“Everyone is talking about how you welcomed us and how you turned away from idols to serve the true and living God.” 1 Thessalonians 1:9 (CEV).
“What is God saying to you in this chapter?” I asked Jaco, my Canela friend and best translation helper. His answer astounded me.
He had told me a few days before that he had recently started following Jesus. Wow! The first one! I thought. Now I was having the first “How to Have Morning Devotions” lesson with this young brother in Jesus.
I had picked out a couple of meaningful statements from 1st Thessalonians 1 and jotted them down to “prime the pump” in case Jaco needed some suggestions.
After he read the first chapter of Paul’s letter out loud, I asked, “What is God saying to you in this chapter?”
“Oh, the idea in verse nine, of course!” he replied. “That’s the best verse in the whole chapter!”
What? I hadn’t even noticed anything in verse nine; it sure wasn’t on my “prime the pump” list of ideas!
“Tell me why this is the best verse,” I said.
Jaco went on to explain, “Teacher Paul is happy with those Jesus followers in Thessalonica because they turned away from the dead fake gods to serve our living Father in the Sky!”
“Yes, that’s nice,” I said. “But what about it?” I still hadn’t caught on.
“Look, they are just like me!” Jaco said. “All my life I have been afraid of offending the ghosts of our dead ancestors. But then I turned away from the spirits of dead beings. I turned toward our Father who is alive. He adopted me into His family. I don’t need to concern myself with dead things anymore. Instead, I am following Jesus who died for me and came to life again to prove that He is the Son of the living Father in the Sky!”
Of course! How could I have been so dumb? I knew that the Canelas, in accordance with their community’s traditional religion, lived in fear of the malevolent ghosts of the dead, constantly seeking to placate them by practicing age-old ceremonies and rituals. Naturally Jaco would identify fully with those Christians in Thessalonica.
It was as if God Himself were teaching me, “My Holy Spirit is well able to teach young Canela believers directly from my Word,” I heard him telling me. “You and Jo just keep on working with them to translate my Word into their language and teach them to read it. I’ll take it from there.”
We did. And He did. There is now a strong and growing church among the Canela.
At times we can become discouraged as we teach people and pray for them to turn toward God. But this experience has shown Jo and me that if we give them God’s Word, encourage them to read it, and pray for them, God will do the rest.