I’ve been noticing a theme lately. Many times since we’ve moved here, I have thought that life here was quite overwhelming. With medical cases to fumble through, relationships to build, and a full quiver of children needing schooling and attention, it has often felt, in the words of Tolkien, “like butter scraped over too much bread”. Through the chaos, I learned that the Lord would multiply the butter, and what seemed like too little was always enough. We were brought to the throne many times through circumstance after circumstance which threatened to overcome. We were sinking deep into dependence and finding that there was a solid foundation under all those shifting sands of circumstance. It seems that just when we have found a way to thrive in the craziness, Satan switched tactics.
About a month ago, we returned from break to find…nothing. No people, no animals, just eerie silence after our small welcome party went home. We chalked it up to people not knowing our return date, since we had been delayed. By the time a week had passed, we thought, “surely, the word must have spread”. We continued on in our routines, but instead of talking with people who are usually nearby, Rhett was having to go out and search for anyone who might be around. Once the Hansens returned, and they were able to ask around a bit, it was discovered that there were many rumors flying around that we missionaries needed space, and that everyone else’s houses were crowding us. Months ago these whispers had started, beginning with “Our pigs and chickens are eating the missionaries’ seeds in their garden. Everyone needs to move their houses away so their pigs won’t live nearby”. We had a big meeting and explained to everyone that we wanted them to stay, and that it would be very difficult to learn language (especially for the ladies) if everyone left.
As the months went by, we noticed that as their houses were breaking down, they weren’t rebuilding them. We eventually discovered that they were rebuilding, but they were doing it much further away. The same rumors had started up again, but this time there were many reasons tossed around as to why they had to move away. Some said that in the people group next door, the people lived further away from the missionaries, and that is how it “should” be. Others said that weekend volleyball was disturbing our work, since the net was right outside our houses. Others were frustrated that it has been taking so many months to make progress in language. Their idea was that if they told us the right stories or gave us the right information, the knowledge would come to us, and therefore those who had been helping us learn must not have been doing such a great job (not true!). These were the rumors along with the one about the pigs and chickens again. Many from further villages had also been hard on the locals and pressuring them and so they were probably just sick of dealing with those shenanigans.
All that to say, people started to sneakily build elsewhere (and I do mean sneakily). Thankfully Natalie is gracious and tenacious and managed to find out the truth as to why our village was a ghost town! Once we discovered the truth, we spent a day tearing up our garden (no garden means no feeling badly if pigs are there), and we brought in a pig of our own. We also held a big meeting on the day the Stanleys returned, to give a strong talking-to to the community. We told them that we were very upset that these decisions had been made without consulting us, and that we will never be able to be part of the community if the community all leave. We told them how much we love to hear them outside our windows and it is never a disturbance to our work. Strong words were shared, tears were shed, and hopefully we have nipped this problem before it grew too large.
All of this has impressed upon me the importance of vigilance. Satan doesn’t always use chaos; sometimes his methods can be downright peaceful. What more effective way of cutting down the future church than by shutting it down before it even exists? Or, for that matter, bringing in shame and hurt feelings among the people after the missionaries brought it up very publicly (praying it isn’t so!)
It has been very convicting on a personal level as I have seen that “peace” infiltrating my own life. It is SO easy to cruise along in self-effort when life itself seems to be flowing smoothly without much effort at all. Dependence is harder to fall into when it doesn’t seem as though I am falling, and Satan can so easily derail my whole spiritual walk so quietly, almost imperceptibly. Without that vigilance, that attention and care to maintaining that spiritual relationship, how can I notice when things aren’t as they should be? When I am isolated more than I should be?
Pray my friends. Pray for us and this recent, quiet attack of the enemy. Praise Him for his mercy in allowing us to catch on to the problem before it was too late. Pray for the Kovol people who were shamed by the meeting. Pray for the many missionaries who are experiencing every flavor of attack in the enemy’s arsenal, both in ministry and in their (our!) personal walks. May we never let down our guard with such a cunning adversary.