The Experience that Changed Me
Today wrecked me. Today is a day I will never forget for the rest of my life. I certainly hope I never forget this day. Today I looked into the eyes of people who live in the middle of nowhere in Africa, people who have never heard the truth of the Gospel, and I was powerless to do anything about it. I met them, I ate with them, I got a tour of their village, and then we got back in our vehicle and returned to the guest house. I saw more poverty and depravity than I have ever seen in my life and I knew that I really couldn’t do anything practical about it - and it changed me.
One of Guinean CMA pastors working with the Maninka people asked us to join him on a visit to a group of people he was ministering. They happened to live in the middle of nowhere. Actually, we went to the middle of nowhere and then we made a left turn and we kept on going. After we pulled off of the main road we continued to go deeper into the jungle until we made it to a village. I noticed a man standing and pointing; this must be the place, I thought. NOPE. He was just pointing to the way the road made its way through his village. We were back in the jungle in another moment. A few minutes later we encountered another village. Was this the place? NOPE. More driving. Another village. Was this…NOPE. Five villages in and I was beginning to wonder if our guide wasn’t sure where he was going.
Then we rounded a corner in this village and found that there was no way out of it. This must be the place! We parked in a dead end with grass roofed huts all around us. Our car was instantly surrounded with smiling faces of all ages. The state of the “road” that we took into the village made me realize that this village wasn’t visited by many 4 wheeled vehicles - ever - and I realized that they probably had never had white people visit their village ever before.
I felt like I was as important as the president of the US as I exited the vehicle to the throng waiting to meet us. They really rolled out the red carpet for us. It seemed as if the whole village came out to meet us. We entered the hut of the village leader and sat in a circle as each person was introduced in the Maninka language. A major part of their culture involved offering a meal to any guests, so while we waited for the rice and sauce to be prepared and presented to us, we enjoyed our time together with our host.
While we were eating the rice and sauce, people kept coming to the door of the hut to look inside. They would peer into the hut with wondering faces and a surprised look sprang on their faces when they saw that we were indeed inside. A couple of times people would spring inside with wonderment and they would make the most interesting faces and noises upon verifying our presence. I couldn’t speak their language, but their emotions and motions said, “I heard there were white people here in our village so I had to check it out and OH! YEAH! THERE ARE WHITE PEOPLE HERE!” They would look at us with a deep inquisitive look. They would come closer and then back up and make more noises. They would point and come near as if they were trying to find enough courage to actually touch us. Then , they would disappear out the door and make room for the next inquiring face to peer inside.
I was sitting very close to the door and I could easily see the commotion going on outside. The kids didn’t have the guts to come inside of the hut to check things out. They remained outside the hut and tried to catch a glimpse as the breeze moved the curtain that served as a door. They would get a good look when someone entered or exited and I could clearly see them as they tried to gain enough courage to come as close as possible. I would turn and smile and wave to them and they would run away with glee. I imagine they were going back to their peer group and saying, “I saw them. They looked at me, and I ran.”
While it was fun to see the kids outside of the hut it was also a tough experience for me inside the hut. Most of the kids had distended stomachs. Later I learned that 13% of all kids die before they reach 5 years old in Guinea. I also found out that the distended stomachs are often caused by worms or parasites. I wondered how many of these kids would still be alive if and when I ever returned to their village.
Then I realized that these people had probably never heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ – and who would tell them? I realized that I certainly couldn’t. I was two languages away - and I didn’t understand their culture. I was a guest in their home, their village, their country. Even if I blurted out: “Jesus Christ died on the cross for you. He loves you, and wants to have a relationship with you.” Their culture wouldn’t receive that from me – even if it was translated. It takes much more than words to communicate in a foreign culture. I knew that I couldn’t do it then and there and it really bothered me.
It bothered me that I never realized that these people existed. In my mind I zoomed out on google maps and I saw the hundreds of other such villages in Kankan, then the thousands in Guinea, then the millions in Africa. Then I panned to the Middle East and onto Asia. My corner of the world in southern Ohio was a dot in my mind and I was overwhelmed with the burden of people who are lost without knowing Christ. The thought that many of them lived in a place where His name had never been preached visibly overwhelmed me.
Later Bob and I had a great conversation about the experience. He noticed the burden God was placing on my heart right there and then. In his wisdom he just let it grow there until we could talk later rather than bringing up the topic of conversation in the hut in the middle of nowhere (actually, to the left of the middle of nowhere).
Bob assured me that we actually HAD DONE a great work towards being able to tell that village about Christ. Our being there, our sitting in that hut, our eating that guy’s rice and mystery meat sauce, our enduring the people pointing and shouting as they entered the hut, our willingness to put ourselves in that situation was the best thing that we could do to reach those people for Christ. The pastor we were visiting had already established a relationship with the chief of that village. They were both Maninka: they understood each other’s language and culture. Our being in that hut raised the chief’s status for miles around and opened the door for that pastor to speak the truth of the Gospel into his life. And if the chief of the village was responsive, so would the entire village. And if the chief’s status was raised in the neighboring villages, then maybe each of those villages would invite the pastor to preach the Gospel as well.
Lord, these people need to know you. Romans 10:14 says, “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?”
I want to do my part to support the local pastors/missionaries so that these people can hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ!
James E. Bogoniewski, Jr.