One of the highlights of any Neno celebration is dancing. Lest you get the wrong idea, these “dances” are really more like marches. One couple links arms and starts the dance, soon followed by numerous other pairs, marching in step to the music, 1-2-1-2-1-2. Dance partners can be husband and wife, two men, two ladies, two children. Sometimes three people link arms and join in the procession. Occasionally, one person will enter the circle alone, dancing behind a pair. There don’t seem to be many rules.
From time to time, the direction of the dance will change and everyone quickly turns around, to follow the pair of dancers that had been following them moments before. Other than these quick about-faces, the dance is simple and predictable, a great advantage for someone as clumsy as I. God must have taken this aspect of the Neno culture into consideration when He sent me here, knowing that even slightly complicated dance rhythms would be serious challenges to my motor skills and coordination.
During the second celebration held in our village since my arrival, a friend beckoned me to come dance. I joined her eagerly, and another friend followed. With their arms linked through mine, we joined in the procession of dancers, following the pair in front of us in the circle, changing direction, marching around, swiftly turning again. At first I had to concentrate, but before long, the steps and turns became so automatic and natural that I was able to ponder subjects more profound than dancing or lively keyboard music.
In that moment, there were ladies on each side, my friends and guides in this glorious, joyous, cross-cultural dance of missionary life. They are not just my teachers as far as dancing, but also in talking, daily living, Neno etiquette, relationships, and all the other aspects of the multifaceted system we refer to as culture.
As we moved together, around and around, step step step, I yearned to be able to move with my friends in other ways, fitting in with their routines, their customs, doing life together gracefully, without breaking step, stumbling, or bumping people on the sudden turns. There will be days when it’s not so fun, moments when I feel like I’m dancing on eggs, when the culture reveals itself to be much more complex than its simple dance style. Yet I boldly pray that I will live in unity and community with my Neno friends as much as possible, becoming part of their culture in deeper ways than one can now imagine.
Then my thoughts went even deeper, to the One who brought me here.
Life with Jesus could be compared to a dance. And my deepest desire is to be guided by Him, led by His Spirit, dancing with Jesus until I am one with Him, not even knowing how He leads. May this continue until I am not thinking anymore about where or what or when, just following His lead automatically, turning fast and true, always in step with Him.
For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps. 1 Peter 2:21
For so long this verse has given me the idea of looking to Jesus as a role model, an example. You know, Him on the pedestal, up high in the sky, or way out in the lead in a race. And here is little old me plugging away behind, panting as I try to keep up, stepping in the footprints He left so long ago.
But I think the Neno culture has given me a new mental picture, that may be more accurate in some ways. What if I am not called to follow behind in Jesus’ steps, but to follow beside Him? Jesus doesn’t lead far off ahead in the distant horizon. He also doesn’t lead from behind, pushing and prodding us along like stubborn mules. Jesus links arms with us, drawing us close by His side, shoulder to shoulder, hip to hip, as equals, as brothers, co-heirs, children of God, to use biblical terms. Did you get that? As equals with God the Son, the Eternal One, the Word who became flesh and dwelt among us. He is the only one who lived a sinless life, walked with God perfectly, danced impeccably with never a misstep. And He condescends to dance with me at His side, as an equal? Inconceivable! Yet true.
Jesus isn’t dead and gone, you know. He was dead and is alive again. He did go and sent His Spirit back to live in us. So His footprints on this earth are not past, like wild pig footprints (or deer hoof prints, for those of you not fortunate enough to live in a place where you can hunt wild pigs) that need to be tracked. Jesus is still present in our midst, here on this earth (albeit not physically and bodily) and He calls us to walk (or dance, for our present analogy) with Him.
You see, in this Journey-Dance of life, I don’t know what I’m doing. Life is fluid, ever-changing, variable, intricate, detailed. Sometimes one’s dance is marked by pain, agonizingly slow steps to a hauntingly beautiful melody as we learn to dance in faith, even in the valleys and the shadows. At other seasons, the song is wild and vibrant, as we dance with reckless abandon and celebration.
The many dance steps and musical moods glorify our King. He, after all, is the one directing the orchestra, our individual lives, and the grand scheme of history.
Sometimes the melody is marked by grace and steadiness, other times by changes so abrupt it would be easy to miss a beat or lose our step. That is why it is absolutely essential that we stay close to Jesus in the dance of life. He is the guide, the leader of the dance, the only one who knows what the next measure of music holds and which steps are most suitable for each specific note. This world isn’t predictable, after all. And neither is Jesus. With Him as our life, every day is an adventure.
In those early morning hours (for the dances at these celebrations often last past midnight and sometimes until dawn), I realized that the closer I stayed to my Neno friends, the more our steps blended, in a sort of physical harmony. Similarly, the closer I am to Jesus, the more in tune I will be with the music, and fully in step with the dance. United with Jesus, one in direction, purpose and vision. That is my heart’s desire. To walk and dance so close to Jesus that without even thinking about it, I would go where He goes, I would do what He does, I would be like Him, imitating Him, and thus showing the world a small glimpse of who my Saviour is.