts of these listeners and bring them to faith one day.
    Those who choose to follow Christ here must truly count the cost. Sadly, we learned of Manya brother in Christ who recently paid the ultimate price for his faith. In a village across the border in Guinea, a man returned home and told his father of his decision to follow Christ. His father declared that he could never live while his son remains a Christian. So, he secretly poisoned him. The next day when the son died, some youths simply dragged the body across the village and dumped it in a shallow grave. Ansu was able to visit the gravesite and was shocked to see the top of the head and limbs still exposed! This is the first Manya believer we are aware of who has been martyred for his faith.
    Despite the challenges, we see evidence of God at work here. We have had the joy of getting to know several new Mandingo believers recently. Muhammad was working as an elementary school teacher in a nearby town. When the townspeople learned of his faith in Christ, they pressured him to leave immediately. He returned recently to try to collect his salary from the school, and they told him forget about that money. They would not even allow him to harvest the peanut farm he had planted. He is now living in Voinjama and trying to further his education while repairing cell phones. Abu has been working as a mechanic in a local garage. When he expressed his decision to follow Christ, his relatives forced him to move from their yard, and confiscated his motorcycle and tools. Nevertheless, he is bold and enthusiastic about sharing his faith with the lost.
     We want to say a special thank you again to everyone who contributed towards a new vehicle. We were able to raise over $10,000, and even though we have yet to sell the Land Rover, we are now in the position to look for a replacement. Please pray that God would give us direction and wisdom and lead us to the right vehicle. In the meantime, John-Mark was able to buy a rugged motorcycle to allow him to move around town and travel to villages where no cars can reach. Your generosity continually amazes us, and we bless God for the amazing support team that is standing behind us.

Praise and Prayer:

Praise God for a positive response to the Genesis translation.
For the good health of our family.
Pray that the Manya believers would persevere despite persecution. 
For wisdom in buying a new vehicle.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

The Sounds of Voinjama

When we stay at John-Mark’s parents house we fall asleep to African dance music thumping through the neighborhood from one or more nightclubs. When we stayed at ELWA in July, we fell asleep to peace and quiet, just the crashing ocean waves could be heard. Here in Voinjama, we hear a variety of sounds that have become familiar to us. I wanted to record them before I become completely immune to them.

We live on Selega Highway. It is a dirt road leading into Voinjama from surrounding villages. So, we live on the edge of town and the edge of the jungle. Since it the rainy season now, we often hear the sound of rain pattering on the tin roof. Some nights there will be the cracking and rumbling of thunder. Crickets fill the nighttime air. Between rain storms, the call of frogs, “rah, rah rah” can be so loud it is almost deafening.

Sometime around 4:30am, the roosters start crowing. I’m not sure where these roosters reside since we are fairly isolated, but I hope to find them and invite them to a meal of chicken soup. A few minutes later, if I listen carefully, I can hear the Imam calling from the mosque a couple miles away. He is calling the Muslims to morning prayer. About a half hour later, I hear our night watchman switch on his radio and scroll through the static. Sometimes he’ll stop briefly on an old Celine Dion song, but he usually ends up on a local station. I can hear him singing along, “Good morning, Jesus! Good morning, Lord!” The sun starts rising.

With the dawn various beautiful bird songs flow through our screened windows. We hear the clinking of the chain that locks our fence and the gate swinging open to allow the change of our security guard. Motorbikes occasionally zoom by, most greet us with an annoying beep of their horn as they pass. The Liberian family that we share the dupex with is awake by now. Water from the outside spigot pours into their buckets. Sometimes they sweep the yard. A few Manya words pass between them.

As the morning wares on, the sounds vary. If it a washing day, we hear clothes scrubbing against the washboard. If it is a cassava meal day, we hear the sound of the mortar and pestle pounding. During cooking time, we hear metal pots and spoons clanging and our neighbor’s squeaky door opening and closing. More water pours from the spigot to the buckets. I can hear frequent shuffling of sandals against the dirt and the children running in the yard. The motorbikes continue to pass, the birds continue to sing, and the rains come and go.

“S-O so. N-O no.” By afternoon, the children that live next door are in the security booth being tutored by the security guard using the Liberian way of learning spelling and reading. They switch to multiplication tables. The Manya language fills the air as conversations go on loudly around the yard. They yell, “I ni ke-O” through the fence, greeting their friends as they pass by. “Tana te.” “Tans tay.” (Hello. What news? No bad news). In the late afternoon, the children start casually yelling out “water party!” They are nonchalantly trying to get my attention to facilitate the famous water party, a water throwing game that I initiated one very hot day when I was completely bored silly. It is a favorite among all.

Around 5:00pm, things start winding down. The women might be silently braiding hair. Some nights, I can hear Guinean music playing from their cell phone. The road gets quieter as people settle in at home. And then, if I’m lucky, my one of my favorite parts of the day comes. The rustling of the leaves gets louder and the wind picks up. The rains come and everything cools off.

The constant hum of the generator starts at 6:30 and continues until 10:00. A voice calls throught the window, “Konk Konk.” It is the Liberian way of knocking on the door. Angel barks. It is someone from next door bringing us hot water to use for warm baths. The chain rattles again on the fence at 7:00 with the changing of the guard. “Hello, brother John” yells the guard, Robert, through the window. He lets us know that he has come to watch over us through the night. The frogs and the crickets join him and the rest of us sleep soundly.