by Levi Keidel
My Christian Walk Alienates Many
Thus I broke my ties with the people of Tshiyamba. I crossed the river that divided me from their ways, and they took the dugout boat home with them.
This is no light affair. Our tribal people are accustomed to depending upon one another for everything they need. When one cuts himself off from them, who remains for him to depend on? My people shook their heads and said, “There are too many hazards on such a path; he is bound to stumble.”
But in my seeing it, the path ahead of me was bright and plain. God was giving me the affirmation in my heart that what I had done pleased Him. Whenever a person must make a choice, and he pledges in his heart to choose and follow what is right, he will find courage to surmount all obstacles, and afterward, he will be recompensed with joy.
I had already lived away from home for many years; it was not an overwhelming problem for me. But it was not thus with Nyembe. She had always lived in the village. Any place beyond our tribal land was foreign to her. For the things she needed, she had always trusted friends and relatives; people close to her, whom she knew could be relied upon. But now, for some reason surpassing comprehension, she chose to be abandoned by those she had always trusted, and to tie herself to a strange man whose body was scarred with his evil, and whose hands were red with a dead person's blood, to go anywhere in the world he led her. Truly, she had a heart of great courage and trust.
This meant that we had to start a new way of living. We could no longer rely upon our clan mates. The only one left to rely upon was our Father in heaven.
I was indebted to Nyembe. The obligation now caught me to prove to her that I loved her and meant her no harm, that our Father could be relied upon to bring us the things we needed, and that those who are members of His tribe have a new set of laws they must follow. During the first years of our marriage, we learned together the blessings and responsibilities of this new life.
Nyembe, two small children of one of her relatives, and I began the return journey to Luebo. Only a few days remained for class to begin. We arrived at the train station. I went to the ticket window.
“Give me four tickets - two for grown-ups; two for children.”
“Do you have a path letter?”
“What kind of path letter?”
“No one can get onto the train for such a journey without a letter of authorization from the government man. Next person.”
The words shattered my hopes like a hammer striking a clay pot. In what way could I possibly get such a letter? Government authorities see people only at certain hours. One stands in line a long time to see them. Even if I waited to see one, he would probably say, “Your name is not on the census-list of people living here. Who are you?” That would lead to other matters which would mix up things worse. But I had to board the train. What would happen if I did not arrive at Luebo in time for the beginning of class?
“They're asking for a path letter,” I told Nyembe and the children. “I have no way of getting it. In the middle of battle, all the warriors rely upon their champion. We're not going to eat anything tonight. We'll have to rely upon God alone to arrange this path letter business.”
We walked to a nearby village to find a place to sleep. That night I went outside to be alone. “Father, you see the trouble we're having,” I prayed. “I'm Your bond slave. I'm not giving allegiance to anyone other than You. Now I need to begin this journey so that I can learn how to do the work You've called me to do. If long time ago in Babylon You closed the mouths of the lions for Your servant Daniel, then tomorrow morning close the mouths of those clerks in the ticket office so they don't trouble me any further about a path letter. When they see my face, make them give us tickets.”
That night we slept with hunger.
Early next morning we returned to the station. I showed my face at the ticket window, and asked to buy tickets.
“Do you have a path letter?”
“I am a stranger from Luebo; I've only come to get my wife and these children.”
He began writing out our tickets. “Jehovah be praised forever!” my insides shouted. I wanted to split for joy. Nyembe and the children were watching. When I showed them the tickets, they said, “Truly truly, the God you worship does amazing things.”
We arrived at Luebo. During our first days there, Nyembe and I spoke our vows of marriage to each other before God in the big temple on the mission station. Those in charge of the Bible School showed us to one of the small houses for students, which was to be our home. I began my studies.
People of all tribes of earth understand the happiness of a man and woman who have just entered marriage. But I did not want my giving myself to happiness with my wife to compete with my commitment to God. In the past, the pleasures of my body had been a big trap to me; I would not allow them to overpower me and cause me to stumble again. I explained to Nyembe.
“I know what my responsibility is to you as my wife; I don't want you to think that I am neglecting it. At the same time, there is nothing I want more than for God to speak to me a message. He must find the way to make me into the kind of worker He hopes for me to be. When Samuel slept in the temple at Shilo, God sent him a message. I want to be like Samuel. At nighttime when others go to bed, I want to go stay in the temple. Jesus said, 'If anybody wants to be my disciple, let him deny himself and follow me.' Let's test His words and see what He'll do for us.”
“Let it be as you wish,” she said. “Even if you're not at home. I'll know what you are doing.”
Thus I began a custom which I followed almost every night during the two and one-half years I went to school. At the time of night when people stop walking around and go to their homes, I went to the temple of God.
While the hours passed, I knelt at a bench, or sat and bowed my head in worship. I told God, “I don't have a thing to bring in my hands to offer You. I beg You to accept me, just the way I am here; only give me the joy of working for You. You found me when my imprisonment was severe. My own sins had put me there. Now I offer myself to You; take me and put me into the same kind of imprisonment for You.”
I would stay there until my heart felt at peace. Sometimes I slept there. If people want an explanation for the power with which I have preached and taught the Word of God up to this moment, it is because of those nights when I waited before God in His temple.
When we arrived at Luebo, I continued the custom of working for my wife. The two children would help me. I brought her firewood from the forest. I brought her greens from the garden. I took cassava and corn to the mill to grind. She did the cooking.
People don't like a way of doing things which upsets their customs. They began to gossip about me, saying the same things elders in my home village had said.
Because of the work I did for my wife, I was often with women. Perhaps this custom stirred up trouble in their own homes; perhaps they were jealous of Nyembe's good fortune; perhaps they were accusing their husbands of heartlessness because they had to work while she rested, and their husbands would not change. They began to offend me to my face. They called me every kind of name their minds could create which would kindle my wrath and weaken my heart. Then they began offending Nyembe.
“When you work for me while I sit idle, you make me feel ashamed,” she said once. “They say I'm lazy; I am one in value with a dead post sitting in the yard all the time.”
“We no longer have a debt to the traditions of an earthly tribe. We now are giving all of our allegiance to another Chief. We belong to His tribe. It is no longer our duty to do what makes us happy, or to do what makes other people happy. It is our duty to do what makes our Chief happy; When we know what pleases Him, we do it with courage, paying no attention to how we feel or to what persons say. Jesus said that if we are offended for His name, we are to rejoice; He'll recompense us greatly. If we have really stuck ourselves to Christ, then what people say doesn't hurt us; it hurts Christ. The elders used to say, 'Don't feel badly if they laugh at you; that's proof you are alive. Feel badly if they are mourning.'
“People will talk. Attach no value to what they say. Sit quietly and be at peace. You cook. You will bear and raise children. I'm going to keep on working for you because when I do thus, I'm finishing my vow; I know I'm pleasing God. I plan to keep right on doing it until I die.”
The tramping of many feet smooths the path. So, after the passing of days, people began to show us compassion. When the mill owner looked at the long line of persons waiting to grind their grain or cassava, and saw only one person wearing pants among all those women, he would call me and grind my grain so I could leave right away. When no ill came that men could blame me for, they began saying, “Truly, he must be doing it because he is a child of God.” After a whole year passed, women began saying, “Let's stop offending him; it doesn't do any good; that must just be the way he is.”
When we were married about a year, Nyembe gave birth to a girl; but during those months she had been anemic. Now at childbirth, she came to the edge of death. I pleaded with my Father, “The way I once abused my powers of bringing birth, I marvel to see this little child. You have been merciful. Now, if You see it is good to leave me alone with it and to take its mother, I won't accuse You of doing wrong. But we're a long way from home. My people say, 'Your in-laws measure your worth by the promises you keep.' If word reaches Nyembe's mother that she has died, her mother will say, 'It's just as I said; she didn't die as all people die; that man delivered her over to the white people-eaters.' I will become a liar in their eyes, and Your name will be dishonored. And by what means will I ever find another woman who will live with me? If You are willing, look upon us in our trouble and have mercy. Raise my wife to life, so that she can go home and sit face-to-face with her mother again, and my promises about You will be affirmed.”
A few hours passed. Nyembe woke up and said, “My sickness has subsided.” During the weeks that followed, missionaries would give me fresh meat to prepare for her. Her strength returned.
When my days of studying were about finished, our daughter became ill. The doctor said she had intestinal worms. One morning they gave her medicine. She became terribly ill. At noon she died. She was eighteen months old. Nyembe and I broke into mourning.
Then in my heart I saw the eyes of Jesus looking at me with much love. I remembered my promise while in prison: “If You take me out of these chains, whatever appears before me in the days ahead that You want to claim, it is Yours.” I continued with sadness; but no longer did I feel the need to weep.
The next day was Sunday. I did not sit in a loin cloth with ashes on my head as mourners ordinarily do. I put on my good clothes. We buried the child. Then, like other people, I went to the temple of God to worship.
People were perplexed. “His child died yesterday; and today he goes to church?” they asked each other.
“That child's death was not a matter of today,” I replied. “The day of her death was already fixed before she was ever born.”
In the years since then, Nyembe has borne me nine children, one after another. All are living.
Thus during our time at Luebo, Nyembe and I learned together the laws and traditions of our Lord; we learned the happinesses and obligations of being members of His tribe. Nyembe entrusted herself to me in all that happened. My heart was comforted. God had given me a loyal helpmate for His work. When she was baptized, we named her “Ruth”; she was willing to forsake her mother and leave her home village to go with a stranger to a land she had never seen.
My studies ended in June 1956. Believers in the river-port city of Ilebo asked me to come be their evangelist-teacher. With great joy, I began the work of God; and with perseverance, I fought the war of the Christian.
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