A Quiet Crowd

posted by Greg Pruett on April 27, 2015

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About 80 people sat and stared intently at nothing in particular with that strange look of concentration a person gets when straining with all their energy to hear a sound. Everyone leaned forward to capture every word of the Sermon on the Mount as the voice of Jesus echoed through the grass shelter where we had gathered to explain the dramatized audio New Testament to the chief of the next village over. Several years ago we recorded different people’s voices reading the whole New Testament in Yalunka. Now the solar powered Scripture listening devices, the “Proclaimers”, are changing lives all around the Yalunka context. Our partner agency, Faith Comes by Hearing ships Proclaimers from New Mexico to West Africa for us to use in planting churches.

We walked to the village about a mile from my home in order to introduce the idea of a Scripture listening group hoping that a church might eventually form. As we listened, the only sounds were the passing sheep and the three year old child who just didn’t have the attention span to listen. All the other children in the crowd were more silent than I have ever seen a group of Yalunka kids. The chief would occasionally nod his head at a particularly poignant teaching. One of his advisors would occasionally risk voicing assent when Jesus hammered a point home, but quickly hushed again to avoid missing a single word Jesus had to offer.

When we finished the chapter, I didn’t have to wonder for very long whether or not they had really understood. My Christian friend asked, “What part pierced your heart the most?” One of the leaders in the village jumped right in: “You know, what he said about not doing your good works to be seen by people, that really hit home with me. Whenever we do something good, we announce it before a big crowd, but this holy book says that you won’t get rewards in heaven if you do it to be honored by people.” Immediately a lively discussion began about this new idea of doing good works that only God knows about. Another man said, “He said not to pray in order to be seen by others too!” Soon they were talking about how many people during the fasting month of Ramadan make a big production of keeping the fast. Often they will leave a little patch of dirt on their forehead to show how much they are praying. They remembered the passage well: “This book says you won’t get any reward from God for that. It said to wash your face and try not to let anyone know you are fasting.” I thought the whole idea would surprise them, but it was as if someone had confirmed a suspicion they had harbored for decades. Anyone can tell there’s something wrong with religion done for show. Jesus’ words just have the ring of truth.

After a pause, someone said, “That part about the eye being the lamp for the body. I could tell that was important, but I wasn’t quite sure what it meant.” I silently agreed. After a discussion, they seemed to conclude that it must mean that sin causes people to walk in the dark. That seemed close enough to me —especially for a first time listener.

“What else pierced your heart?” My friend queried. “Well there was the part about not working for two masters,” one of the men mused, “that really made me think.” That’s when my friend started to preach a bit. He talked about corruption in leadership and the love of money. When the conversation lulled, and I feared we may have overstayed our welcome, the chief said, “Weren’t there any more words on that machine?” We launched chapter 7 and immediately Jesus cracked up one of the guys when he quipped, “Why do you see the speck in your brother’s eye when you have a log in yours?” That led to quite a lengthy discussion at the end of that chapter complete with acting out with hand motions the log-in-the-eye syndrome.

When we finished talking about chapter 7, the chief motioned for us to let chapter 8 roll too. The faith of the centurion really struck a chord with them. As men of authority, they seemed to latch onto that part of the story. They said, “So, just like the centurion was able to command soldiers, Jesus could command angels to go and heal the man.” I thought to myself, “Well, there will be time enough to correct doctrine later. Today it’s enough that they encounter Jesus’ words for the first time ever.”

At the end of chapter 8, one of the men brought up the story of the demon possessed men and the pigs. My friend said, “When Jesus drove out the demons, was that a good thing or a bad thing?” They answered with one voice, “It was a good thing.” “Then why did they ask him to leave?” Sayon took the opportunity to point out that many people fail to receive Jesus today even though they love his words. We continued to discuss Jesus’ teachings as the sun gradually crept down to the horizon. My friend taught every part of the gospel he could think of from the virgin birth to forgiveness for sins to holiness and I can’t remember what all he explained. I recognized old sermon illustrations of mine scattered throughout parts of his message. “So, are you interested in hosting a listening group here when we get the listening devices?” we asked expectantly. A resounding yes. As the chief and his advisors were walking us to the road so we could make our way home before the darkness completely obscured the trail, they said, “Some of our children will enter into this religion.” My friend soberly asked them the question that haunts me at night, “Why would you see a good thing, want it for your children, but not want it for yourselves?” He pleaded with them to follow Jesus. They had no answer that day.

Listening to the Proclaimer, nobody says, “Hey, I know that voice!” –even though they know every person reading the Scripture on it. The music and the sound effects and the dramatic voices combine to draw the listener into the story. Whenever we play it for people, they get that quiet look of concentration. If I listen for a little while, I find myself believing I am listening to Jesus himself preaching in Yalunka as the words echo off the mud walls of huts in the village. It’s like Jesus has taken a detour through time to preach in our region on his way to Galilee. It’s like he has finally come to speak those treasured words just for Yalunka ears to get their chance to hear. These precious men and women and children have for the most part missed the whole first coming of the Kingdom of God until recently. Pray with us that they will be prepared for the second coming of Jesus.

Pray for the Yalunka people to jump into a relationship with Christ with their whole heart. We can see that His words make perfect sense to them, but they hesitate to become the only Christians in their village. Pray for the church to be able to use these Proclaimers to plant 15 or 20 new churches based on listening to Scripture. Imagine the impact as we strive to form many new listening groups with these Proclaimers. Pray for continued use of the completed Yalunka Bible that we dedicated in February 3, 2013.

Greg Pruett

Greg has served as President of Pioneer Bible Translators since 2007. He, his wife Rebecca, and their three children served in West Africa for more than twelve years, completing the Bible in the Yalunka language. He has a degree in civil engineering from Texas A&M, and a Masters and a Ph.D. in Intercultural Studies from Fuller Theological Seminary. He also has linguistic training from the University of North Dakota and the Graduate Institute of Applied Linguistics.

twitter: @GregJPruett

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