Though the clouds hung like a heavy blanket over the mountain valley that morning, hope was alive in the hearts of the missionaries. This wasn’t some random hope set on temporal things, like the changing of the weather. Their hope was set on the Lord of the harvest, knowing that His light could pierce through the gloom that kept the Menya people in darkness.
For too long, a fog of misunderstanding, false doctrine and belief in any other god than the one true God had hung over the hearts of the Menya people. But over these past weeks, as the missionaries taught foundational, chronological Bible lessons, they saw the haze blocking the true light of the gospel beginning to dissipate.
Today was the day. In the sixth week of teaching, they had come to the Cross. They were going to present the significance of Jesus’ death, burial and glorious resurrection. Today they anticipated presenting truth with crystal clarity in that small village in Papua New Guinea. They anticipated the birth of the Menyan church.
AFTER YEARS OF PREPARATION
This day had been a long time coming. It was preceded by years of preparation. The two missionary couples, Wes and Penny Chappell and Joseph and Elizabeth Osborn, persevered through the joys and trials that come with culture and language acquisition. They created a literacy program and taught the people to read and write. They diligently translated Scripture portions into the Menya language. And they spent months poring over the wording of the foundational, chronological Bible lessons they were now using. They wanted to get it right. They wanted it to communicate God’s message to the Menyan people clearly in their own vernacular, in their heart language.
THE TEACHING BEGAN
And finally, the day had come. The Menya people were arriving at the meeting hall. They knew answers were forthcoming — and some were pretty sure they’d already figured it out.
Among the “some” were Francis and Rita. Joseph remembered an earlier conversation with this couple.
“Before, we had not heard God’s message. We didn’t think about God,” Francis had told him. “We thought, ‘There is no God.’ God doesn’t exist. … We were not fearing God. We were following our own desires. Now, you have come. You and Wes have come. You are teaching us. Now we know that God exists, and we fear Him.”
Francis had told him the Creation story scene by scene. He told Joseph how God created Adam and Eve and placed them in the Garden of Eden, but then Adam and Eve chose to listen to Satan’s lie and sin entered the world.
Then Francis said, “Because of this [Adam and Eve’s sin], they corrupted our nature. We’re done. Now we don’t live rightly. Their corrupted nature is still in us. If we do religious acts or anything else, we don’t become righteous. The reason is that they have already corrupted our very nature.”
There was no doubt that he saw the correlation between their sin and his sin. There was no doubt he recognized its impact on his life. And he wasn’t alone in his understanding. His wife, Rita, was tracking with the lessons equally well.
“My lifestyle is just like what Adam and Eve did,” Rita said. “God is not pleased. … We can’t escape this — our nature. We still have it. Their sinfulness remains with us. We can’t escape it.”
But even then, finding themselves helpless in their sin, it was clear that they knew that hope was coming.
Joseph remembered asking them, “Can we fix this corrupted nature that we have?”
And he loved Rita’s response: “God Himself must fix our nature. Only He can do it.”
THE FOUNDATION WAS LAID
The foundation had been laid. And today was the day. As people arrived for the lesson, the missionary couples mingled among them, greeting them and asking that each one take the time to fill out a “Certificate of Death” and to take it in to the meeting with them.
They asked each person: “Are you a descendant of Adam?”
The consensus was “of course!” They had sat in on all the lessons. They had heard that God created the world, that God created Adam and Eve. They knew we are all descendants of Adam and Eve.
They asked each person: “Do you sin?”
The response was an overwhelming “yes.” Had not sin begun with Adam and Eve? Were the Menyans not descendants of Adam and Eve? And wasn’t it so clear that their lives failed to live up to God’s standards as presented throughout Scripture? There was no doubt in their mind that they were sinners.
As the Menyans responded affirmatively to both questions, affirming their guilt, it followed that a judgment had to be given. For their sentence, the missionaries checked the box for death on their certificates. Then they told them to hold onto their certificate while they listened to the Bible lesson that day.
And then the teaching began. Men and women filled the meeting hall, their children sitting next to them or sprawled across their laps as Wes and Joseph taught them.
SPIRITUAL EYES ARE OPENED
As Wes explained what Jesus had accomplished on the cross, how He took the punishment for sin that they deserved, tears welled up in the eyes of some of the listeners. And then, as Wes read Colossians 2:13-14, things became clear.
“When you were dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our sins, having cancelled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us: and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.”
Jesus had cancelled out the certificate of debt and death against them. And it was by faith alone in Jesus’ finished work on the cross that they could be saved.
“If you are believing that Jesus has paid your debt, you can show that when we are done by sticking your ‘Certificate of Death’ to the cross,” Joseph told them, motioning to the rough-hewn wooden cross that leaned against the wall at the front of the meeting hall.
Wes started to bring the lesson to its conclusion, but Rita wasn’t going to wait any longer. This was the Good News she had been waiting to hear. While Wes was still talking, with a purposeful stride, Rita headed straight for the cross. She didn’t need to be told twice. She pushed her “Certificate of Death” over the protruding nail. God had cancelled her debt, and she knew she was alive with Him.
And others followed. A steady stream of Menyans followed after Rita, sticking their “Certificates of Death” to the cross.
Yes, a milestone really did take place that day. A church was birthed among the Menya people.
Eager to Listen
Before we moved into the Menya [people group], we were warned that their language was one of the dreaded “Angan” languages, regarded as among the most difficult to learn. Over the years of learning, it was common for the locals to say, “You’ll never learn our language.” During that time, they repeatedly questioned our motives and our purpose, regardless of how many times we tried to explain. It wasn’t until we started teaching God’s Word that they began to understand.
During the weeks of lessons, some of the same people who had previously derided us said, “We need to apologize to you. We have been saying you guys are lazy and haven’t being doing anything the whole time you have been living among us. But now we understand what you have been doing. Now we understand why you are here, and we are eager to hear the rest of God’s Word.”
As we got closer and closer to the end of our lessons, when we would explain how God has solved our sin-problem, it wasn’t just the Menyan people’s anticipation that was growing. Our team was incredibly excited to see God’s work bear fruit. And as God’s truth broke through the traditional beliefs, it was thrilling to see the results. Understanding God’s grace for the first time, many of our friends rejoiced in His goodness — and so did we.
By Joseph Osborn
A Month Later
We have been meeting with the new believers for one month now! What a privilege to be here and see some of our neighbours place their faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ. Their excitement and hunger is contagious.
It is so fun to hear the new Christians share their new-found faith in Christ with their relatives and others who did not hear the seven weeks of the Creation through Christ teaching. They are so much more eloquent than we outsiders are.
Thanks for praying. Please continue to pray for boldness and strength for them as some are already experiencing pressure from certain ‘religious’ groups. God is faithful, He will build His church.
By Wes Chappell
Partners, like the Reffners, are making a difference among the Menyan people through their prayers.
Read what they wrote to the Osborns.
Dear Joseph and Elizabeth,
We have been so encouraged (even overwhelmed) to see God move so powerfully among the Menyan people. We are excited to see how God answers prayer. I thought it would be an encouragement to you to hear how this has impacted our family.
On the day you held the first teaching, we began to pray as a family. I printed out each of the profile pics with captions and placed them facedown in a basket on our kitchen table. I explained to the kids that after dinner we would take one profile, read it, pass it around, and then each pray specifically for that person.
There really are very few rules. Take a profile, read it, say what you want to pray, then pray. Truthfully, I thought we would get a lot of generic prayers like “I pray that Francis would get saved.” But that really has not been the case. Most of the time it is something like “I pray that Francis would continue to be a strong leader and would lead the young men to God.” Or as one of them prayed tonight, “I pray that Rita would be able to learn to read the language so that she could read God’s Word.” And they don’t like copying each other. So we end up praying different things for the same person.
It’s been really great to have an opportunity to pray as a family each night. Getting them to learn how to pray specifically started as our main goal but how they are praying has surpassed what we anticipated. And the fact that they aren’t losing steam is encouraging. I get yelled at by the kids when we miss a night.
Erica and I love reading the posts. When we read that Francis was reiterating the story to the young men after your teaching, it clicked. We need to share this with you. That is an answer to one of our prayers! We are praying here and seeing the impact in your posts.