My African friends in the bush country of Mali love proverbs. They have one for just about anything that they face in life. One of my favorites is quite simple: “No matter how long a log floats in the river, it never becomes a crocodile.” So I thought, “Why not use the proverbs to teach the Bible?” We had just finished a “feast” celebrating our five years working in the village. We gathered the crowd to share the Gospel.
I reminded them of their proverb. I asked, “What does that mean?” They told me that it meant a person cannot be or become something that they are not. They had often told me the only way to heaven was on the road of righteousness, a very Muslim concept as well as Christian. So I asked, “How can a sinful man become righteous?”
I asked, “If I leave a log in the river for 100 years, can it become a crocodile?” “No,” came the chorus of responses. “If I carve the log to look like a crocodile, and carry it to the witch doctor, can he make it a crocodile?” “No,” the chorus came again. “So there is absolutely no way for a log to be changed into a crocodile?” I asked. “No way.” came the response.
I was holding a large and straight stick in my hand. “If I throw this on the ground, can it become a snake.” “No” came the chorus of voices again. “Are you absolutely sure,” I asked. “Yes, we are sure.”
“You have said to me that a person can never become something they are not. That, is what the Proverb means, you said. If God requires righteousness to get into heaven, we have a problem. We cannot become what we are not.’ “Sine,(a leader) stand up here and help me,” I asked. He stood beside me. I turned him sideways, as I turned sideways and stuck out my belly. “Is there anything different about us,” I asked. “He is fit-te-nay, fit-te-nay.'”, which loosely translates, “a little skinny butt.” they said, “You are ‘billy,billy,bah.” (That translates big and fat.)
“Can Sine ever become ‘billy,billy,bah?” I asked. “If you will feed him,” they said. I used some other silly comparisons they gave. Then finally one said, “He is black, and you are white.” “Can I ever become a black man, or he a white man?” “No” they all declared. “In the same way,” I said, “it is impossible for a sinner to transform into a righteous person.”
“I want to tell you a story. This is a story that comes from the Word of God. It is true. There was a prophet named Moses who stood before Pharaoh, the king of Egypt one day, many, many years ago. Egypt had held the people of God in slavery, making the work hard and diligently. God’s people had cried out to God for help, and God sent Moses to deliver them. Moses said to Pharaoh, ‘Let the people go.’ When Pharaoh asked for a sign, Moses too the shepherd’s staff in his hand and threw it down, and it became a snake, just as God had promised. Then Moses picked it up by the tail and it became a stick again.”
The smiles on their faces told me they were getting it. “Only God can do that,” one declared. Quickly I brought them to this place, “Only God can transform a sinner into a righteous man.” And I shared the story of Jesus. “Therefore if any person be in Christ, he is a new creation,” the Bible says.
I have given the Reader’s Digest version of this event. But it illustrates that an average church person without language skills and huge resources can communicate cross culturally with a little planning and effort. You can do this. Your church can do this. I can help you.