November 4, 2016

More than just a name

Written by  Mike Baker
The Bakers pray over a baby at a dedication ceremony. The Bakers pray over a baby at a dedication ceremony. Photo provided by the Baker family.

This article appears in the November/December 2016 issue of Missionary Messenger; sign up to read more articles like this one.

What happens when accepting Christian beliefs means disrupting an ancient cultural practice? Before the news of Jesus was brought to the village of Catel, each newborn baby was always dedicated to the ancestors. These traditional celebrations are called “coming-out” ceremonies, for in this culture the new baby and mother remain indoors for one week. When they leave the house, there is a naming celebration that includes a sacrificial ceremony to idols.

A different way

The Christians in Catel have chosen a different way that still allows them to hold onto the things important and unique to their tribal culture. They have kept the tradition of staying in the home and coming out after a week.There’s still a naming ceremony, and there’s still a celebration. But instead of a ceremony to idols, the
coming-out tradition has become a Christian baby dedication.

Church members in Catel now give their children biblical names.
Church members in Catel now give their children biblical names. During my time there, I was asked to name several new babies. In each case, I chose the name of a significant person from the Bible. This always provided an opportunity to tell the stories of those biblical people. During a time of trials in the village, a new baby in our church family was born. I chose the name Jeremiah, in hopes that he would grow up to be a bright light of truth.

A witness

The church in Catel has started using this party as a witnessing tool to friends and family outside the church. The coming-out is so culturally important that
everyone is there. At the Christian ceremony, church members share why they do this dedication and the significance of the baby’s Christian name. They pray over the baby and read Scripture about the chosen name. At the end of the baby dedication, women sing songs of worship to the Lord. This new kind of naming ceremony allows the church to share Christ in many ways with family and friends in the context of a cultural event.

The Christian baby dedication is just as much a party as the traditional coming-out! After the ceremony, we would wait for the rice dish to be cooked and served. There was usually a woman or girl getting her hair braided, music with dancing, hot tea and milk prepared by the men, and women in the back of the house cooking as children ran all over the place playing. Our family was tired out by the time the evening meal was served, and we headed home shortly afterward. We were usually the first to leave, but never empty-handed — guests are typically given a can of pop as a party favor. Then we all collapsed into bed exhausted!

How beautiful it is to see our brothers and sisters in Guinea-Bissau preserve their traditions in a God-honoring way. Please continue to pray for these church families as they have adapted the coming out party, that their tradition can serve as a witness to bring others into the light.

Mike and Karen Baker and their children Jada, Isaiah, Micah, Josiah, and Lydia served in Catel, Guinea-Bissau. They now live in Harrisonville, Missouri.

This article appears in the November/December 2016 issue of Missionary Messenger; sign up to read more articles like this one.