I t’s quiet here, nothing but the sound of light waves hitting the shore. Everybody’s gone to a spirit possession ceremony and party. Apparently the spirit of someone’s grandfather is sitting inside of her and has made her sick for two years. The spirit needs to be called out so it can tell them what new taboos they need to follow and how to prevent sickness by keeping the ancestors happy. Others also hope to hear a word from the spirit, telling them what sacrifices they can do to be healed or to receive the other things they want. It’s “the way of the ancestors”, they call it. These spirit possessions don’t happen often. As far as I know, the last one happened 6 months ago, so it’s a big deal. Everyone attends, even children. This is how they learn “the way.”
We visited a friend yesterday who had just given birth and I held her one day old baby in my arms. We chatted a bit and heard the typical story. The man who used to be the teacher at the school here, and who now lives on the far south of the island, was the one who got her pregnant with her 5th child. She couldn’t tell us how old her firstborn is, only that he left Nosy Mitsio three years ago and went to town with his father (a different man) and she hasn’t heard anything since. Is he going to school in town? She doesn’t know. We asked her what the name of her newborn baby is and she also didn’t know. “Do you have any ideas?” she asked us. We were surprised just as much at her response as she was at our question. Surely there must be a reason for this.
Adam and I were the only ones with her at that moment. There was no big celebration for this new life that had just been born… a big contrast to the commotion caused by the spirit of a dead ancestor.
J ust a month ago, I watched two of the king’s daughters move to town with their new husbands, leaving behind their children on Nosy Mitsio to be taken care of by their grandparents. The 15-year old left her 1-year old daughter, the baby girl she was always cuddling in her arms, even when going to and from the rice fields. The 18-year old left her 2-year old daughter and 4-year old son. I only learned recently that the boy belonged to her, as I had never seen any interaction between them.
The king’s older daughter once asked me how many children I had. I was really confused by this question because she knew that Matimu was my son and she saw me with him all the time. With a very funny expression on my face, I said that Matimu was my only child. Then she said, “Oh, you only have Matimu. How many children does Adam have?” Well, when I told her that it was also just Matimu, she responded with an “ohhh” and a look on her face that said she could hardly believe it or that I was dumb and naïve. Or maybe she just thought I didn’t understand her question. But to think of having children by many different men in many different places! I find myself holding onto Matimu just a little bit tighter when I hug him these days.
So goes the life of a child here. None of the kids in our village (all from the king’s family) have ever seen a car! Eventually some will go to the mainland to attend school but some may never leave this little island. Back in our friend’s little hut, I looked into the sleeping baby’s face as I held her, this incredible miracle of life. She has no idea the life that she’s been born into. Everything that happens to this girl from now on will shape her for the rest of her life. It’s possible she might never know her age or her mom and dad, or only know them as distant relatives. And she may never see a car.
I ’ve thought about it a lot: what life would’ve been like for me if I hadn’t been born into such a privileged country and if my knowledge of the world stopped at only this little island, for instance. The thousands of foods I’d never taste. The music I’d never hear. The many places I’d never see even if just through access to books and the internet.
But all of these things are actually so trivial compared to the thought that went through my head when I held that little baby: “What if this was me born into this life and I never had a chance to know the Creator, to know that following him was even an option? What if the only ‘way’ I would ever know is the way of the ancestors: the way of spirits of men from the past coming inside of me and possessing those around me to tell us what rules we need to follow, always living in fear of breaking those rules?”
Paul was a scholar, of Jewish law to say the least, and this is what he had to say about all his knowledge and upbringing:
I’ve started reading through the Old Testament again and have been amazed by the grace of God in this long-running story that is full of prostitution, deception, murder, lust, and jealousy – and that’s just Genesis! Quite honestly I’m disgusted by what these people did; and yet God still chose to use them.
I like the way The Voice Bible explains Judah’s mess as written in Genesis 38:”…Scripture is brutally honest about people and what they do. Lust and lies, deception and prostitution do not frustrate God’s plan; in fact God has a way of taking them, redeeming them, and including them within His greater will.” We’ve broken his rules, so to speak, from the beginning of time. But it gives me hope that in spite of all the mess I see around me, God will work through the broken relationships, the lust, the prostitution, the fear of the ancestors (all of which we’ve seen) to make something new, just as he’s done since the very beginning. And this goes for each one of us on a daily basis.
W hen I held that new little life in my hands, I was reminded again why we’re here. Heaven and earth met in fullness in that moment that Jesus took his first breath as a baby. We get to tell the people here about the Creator they’ve never heard of and we get to witness his work on this little corner of the earth.
And the beauty of it is that it’s not even about what I can say or do, but that God wants me to be a part of what he’s doing here.
I left the new little baby with her mom and she said, “Come by again and we’ll chat.” “Yes,” I thought, “I have a story I’d like to share with you.”
May the Lord open your eyes to see all the work he’s doing around you.
Lora, Adam, and Matimu