Crazy Long Update: A Semester in Review

March 25, 2018

This is a freaking long update, but this is a look back at what we’ve learned this semester during training:


Whew. We’re going to start with a toughie, so hang in there with me. Ethnos360 sends missionaries to unreached people groups. Among other things, that means their language has never been documented in the history of the world. Literally no one knows it except the people in that tribe. The International Phonetic Alphabet literally has a symbol for each sound that the human mouth can possibly make. Over the last couple semesters we’ve been introduced to and practiced recognizing and reproducing the most prominent sounds. When we get to an unreached people group, we’ll spend several years using that alphabet to write what we hear. After we’ve analyzed the grammar and can speak fluently, we’ll then delve into the art of creating an alphabet for them, then teaching them how to read their language, all in preparation for being able to read the translated Bible years and years down the road.

So back to phonemics: phonemics takes all those sounds we’ve written phonetically and teaches us how to combine them into a manageable alphabet. Let me give you an example: There are 26 letters in the English alphabet, however, there are many more phonetic sounds than 26 that we make when talking. Say the words “tough,” then “tree.” Notice the puff of air that comes out of your mouth when saying the “t” in “tough,” but not when saying “tree”? Those are two different phonetic sounds. Now, say the word “auto.” This is still a different phonetic sound. It’s called the flapped R and almost sounds like a “d”. Next, say the word “plate.” This is yet ANOTHER phonetic sound. It’s called an unreleased T. Your mouth goes into the formation of a “t”, but never finishes the sound.

What phonemics does is decides which sounds native speakers think of as the same letter. In English, we consider these four different phonetic sounds as “t,” without a second thought, so therefore orthographists decided to represent those sounds with only one letter in our alphabet. So back to the tribal language: It would be absurd to give a people group a 70 letter alphabet, so our goal is to complete a phonemic analysis and figure out what sounds they're saying that they think of as the same sound. And by the way there’s not a universal grid for this. Many non English-speaking groups would be blown away that we don’t hear the differences in those sounds. Yet at the same time, some would not distinguish the words “might” from “meat.” Crazy. There are several steps for this analysis, but I’ll wrap it up here. It was a fascinating class.


Woohoo! Yay for literacy. The big push in missions these days is the orality movement. In a nutshell, this movement advocates teaching the Bible completely orally and not translating Scriptures or teaching people how to read. While it’s true that most cultures do pass things down orally because they’ve never learned how to read, this is dangerous ground. You only need to play the game telephone once to know the risks involved with this method. God has written down his words since the time of Moses. When you have the written Word, you can’t misremember or be easily fooled into adopting false doctrine. In this class, we learned how to start up a literacy program with our people, create readers, teach comprehension, start an indigenous library, and eventually train indigenous teachers how to teach others and run the program.

Quick timeout: this semester I (Laura) also had the opportunity to complete a 100 hour training module to be an education consultant with the mission. Four friends and I with teaching experience were able to get the certification. I love, love, love that when God asks us to leave our careers and give them up to him, sometimes he gives them back in special ways.

CLA Practicum

During CLA Practicum (Culture and Language Acquisition), we put into practice all the concepts we learned our first two semesters in a “real” setting. Pretend actors exhaustively researched (and some actually visited) a tribe in an island in the Pacific. They learned how to speak, dress and act just like the people. Our class was divided into teams of five. Most mornings we walked into this “village” - a building on our campus set up just like the village in real life with houses like theirs, same food, same commodities, everything. From knowing nothing about them and from no help from teachers, we learned through their indigenous language and fragmented pidgin English how to speak some words and phrases, how to behave in their culture, how to become friends with them and gain their trust, how to elicit information respectfully, learn about their lives, their taboos, their beliefs, their system of kinship and on and on. When we did something wrong in their culture (which we had no way of knowing until we made the mistake), we had to learn how to apologize and mend that broken trust, and it wasn’t by learning the word for “sorry.” After each session, we’d meet together with our small group, organize our notes, talk through what we saw and heard, piece things together and make a plan for what we wanted to try to accomplish the next day. At the end of the course, we did a write up of their culture, charted their kinship, filed our culture notes and identified stories and sayings in their culture we could leverage when presenting the Bible. It was fantastic, hands on practice for when we get to the field, except there it will be 8+ hours a day of CLA learning for probably 3-4 years before we’re fluent.

This first picture is our team with our language helper friend we made. His name’s Kinosi, and he’s sitting on his front porch, or his “bwaima.”

Field Health

Field Health has been a pretty basic medical class. While living in remote areas we’ll need to be our own pharmacists. We’re learning about prevention, diagnosis and treatment for many illnesses; when you need to call in for a medevac and when you need to ride it out. Yes, we will take malaria prevention meds and other medicine on a daily basis, but nothing is 100% effective. When you’re living in a tropical country for twenty years, you’re going to get it, no matter what; this isn’t a 2 week missions trip. It’ll be up to our individual teams to decide if we want to run a medical clinic in our village, and if we do, we’ll of course need a lot more additional training. But if not, this was a good introductory course for just being able to care for ourselves and our families.

Missionary Technology

Bleh. this is way out of my niche. It was cool, but my brain doesn’t think in this way. I will say though, that as much as I hated it, I was very, very impressed with these incredibly gifted men who taught us. We learned how to build toilets, how to filter water with some pretty crazy awesome methods that are actually trademarked by New Tribes Mission, how to set up solar panels and install a solar grid, how to wire your house, how to keep your laptops safe and running, the most energy efficient lights and fans. Half of the class was information, and half of it was hands on. We were each given a tool kit and practiced soldering, AC and DC wiring, wiring our houses, installing solar panels, installing outlets and fixtures, testing voltage and charging batteries and other things. It was so cool. I sucked at it, but it was cool.

Developing and Maturing Church

Man, what an amazing class this has been. One of the best. We have spent over 50 hours in this class, and I wish you were there every minute. What I absolutely LOVE about Ethnos360 is it’s the only missions organization I know that follows the New Testament’s model of evangelism. 2 Timothy 2:2 says “Train faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” Jesus and the apostles NEVER focused on quick conversion methods. 1 John even tells us that eternal life is “knowing him,” not a ticket to heaven. These unreached people groups have been steeped in THOUSANDS of years of animistic and spiritist beliefs. To come in and preach the gospel through an interpreter without understanding them and their beliefs is absolute foolishness that does way more harm than good.

Ethnos360 believes in several years of pre-evangelism. This is learning the culture and language in natural contexts. From spending time with the people, you’re learning not just their words, but their culture and the things that have value to them. You file your notes in what’s called the OCM structure. It’s a list of about a hundred different universal categories of life: such as marriage, familial relationships, initiations, offenses and justice etc. From all this information, you know their cultural system enough to know exactly the strongholds to break down during the biblical teaching. It’s fascinating to look at the Bible through this lens. This method of teaching starts all the way back in Genesis when Moses penned God's creation of the world. The Israelites had been corrupted through their captivity by Canaanite and Egyptian beliefs about the creation story. So Moses sets the record straight by writing the creation account in direct attack against the stories they had been influenced by. He knew their context and he demolished their beliefs. It’s the same throughout Scripture - from the beginning of the world all the way through the Epistles with Paul understanding the context of the people and taking their pagan philosophies and literature and gods to battle with the God of the Bible and absolutely crushing them. This is what we’re training to do: understand the demonic strongholds that are taking these people captive and obliterate them.

So the developing and maturing church class has focused on walking through the Bible with these people chronologically (spending months before getting to the resurrection story), while simultaneously using each story to demolish their current beliefs. After months and months of teaching, an infant church is born. The developing and maturing church class has talked us through how to disciple these baby believers for years to maturity, and then how to start passing the baton to them so that they can reach the rest of their people group with the gospel.

Quick pause: when going to an unreached people group, you settle in one village. This village may have 200 people or so in it, but the entire people group may be made up of thousands or millions. The people have spread out into different areas across the country because they still rely on hunting, fishing and gardening for survival. If they had to amass in the same area, they’d quickly deplete their food resources and risk starvation.

So we plant ourselves in one village, with the long-term goal that the first church will grow to maturity and take the gospel to the rest of the thousands of their people group spread throughout their country. We don’t just hope they’ll reach maturity; we stay with them for years after their conversion, teaching through the epistles, identifying and ordaining elders, showing them how to study and teach Bible lessons, then letting themselves slowly do it in front of their peers, gradually handing over the reins, coaching, advising, encouraging, then after much practice, they have full authority and carry on the message themselves. The death of many a church plant has been paternalism. The white man is NOT to be the long-term pastor just simply spoon feeding the people for years and years. What a travesty! I know of churches in other countries who have been staffed by white missionaries for decades. When the white missionary pastor dies, another one comes to take his place. This is not what Christ taught! These people need to be mature in their own right to shepherd their own flock. How arrogant if we think that only we can correctly lead a church.

Simple Living

Phew! That was a lot. Thanks for hanging in there. Next up is Simple Living - our whole class will be living out in the woods for ten days practicing building basic structures, teamwork, butchering pigs/chickens, engine maintenance, hydrodynamics and plumbing, scratch cooking and a bunch of other practical stuff. We’ll check in at the end of April with how that went :)

Nate and Laura