Seeing in the dark

The half-moon illuminates the yellow-roofed huts, making it appear as if huge Chinese straw hats are lying strewn upon a stadium-sized dirt floor. The peculiar design of these huts results in the grass roof cascading almost to the ground, nearly covering the entirety of the mud walls holding the roof on. A small doorway to the hut allows for entrance only if the smallest statured adults bow before entering. The stars twinkle with the half-moon illuminating above, providing just enough light to aid the eye searching for recognizable features. Being a visitor to the village, I sit in a place of honor with my three friends in the few available plastic chairs. Seated before the singing women and children, we are all positioned under the massive tree, whose canopy reaches high into the night. The festive night air is filled with the African drumbeat which leads us in rhythmic clapping as the kids, gathered for a Bible Story, sing with joy.

My eyes strain to see into the dark night. Just 5 feet from me, the facial features of the little girl, or perhaps boy, are barely recognizable. I’ll call her a she, but I am not really sure in the dark night. She is maybe 7 years old, but due to malnutrition looks about the size of a 4 or 5-year-old. Snuggled tightly on her back, a small baby sleeps soundly, as the rhythmic singing continues.

Angelo, the Laarim story teller, brings the singing to a stop as he addresses the crowd. Tonight the women and children are gathered for a Bible Study and Angelo will be sharing a Bible Story he translated into Laarim. Angelo was discipled by missionaries who recently came to this area. His zealous love for the Lord, along with his ability to preach the Word, make him a tremendous source of encouragement for his people. He travels throughout the nearby villages several nights per week sharing the Bible Stories. Tonight we are able to enjoy the work he, and the missionary working with him, have been doing throughout the villages.

With the drumbeat stopped and singing voices falling silent, Angelo asks the children to share how their homework from the previous week went. Each week he asks the women and children gathered to share the Bible story they have just heard with their families, so they, too, can hear God’s Word. One little boy responds by telling of the difficulty he had while sharing the story, as he was told by his family to bring back food, not a story. Another boy shares that he was told to bring alcohol back instead of a story. The conversation is all in Laarim, but occasionally Angelo says a word or two in English so that we might understand the struggles the children have as they share the Bible stories with their family members.

Alcoholism is rampant in the area. These little packets of gin are imported in and sold for a dollar. They can be seen littering the ground all around.

After hearing the challenges of sharing last weeks’ story to their family members, Angelo then asks for praise and prayer requests. Several children are asked to pray for specific items. Most pray short prayers, but one little boy prays with great earnestness as the minutes pass by. I join him silently in prayer, not understanding a word of the Laarim he speaks, but knowing he is petitioning our mighty Lord with great zeal. During the prayers, I hear the little baby, nestled on her sibling’s back in front of me, gently snoring away. A chorus of coughing from seemingly every child masks the soft-spoken prayers. I strain to pick up their faint voices, unable to ascertain where they are coming from.

Angelo’s flashlight suddenly illuminates his hand-written translation of the Bible story in Laarim. The little unfolded white paper reflects the light back onto the faces of the many children pressing near him. I can faintly see their eager faces as he begins to tell the story from Genesis Chapter 3. Several women surround the children, intently focusing on the words Angelo speaks. My mind tries to comprehend what is happening. I have heard this story growing up so many times and I can pick up a Bible at any time and re-read it, but the Laarim, listening attentively, are hearing it for the very first time. They are hearing how sin entered into the world and about the separation that occurred between man and God because of it. They are hearing about Adam and Eve rebelling against their Creator. They are hearing of man and woman and their decision to go their own way as they decide what they think is best, and not what God desires for them.

Finishing his story, Angelo repeats his usual method of asking for someone to recite back the story. A young girl volunteers and begins to talk and talk in Laarim, and it becomes apparent to me that she is repeating back the whole story. Angelo later tells me that she is often the one to repeat the story back in exacting detail. Then Angelo asks everyone, “What did you like about the story?” One boy chimes in, “I liked the garden with all the wonderful foods that was in it.” He then asks, “What did you not like about the story?” A girl retorts, “I did not like the tree that they were not supposed to eat from.”

Singing starts again with the children once again clapping to the rhythm. I learn that the current song they are singing says something like, “Read your Bible every day.” But being an oral tribe, they would not be reading the Bible. And, more accurately, only a few books of the Bible have been translated into Laarim. So for them, the song, “Listen to your Bible every day” rings more accurate, rather than the familiar “Read your Bible every day.”

Angelo brings the beautiful singing to an end as the children all turn their attention to the four missionaries sitting on their plastic chairs, smiling joyfully. We each take turns introducing ourselves as Angelo translates our greetings for them. I am the last to speak and I tell about my family in Nairobi and why we moved from America to Africa six years ago. I tell how we love Jesus and want others to hear the Good News about Jesus Christ and what He has done. I let them know that I will be sharing with my family when I get back home, about the story I have just heard and about them, the Laarim people, whom I have met.

And then, in a beautiful procession of little hands extended to shake ours, the children come and greet each of us. It is good to be able to finally see the smiling faces of the children that were concealed by the darkness, as we shake hands and laugh together.

Soon we say our farewells and head back to our mission station, a short and bumpy, but quick drive of only 10 minutes, a distance short enough to walk. Unfortunately, the shooting of a young man two days ago by a rival tribe reminds us that the road is not a safe place to be at night.

My mind tries to understand what I have just witnessed through the Bible Study under the tree.  The women and children hearing God’s Word from Genesis Chapter 3 for the first time. What I have become so used to reading and hearing was being shared with them for the first time. God gave me a gift of being able to see the fruit of the His Word going out to His people on this dark night. There are many day to day challenges of living in East Africa and these challenges can often cloud the reasons that our family came to Africa six years ago, as we get distracted with these obstacles. Tonight, seeing the Laarim listen eagerly to how sin entered the world, brings everything back into clear focus for me. The end product of seeing Angelo share the Bible Story with his people makes all the blood, sweat, and even the tears, worth the effort.

We serve a risen Savior and He has called us to declare His Name to the nations. Tonight I got to witness first hand, the fruit of missionaries, nationals, Bible translators, mechanics, churches, individuals who pray for and support us, administrative support personnel, avionic technicians, pilots…the list goes on and on. But at the foundation of that list are the countless prayers of the saints, past and present, petitioning our God that the world would hear and receive the Word of God. God uses the biggest team ever assembled to declare His glory. I am thankful that a sinner like me gets to be a small part of this massive, world-wide team to reach the Laarim people. Praise God!!!! Praise God!!! Praise God!!!

The Laarim village with its grass roofed huts scattered throughout.

In the community center, the Laarim people wait for the UN food distribution as the village elders determine how much food each family will get.

Termite mounds, such as this one, are commonly found throughout the region.