Would You Look for a Single Lost Sheep?
What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbours, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ (Luke 15: 4-6)
When local believers in Peru heard this parable, they were amazed that anyone would do such a thing. As sheep farmers, they all agreed that none of them would ever abandon a flock to look for one lost sheep. How could a single sheep be worth the time and trouble to look for it? What is one sheep when you still have 99?
Last year, we saw first-hand what happens to a “lost sheep” among the Celana*, a people group who live on an island in Southeast Asia. In August, a family from a very remote village came to the town to seek medical treatment for their young daughters. As the already overwhelmed father, Aman, observed his daughters having intravenous drips inserted, he panicked and ran away from the hospital. His family assumed that he would just try to walk home to his village through the mountains and the jungle (more than four hours away by car). He was last seen by woodcutters in the jungle not far from the town, but there was no further trace of him.
Peter and some Celana men searched for him several times but without success. Peter also approached different village chiefs and police stations for help, but it was evident that no-one was very motivated to look for a run-away villager without some reward. Even fellow-villagers showed little interest, especially since it was a classic needle-in-a-haystack situation. Where in the dense jungle should they look for him? What direction did he take?
Since we knew that our Lord loves every single person and looks for the lost, we prayed that the Lord would look after Aman and bring him home. We also encouraged the Celana believers not to give up hope and to continue to pray for his return. Ironically, “Aman” means “safe”, yet it was his safety we were worried about.
The Celana people are steeped in animism. The villagers consulted the spirits and, a few weeks after his disappearance, the demons told them that Aman had died in the jungle. His family was pushed to hold a funeral quickly so everyone could move on with life. But there were a few believers in the village who persuaded them to wait so that they could continue to ask the Lord for guidance and wisdom.
The Lord answered the prayers for this “lost sheep”! After nine long weeks, in October, a hunter and his dog came across Aman deep in the jungle, far away from the town. Aman later shared his story: When he first ran away in panic and confusion, he heard many voices in his head that told him where to go and where not to go. When he realised that he was lost, he cried out to God in desperation to help him and show him the way. From then on, he said, the voices stopped and he felt God leading him and providing for him in amazing ways. Aman was safe in God’s hands all the way. Although he ate mainly wild fruits and palm shoots, once, God even provided him with a pig! Aman told how he came across a wild pig that had been bitten by a poisonous centipede, so he had been able to easily kill and roast it for dinner.
The whole village was amazed that Aman returned to the village aman (safe) and well. They also realised that the spirits were wrong and that God is indeed above all demons and can be trusted. We praise the Lord that he keeps demonstrating to us that every person is valuable in his eyes. He does not just look after important people, but he cares for the forgotten and neglected ones in this world.
During the weeks of searching for Aman, we shared about him with many people. Interestingly, most of them immediately asked whether he had his machete with him. This is the main tool that every Celana man carries with him. It was clear that everyone believed that the only thing he really needed was his machete — if he had it, he would be safe and would be able to survive. This reminded us that the Word of God is our “sword”. If we have God’s Word, we can survive spiritually. But sadly, it is this essential tool — the Bible in their own language — which the Celana people are still waiting for. How else can they know Christ, or grow in Christ, or teach others about Christ?
Are we like those pragmatic Peruvian sheep farmers? Do we count the cost and look for good returns? Is it worth the money and effort to translate the Bible for such a small ethnic group?
Peter and Susan, with their 2 young sons, have been living among the Celana people for the past few years. They are currently learning the language and hope to begin a Bible translation project soon.
* Not the real name.