Last year I read God Loves the Pagans: A Christian Mission on the Plateaux of Vietnam, which recounts the first 5 or 6 years that Catholic missionary Jacques Dournes spent among the Jarai of Vietnam (among other tribes). As I have the chance I’ll be sharing bits of it here on the blog — primarily to aid my own reflection on the material. Right now I mean simply to introduce the book.
Dournes was first familiar to me through his anthropological and linguistic work on Jarai. His unpublished Jarai-French lexicon, full of notes and illustrations in his own hand, is an unparalleled resource on Jarai words. In the course of my dissertation research, I made use of both the lexicon and another book of his on Jarai speech and story-telling. I’d known that he was also a missionary, but it wasn’t until reading God Loves the Pagans that I learned anything about his primary purpose for being with the Jarai.
A word of caution before I proceed. I hardly need to mention that I’m not Roman Catholic, and I don’t mean this blog post (or any others) to endorse distinctively Roman Catholic teachings. Nevertheless, to the degree that Baptist and Catholic missionaries engage in similar tasks — learning a language, studying a culture, communicating the Gospel of salvation (granting that we understand both the Gospel and conversion very differently) — but to the degree that there are these similarities, Dournes has a lot to teach me.
What did I learn? I learned about particular Jarai words with definitions quite similar to corresponding Hebrew words. I learned about the ways in which Jarai culture and traditional animistic religion are interwoven. I learned about Dournes’ method of investigating traditional religion to find ways that God has been preparing the Jarai for the truth (like Paul in Athens).
So now to it.