“Incarnational ministry” is a challenging term. I have to ask myself regularly whether I’m serving the Lord with “the same attitude as…Christ Jesus” described in Philippians 2:5-11, or just doing my job, following the Perspectives course.
The day before the Nugunu New Testament dedication in Ombessa, Cameroon on December 3, a young Gunu man, Vitus, was asking the same question about us, outsiders, when we showed up in his world for the dedication. He was just a boy during the time my family and I lived in Ombessa to launch the Bible translation program in their language. He didn’t know my history, so it was understandable that he looked skeptical and wondered what right we had to celebrate now that all the hard work was over. He approached Jaci, asked what brought us and didn’t seem satisfied with her answers.
The next day, all that changed. Vitus sought out Jaci at the reception after the dedication ceremonies were over. The skeptical sneer disappeared from his face and was replaced by a look of respect. He told her he now understood why we were there. What made the difference? Serving incarnationally. During the ceremonies, I had the opportunity to express my appreciation to the crowd for how they welcomed me and my family when we lived among them decades before. The young man heard me speaking his language, sharing what motivated me to be part of their community, to share their vision and to work alongside them to make God’s Word available. He saw evidence of the lasting relationships that were built and what a happy reunion it was for me and my Gunu friends. Despite great cultural differences, he saw I had made the effort to identify with his community, not just to get a job done.
Today, I don’t live among the language communities’ translation teams that I consult. Frequently, when I go to Africa, I work with the translators outside of areas where their language is spoken. Can I still serve incarnationally? And what about the months when I’m here in the U.S. helping African translators from the comfort of my desk? May God give all of us the wisdom and the humility as he sends us into our neighborhoods or more distant places, to go as learners and listeners, to recognize how God is at work in the people around us and to experience the power of his Spirit to connect with what he is doing.
Please join us to hear Keith and Jaci Patman speak at the Global Outreach Talk on Sunday, July 8 to celebrate a Bible translation milestone in the country of Cameroon bringing God’s Word to life in an African context.