Church work in remote areas can be quite challenging. As a newly appointed worker to the region, I was only eager to help new believers in these remote villages grow stronger in their faith. I used to make regular visits to the surrounding villages along with my colleagues.
Of course, language was a barrier. We had to learn the State language to be able to converse with people. Thankfully, we were able to quickly learn the language, enough to speak and understand conversations.
We were eager to preach and teach in the villages. Fluency in the State language helped us reach out to the villagers. And yet, the initial response wasn’t forthcoming. I was a bit intrigued by the lack of enthusiasm.
One day, I heard an elderly man quip, ” You come and teach us. Sadly, you don’t know that we don’t understand what you say”. I looked intently at this elderly man and asked him, “why”?”
We had always worked on an assumption that people in the local churches here will understand if we speak to them in their language. But, that was not to be. “ You want to know why?”, the elderly man asked me. I was all ears waiting to listen. “Perhaps, this could be key to increase our effectiveness”, I thought to myself.
The man looked into my eyes and said, “ It is simple. You all speak in your language and not in our language. How can you think we understand you?” Honestly, I was clueless about the “ Your language” bit. For years, we assumed we were speaking “their” language. Now we were told (to our surprise) that wasn’t their language.
I stood puzzled. We originally belonged to another State and we spoke an entirely different language. We had put a lot of effort to learn the State language (distantly removed from ours). Initially, the elderly man’s words did not make any sense.
Later, I realized that by “our” language he meant his native language (mother tongue). People used common languages ( State or Regional) only for practical purposes such as trade and everyday communication. These languages were not their heart language.
After a while, I once saw a young believer struggling to understand the Bible in a nearby village. Although he was keen to read the Bible, he could not meaningfully engage with it. He was literally “ scratching his head” while reading the Bible (a cultural gesture, particularly when you don’t understand what you read or listen to).
He had fluency in reading and writing the State language but somehow that was inadequate to help him to understand the Bible! It dawned on me (and my colleagues) that people in these villages were in need of the Gospel in their ‘heart’ language ( not in local, regional or state language, although they may establish proficiency in their usage).
I felt the Lord speaking to me. It was a call to engage in Translations. Initially, I was reluctant to take up this arduous job of Bible Translation. But, the villagers were eager to read and grow stronger in their faith and there was no way this was possible without a Bible in their mother tongue.
Soon, Bible Translations became part of the larger vision for our work in the region. Within a year, the Lord helped us to bring out the Books of James, Philemon and Mark! After its release, a man from one of the interior villages came running to my house, asking me whether the full Bible is available in this language!
We began working and completed around 21 NT books. I had to leave but the Lord raised a group of people to finish the task. I am happy to see the work continue. Now, we have the complete New Testament available for people to read, understand and grow in their faith.
It is the Lord’s doing and it is marvellous in our eyes!
Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash