As a missionary, I was preaching the Gospel in a Boko village in the Republic of Benin, in western Africa. (Benin is bordered by Nigeria to the east, Togo to the west, and the Atlantic Ocean to the south.)
'How many of you have sinned?' I asked. There were no takers. We had been preaching the 'good news'—how Jesus came into the world to save sinners. But to appreciate that, these people needed to hear the 'bad news' about sin first.
The word 'sinner' exists in the Boko language, but it refers only to a murderer, thief, or wife-stealer. Most Boko people consider themselves good, and don't appreciate their need of a Saviour. We were translating the New Testament at the time, and soon realized the Bokos needed to understand the teaching of the first five chapters of Romans—that all men are sinners, under God's condemnation, and deserving of hell. We found that the only satisfactory way to teach the Boko people about sin was to go back to Genesis and tell them the early history of man: about Adam and Eve and the Fall.
What a wealth of teaching is contained in Genesis chapters 1-11: Creation, man created good and in the image of God, man's authority over the Earth, marriage, Satanic opposition, the Fall into sin, God seeking man, God's curse on the Earth, the reason for suffering and death, sacrifice and redemption, judgment, the origin of the nations, and false religion.
From the moment the Boko Christians read Genesis in their own language they loved it. They took it at face value. Where Genesis says God created the world in six days, they believed it. Where clear statements were made about the universality of the Flood, they believed them. For these people with no pre-conceived notions, that was the most natural thing to do.
Knowing they would hear about evolution sooner or later, I began to explain it to them. They found it incredible that the white man, with all his knowledge, could believe they came from monkeys—such nonsense!
Their conclusions are verified by Paul's teaching in Romans 1:20-22: 'For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse: Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools.'
We felt the need to publish a Boko translation of Genesis along with the New Testament because it is so fundamental. And as Genesis is the introduction, we have now translated the Old Testament to give the New Testament its necessary solid foundation.
How can people appreciate the wonder of grace, forgiveness and salvation if they have not first learnt about God's holiness and the gravity of sin? Only when they understand this will they know their need for a Saviour and appreciate what Jesus has done.
How instructive this approach is for our Western culture. Simultaneous with Africa and other parts of the world becoming more Christian, Western nations are becoming increasingly pagan. The foundation of Genesis 1-11 is therefore more timely than ever for our Western society in general, and our own nation in particular. We need to remind people that God is the Creator of the Earth and we are under obligation to worship Him.