When Jessica Brown had questions about what it meant to follow God, she turned to her Bible for answers. Her relationship with God grew as she read, and she became passionate about equipping others to experience God through his Word.
After college Jessica joined Wycliffe as a translation adviser among the Blafe language group of Papua New Guinea. An important part of Bible translation work is teaching people how to personally engage with God’s Word. Jessica said, “It has … a greater impact than if you ... are distributing Scriptures without … giving them the tools they need to start applying them.”
As part of her role, Jessica has the opportunity to encourage communities to use God’s Word to evaluate their cultural traditions at a training workshop called Culture Meets Scripture.
Creating a Community
Culture Meets Scripture was originally developed in the Philippines. The workshop has enabled communities to discover what God says in his Word about their cultural practices and beliefs. The workshop has even been held before a language has a fully translated Bible, giving communities a head start on discipleship.
In 2019 Jessica and the Blafe translation team held their second workshop; almost 100 church leaders, pastors, elders and songwriters from four language groups attended. Not only did the leaders value the chance to dig into Scripture, but the workshop was also an opportunity for them to come together and learn from each other. “They really get encouragement from hearing … what others are doing,” Jessica said.
Throughout the workshop, participants worked together to determine if any aspects of their cultural practices needed to be modified in order to honor God. The workshop wasn’t about discarding things unique to their cultures; instead, it was about discovering the motivation behind these cultural activities and finding ways to honor God through them.
At the beginning of the workshop, the participants split into language groups to compile a list of their cultural practices. The groups evaluated traditions like marriages, burials and hunting practices. After the groups chose a practice to evaluate, they created detailed charts to outline the steps of the practice. Then they delved deep to determine the purpose of each action.
Jessica remembered a time when a group discussed their reasons for arranged marriages. Although the practice of arranged marriage is found in the Bible, the facilitators encouraged the teams to analyze the purpose for each part of the custom. “They started to realize there are a lot of obligations and fears motivating particular actions that maybe aren’t from the Lord,” Jessica said.
Turning to Scripture
Next the teams looked to Scripture to see what God had to say about their traditions and beliefs. The facilitators gathered relevant verses before the training, but sometimes the topics can be difficult to predict. So the facilitators and participants worked together to find Scripture to address tough theological questions.
On one occasion a group chose to look at the things they practiced to ensure their gardens would grow. The participants realized their actions didn’t honor God but they were concerned about what might happen if they changed their traditions. “They were really wrestling with the question: ‘Do we have a guarantee that God will protect our gardens?’” Jessica remembered.
As they looked through Scripture, they came to the book of Exodus where they saw how God protected the Israelites’ livestock from death. They also noticed that while God has the power to protect, sometimes his plan looks different from our own. The group learned about God’s character and the importance of trusting him by applying biblical truths to their daily lives.
Finding the Next Steps
Sometimes during the workshops the participants decide that it’s possible to maintain their practices without making any changes. Other times, the groups must decide how to move forward when modifying or rejecting a practice is necessary. The participants come up with ideas to align their practices with the truths found in the Word of God. This might look like adding a time of prayer or a song to shift the focus.
The training takes less than two weeks, but the journey isn’t over when the workshop ends. “[The goal is for leaders to] … take the training back to their community and then let it transform how they’re doing things,” Jessica explained.
Transformation is often a lengthy process. Ultimately the individual communities must prayerfully consider how to proceed using the skills they developed during the workshop.
Jessica values the opportunity to use her skills to give people the tools they need. “It’s probably one of the most exciting workshops to me,” she said. “It’s really neat to see how God speaks to people through his Word.”