Grasping the gospel that changes everything

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Andrew Wallace explains what the barriers to the gospel are within the Laarim culture.

It is not hard to get a Laarim person to say, “I believe in Jesus.” If he thinks it will earn him a cup of tea and perhaps a few extra privileges from the wealthy white missionary, then why not? The hard thing is finding the Laarim person who will understand that to say “I believe in Jesus” actually changes everything…

Mix and match

A random collection of people

We certainly have a great diversity of culture and personality on our Laarim team. It is made up of people from Australia, Netherlands, Rwanda, UK and USA, so sometimes understanding one another can be challenging! Each individual has their own approach to ministry and their own boundaries and methods for coping with the challenge of living cross-culturally. Each individual has different giftings and abilities, some of which are more outwardly visible than others. Living as part of a team like this teaches you the importance of patience and examining yourself. If I fall into comparison and judgment then I give Satan the opportunity to run rampant and render me completely ineffective for Christ. However, if we continue with our shared love for Jesus uniting us ahead of our differences, then our diversity becomes our greatest strength. We bring a rich variety of perspectives to Bible study, prayer, ministry strategies and problem-solving and we can learn so much from one another. I love being part of this team; I find myself admiring Jesus for bringing such a random collection of people together and making it work!   

When it comes to our ministry among the Laarim, each of us is finding our niche. Our members with a medical background are coming alongside local clinic staff to learn from them and help them. A couple of us are helping in the formal school system, while others are teaching casual literacy classes to the unschooled. One is helping the Laarim learn improved farming methods and others are engaging through football and frisbee. These pursuits are undertaken with the goal of relationship-building, and of being living witnesses of the gospel in the daily life and activities of the Laarim. All of us devote considerable time to simply sitting and talking with individuals and we truly believe that, through these conversations, Jesus can and will transform people, one life at a time. 

The Laarim culture is one of extreme syncretism. They have no problem with a variety of beliefs and opinions co-existing with more or less equal validity. For example, when someone is sick they might first pray to God, then go and get medicine from the clinic, and then go to the witchdoctor. Jesus becomes another item on the list, a possible option for help rather than the source of all help. This becomes a significant problem when animistic traditions come into play. There are practices involving veneration of ancestors and reading the future in the intestines of slaughtered animals, or throwing stones and watching how they fall. These things have power, but it comes from the kingdom of darkness. It is a power that works through fear and death and it is at war with the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ. Those who think they can believe in Jesus and carry on with these practices simply have not understood who he is. This for me appears as the single biggest obstacle to believing in Jesus; people do not want to give up their former ways and change their lives.

This same enslavement also takes a worldly, materialistic form. Alcoholism and promiscuity are big problems among the Laarim, and for some this is not worth giving up in order to take the gospel of Christ seriously. Furthermore, despite our repeated emphasis that we are here to teach them the word of God, there remains a constant habit of asking us for material things. People come to us to beg for money, food, clothes, tobacco, tin cans… the list goes on. Very few come to us to beg for a Bible story.

True understanding

And yet, there are those who do! There are those who have grasped that the gospel is more important than all these things, and we truly believe that through these individual lives God will transform the Laarim people. For those who truly understand the love of Jesus, nothing on earth will stop them from coming to him.

Regina Lino and the nameless photo – by Linda Byler

The lady with the round handsome face and prominent scarification spoke first. “While watching the Jesus film last night,” she said, “I saw that Jesus is so good … he suffered so much, yet in the midst of his suffering he still talked with and cared for others … he said to the people, even as he was suffering, that they should cry for themselves and not for him.”

We soon learned her name: Regina Lino. She and three other women and some children had stepped forward last night to say they wanted to follow Jesus after our Laarim Focus Team showed the Jesus Film at her compound. Being late and very dark, we had asked them to come to our compound this morning to get acquainted and hear their testimony. Regina was answering the question from our team leader, Philip Byler, “What caused you to step forward last night?”

We heard the other testimonies, and through our translators encouraged these brand new believers in some basic steps of faith: prayer, fellowship, sharing personal testimony, rehearsing  Bible stories and songs…

Meanwhile I was writing notes on the back of some scrap paper. As this ‘early believers’ class drew to a close, one of the boys asked to see my paper. It was a left-over prayer-for-Laarim sheet that we had distributed far and wide in Uganda and throughout our home assignment. As he scanned the photos on the paper, he looked up and declared, “She’s the one”. I was stunned to affirm that the nameless photo which had been printed and power-pointed repeatedly for prayer support for Laarim women was none other than Regina Lino, now one of the first Laarim women believers.

Now the poster photo has a name. And we know that the name ‘Regina Lino’ is written into the Lamb’s book of life. Moreover the new life was manifest as a softly smiling Regina concluded her testimony by saying, “Last night I slept free from fear, as I never did before.”

Thank you for your prayers for the Laarim.

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