Saturday, February 27, 2016
Our neighbor walked by us and said she and her children would be going back to her home village for a few days. “My brother’s son died,” she said.
Naturally, we responded with sympathy and offered our condolences. We asked all the usual questions. How old was the baby? What was his name? Was he sick? Why did he die? The answer she gave us was the last thing we expected to hear.
In her native tongue, Manyakan, she said, "It wasn't a real baby. It was a jina-baby"
We had heard a lot about jinas from our Liberian friends, but we had never heard about babies being born as jinas.
She continued, saying that the baby was born with a lump on his back. He wasn’t eating much and acted just like a snake, meaning he was floppy, had poor head control, and was drooling a lot. They gave him country medicine for four months, but alas, he died.
The conclusion? The child was not truly a human being. He was a jina. Community members are therefore not at all sad by the child’s death, but are relieved. One man says, “A jina baby can really suffer his mother. It is a good thing that the child died. He wasn’t really a human being anyway.”
The Western mind would conclude that this child was born with a developmental disability.
Most of the people we know here would never buy into this idea. They don’t see things as being strictly physical or strictly spiritual. They believe in the “inbetween.” Jinas fall into this category. They are something most people we know fear greatly. The jina is a living spiritual creature that has some kind of physical body. They often live near water and they have a lot of power that can be used for good or for evil. Human beings can sometimes manipulate or convince them to do certain deeds through the use of ‘medicine’ and witchcraft. Many people we know do certain rituals to protect themselves from the jina.
How does one determine that a baby is actually a jina?
According to some friends, one starts by beating rice and preparing it into some kind of a paste. They put the rice paste on a mat near the water and lay the baby on top of it. Then, everyone hides in the bushes to watch. If the baby is actually a jina, it will move its head around and look to be sure it is completely alone. Then, the jina-baby will cause a very strong wind blow and dust will be blowing all around. The jina-baby will then transform into a snake, eat the rice paste, and disappear into the water. People will then come from the bushes and rejoice that they confirmed it was a jina and that they are now free from it.
Sometimes, as in this case, the baby dies before the community does this ritual.
Obviously, our hearts sunk at the thought of a baby being born with a deformity being treated like this. It is hard to know what to say when people we know and respect share this kind of story with such conviction and belief. What seems absolutely impossible to us is completely believable to those sharing the story.
Last Sunday, a young woman came to the house to visit our neighbor. Our neighbor wasn't home so I spent the day hosting the guest. I soon found out this 20-year old woman was the jina-baby's mother! I would have never guessed it as she didn't seem bereaved. She was willing to answer my many questions and I got the fuller story.
The baby was actually born at our mission hospital, ELWA in Monrovia. A surgeon there said the baby would need an operation to remove the knot on the baby's back, but he was going to the States and the mother should bring the baby back when he returned. In the meantime, they returned to their village ten hours from the hospital. In the village, the baby was feared and shunned by many claiming he was a jina. The child's mother did her best to advocate for her child saying, "He is not a jina. He is a real human being." She nursed and cared for the baby despite the harassment. The mother took the baby to neighboring Guinea to seek treatment but they were not able to do this kind of operation. She returned home to her village and sought the help of country medicine. According to her, at 8 months old, the baby had a big head, couldn't sit and was floppy. On February 13th, the baby had a seizure and died.
Relatives who supported the mother buried the baby in their coffee field and held a feast seven days after the child's death. There will be another feast on March 25th, forty days after the baby's death. The family will beat rice and kola nuts, add sugar and the children will eat it to remember the child.
Thursday, February 11, 2016
We thank God for opportunities to encourage men and women like this who want to learn more about Jesus. We are excited about the formation of a monthly discipleship group for Manya speakers. We kicked things off with a Christmas party at our house, where over 20 people gathered and heard for the first time Christmas story read in their own language. This group provides a unique opportunity for people, like the man mentioned above, to grow in their faith alongside others of a similar background.
The Bible translation continues to move forward. After two rounds of checking by a translation consultant and additional revision, Genesis is now ready to be printed, distributed, and recorded as an audio drama. Matthew is now undergoing a consultant check, while we continue reading our work to other native speakers to make sure the text is clear and accurate. We are also working on literacy materials, to help people learn to read the Scriptures and other books in their own language, as they become available.
Termites, rodents, blowing dust, brush fires, land disputes, and relational issues with neighbors; these are just a few of the struggles we have faced in the past months. But despite the challenges, we really feel our family is thriving here. The kids love sharing the yard with their Liberian friends, and spend their days riding bikes and playing on the playground John-Mark and his friends built for them last month. Sara’s Liberian cooking has earned her high praise from our Liberian workers! She also teaches Bible lessons to neighborhood children on the weekends, and was privileged to help lead one young Manya girl to faith in Jesus recently.
We are blown away by the generosity of our ministry partners in recent months. Thanks again to all who give regularly, and those who gave special year-end gifts. Several people recommended recently that we either exchange our 13-year-old Toyota Prado for a newer vehicle or replace the engine. Gifts that go above our regular monthly needs enable us to budget for such extra expenses.
-For courage for the secret believers and seekers
-That this new discipleship group would grow and multiply into other groups
-For the recording of Genesis, that we would find people willing to commit their time and energy to the project.
-For perseverance and encouragement for us as we face the daily challenges of life here.