Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Eternity in Their Hearts

In his book Eternity in Their Hearts, Christian anthropologist Don Richardson asks, "Has the God who prepared the gospel for all peoples also prepared all peoples for the gospel?" His answer is a resounding yes, and he goes on to state that "more than 90 percent of this world's folk religions acknowledge at least the existence of God. Some even anticipate His redeeming concern for mankind."

Enga fits right into that pattern. Although Engans have a deep-rooted fear of the spiritual world (as we explored in our last two newsletters), traditional Enga culture believes in a male creator God named Aitawe. According to Enga tradition, Aitawe is symbolized by the sun and inhabits the upper realm of the heavens, controlling all aspects of the universe. He is considered to be benevolent and kind but nonetheless capable of stubbornness and wrath. Although he is interested in the lives of people, he does not often intervene and is therefore viewed as distant.

Along with the assistance of the moon, Aitawe created the sky beings. The sky beings live lives just like normal Engans in that they raise pigs, grow crops, and get married, but they do so without any of the problems and tensions that people encounter on this earth. In fact, they live an abundant life that is in perfect order. And because they drink from the 'water of life', the sky beings are immortal.

Many Enga traditions state that some of the sky beings came down to earth and became the founders of the various tribes. The sky beings who stayed in the heavens above maintained relationships with the sky beings that came to the earth below, particularly to continue providing them with the 'water of life' so that they could maintain their perfect immortal life, free from problems and death. However, when the wives of the sky beings gave birth to children, they fed them with breastmilk instead of the water of life. This caused them to lose the blissful life of immortality, leaving them with the burdensome life of problems and death they now have.

As we read about this traditional Engan worldview, we can't help but notice parallels with the biblical worldview. Just as God created everything and it was good, so too did Aitawe create a good, peaceful existence for the sky beings. And just as Eve rejected the other trees in the Garden of Eden, choosing instead to take from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, so too did the wives of the sky beings forsake the water of life, choosing instead to feed their children with breastmilk. And just as Adam and Eve's decision to eat the forbidden fruit brought sin and death into the world, so too did the decision to feed breastmilk to children bring in death and all the problems that plague Enga society.

God was preparing the Enga people for the gospel long before missionaries ever came.
The traditional Enga worldview is ripe for the gospel of Jesus Christ. Engans know that something is horribly wrong that has taken us from the blissful world of the creator. They understand that we have rejected the water of life that gives us perfect peace and immortal life and exchanged it for the things of this world that lead only to death. But until the good news of the gospel came to them, they did not understand that there was a way to undo what has been done. But as they hear God's Word in their own language, they know that it is possible once again to drink from the water of life.

“If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” – John 7:37 (ESV)

I would like to acknowledge and thank Paul Brennan for his anthropological research among the Enga people, which has proven to be quite valuable in understanding the traditional Engan worldview.