Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Teaching Amerindians

* Warning: Few photos in this blog entry *

Witnessing in a territory like Orealla is very unique. For one thing, the village itself is fairly small, so we can work the entire village during the Circuit Overseer's visit (we do have more territory, but Orealla village gets worked most frequently). But despite how much this village gets worked, you still get an incredible response from the people. Literally every single door you can place magazines, and the only times people will turn down a Bible Study is if they're not usually home (working on the river or any such thing) or if they're already studying the Bible with another church or another Witness.

So if that's the response, what challenges are there if any?

Simple: language and culture barrier. We'll take the language barrier first...

It may sound strange to say that seeing as they speak English just like we do. But the way they learned it makes it unusual. See, this village originally spoke Arawak, but over time they were taught English by missionaries and whatnot. But rather than learning English from scratch, they mostly learned word-for-word substitutions, so their sentence structure is typically the same as Arawak, and additionally if there was not a word for a certain thing in Arawak, they wouldn't learn the English version.

So take for example Psalms 37:11. Pretty commonly used in the ministry, and mostly self-explanatory right? Now here, when we shared that verse we assumed "exquisite" would be a word maybe they weren't familiar with so we would explain it (I say "We" because around the time I was discovering this we had Dustin Reynolds and Zandile with us as well, so we were all experiencing this together). But we noticed over and over that people still weren't understanding what the scripture meant.

What we eventually realized was the problem was the word "delight". That was a word most of them had never encountered before in their lives. We asked them why no one had ever brought that up, and it's because they're so used to English literature using words and phrases they're not accustomed to that they don't bother bringing it up anymore.

So this left us with a problem. How do you explain "delight" to someone?

Dustin had the best answer. "Imagine the happiest you've ever been in your life," he'd tell them "Maybe it's the day you got married. Maybe it's when your first child was born, or you built your own house, anything. Think of that." When he could tell they'd definitely begun picturing that moment, he added "Now imagine being even happier than that."

Without fail, that did the trick.

But now we come to what was the second problem in teaching Amerindians. The culture barrier. To illustrate how this can be a problem, I'll continue using Psalm 37:11....

So we've covered the language barrier explaining "exquisite delight", but what about "in the abundance of peace"? They know what peace is, but here's the culture barrier... they already live in peace. They know peace as being the absence of war and crime and hatred. But they live in Orealla! A place with an absence of war and crime and hatred. They feel so secure here that many homes don't have locks. Some don't even have four walls!

So the scripture you're reading to them is about happy people leaving in peaceful conditions on Earth. Isn't that what they're already doing? There's the culture barrier. What do they have to be in fear of?

Wild animals, that's what.

So while I grew up sharing Psalm 37:11 with people and emphasizing that we won't be in fear of men, in Orealla you must focus on it in a different way. Here's what (again) Dustin came up with to explain that verse in terms that's meaningful to them.

"Would you just decide to suddenly walk out into the jungle? Alone? Without carrying a cutlass, or a bow, or anything like that?"


"Why not?"

"The jaguars would get to me if I walked too far away from the village." (other answers have been snakes, tigers, boar, etc. All of which keep far away from the village, don't worry. Just in case you, say. happen to have a son preparing to come here or something)

Dustin continues "But that's what this verse is telling you. There will be a time, on this very Earth, when you can just jump up and say 'Hey, I want to walk to Kwakwani!' And you can just up and go. You won't need to worry about any wild animals attacking you. You won't need to worry about troubling any snakes. You won't even need to take a mosquito netting. Because this verse is promising you that. We will have peace."

Of course, I still have lots of learning to do. In an assignment like this, you must always keep aware of the need to continue learning from the people you're around just as much as they're learning from you.

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