Recently, we were surprised to find out J., one of our baptized believers in the Little Darda Church, had taken her children through an Islamic religious ritual. Her husband identifies as a Muslim, although he is non-practicing. It is also unclear as to the ritual’s meaning, and whether it even conflicted with J.’s new Christian faith—but my suspicion is that it was a ritual diluted by other kinds of spirituality.
I reflected on this incident in light of our leadership team’s struggle to find a cultural key to communicate in ways the people can truly understand. I have begun to observe that the people often give us answers they think we want to hear—not out of an attempt to deceive or manipulate, but because they want to get it right. But lack of understanding certainly does not lead to transformation.
Missiologists talk about penetrating layers of culture with the gospel—beyond the surface level of behaviors and ideas, there is a much deeper level referred to as an “allegiance encounter” which deals with assumptions of reality and core values.* This is the level where lasting transformation takes place. And this is the level that is so difficult to ascertain while you are working cross-culturally.
One of our leadership team went to visit J., and J. told her that Jesus had appeared to her in a dream and said, “I don’t know your name, but I know your prayers are sincere, and therefore I will answer them. You decided to go this way [to follow me], so you cannot anymore serve other gods, you can only serve me.”
After that, she woke up in the morning and felt very happy. Her phone rang and she was surprised to find her daughter on the other end of the line—for many years they had not spoken. Her daughter asked whether she was cooking fish today and whether she could come over and visit. One of J.’s prayers had been for reconciliation with her daughter, so she interpreted the vision as a true message from Jesus.
Many in Roma communities have visions, so the vision itself did not surprise me. However, although somewhat confusing (if it was Jesus, why did he say that he didn’t know her name?), it caused me to reflect on the role visions can play in discipleship—a way to access those deeper “allegiance levels.” This presents some obvious subjective problems, but several Roma leaders in various communities take people’s visions seriously, test them, and then pronounce if they are true or not.
Recently, I was reading Daniel 1, and was struck by a verse 17: “To these four young men God gave knowledge and skill in every aspect of literature and wisdom; Daniel also had insight into all visions and dreams.” Could it be that visions and dreams are just another kind of knowledge that we in the Western world have marginalized and ignored?
*This idea comes from Charles Kraft’s “Encounter model.”