Pohnpei Dance

But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts; and always be ready to give an answer to everyone who asks you a reason concerning the hope that is in you, with humility and fear: (1 Peter 3:15 WEB)

A missionary friend on Guam worked with Moody Bible Institute to provide training for local pastors on the islands. Each summer four to six weeks would be scheduled for classes sponsored by Moody Bible Institute and staffed with some of their professors as well as teachers and pastors from the missionary community on Guam. One year I was asked to come and teach two weeks of classes.

The attendants of the Summer Institute for Pastors came from the small islands and atolls throughout the Federated States of Micronesia. Some pastors would travel for days on the ocean in open canoes to reach the small island of Pohnpei and learn more of God’s word. Their desire was to improve their skills and abilities to pastor on their home islands.

Pohnpe Bible Class

Bob’s students studying at Summer Institute for Pastors (Moody Bible Institute). Pohnpe

I was housed at the Hotel Pohnpei with a beautiful view overlooking one small bay and a neighboring peninsula. The room was actually a small hut made from the ubiquitous palm branches arranged, woven and placed on the walls and roof of the wooden frame. Looking throughout the hotel compound you determine the age of the latest home improvement by the color of the thatching on the roof. The more brown the older the hut. Regularly the roofs and walls were replaced from the always available supply of palm branches on the island.

One of the beauties of this construction was the ready availability of materials. Incredible as it may seem the woven roof actually deflected the rain which came several times a day. With the high inner walls and a gap just below the ceiling there was even some room for a little breeze. Security, well that was not the real issue. Don’t leave anything of value in a room with palm branches for walls.

The second advantage of the construction was the ability of little creatures to climb in and out of the weaving to build their tiny homes, raise families, and look for food. To eliminate the chance of ingesting the discarded materials from these creatures each room included a protective sheet carefully suspended above the bed to catch what fell during all hours of the day. I looked up there once. That was a mistake!

The housing was not the highlight of my visit. Teaching these pastors in their native dress ranging from suits to grass skirts was a challenge. Fortunately they all understood English making my job easier. Their interest in the Word of God and expanding their understanding of scriptural interpretation, application, and memorization should be emulatedby many believers.

They studied hard. They studied each day when there was no class and looked with nervousness toward the test which would be given the final day. They didn’t receive their certificate without demonstrating a working understanding of the material presented.

One day the discussion turned to the subject of dancing. This was a chance to work with the cultural differences.

One pastor raised his hand and inquired, “Sir, what do you believe about dancing and the Bible?”

I immediately realized this was a precarious situation. The previous teacher was sitting in the class watching the progress of the lessons. He was not scheduled to depart for another day. I knew his opinion on many things including dancing, drinking, smoking and the like. In most areas we agreed but not in all.

I stepped forward and placed my hands palm down on the edge of the long table and stared into the pastor’s eyes. I paused to consider my answer and I could tell they were all interested in my response. I was also well aware of the nature of dance in their various cultures. It’s through dance they share their history and stories. Still, I had to respond as I felt the Lord lead.

“Gentlemen,” I began, “I must tell you. I have strong convictions concerning dancing. I don’t dance.”

There was silence in the room. Their faces showed signs of disappointment. The departing professor showed signs of agreement, glad to hear me make this statement.

“But,” I continued, “my conviction is, not to do anything that makes me look absolutely stupid. I can’t dance! So, I don’t dance. However, David danced as he brought God’s ark into Jerusalem. The Israelites danced in joy before the Lord when they escaped from Pharaoh’s soldiers. Dance has a place and purpose in many cultures and I find no Biblical admonition against dancing as a whole.”

There was a sign of relief throughout the room. These men were willing to change their entire culture if the Scriptures called them to such change. This is the same conviction we must show as we walk with the Lord in this world. Sometimes God calls us to change, and sometimes, just to follow.

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