We welcomed Jonatan into our family on February 23. A week after returning home, we had a traditional baby-naming ceremony. Some people showed up for the early morning pronouncement of the baby’s name. My husband talked briefly about the meaning of the name Jonatan (gift of God), and one of the translators shared about God’s gift of His Son.
As the day progressed, more guests swarmed into the small compound. Around midday huge pots of rice, sauce, and mutton were ladled out onto serving platters and groups of guests clustered around each one, scooping up handfuls of food. Men and women—in their separate areas of the compound—visited and laughed and drank the traditional drink of pounded millet mixed with milk. Visitors came and went all day.
People have very different ideas of the proper way to care for a child. For example, women here never pat a baby. When I first came here and people saw me burping my baby, they recoiled, but their horror soon changed to wonder. “Look!” one lady exclaimed in astonishment, “she’s hitting the baby and he likes it!”
A new believer recently asked, “What is the Christian way to give birth?” To us it sounds like a strange question until further probing reveals that the process is scripted by both religious and animistic rituals. Infant mortality is very high in this country, so it’s no surprise that there are many rituals to follow to avoid retribution from the spirits. The old lady who cuts the umbilical cord must position her fingers just so, three women must bury the placenta and lower it perfectly into the ground, and so on.
New believers face many questions that are sometimes a bit tricky to tease apart. Which cultural practices can a believer legitimately continue doing, and which are rooted in appeasing the spirits or in some way clash with Jesus’ teachings?
—a sister in West Africa