“What is he saying? I wondered as he mumbled under his breath. It was church time, and I had just asked someone to offer prayer. As the person prayed, I heard a soft mutter coming from the other side of the circle. I peeked toward where the sound was coming from and saw Sloat, head bowed, eyes closed and hands pressed together pointing heavenward. As his lips moved, I could make out the occasional word for Jesus in his native Pnong tongue. He was praying.

In Pnong culture, it is not unusual during spirit ceremonies for the participants to mutter prayers to the spirits under their breath. Was Sloat still stuck in this tradition of muttering prayers to the spirits? No, obviously not, since his words were directed to Jesus. But was he using a traditional form of communicating with the supernatural? Apparently.

As cross-cultural missionaries, often it can be difficult for us to navigate the various actions of new believers and the meanings behind those actions. Working through what is appropriate and what is a mingling of truth and error can be challenging. At least one role of the missionary is to help local believers think through what they do from a biblical perspective. Ultimately, we are not here to dictate to new believers what they should or should not do but to coach them toward a lifestyle that revolves around scripture and a biblical worldview. I don’t have all of the answers, but I know that God does, and He is working in Sloat’s life.

A few weeks ago, I asked Sloat to teach Sabbath School for me. After he skillfully led the group through the story of Daniel 5, I encouraged him for doing a great job. His eyes shone. It was as if it was beginning to dawn on him that God can use him and has a plan for him better than he can imagine.

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