by Dave Hare

Years ago, while just beginning to learn about Kwakum culture, we asked a language partner for the worst thing he could imagine his son doing. His response was very telling. He said the worst thing he could imagine for his son was for him to get caught stealing. It was very interesting to me that he did not say “for my son to steal” but “for my son to get caught stealing.” This gave me an insight into the pressure of shame in the Kwakum culture. There is even a song that we sing sometimes in church that basically uses shame to encourage church members to be obedient to God. Part of the song goes: “In the villages people are talking about you. Behind the houses people are talking about you. They are speaking about you, so you better obey.”

One of the most striking ways that shame tempts believers here is in regard to confession of sin. Perhaps this is true of all of us, but it seems particularly true here: people do not confess their sins (or even their errors). In fact, I have never heard a Kwakum person publicly admit sin or wrong. That is, until recently.
A few weeks ago, one of our young new believers (we’ll call him Jacques) got into a fight with his brother. And boy was it a fight! The whole village started gathering around to watch as this young Christian yelled at his brother, hit him, and at one point even wielded a machete. Yikes! When I (Dave) realized what was happening I took Jacques aside and talked to him. We discussed how Jesus responded to conflict and he was willing to admit to me that he had done wrong.

Later Stacey took Jacques aside. He explained the situation, talked about how hard it was to be a Christian, and cried in his sorrow over what he did. Stacey gave him some assigned Bible reading with an opportunity for him to respond. She discussed it with him and asked at the end if he would be willing to confess his sin to our discipleship group. After some consideration, he agreed! The next Sunday evening, Jacques confessed his sin to our group and was comforted with reminders of grace and forgiveness.

You really cannot overestimate how big of a deal this is! This is literally the first time we have ever heard a Kwakum person confess sin publicly. And while this is only the beginning, it is a thrilling beginning.

But here’s the rub. Jacques has grown up in the church and can both speak and read French well. He has heard sermons all his life about the confession of sin. And while he has heard the words, they have never registered, never affected his life. Why? Because while he has heard the words, he has never seen them put into practice. He has never been discipled.

The greatest command in all of history is from Jesus in Matthew 28: “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations.” You will notice that Jesus never said, “Go translate the Bible.” Obviously, I believe that Bible translation is a worthy endeavor. It is hard to “teach them to obey all that Jesus commanded” if they cannot understand what Jesus commanded. But Bible translation is not the goal, it is a means. Discipleship is the goal. This is in part because the Bible is fundamentally a book designed to be taught. We live in an amazing age in which the vast majority of people are able to read the Bible on their own. Throughout most of history (pre-Guttenberg) people have heard the Scriptures in community, and almost always accompanied with teaching. We are meant to understand the Bible together. And we are meant to understand the Bible with teachers.

This means that discipleship requires teaching and living out the Gospel. Discipleship is slow, difficult, and often heartbreaking. However, whenever we see young disciples taking steps toward Christ (even the small ones), we understand more the joy of heaven when one sinner repents.

I say all of this because our ministry model is not the fastest. We have taken some time recently out of translating Old Testament stories to work up a short evangelistic Bible study in Kwakum. We are thankful to have the freedom to do this because our organization (World Team) agrees that discipleship is the goal. Our plan is to spend many more years among the Kwakum, hoping to see many disciples of Jesus Christ, and even encourage a Kwakum-led church.

This article first appeared on Hare Translation Journey