Monday, December 04, 2006

The Cow Story

Well, my Maasai ramblings haven't generated the conversation that I thought they would. So, I'll make this my last post. Of course, I saved my best story and reflection for last.

One interesting character that I met among the Maasai was an elder named Oneipu. (He bears an uncanny resemblance to the elder in the picture ... just a little more white hair.) Oneipu was a tribal leader in the area. On one of our last days in the area, one of Oneipu's cows fell in a hole and the men couldn't get it out. Its back was broken. Oneipu stayed out all night to protect the cow from hyenas and leopards. They could not allow this great wealth to be eaten by the wild animals. They needed to slaughter it for the people.

So, the Maasai developed a plan. They wanted us to take the missionary truck (a Toyota Hi-Lux, not found in the states) down in the bottom of the ravine, where we would all load the cow into the truck, and haul it back up to Oneipu's boma.

Well, it was an absolutely crazy and hilarious adventure ... but we got it done. I don't know how, but we picked up that half-ton cow and loaded it in the back of that truck.

When we reached the boma, Oneipu's son, George (who was the pastor of the church where we were serving), asked me to preach the Gospel. His father was not a Christian and many of the other men were not Christians. Needless to say, I was unprepared ... so I asked God to give me a message. It was in that moment, as I looked at the old cow "chowwing down" on the tall grass, and as I looked at those men, that God gave me my text ... the parable of the lost sheep. The only problem was, I had not seen any sheep in Maasailand ... I didn't even know if they had ever seen any sheep. Sooooo ... I didn't think that God would mind very badly if I did a bit of contextualization. I adapted the parable to that of "the lost cow." Instead of the shepherd, the parable had a herdsman ... and you can guess the rest. (Now, I know that some of you have tuned me out at this point and declared me a heretic, but just stick around, you'll like the ending!)

As God filled my heart and mouth with the words (and it was God, by the way), those men sat silently and listen. Their eyes kept darting from me to the cow lying on the ground behind me. After all, we had just lived out the words of this story! We had just left all of the other cows in the boma and gone on this great mission to save the one lost cow! At the end of my message, I handed over the "invitation time" to one of the local pastors.

What happened next was a holy moment that I know that I will never again experience on this side of heaven. Oneipu, the local tribal elder, arose from his seat in the rear, walked over to George (his son) and me, got down on his ancient knees between us, and gave his life to Jesus Christ. It was an unbelievable event, both to us and to the Maasai men who were in attendance. No other elders in that area had commited themselves to Jesus. They considered the Jesus religion to be a faith for only women and children. But on this day, the unthinkable had happened. A Maasai elder was walking with Christ. Everything had changed. In the coming days, Oneipu's conversion would surely lead to the conversion of many other local men as they followed his leadership.

The next day we had our closing celebration as we prepared to depart for home. Oneipu worshiped for the first time, as the only "Elder" of the church, at his son's side. It was a remarkable day. Right before we left, after the lunch "feast," Oneipu called me over and grabbed an interpreter. He placed a hand on my shoulder, and put a bony finger in my chest. He said, "I will never forget the day that you all saved my cow, for that was the day that God saved me." Shivers ...

Contextualization ... it means to reach people where they are, within their culture, with the message of Jesus Christ. All it takes is sharing the Bible and the message of Jesus through language and methods that the people of a given culture will understand. We do it so well on the international mission field. But why do we stink at it here in the USA? Traditionalism, maybe? Ignorance, pride, and arrogance ... probably.

Why are so many of our churches in North America plateaued or declining? Why are our baptisms on a steady downward spiral? Why is the church so rapidly becoming irrelevant here? It's because of our complete lack of contextualization. We are not only NOT reaching people in the current 21st century American culture ... we have DEFINED that culture as the actual ENEMY! How blindly, ignorantly absurd.

My prayer? God, please open the eyes and hearts of our dying churches in America! Help us understand that we live in a mission field, which demands a missional mindset and ministry strategy! Lord, as churches all around us are dying, please give birth to new churches which will embrace the culture, embrace the people you have created, and love them through ministry (not just judgmental preaching) to bring them to Jesus. Amen


Blogger Roger Ferrell said...

Great story. I have been too busy to post or comment but am glad I came on tonight. What an incredible story. As far as I am concerned, Jesus would be thrilled to have you change the animal from a sheep to a cow; and if you are witnessing in Tahiti, make it a dolphin! As long as it is used to share the truth of the gospel, who cares?
Thanks for the blessing of this story and insight.

8:41 PM  

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