May 4, 2020
The Next Language 20 — Embena Experiences
Lately I have had some experiences that cause me to wonder how we can incorporate the worldview and the advice of believers from other cultures into our telling of the story of Jesus.
I think of a conversation I had in January with Jose, a converted Embena shaman down in Colombia, along with tribal leader Pastor Julio. We were contemplating the arduous and time-consuming task of taking the Gospel over the mountains into the Baudo River where probably 15,000 Embena of a related dialect still wait for the gospel. (They say that one village alone has 5000 persons — undoubtedly the largest village in the entire Embena macro system of languages.) Jose shared that as a shaman he once could cruise around wherever his spirits took him (usually to carry out curses related to revenge killing). So why, he asked as a spirit filled Christian, can’t he visit and evangelize uncontacted villages in like manner to evangelize? I admit this question stumped me.
But when I shared it with a Venezuelan missionary friend named Michael (second generation missionary to the fierce Yanomamo), he told me of a villager named Gregorio who had spent the past year at a hospital over the border in Brazil with three very sick little kids. His testimony:
I was getting so discouraged over in Brazil. My kids were not only getting worse from the original sickness, but on top of that, they all three got sick with one of the flus going around. In my discouraged state, I started having an affair with a young lady that was nearby. I knew it was wrong as I was a believer in Jesus Christ, but I ignored my heart’s warnings. In the midst of this, one night I suddenly woke up to find two people standing beside me. It was my friends Mikiwä and Timoteo all the way from home. I looked around wondering how they could have gotten there. I had heard no one approach. They both talked with me and encouraged me to remain strong, that Jesus was still in control. They told me not to give place to the devil. Mikiwä then gave me a small pill. ‘This is for your children’ he said placing it in my hand. I looked down at the tiny pill and then looked back up. Both men were gone! [Here Gregorio started sobbing.] I realized I had seen a vision or a dream, I do not know which, but how I praised the Lord that HE had sent them in time to help me be strong. I immediately made things right with my wife and now, I want to confess this to you all.
Michael is the “Mikiwä” in the story and he had been praying for Gregorio. He believes that God sent Gregorio’s mentors Michael and Timoteo in a dream experience to exhort him to stop sinning and to reassure him that his children would be okay. We both think that these types of experience might be the exception rather than the rule in missions — even amongst animists.
But that wasn’t all. Michael had also shared the Embena question with one of the Yanomamo elders in his village. That godly believer had a wonderful perspective:
While under the influence of drugs and demons, it is true, witchdoctors do go out of body… but what they do is nothing compared to the places I have gone reading God’s Word. I have never been to Israel, but reading about John baptizing in the Jordan, it is like I have been there myself. The same with the dusty roads between Jerusalem and Galilee, not to mention being back in the garden of Eden with Adam and Eve, walking with Abraham, fighting Goliath with David, and even while reading Revelation to be up in heaven with John seeing my Savior and listening to the angels singing to Him. And then to know that I am going to be one of the ones singing the song of redemption… now, that is an out of this world experience, far surpassing any the shamans may have! These experiences teach me not only what has been in our past but what our future is going to be like with Christ. So, as far as I am concerned, the travel we can do in and through God’s Word is far greater than any out of body experience that Satan might give his followers.
Notice that unlike the unconverted shamans’ experiences, Christians receive visions or messages from God or an angel from Him. There are plenty of instances in Acts when the Holy Spirit or the Lord’s angel intervened: He spoke to and through Philip and then whisked him away (Acts 8:26, 29, 39); He released Peter from jail in answer to prayer (Acts 12).
I came out of this conversation with Michael convinced that, for animists, we need more script material which does not shy away from Biblical teaching about prayer, visions, and listening to God – however He sends the message – as to what paths to follow. We need to phrase it to leave the Holy Spirit free to direct the new culture in ways that are both Scriptural and in line with ways of thought that He has already seeded into that culture. The transition from being an active powerful shaman to becoming an effective intercessor in God’s kingdom of priests, for instance, would be more natural for animists than for us, who tend to lean on scientific facts and systematic theology.
More next time on this challenging but exciting process.
Larry DeVilbiss | Executive Director
Global Recordings Network USA
Note: If you want to see the full discussion between Michael Dawson and myself you can go to my post on Face Book. If you want in-depth exposure to the animist world in the words of a Yanomamo shaman, get the book Spirit of the Rain Forest by Mark Ritchie. If you prefer a desert culture study of the same from a secular perspective find The Teachings of Don Juan by Carlos Castaneda.
P. S. As a “thank you” for your continued support of the ministry of Global Recordings Network USA, and in celebration of over 80 years of God’s faithfulness, we have compiled a collection of 80 daily devotions written by GRN founder, Joy Ridderhof. You may read or download your copy of Rejoice Always – 80 Devotions with Joy Ridderhof here.