A few lines scratched in the dirt, a couple of towels, old shirts, or rags, and the kids are ready to play. For the time being, we’re staying at a guest house, and the back yard is full of banana trees, papaya trees, a fishpond, gardens, chickens, ducks, a couple cows, and clotheslines filled with drying clothes. It all makes for a good game of capture the flag, as there are plenty of hiding spots allowing for a fair amount of sneaking, but still enough open space to be able run. Like most games, there’s a certain amount of strategy involved, and the kids are always trying to get the grownups to play. There’s been a few times where they’ve succeeded, and sometimes it’s me who joins in.
Sometimes, I don’t pay attention to the little things, things like what the flag is. I know the object of the game, and I know all the rules to the game. I’m a little faster than most of the kids, and a bit sneakier. Yet is seems that every time I overlook this one little detail of the game (what we’re using for the flag), I never end up finding the flag, no matter how fast or sneaky I am. I’ll sneak around the back of the house, undetected. I’ll move over to the banana trees, scouting out the area. I’ll see several old rags, draped over a branch here or a tree there. I look across the garden to the clothesline. It’s full of towels, rags, and old shirts. I start to calculate the odds of picking out the right one, then I’m detected. I run back to safety, no closer to getting the flag than I was before.
Recently I got the chance to visit a neighboring country. While I was there, I met many different people from different countries who had a lot of experience playing a whole different kind of game. I met people who had experience ministering in cross cultural contexts. I met other people who had experience working in their own cultural context. They discussed together the object, the different factors, and some of the details of ministry. I felt privileged to be there and to be able to learn from their experiences. I was reminded that it’s important to know what the flag is, to know what we’re aiming for and what steps we’re taking to get there, in order to accomplish our objective. I was encouraged that even when things look impossible, like Moses we can see the invisible as we walk by faith holding on to what God has said in the Scriptures.
While I was there, I also visited a couple villages. Square mud huts with thatched roofs, spaced out with fields of beans, corn, and cassava in between them. We followed the narrow dirt road across creeks, cutting a straight line through the fields, then finally split off from the road onto an even narrower path leading to a cul-de-sac at the edge of a village. We were met by two families from the team there who prepared dinner for us, and although they didn’t speak English or Swahili, we were able to communicate with them through our translator. Later, their western co-workers arrived, and the next day they took us around the village. They showed us the translation work the team has done, and we got to see the translation being used in several places. One of these places was a small mud brick building with its thatched grass roof overhanging the entrance. We ducked down and stepped inside were met by a small crowd already gathered inside. They sat on wooden benches, but they had brought in plastic chairs just for us. We sat down, our eyes adjusting to the dim light filtering in through the small windows. One of the crowd, a teacher, sat in front and read from Luke 16. Some questions and discussion followed, all in their native language. The teacher had taught himself to read, but not everyone is able to do that, especially those who don’t already know how to read in the trade language. But the team was trying to help with that. The next day we walked into another dimly lit brick building, this one with a blackboard at the front. Next to the blackboard stood a young teacher holding a stick and pointing to the letters on the board. Facing him sat a group of around ten students, sitting on wooden benches. “Mwo, wo, wu, wi…” the voices of the students joined in unison as they repeated what the teacher pointed to with his stick. This was just one of several groups who are learning how to read and write. Several of the students have already gone on to read whatever materials available, including the translation of the Scriptures. The teacher himself had just learned how to read less than a year prior, and now he is teaching others. After visiting the class, it was time to say goodbye to the team we’d just met, but we left feeling encouraged having learned a little more of what the flag could look like.
Another day, another trip to another village. This village was dotted with clean, neat square houses with hip style thatched roofs overhanging the mud brick walls by about four feet on all sides and held up by wooden poles. This overhang covered a patio area which extended around each house. In between the houses were fields made of light sandy soil ideal for growing cassava but not a whole lot else. Upon our arrival, we were welcomed into a guest house where we got cleaned up and ate dinner. The next day we went out to meet with some of the people from the village. First, we met with some kings who told us about the time when the team first came. They told us how they had moved in and sought help in learning their language, and how they had provided people to help them learn. Later, we met with a teacher and a translator, and they told us how they learned how to read, and how they now teach others in the same way. They also explained to us the process of how they translate, and all the steps and people involved. Later that same afternoon, we went and visited a group of people gathered under the shade of a large tree and sitting barefoot on straw matts. One of them sitting in the middle read from a small booklet, a portion translated from the first book of Moses. Others took turns reading as well, and they discussed briefly what they read. When the teaching was finished, they held out their hands and took turns talking to God asking him to help a sick woman in their midst. This was just one of several small groups there who have learned through the Scriptures how they can talk with God. The team there now is mostly made of locals, and despite setbacks and challenges, they want to continue teaching and translating and bringing the Scriptures to others. We spent another night in the village, and the next morning it was time to leave again and begin our trip back home. Here, I’d learned yet a little more of what the flag could look like, and that while some of the surrounding factors and details may not all be the same from place to place, the objective doesn’t change.
Since then, I’m back at the guest house, reunited with my family. Just like in capture the flag, I’m seeing how knowing your surroundings in ministry is important, knowing your team is important, knowing what the flag is is important (what you’re aiming to do), having a strategy helps, and of course knowing the objective is important. Things like speed and sneakiness are only important if the other things are in place. And despite all the strategy in the world, if we can’t see the invisible and fix our eyes on Him, it’s not going to amount anything.