June 2, 2015

Leading Cannibals, Polygamists, and Naked People to Jesus

Post by Brittany Tedesco

 Bayani Leyson holds the sword of a Muslim village chief he led to the Lord in the Philippines.

If you led a cannibal to Christ, what might be the first thing you'd tell him to change about his lifestyle?

For Bayani Leyson, a native ministry leader in the Philippines, this isn't a hypothetical question.

He ministers to some of the scariest people on earth, including Islamic terrorists, members of the communist New People's Army, and cannibalistic tribes who live in jungles.

And guess what? He's led people from each of these categories to the Lord. He even planted a church among the Ilongot people, a fierce tribe of headhunters. And, no, I don't mean personnel recruiters.

I just perused photos of Leyson holding a medieval-looking sword that a Muslim village chief relinquished to him after he led the chief to Christ.

During his recent visit to Christian Aid Mission, Leyson shared the details of some of his latest work—including among the cannibals.

The Aeta tribe, he explained to us, uses bows and arrows to hunt people, whom they eat. And while my jaw dropped open, Leyson spoke matter-of-factly about the church he'd planted among them.

The two wives of a village chief in Myanmar. Many native missionaries work in areas where polygamy is a common practice.

"We're teaching them how to grow vegetables and how to fish," Leyson said. That way, they won't eat human organs.

I later thought about Leyon's approach. He didn't chastise them for eating other humans. He didn't act as though they were dirty, rotten sinners. He's discipling them in the Word of God. Patiently.

Leyson shows them from the Bible where it says "thou shalt not kill," which takes care of the whole people-eating issue. At the same time, he teaches them a better way. They're learning agriculture. They're making a transition from their old way to a new way—but it's happening gradually.

Many of the native missionaries helped by Christian Aid Mission work among cultures where polygamy is an accepted, common practice.

I often wondered what missionaries do after leading a polygamist to Jesus. Tell them to just get rid of all of their wives except for one? And how do they decide which one? How awkward.

James Cuffee, a native ministry leader in Liberia, shares the gospel with polygamists. He doesn't get flustered by their lifestyle because he trusts the Holy Spirit's sanctifying work in the life of a true follower of Jesus.

"I never force anyone to give up their wives after they become a Christian," he said. "I teach them gently with Scripture. God will show them."

During a recent visit to Christian Aid Mission, Cuffee told us the story of a man with three wives whom he led to Christ. The man was thrilled to belong to Jesus and asked to serve as a deacon in one of the churches Cuffee had started.

Cuffee explained to him that he doesn't allow anyone with multiple wives to serve in church leadership, and then opened God's Word to show him the reason why: "Deacons must be husbands of only one wife, and good managers of their children and their own households." (1 Timothy 3:12 NASB).

When the man asked Cuffee what he should do, Cuffee told him that God would guide him.

Photo credit: CarbonNYC [in SF!] / Foter / CC BY

One of the man's wives was present when Cuffee opened the Scriptures. Through the story of Adam and Eve—how God created one woman for one man—she realized that her situation wasn't ideal, and requested to return to her own tribe.

Two years later, another of his wives expressed that she felt he loved his other wife more than her and left to return to her tribe.

The man was then able to become a deacon. He didn't have to send his wives away, and neither did Cuffee.

The same Holy Spirit at work in my life, convicting me of gossip or being judgmental, is at work in every believer's life, whether he starts out as a cannibal or a polygamist. Ministry leaders supported by Christian Aid are mature enough to realize that the Holy Spirit's work, in conjunction with God's Word, is more than sufficient to transform the most "shocking" sinner into someone who increasingly looks like Jesus.

Are there certain sins that you used to engage in—perhaps were even blind to—that no longer entice you or control you?

Did this happen because you tried to "do better," or because someone wagged their finger at you? Or is it happening gradually... as you drink in God's Word and just behold the beauty of Jesus Christ? Has His light melted away any dark, decaying places in your heart and life? And did you even realize the process was taking place, until later?

During a bible study I attend, my pastor told the story of a woman with a history of sexual promiscuity who accepted Jesus as Savior and started attending the church. Much to the shock of the congregation, the woman would show up at church in, well, the only clothes she owned—which happened to be highly revealing. "Body parts were practically hanging out," the pastor said.

Several women were concerned she was a "stumbling block" to the men in attendance, and would the pastor please say something to her?

No doubt her attire wasn't ideal for Sunday service, but our pastor wisely understood that this would change as she grew in faith and maturity. Love and discipleship, not condemnation, was the right prescription. And, in a little while, she began to dress more modestly.

Many of the last unreached tribes on earth live primitively. Some don't even wear clothes. Imagine pastoring an entire church of naked people.

It's what several Christian Aid Mission-supported ministry leaders are doing right now.

A man from the Auca (or Waodani) tribe in Ecuador.

Bayani Leyson in the Philippines has tried to offer clothes to the members of one of the tribal churches he planted, but they don't quite get the concept of clothing yet.

He was successful in having them put on clothes for a recent church service... and then watched as they immediately stripped down afterward, waving the shirts above their heads like lassos and dragging the pants on the ground behind them.

After her husband was martyred by the Auca Indians in Ecuador, Elisabeth Elliot lived among the Aucas to continue the work he'd started.

The Auca men wore nothing more than a G-string. The Auca women wore even less: a string around their waist called a "kumi."

According to the book Auca on the Cononaco: Indians of the Ecuadorian Rain Forest, "The Auca have their own sense of modesty and their own etiquette regarding their nakedness. Without their kumi they do not feel 'dressed,' and they do not take it off even to bathe in the river."

Elliot discovered that the Auca viewed the neighboring tribe as terribly immodest because they didn't wear strings.

She began to question her notions of modesty and her cultural ideas about Christianity. Most importantly, she didn't freak out over the Aucas' nakedness or try to force them to wear clothing. She loved them.

I don't know how transformation works. It's a mysterious and wondrous thing that takes place in the life of a born again believer. But every born again believer starts out as a newborn.

Praise God for mature Christian Aid Mission-supported native missionaries who take gentle care of these newborns. Instead of judging and freaking out, they nurture and make disciples. And they trust God, who promises to finish the good work He started in us—including cannibals, polygamists, and naked folks.

Ajith - posted June 11, 2015
Thank and praise our Lord and savior Jesus Christ for the wonderfull work , May Lord richly bless work of these missionaries with all the blessings of heaven and earth
Jennifer - posted June 08, 2015
When Jesus becomes the living word in someone's life, it cannot be ignored! Thank you for being courageous to minister with faith and patience. I repent now for not praying and thanking god for others ministering within these environments. I have a lot to be thankful for after reading this blog!
Kevin - posted June 08, 2015
Incredible article! Great lessons for us to learn about how to minister to those around us who live a different lifestyle, then come to know Jesus. The Spirit will transform. Thank you!
Jack - posted June 08, 2015
Ruth - posted June 08, 2015
What a great article, loved it! It made me laugh, I found it interesting and it convicted me of the judgmental attitude I often have toward people. I also found it quite fascinating, as I've never been exposed to complete nakedness, polygamy or cannibalism, even though I was raised on the mission field. Thanks for a great read!
Joyce - posted June 08, 2015
I thank God for your faithfulness to tell others about His love. You must teach about the commandments, especially no. 4 regarding sabbath day. I'd love to discuss this with You. Would this be possible?
Annette - posted June 08, 2015