Imagine you’re a missionary having just arrived in your country of service. The first weekend, eight native tribes from throughout the nation join for an annual gathering, so of course you attend.
It’s the beginning of your work, a start to exploring the culture and qualities of this highly unreached people group to which you’ve been sent.The focus of this annual gathering is the great contest between tribes. Tribal “champions” are selected from each village to compete against the others, and feats of strength, skill, and endurance last all weekend. Hundreds of others from the tribes watch these contests, which have drawn together groups that rarely – if ever – interact otherwise.
You first notice that each village promotes their own tribal identity with great fervor, and the warriors fight valiantly under these tribal banners. Many tribes, for instance, are named for animals local to the tribes’ areas or known for their ferocity. Others have chosen to honor great warriors in their names – naval battle leaders, fighters of wild bulls, even holy men of renown. One tribe is known simply for its topography, with a name descriptive of the village’s placement atop a large hill.
Dancers are out in force, as are costumes, musical instruments, food, drink, wagers, merchants, and religious invocations. The chiefs of the tribes are there, sitting right next to the youngest from their villages. Healers stand by, though actual bloodshed in these contests is minimal.
As you continue to watch during this weekend, however, you begin to notice traits beyond the extensive festivity and pageantry. For instance, you notice each of the cardinal virtues celebrated here, even in these “secular” competitions.
Prudence (of sorts) is there, igniting with strategy the contestants and, even moreso, those who counsel them in the battles. Temperance, too, reigns, as endurance and skill require of the warriors discipline and self-control – both in these contests and in the months leading to them. Justice can be found in the strict – sometimes even tedious – rules of these contests. And Fortitude (courage) is utmost, as tribespeople cheer their champions to lengths beyond their normal abilities.
You continue to watch with piqued interest, trying not to let your enjoyment crowd out your examination. (These contests are, after all, pretty fun to watch.)
You are unable to deny the passion here – among warriors and watchers alike. Some fighters win, and the elation is profound. Some lose, and the tribe weeps together – with an unbridled bitterness that might be shocking, if not for the messy passion you have seen displayed all throughout these contests. There are rather transcendent, singular shining moments when Davids take down Goliaths, when boys become men for a few crucial minutes, when weakness is turned to strength so opposing armies might be put to flight.
If this is your first exposure, you might walk away from this first weekend in your new home thinking a few things about this people group, to whom you have been called for Christ:
- The passion in this people-group’s tribes has yet to be tamed. There is a grit here, a rowdiness, a “messiness,” and a definite youthfulness that are even more attractive than in many places to which you could have been called. You see it on the field of battle, certainly, but you also see it in the dancers, the battle-leaders, the musicians, and the crowds.
- The bonds brought about by tribal “spirit” are not frivolous. The connections and community among these people will help the Holy Spirit’s work to spread between them.
- Creativity abounds within this people-group, as does simple fun. Channeled for the Kingdom of God, this same brilliance could impact not only the natives’ nation but the entire world, while glorifying God by using these wonderful gifts.
- This people group is not short on energy, either – another opportunity to maximize fruit for Christ. If God allows you to touch even a segment of these vibrant people, you realize, their impact on each other and beyond their own nation could be immeasurable – even in a short period of time.
- One of your biggest temptations will be simply enjoying these natives “too much.” While there will certainly be the same sorrows and hardships that come with any missionary activity, the field to which you have been called is a unique adventure and a blessing indeed.
- As you leave that weekend, then, you might find yourself a little humbled. This is an amazing people you do not “deserve” to spend even the next year with, let alone a longer stint. This will be no easy mission (as though any missionary activity is ever easy); they are a distracted people at times, and the blessings they possess (as noticed across your weekend) will stand in their way of feeling a need for Christ. Surely you will find other roadblocks, as well. Still… who are you, that God has called you to such an amazing people-group? (I Chron. 17:16)
And all the “madness,” the virtue, the passion, and the valor here on the field of play reflects the nature of the villages from which these tribespeople have come.
It’s a tiny little window into Collegiate Ministry. This is our beautiful mission field, and it’s far more than 64.
Written (while watching the NCAA Tournament) from Moscow, Idaho