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News – Coping with the culture

March 2008 | by Graham Castle

Coping with the culture

Tribal Christians are as much influenced by their culture as we are; especially those who are newly converted.

The difficulty for many tribal people is that often they only have portions of the Word of God and there are so many aspects of their culture that they have to evaluate, amidst pressures from non-believers to conform to what they have always done.

It would be easy for the missionary to resolve this problem by drawing up a list of rules, but that is exactly what Scripture warns against. Sometimes issues are not obvious and are difficult to deal with, but the following seem very obvious and show the need of the Holy Spirit’s guidance for the people.’I wish you could be here and experience all that we are experiencing as we live among the Yanomamis [Brazil/Venezuela]. But today, I was kind of glad you weren’t’, wrote Mike Hartman. He had just witnessed an event exposing the villagers’ deep-rooted tribal beliefs.

Mike went to the big round house for a visit. ‘Visitors arrived yesterday and spent the night out in the jungle. Today they painted themselves all up and put white bird down in their hair, parrot feathers in their pierced ears or pierced faces’, Mike wrote.

‘The women have holes on the sides of their mouths and below their lower lip in the middle and through their nose. Normally they wear sticks in them but for special occasions they put prettier things in’.

‘They were drinking their banana drink’, Mike wrote. ‘This is when they put the bones of the dead person into the drink and the close family and friends drink it. They take gourds of the drink to someone from another village and offer it to them. The other person must drink it all down. They keep doing this until they can’t take anymore and vomit’.

‘Please pray’, Mike wrote, ‘for the young church as they learn to follow the Holy Spirit’s leading in their lives. They need to learn what parts of their culture God would have them to keep and what parts he wants to change’.

‘Have a nice day!’

‘It’s like the Jungle Cruise in Disneyland. Danger ahead!’ Missionary Diane Hartman grinned at her husband Mike and their daughter, Jodi. They loaded into the boat and prepared to motor down the river. Mike shook his head, but it couldn’t wipe the smile off her face as the boat started.They began moving, expecting to arrive for the funeral in about five minutes. As they travelled down the river they passed Leandro, a Yanomami man, hunting.

The multiple twists and turns of the river were confusing; they couldn’t find the village they were aiming for. The Hartmans backtracked to ask Leandro for directions. His directions were more complicated than expected, so they invited him to join them in the boat.

‘Thank you’, he said. ‘I’ve killed a snake. Can I bring it along?’ ‘OK’, said Mike. Leandro hit the snake with a stick and hauled the 90 pound, 11-foot-long snake into the boat by a rope around its neck. Diane noticed that it was coiled up and still moving. Jodi joined Diane in the front seat, as far away from the snake as possible.

‘Mike, maybe we shouldn’t bring the snake along’, Diane said, as calmly as she could. ‘It’s dead’, said Leandro. The group moved on under Leandro’s guidance. Diane and Jodi watched the snake’s every movement. Suddenly the boat jerked, threatening to tumble everyone into the snake. The motor had hit something underwater. They tied the boat to nearby branches while Mike worked on repairs.
‘We need to keep the boat steady’, he said. The snake started to move. ‘It’s not just asleep, is it?’ asked Diane. Her knuckles were turning white from gripping the seat so hard. ‘Yes, it’s just asleep’, said Leandro.

That was when the snake raised its head and started looking around, hitting Mike’s leg with its tail. Jodi frantically tried to communicate to Leandro that there was a shovel in the back of the boat. Looking around, Leandro found a machete instead and really killed the snake.
After the funeral the snake was cooked and shared, and the Hartmans were glad to have the snake inside them instead of the other way round.

Graham Castle
New Tribes Mission
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