Ceremonies of Life

Posted on: 
September 5, 2022

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!”

Hard questions

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

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  • “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” Romans 10:17
  • “Repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. And you are witness of these things.” Luke 24:47, 48
  • “Go therefore, and make disciples of all nations.” Matthew 28:19
  • “In you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” Genesis 12:3
  • “That the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, and of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ through the Gospel.” Ephesians 3:6
  • “That they all may be one; as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You, that they also may be one in Us; that the world may believe that You sent Me.” John 17:21
  • “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations’?” Mark 11:17
  • “Ask of me, and I will give You the nations for Your inheritance.” Psalm 2:8
  • “Behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes.” Revelation 7:9
  • “Finally, brethren, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may run swiftly and be glorified.” 2 Thessalonians 3:1
  • “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.” 2 Timothy 3:16
  • “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” Psalm 119:105
  • “As cold water to a weary soul, so is good news from a far country.” Proverbs 25:25
  • “More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb.” Psalm 19:10
  • “All the ends of the world shall remember and turn to the LORD, and all the families of the nations shall worship before You.” Psalm 22:27
  • “Truly, as I live, all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the LORD.” Numbers 14:21
  • “Declare His glory among the nations, His wonders among all peoples. For the LORD is great and greatly to be praised; He is to be feared above all gods.” Psalm 96:3, 4
  • “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea.” Habakkuk 2:14
  • “That all the peoples of the earth may know that the Lord is God; there is no other.” 1 Kings 8:60
  • “For from the rising of the sun, even to its going down, My name shall be great among the Gentiles; in every place incense shall be offered to My name, and a pure offering; for My name shall be great among the nations.” Malachi 1:11
  • “All nations whom You have made shall come and worship before You, O Lord, and shall glorify Your name.” Psalm 86:9
  • “For as the earth brings forth its bud, as the garden causes the things that are sown in it to spring forth, so the Lord GOD will cause righteousness and praise to spring forth before all the nations.” Isaiah 61:11
  • "Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!" Psalm 46:10
  • "This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth." 1 Timothy 2:3, 4
  • "You are worthy. . .; for You were slain, and have redeemed us to God by Your blood out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation, and have made us kings and priests to our God." Revelation 5:9, 10