Tribal missions and global evangelism are exciting subjects. And well they should be. They are at the center of Christ’s heartbeat and His promise to build His Church. There is often much attention given to the exhilarating accounts of reaching the unreached—stories of dark, remote places and amazing, drastic, eternal life changes. These reports are thrilling to hear, but do you ever wonder what comes next?
What happens if you follow the animist home after his conversion experience and then on down the winding road of a decade as he walks through the messiness of everyday life as a new believer? What does it look like to have such a drastic change of identity and then daily have to choose to kill your animistic worldview in a third world country? Since most believers will never get the chance to peek into a remote tribal location where spirits and stories are the subsistence of daily life, I want to take you to our home village and introduce you to our brother in Christ, Anton Egamankon.
Anton serves Jesus as a tribal church elder in the initial Itutang village church plant of the Inapang people group of Papua New Guinea. He is an animist-turned-disciple maker. We asked him to “story” with us about his spiritual transformation. Come “sit down” with us in his village. Pull up a log close to his evening fire with others who have gathered. Listen to Anton talk about his identity—past, present, and future.
A Newly Married Animist
It was 2006. I was an animist. I knew no other life. I was young and newly married. Rainy season had begun and the ground was finally soft enough to plant our staple foods of yam and taro. I looked at the mounds of freshly planted yam seeds, wondering if we had done the right rituals, said the right words, eaten the right foods. I am of the Coconut clan and our clan spirits, like all the others, are fickle and cruel beings who withhold food and rain or give sores, sicknesses, and pain when they are not appeased appropriately. Would the spirits grant a harvest this year to our clan? There was never a way to know for sure. We just waited to see what life–and our garden–would bring.
I never thought about a high God or the future, and I never really thought about my own spirit. Daily, physical survival consumed all my mental and physical efforts. I definitely never thought about my sin. That would be completely futile. We knew from the religious “evangelical” priests who roam our remote areas that when we die, we go to “clean fire,” and then, after a time of paying for our sins, we are released into a place called heaven. This concept was too confusing. It didn’t put fish on my fire, and today already had enough real worries of its own. That is who I was–Anton Egamankon, of the Coconut clan, ground owner and new husband, spirit-worshipper and survivor.
Shaken to the Core
In 2007, something happened. My thinking, my physical life, and my spirit were all shaken to the core. I heard four months of teaching from God’s Word in my heart-language and my world changed. I heard new things about a high Creator God who is not like us men at all—a God full of power, love, mercy, and judgment. This God is perfectly clean in all he does. My identity began to change as I learned many things about myself and all mankind. I realized that I was actually Anton Egamankon, child of Adam, a sinner, unclean, and deserving of death.
I learned that I was without hope because there was absolutely nothing I could do or say to make a road back to this holy Creator. I learned that this God also gave us the Law of Moses to help us understand that nobody is clean enough to keep His law. I also learned from Romans 8:4 that this God provided one new road–through His Son, Jesus—back to himself. And when this life ends, a new life begins, a life of eternal separation from God or eternal life with Him.
My fears were changing, too.
As I heard the stories from the Old Contract, I thought, “These spirits that we fear and worship are all lies. They have no power. We should really be fearful of this one High God who made us and will call us to account after death.” I heard that when I believe, I am covered in Jesus’ righteousness. Therefore, when God looks at me, he doesn’t see my filth anymore. He sees Christ’s blood. In His eyes, I am completely clean, just like the One covering me. When the four months of teaching ended, I believed in Jesus’ work and my identity changed once again.
I was now Anton Egamankon, child of the high Creator God, the undeserving sinner who had received one-sided grace and mercy. I was now looking forward to heaven!
It’s true. I was now a child of God, but there was a dark, discouraging element lurking behind all the excitement over my spirit’s freedom. I still lived in the same body, in the same Itutang village, in the same hut, with the same sinners who were doing the same things that irritated me last year. I had the same daily routine, the same heat, the same uncertainties and physical worries about life. I still spent hours in the hot sun trying to eke out food for my family from the heart of a sago tree. Death still visited our village often. There was no physical change in my environment. Life was still hard—harder, actually, as I turned my back on our customs and upset the family clan . Following Christ meant breaking social norms.
During the next few years, I walked through many messes trying to figure out how to apply biblical truths to my daily walk. We were still being taught every week through the books of the New Contract. My thinking was changing with every lesson, but sometimes I didn’t know how to make these truths walk in my life with me. I spent many, many hours with Bill as we continued translating the Scripture. He entered our “heavies” and walked in our messes for many years, showing us what this new faith looks right here in our village of Itutang. He pointed us to Christ who suffered and chose to obey.
Day after day, heavy after heavy, God revealed more of my sin and more of Himself to me. This created a longing in me for that Last Day, the day I will see His face. As my identity and my worldview began to change, I found that God’s truth was churning up the years of animistic sediment which lined my heart. Over these messy years, the animistic fears and futility began to evanesce and my spirit found strength and my hope grew.
Laboring with You
It has been almost ten years since I first heard the gospel story. Through God’s strength and grace, we have planted eight churches in our people group, and there are three gospel outreaches into neighboring language groups. We have studied through the major themes in the New Contract and I now work as an evangelist and a tribal church elder. I provide food to the spirits of the believers in our local church and teach my wife and children. I have been faithful to God’s Word. But it hasn’t been easy.
Sometimes I am tired. I have been rejected, lied about, misrepresented, and, at times, lonely. I spend many evenings walking through the daily messes with the sheep that the Lord has given me, just like Bill walked with me. This is my life, the same one I lived before. But now I live with a different purpose: I have hope and a promise because of Jesus’ work on the cross for me. I am Anton Egamankon. I am the once “unreached” who is now reaching others through the strength and wisdom of the Holy Spirit. I am your brother, here in the remote Ramu Valley, fighting the battle of faith beside you, until we see God’s face together in heaven.
I am Anton Egamankon. Follower of Christ.