19 December 2019 // Articles & Stories

Rearranging the furniture

Connected to prayer

This article was first featured alongside our Prayer Diary in January 2020. You can download the January 2020 prayer points here or sign-up to receive future editions by post or email.

Owen and Miriam Pugh along with their children, Ella, Charlie, Imani and Cerys, have been living among the Alagwa since 2010. As well as discipling believers and helping them establish a church, the Pughs are involved in creating an oral Bible translation of the book of Luke. 

Eddie Arthur, in his excellent blog post ‘Gospel and Culture’ said: “When the homeless gospel comes into a culture as a guest, it is an awkward guest – quite rude in fact. Rather than just settling down to do things your way, the gospel starts to move the furniture around and redecorate the house.”

This is true for all of us; the Holy Spirit needs to redecorate our lives in areas we are often blind to.

And so it is true for the Alagwa. It is crucial to understand that rituals and rites exist because of felt needs within a culture. A white goat skin band around a baby’s wrist points to a fear that ancestral or evil spirits could attack the child. Historically, world religion missionaries have largely tended to forbid such practices. This fails to reach the heart of the matter, as banning a ritual does not remove the fear, but instead drives the ritual underground.

The good news of the gospel is that God deals decisively with the powers of evil and fear. We believe one day there will be a new Alagwa ritual for babies, celebrating God’s power and love. This and other redeemed rituals will ultimately be shaped by Alagwa believers as they apply biblical truth to every area of their lives and welcome his glorious redecoration of their culture. We saw the start of this when believers explored how the gospel could reshape the celebrations after male circumcision.

Uncompromising belief

At the centre of it all, is the question for believers of what it means to be fully Alagwa and follow Jesus. Recently, we discussed in a church workshop some of the challenges for believers in being present and involved in their communities, yet not compromising their relationship with Jesus. They wrestled with these issues, and didn’t always agree. Some local believers avoid community folk Islamic prayer services altogether, some go but will not eat the food provided, and some will go, eat but not pray. There are no easy answers.

At a deep level of values, we also see how the gospel is rearranging the furniture. There is a lack of trust in these seemingly tight knit communities – people are often scared that if they prosper, others will try to curse them or hold them back. One Alagwa believer observed: it is like when Jesus told the leaders that they only cleaned the pot on the outside, but the inside was full of dirt. Some of our friendships are clean pots on the outside. We agreed that looking like a God follower on the outside but having a heart uncleansed by God meant it was impossible to truly love one another. Only Jesus can bring deep healing and true community here. Only the gospel can transform culture so that in Jesus the Alagwa can be all that they were created to be.

Owen & Miriam Pugh

We work in a team among the Alagwa in Tanzania, using Bible stories in the mother tongue for evangelism and discipleship.

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