T he past three years on Nosy Mitsio have been a time of discovery and learning: learning about wind patterns and boat travel, learning the language and how to live life on a remote island, learning who the Antakarana are and their worldview that gives them their identity. I’ve discovered more about myself and I’ve seen how every joy and hardship along the way has been transforming me. And most importantly, all this has taken me on a journey of discovering more of God. It is a journey that will never end in my lifetime, but a journey in which I need to invite people to walk alongside me. All of our learning about the Antakarana thus far has led to this point: to a discovery of God that he is now inviting our Antakarana friends and neighbors to join.
For six months now we’ve been working on creating a simple Bible story set of 16 stories in the Antakarana dialect, from the story of creation to Jesus’s resurrection and to the beginnings of his Church. Aside from an unfinished and undistributed draft of Luke, translated by SIL, these are the only Antakarana-language Bible resources we know of. We’re excited to announce that we’ve finished translating all 16 stories! And what’s even more exciting is that four different villages on Nosy Mitsio have already started gathering to hear and discuss the stories.
Each village meets multiple times a week to hear these Bible stories as often as possible. In each meeting, rather than sharing the Bible story straight away we have a time where everyone shares the good and bad things that have happened to them throughout the week. We explain how it’s good to praise and thank God for the good things and that we can ask him for help with the difficult things we face. I’ve really enjoyed this part with our community. With big smiles, they often share the good things they’ve experienced. And when they share bad things, whether big or small, it’s given me more insight into their lives. Once we’re done sharing and discussing, we pray about everything that’s been shared, reinforcing to all of us that God cares intimately for our daily lives. For quite some time now we’ve all been very intentional with our communities to pray publicly in a wide range of circumstances. At this point nobody is surprised that we often pray like this and most people openly appreciate it, so it fits in very naturally in our Bible story meetings.
Then we tell the story. But even before this, we ask God to give us his Spirit, to make the story clear to us and help us remember it. As most people are illiterate, they want to hear the story many times, even a dozen times in one meeting. Our goal is for them to know the story well enough that they can repeat it back, hitting all the main points. If they can repeat it, then they can tell it to others, and the stories can spread. We have some that can repeat the stories back very well, even after hearing them just a few times. But many are too afraid to try, thinking it has to be perfect. They’re all still getting used to it but they’re getting better as we move forward.
Once again we pray, and this time we ask that God give us his Spirit to teach us his truths, to show us his path and how to follow him. And so we ask the following questions: What does this story teach us about God? What does it teach us about mankind? From what we’ve learned in the story, how can we change our lives to follow God? With whom will you share the story? It’s not enough for one or two of the most enthusiastic participants to answer these questions, but we encourage all to respond. We emphasize that learning to follow God is something we all need to participate in, individually and together.
T his method is called a Discovery Bible Study. Participants aren’t simply given information or just told what to believe, but through this process they are encouraged to discover God for themselves within his stories. We believe that when anyone truly seeks God, and requests his Spirit to guide and teach them, that God will respond and reveal himself through these stories.
Most people in our team’s villages are very enthusiastic to hear the stories, many even wanting to meet every night so that they can learn them well. But they’re all still getting used to the discussion questions, as it’s all still very new to them. Several literate people have asked to copy the stories down so they can have more time to learn them and think about them. We’ve only had time to share the first two stories (Creation and the Fall) so far. We’re looking forward to see what God does as his Spirit begins to work on those who hear, respond, and share the stories with their friends in other villages.
A nd here I am with my neighbors, starting back at the Beginning, with a story I’ve heard a thousand times since my childhood. I didn’t think I would discover anything new, yet I’ve become a learner right along with our friends and neighbors. When it came the question, “From what you’ve learned in the story, how will you follow God?” I responded that every time I looked at the ocean, I would remember God and think about how he made it and everything in it. This seemed simple and basic, but I did it. And yet in these moments of simple obedience, I discovered more of God.
Looking out at the ocean I was reminded of how limited my eyes are. A person would never know there was another world under the water if they were just standing above looking at the ripples and waves. Even in itself, the movement of the water can be profound. But imagine if we never knew what was underneath, how much beauty and how much life!
It was at that moment that God also drew my attention to what we really cannot see with the naked eye. My Bible was opened to Isaiah 8 which speaks of trusting in God’s greatness even when he’s sometimes hard to see. In The Voice translation it refers to God as “Commander of heavenly armies,” though in this case they’re unseen. I was in awe at this unexpected discovery. Every time I looked at the ocean after that, I couldn’t help but think about God’s heavenly armies surrounding us, in the realm beyond what our human eyes can see. I knew that’s exactly what I needed for the months ahead, a reminder of the vastness and power of God. He’s doing this work and he’s invited us to join him. All that he asks from me is my steadfast obedience, even in something as small as remembering him when I look at the ocean.
S o now begins a chapter in God’s continuing story of redeeming the world. We’ve started again at the Beginning and we bring our Antakarana neighbors along with us in the journey of discovering God. We don’t know what will happen in the coming months and how they’ll receive the message of Jesus. In Colossians 3:2 it’s written, “Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.” So I cannot make judgments based on what only my eyes can see. I will remember his heavenly armies that surround me as numerous as the fish in the ocean and I will trust that he is at work regardless of what might happen around me. In the meantime, I’ll keep walking alongside my neighbors as we discover God together.