Every Tribe, Every Tongue
About 10 years ago, when Joel Griffin shared a message at his church on Matthew 16:24, he didn’t expect to be challenged to put it into action himself. But that’s exactly what a gentleman in his church did. It was a conversation that would become the catalyst for Joel and his wife Kaleigh to seriously consider serving the Lord in Angola, Africa, which is where they live today, along with their three girls, Cora, Svea and Elysia.
Tell us about the people you minister to?
We live in the eastern interior of Angola in Moxico province in a town called Luau. The people of this region are predominantly of the Chokwe people group, although the Luvale and Umbundu peoples are also represented.
By their own testimony, the Chokwe pride themselves in their history as strong hunters and stubborn warriors who stood up against the Portuguese colonists. In more recent history they have become cultivators. Industry in the region in which we live does not exist, whereas to the north, there is diamond mining and on the coast, there are oil reserves. Merchandise retail and subsistence farming are the principal means of income or survival.
Unemployment is the norm. It is not a stretch to say that we live among some of the poorest on the planet. Of course, there are few folks better off, but the masses live in mud-brick huts (more often unbaked bricks that disintegrate over time in the heavy rains) and work their fields to provide food for their families.
The staple is shema (shē’-muh) which is a paste made from manioc flour; a bit like mashed potatoes but stickier and with a different flavour. Malaria and malnourishment are common health problems that families face here. Access to quality education is very limited.
In general, the people are courageous, tough, and treat us with respect. The fact that we usually receive cordial respect in Angola as evangelical missionaries is an indication of the good testimony and investment by missionaries of bygone decades. The traditional worldview here is shamanistic, rooted in ancestor worship and the fear of witchcraft. While the gospel has been preached in Angola for over a century and many people profess to be Christians, syncretism (mixing of traditional and Biblical beliefs and practices) and nominal Christianity (lip-service only) are rampant.
The traditional worldview here is shamanistic, rooted in ancestor worship and the fear of witchcraft
What were some of the biggest adjustments you had to make when you started living in Angola?
The biggest adjustments we have faced are: isolation from loved ones and civilisation, extremely different language and culture from our own, and the low quality and unreliable supply of communication channels, goods and resources. We have also had to learn to produce and manage the basic utilities of shelter, electricity, sewer systems and water.
What encouragement can you offer to others who are going through isolation or loneliness?
When facing isolation or loneliness, we must lean into the promise that God is with us and that He is not without purpose in His ways and guidance of our lives. It is helpful to enjoy the simple, wholesome pleasures of life, despite being far from home: a good book, a hot cup of coffee or tea in a quiet moment, the beauty of a bird’s song, shade from the sun, popcorn and family movie night, laughter, the innocence of children, good homemade food and, of course, chocolate.
The enemy loves to attack and try to discourage. He tempts us to find escapes that are actually just mirages. The enemy does not want us to find comfort in God, so he baits us with placebos. We must be firmly grounded in the truth and lift the shield of faith.
The enemy loves to attack and try to discourage. He does not want us to find comfort in God, so he baits us with placebos
As humans, we can so easily forget that life has difficulties for everyone everywhere, and that a life free of difficulty does not equate to a life of joy or satisfaction. Rather than dreaming of mirages or imagining what life might be like if we were elsewhere, we must seek to be present in the ‘here and now of God’s sovereign will’ and watching for the entrance of our good Father in our scenario, today. Suffering and difficulty have a way of creating the depth of soul that God loves to see in His children, and they give us the capacity to taste and enjoy more deeply the good gifts of God.
What are the current challenges you face in your mission field?
Our present challenges are similar to the ones we confronted when first entering the country. Education of our children is a challenge. We have chosen to homeschool the girls to ensure their protection and the quality of instruction. This means that they have less social interaction than we would like, although most afternoons, children from the community visit our home and play in our yard.
Another big challenge is to best know how to truly help the poor around us. A true help to the poor is not a band-aid fix; it involves helping someone to leave poverty behind forever. We depend on books and the ideas and experience of others, and the guidance of the Holy Spirit to best know how to help in specific situations. We are always looking for ways to give a ‘hand-up’ out of poverty rather than ‘hand-outs’ to the poor which, in the short-term, ease symptoms of poverty but, in the long-term, only serve to proliferate the oppression of poverty.
What has God been teaching you of late?
Sometimes, we live in fear of what might happen. We can begin to think cynically: “Life is going too well, what kind of tragedy lies around the corner?” This is a very unhealthy mindset but, sometimes, we are guilty of it. The Lord commanded us against this way of thinking when He said, “Do not be anxious about your life” (Matthew 6:25, 34). The defence is to once again come back to who our Father is.
Matthew 6:32 records the words of the Lord Jesus, “Your heavenly Father knows…” The comfort to us in unexpected situations is that our Father knew beforehand it was coming, was sovereign over it in the moment, and is still with us in the aftermath. God knows.
A true help to the poor is not a band-aid fix; it involves helping someone to leave poverty behind forever
The final words of Exodus 2 are pregnant with significance for us just as they were important for Moses, as he was divinely inspired to write the salvation history of his once enslaved people, “…and God knew” (Exodus 2:24-25). Without this one fact, we are desolate. With it we are hopeful; we are hopeful of the deliverance of God even if it does arrive in a way we never could have imagined.
You mentioned that the gospel has been preached in Angola for over a century, yet many are only professing Christians. How do you address these issues as you look to produce genuine followers of Jesus?
With consistent teaching of God’s clear Word in the Scriptures. It is a plodding work involving much repetition, but the people who are truly saved respond to the milk of God’s Word. We are dependent on the Holy Spirit’s operation at the heart level to instruct and convict people of what is real.
While preaching and teaching the gospel in church is necessary, we find it just as necessary to supplement that with home Bible studies where natural conversation can occur. Over time, the believers grow in their ability to recognise the incompatibility of false teaching and practice with the ways and words of God. One must not underestimate the role of the Holy Spirit in this process. It is often the least expected scenario, interaction or word that causes the ‘penny to drop’ and for the eyes of understanding to open.
How can we pray for you?
Please pray that the Lord would direct our hearts into God’s love and Christ’s perseverance (2 Thessalonians 3:5). Pray that every day we would have the wisdom to perceive the real needs around us and how to help in the strength of our Lord Jesus. Pray that there may be many real conversions by God’s power. Lastly, do pray for our protection from harm and attacks in both the physical and spiritual realms as well.
Click on the video link to learn about their family and ministry: https://youtu.be/74qhzz7iZh4
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