The Good Wangai – A Modern Parable
(Editor’s note: This is part 2 of selections from chapter 1 of Thayer’s newest book God’s Mission Begins, Volume 1: Genesis and Exodus. Thayer is working in Eswatini, Africa, writing a series of books specifically for use in Bible colleges across Africa in language appropriately accessible and applicable in the African context. As part of the teaching content, Thayer writes “a number of narratives inserted in the text to help the reader see how the biblical teaching applies in Africa today.” Thayer’s book is available for purchase online in paperback and Kindle format at very modest cost. May we all pray God will use Thayer’s work to equip and empower churches in Africa in their important mission and ministry work with Him.)
It was a hot and windy day. It seemed that it was always hot and windy. There had not been any rain for a long time. Joseph was beginning to fear that his crop would be a failure as it had been last year, and the year before. Another year without a good crop would finish things for Joseph and his family. He could not understand why this was happening to him. Everyone was having difficulty because of the drought. But most of the people did not have it as bad as Joseph. Could it be that someone was using Juju against him? That must be the problem! Joseph’s crop was failing because of someone. He must find out who.
Ofon lived near Joseph. Ofon was also concerned about the rains. He had worked very hard on his farm. Ofon did not just depend on hard work. He also made all the right sacrifices. He could not understand why the rains were being withheld again. Maybe it was a mistake to come to this place. It had long been a disputed area between the tribes. Maybe the Wangai were right. Maybe this was their land. Maybe Ofon’s ancestors had no power to help him in this place. Maybe the rain god of his tribe, the Izupto, had no power here.
As Ofon thought on this he realised that the ancestors could not be the whole problem. Many of the Wangai were having trouble also. In fact, most of them were having more trouble than he. Evidently the ancestors and gods of the Wangai could not control the rain in this area either. So, this land must belong to the Izupto. Maybe the ancestors were angry because there were so many Wangai in the area. Maybe that was why the rains did not come.
Whatever caused the lack of rain, Ofon was glad that he had not cut down all the trees when he cleared the land. He had intended to do so, but he became too busy and did not cut down some of the bigger ones. He thought that this must have pleased the ancestors or the god of the earth, for he saw that the crops near the trees seemed to be doing better. Maybe there was a spirit in the trees that was helping him. Maybe he should thank the spirit in the trees for the little crop he was having.
Ofon was thinking about this when he heard a noise. Many people were coming toward his farm. Most were young men. Some seemed to be drunk. They were shouting and waving weapons. Most of them had sticks or clubs. A few had grass knives. Some of them were trying to sing a Wangai war song, but mostly they just seemed to be in confusion. Ofon could not understand why they would be coming to see him. He saw his neighbour, Joseph, at the front of the crowd. Ofon started to greet Joseph, but he noticed that Joseph looked angry.
When the young men came near Ofon’s hut they began to destroy his property. They kicked over his cooking pot, smashed his radio, and one of them tried to set fire to his hut. Ofon tried to stop them but there were too many. Ofon struggled with them and asked them why they were treating him like this. They answered with curses and blows. Many of them were beating him now. Ofon fell to the ground. He was sure that he would die. He saw Joseph lift a club to hit him, but suddenly everyone stopped.
An old Wangai man stepped over Ofon where he was lying on the ground. The old man looked right at Joseph and demanded to know the reason for this violence. Ofon remembered who this old man was. He was Onfang. Two years ago, when the village chose a new chief some people thought that Onfang should be chief. Everyone trusted Onfang’s judgment. They all knew that he was an honest man, but no one mentioned his name when the village met to choose the chief. Ofon wondered why. Later he had heard Joseph say that Onfang refused to offer sacrifices to the ancestors. They would not have a chief who did not respect the ancestors. Onfang refused to sacrifice because he was a Christian. “But we are all Christians,” Joseph had said. “We are Christians and still sacrifice. Onfang should also.”
Ofon knew that Joseph and Onfang attended the same church. He could not understand how two people could attend the same church and be so different.
Joseph told Onfang that they were driving Ofon from the village because he had brought a curse. Joseph had learned from an African doctor that the reason his crops were failing was that Ofon had cursed him. Joseph could not afford to counteract the curse, and he was angry that this worthless Izupto would cause him trouble. He wanted to drive him away.
All this talk made the young men angry. They wanted action, not words. One who had been drinking much shouted, “Out of the way old man or we will kill you too!” Onfang did not even turn his head. He did not speak loudly, but Ofon heard what he said to Joseph. Onfang said, “Joseph, if these men kill Ofon they will have to kill me too. And our blood will be on your head.”
Joseph did not move at first. He did not reply. Joseph stood looking at Onfang. Then Joseph looked down at Ofon and said, “You better leave. You are not a Wangai. You do not belong here.” Then Joseph turned and began to walk away. Others soon followed. Many continued to curse Ofon and to make threats. A few of the ones who were very drunk had to be led away by their friends.
When they were all gone Onfang knelt beside Ofon. Ofon sat up and looked around. His hut was burned. Most of his clothes and other properties destroyed. His crop was still there, but how would he be able to stay until time to harvest? He had no hut, and everyone was making threats.
Onfang seemed to know what Ofon was thinking. Onfang said, “You will stay at my house until your hut can be rebuilt. It is not far from my house to your farm. You will be able to look after it until the crop is ready.”
Ofon had been surprised that a Wangai man had protected him from the mob. Now he was even more surprised. Onfang led Ofon home. Onfang told his wife to get Ofon something to eat. Then Onfang left. He went to talk with the village head. He reminded him of his duty to protect everyone in the village. Onfang also went to meet with the church leaders. He told the church elders of what had happened and of Joseph’s part in the violence. Then Onfang returned home.
Ofon was beginning to recover from the shock. He wanted to ask Onfang why he was so willing to help him. Ofon had seen people being kind to a person from another tribe before, but he had never seen anyone risk their own life the way Onfang had risked his life today.
As it grew dark Ofon began to worry. Would the mob come again? Would Joseph put a curse on him? Would evil spirits trouble him in the night?
Onfang told Ofon to lie down and sleep in peace. “Tomorrow,” Onfang said, “the church elders will send for Joseph. It will not be long until this matter will be put away. Joseph has not been a very faithful Christian for a long time. Now that he has done this, we will be able to talk to him and show him his wrong.” Ofon was still afraid, but he was also very tired. Soon he was asleep.
The next day Joseph came to Onfang’s house just as breakfast was finished. He said that the church elders had sent him to learn from Onfang what God’s will was for him and why he was wrong to attack Ofon.
Onfang asked both Joseph and Ofon to sit down under a big tree. Onfang brought his chair and his Bible from the house and sat with them.
Onfang began by reading Deuteronomy 18:10–11. “Let no one be found among you who sacrifices his son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead.” “You are wrong Joseph,” Onfang said, “because you went to the African doctor to find the source of your problem. When a Christian needs to know why he is having trouble he should turn to God in prayer, and to God’s people, his fellow Christians. A Christian must never go to doctors who call on the dead. The Bible forbids this because it may be Satan who speaks through these people. You turned to violence against Ofon because you took advice from the devil.”
Then Onfang turned the pages in his Bible and read again from Exodus 23:9. “Do not oppress an alien; you yourselves know how it feels to be aliens, because you were aliens in Egypt. “You were also wrong,” Onfang said, “because you tried to oppress a man who was defenceless. Ofon was from another tribe, he was living as an alien among us, so you thought that you could mistreat him and no one would care. Well God cares, and so do I.” Onfang began to show Joseph other passages that forbid us to mistreat strangers to our area. There were many of them. Leviticus 19:34 said, “The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself, for you were aliens in Egypt. I am the LORD your God.” Onfang also read from Leviticus 23:22; Deuteronomy 10:17–19; Psalm 94:6; Jeremiah 7:6; and Zechariah 7:10. Onfang finished these readings with Luke 10:25–37, the story of the Good Samaritan.
Onfang looked at Joseph and asked, “Joseph, were you behaving as a Christian when you led an attack on Ofon?” Joseph did not even answer.
Onfang went on to read from Genesis 1:26 “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.'” Onfang also read from Genesis 9:6. “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made man.” Onfang said, “Joseph, if you had caused Ofon to die you would have been killing not only Ofon but the image of God. Our ancestors killed the Izupto because they did not know that all people are made in the image of God. But you, Joseph, as a Christian, should have known this. What you did was very terrible.”
There was silence for a long time. Finally Joseph began to speak. “I know, he said, “that what I did was wrong. But I had to find out what was causing my crops to fail. My family is in big trouble. Our crops get smaller every year. But Ofon’s crop looks good compared to mine. I think he must be using something to make my crop fail while his continues to grow.”
Onfang did not speak. He looked very sad. So Ofon spoke instead.
“No Joseph,” Ofon said, “I have not done anything against you. My crops also are in trouble, all except those near the trees I did not cut down. I think that there must be a spirit in the trees that is pleased that I did not clear all the trees from my land. That must be why I have some crop. Maybe if you had some trees also your crops would do better.”
Now Onfang looked incredibly sad, almost angry. “Enough of this foolishness,” he said. “Joseph you should be leading Ofon to the Lord and instead you are causing him to worry about the spirits of trees instead of leading him to worship the God that made all the trees.”
“But I prayed to God and still my crops failed,” Joseph cried.
“Yes,” Onfang replied, “you prayed to God. You asked him to make your crops grow, but did you take care of the farm he gave you? You cut down all the trees. This allowed the sun and wind to dry out all the land you were supposed to take care of. You wanted more crop, more money, more food. You did not want to take care of the earth the Lord has made. Did you not hear what the verse I read about the image of God said? God made us in his image and he gave us a job to do. That job is not to rule over the earth just for ourselves; we are to care for it. Genesis 2:15 says that the first man was to “till and keep” the garden God gave him. You wanted to get all you could from the farm God gave you, but you did not want to take care of it. You abused the Lord’s earth. For a time you were not punished, but slowly the result of your sin is hurting you. Ofon is right that the trees help his farm, but he is wrong in thinking that it is a spirit in the trees that helps. It is not a spirit in the trees but the Spirit who created the trees that we should thank. God made the earth so that if we take care of it the earth will take care of us. But if we abuse the earth the Lord has provided it will fail to give us a crop. In his mercy this does not always happen right away, but if we abuse the Lord’s earth it will stop giving us food.”
“Why do you call it the Lord’s earth,” Joseph asked. “Why do you speak of the farm God gave me? I paid for that farm with my own money.”
“The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it; for He founded it upon the seas and established it upon the waters,” (Psalm 24:1). Onfang quoted. Then he asked, “Did you earn the money to buy the farm without breathing God’s air? Did you create the water that nourishes your crops?” There was silence for a moment. Then Onfang continued, “We may buy and sell land, but ultimately it belongs to God, for he made it. Your problem, Joseph, is that you have forgotten about creation. Because you have forgotten creation you think the land is yours and that you may do as you please with it. And your treatment of Ofon also shows that you have forgotten that the same God who created the Wangai also created the Izupto. Until you learn that God is the creator of all the earth and all the people, you will not understand what it means to be a Christian.”