Imagine that you live in an extremely remote part of the world, with no shops, markets, restaurants, internet or TV. Your family is part of Angola’s Mucubal tribe. You live nomadically in the Namibe desert, which is an arid scrubland rolling for hundreds and hundreds of miles without so much as a decent size town. Rarely do you see an outsider; someone not from your, or the neighboring tribe. You live meal by meal, each morsel scratched out of a meager existence of ground maize and raw milk (not the kind of raw milk that health bloggers rave about, but the kind that can be laden with TB and parasites). Clean water is a daily struggle, and is the most precious of commodities to you and everyone you care about. In this life, you can forget health care and physicians. Out here, you’re pretty much on your own.
Now, imagine the day that someone brings you a piece of chocolate cake.
You slowly take a bite after eyeing it up. It tastes good. Like, really good! It’s probably the best thing you’ve ever tasted, in fact. You now want more. But what is this stuff? How can it be duplicated? The words “chok-o-lat cay-ke” sound so foreign and strange to your ears. But this stuff, this stuff is the bomb. You feel that you could eat it forever, it tastes so good. Maybe a few of your friends try some too, and together you wonder if you could make some more.
Where do you begin? You’re a world away from boxed cake mix, so you’re going to have to make it from scratch. But what do you need to make a chocolate cake? You have no idea! The person who gave you some is around to ask, so you set about questioning them on how to make a chocolate cake. More foreign sounding words enter your ears as you listen to the ingredient list. It all seems so strange to listen to. But that taste. That delightful experience needs to be pursued!
In your attempts to experience that chocolate cake again you will need to learn to embrace new and foreign ingredients like flour, leavening agent and cocoa. If you’re lucky, you’ll patiently find your ingredients by way of someone bringing some supplies from a town a very rare once in a while. If not, you may have to start growing some sugar cane and some wheat. Then you’ll need to learn how to harvest and process it. You may need to find someone willing to trade something for a couple of chicken eggs, too.
One way or the other, in time, you should be able to make it happen. Especially with help from someone who is already familiar with chocolate cake. We’ll imagine for now that the person who brought the first piece is happy to stick around, until you and some of the wider community are prepared enough to make cake on your own. They can help you understand if a recipe attempt falls flat, or burns. They can enlighten you in the fascinating elements of chemistry that are at work in the process.
Over time, you will make that cake your own. As you grow in confidence and knowledge of the process, your cake will develop a unique and beautiful identity. It will be a wonderful addition to the world of chocolate cake! A chocolate cake to rival any other, as perfect and whole as any other. It’s a beautiful and marvelous thing to imagine, isn’t it?
My friends, this is what lies before us with our newfound friends in the Mucubal tribe. The words “God” and “Jesus” are distant, foreign concepts to the Mucubal. In fact, there is no word for Jesus in their native language; knowledge of Him simply doesn’t exist yet. A word Huku, exists for God, but interpretation of this word is very open. No-one can really define who God is, or what His intentions might be.
My heart flickers between excitement, sadness and apprehension at the situation we are coming to grips with. The room for God to move is vast. The needs are suffocating. We must be sure to lay a firm foundation. This is a from scratch mission field, where even the raw ingredients of faith will need to be grown and processed by hand. We cannot expect or assume that the Mucubal tribe knows any of our knowledge of God’s Kingdom. Our conversations with them reveal that so many of the basic elements of faith in Jesus are bizarre sounding and completely new. Nevertheless, we continue pursuing relationships with those we meet. Those who after a couple of encounters greet us fondly and even change their dress to reflect a more personal relationship. We have long conversations with them, and welcome their questions and contributions.
Above all, we lean on God’s Holy Spirit, thanking Him for being such a sweet and faithful teacher. We put out our own faith, publically, for all to see. We are expectant that all that He has said and promised, He will do. We know that the power of God will move in this people and our irresistible Savior will draw our Mucubal friends to Himself.