Jesus and the spirits
As told by Phil and Chris Carr, linguist-translators working with the Bamu people in PNG.
“You mean … the spirits here know of Jesus!!??”
“Too right they do! And they’re afraid of him!”
“Yes, they all know him and are afraid of him.”
We sat in silence as Domai tried to take in the enormity of what we’d told her.
She sat there almost dazed, working out the implications and thinking back on her experiences in the past. She’d been a Christian for years, had taught Sunday School for most of that time, and had been a pillar of the area’s only church. For the first time, she began to connect her understanding of Christian teaching with the spiritual realities she had grown up with, of an all-pervasive fear of sorcery and evil spirits.
Why hadn’t she known this before?
Up to now, she had never heard the Scriptures in her own language. All that she and the others had to go on was what they could observe in church meetings, and the little bits of meaning they could squeeze out of the foreign language Bibles* that were occasionally available. So they faithfully copied the ‘church actions’ like singing a few songs and getting someone who could read to read out loud from these foreign Bibles. And she soon realised that being a Christian meant that you were not allowed to drink, smoke or gamble. Then you were a good person, because other people said you were, and that’s what being a Christian was all about really.
But the old beliefs and practices didn’t go away. They weren’t even challenged. Lots of people still went to the church meeting on Sunday, and called out to the spirits to help them catch fish on all the other days without thinking twice about it... Syncretism: Christian form without Christian content.
Now things are starting to change. God’s Word has now started to come into the Bamu language for the first time. Some people are drawing closer and closer to that lamp, and others are trying to hide from it. Plenty of surprises there! But the light has started to shine, because “The unfolding of your words gives light.” Psalm 119:130.
* English and Tok Pisin (Melanesian Pidgin)