The Party Line

Some time ago, I listened to someone in missions aviation tell the story of the introduction of the first helicopter. At the time, the party line was that helicopters were too expensive to operate, and so were unsuitable for missions aviation. He then told an amazing story of the need for an aircraft to go into a place where it was not possible to build an airstrip and God’s amazing provision of a helicopter well under market price. And so that particular party line about helicopters faded into history.

Ed with Congolese translators he was consulting

Ed with Congolese translators he was consulting

The party line is an interesting concept. People in organizations, especially political organizations, are expected to “toe the party line”– to say in public only things that follow the party line – the organizations policy or mission.

I have been there.

I was living in Burkina Faso doing Bible translation under the model where each person raises support for their ministry. The Wycliffe website says:

Wycliffe missionaries do not receive a guaranteed salary from our organization. Instead, they rely on God to provide through the gifts of interested individuals and churches

Because of this model, we had very little money for anything but the ministry of each missionary. At the same time, young people from Burkina Faso were coming to me saying that they felt God calling them to ministry. They wondered if their might be a place for them in Bible translation. They were mostly university students engaged in their churches and campus ministry. I told them the party line which went like this:

It is great that you want to serve our Lord. But we don’t have any way to involve you in what we are doing because of our financial structure.

It was more elaborate and polite than that, but you get the idea. I would also pray with them and send them on their way. I had come to Africa with a call to do Bible translation. My call, or rather my understanding of my call, did not include finding ways for Africans to be involved. No, I was going to do the translation myself.

Meanwhile, more and more young, educated Burkina Faso Christians kept coming to talk to me. Their stories became more and more compelling. Worse (or better!), the call of God on their lives was evident. One day, one came with an incredible story. You can listen to it here.


Samy Tioye and Ed

Samy Tioye and Ed

After hearing his story, I knew that I could not give him the party line. I could not say to someone with such a clear call of God for Bible translation on his life that I could not be involved with helping him move that forward. I came to the conclusion that party line had become out of step with what God was doing. Today that has changed, but changing it required some doing.

Having a party line for a ministry is actually a good idea. It gives direction and helps keep us focused. The thing is, we have to always pay attention to our circumstances because God might be using them to shift our party line, even one that is longstanding and justifiable. The Bible is full of stories of God changing the party line, including when he did that with the Apostle Peter. The trick is to be less thickheaded than I was. God had to put me in front of the same situation many times before I recognized it as His doing.

If you liked this, you might also like Why Nationals, Nessiel Nodjibogoto, or Undeserved.

The first Wycliffe translators from Madagascar in our home in Nairobi

The first Wycliffe translators from Madagascar in our home in Nairobi

Ansre

Michael Serchie, Gilbert Ansre and Ed

Michael Serchie, Gilbert Ansre and Ed

One of my great joys in Ghana is working with Gilbert Ansre (pronounced like haunts-ray without the h). I had heard about him years ago when we worked in Burkina Faso. Now he is one of those people who are supposedly retired, but is always involved in something. And so we persuaded him to lend a hand in developing a plan to finish translations in all the languages of Ghana.

He is over-qualified. His past includes:

  • Setting up and heading the first department of linguistics at the University of Ghana
  • Being an ordained minister in the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Ghana, for more than 50 years
  • Working on the translation of the Bible into 13 languages in West Africa, including his own language, Ewe (pronounced eh-vay)

There are few people who can bring high level theological and linguistic expertise to the task of Bible translation. Ansre is one of those. Missionary translators often work in remote areas. Their sacrifices for marginalized peoples are laudable. But their focus on remote areas can also cause them to overlook nationals who might champion their work or even contribute to it, such as Gilbert Ansre.

In a way, there are two Africas:

  • A rural one which can be difficult to access because of poor roads, suffering from poor schools and other problems
  • An urban one where political power resides and where most educated people live.
Prof Ansre speaking

Prof Ansre speaking

An idea has emerged in planning to finish the translations in Ghana which I had not expected – join those two worlds together. It turns out that they have a lot to offer each other. The urban environment has expertise, such as Gilbert Ansre, that the rural one needs. But the rural people have important things to offer too. For example, when they read the Bible in their own languages, they develop truly African theologies. By that, I mean theologies that answer their most burning questions. For example, tribal conflict is a problem in some parts of Africa. But Western commentaries and theologies rarely deal with it and never at any length, even though the Old Testament is full of tribal conflict. It turns out that rural African Christians seek answers in the Bible that can enhance the teaching of theology in the urban seminaries. In fact, Gilbert Ansre teaches two such courses.

By linking the urban and the rural worlds, we can enrich both and provide a platform for sustaining the use and impact of Bible translation in African languages, all while driving theology where it needs to go – into answering the questions rural and urban Africans really have today.

Undeserved

John Daboney

John Daboney

This is John Daboney, a Ghanaian from the Nawuri language. He is holding his copy of the Nawuri New Testament at its dedication on November 23.

John was the main reviewer for the translation of the New Testament into the Nawuri language. As a  reviewer he was an unpaid volunteer and John is retired. In Ghana, that means that he has a very modest income. He lost his wife a year ago. She had a job that brought in most of their income. But rather than go out and find work or do some farming, John kept devoting all his time to review the Nawuri translation. He put in thousands of volunteer hours pouring over each verse to check that it was clearly and accurately translated. In April 2012, I stopped briefly in Kpandai, where the translation office is located. The translators told me that John’s suggestions were many and invaluable. He saw things that were not clear and had a knack for knowing how to say things more clearly and accurately. Some people just have a gift for their language. They are invaluable in the translation process.

Nawuri translation team including volunteers

Nawuri translation team including volunteers

John has a problem with his eyes for which he underwent an operation two years ago. He needed more treatment but he postponed it because of time and lack of money. For him, the translation was higher priority.

Missionaries who travel to difficult places get recognized. Books are written about some of them. But across the world and across the centuries, tens of thousands of local people play crucial roles in the missionary endeavor. They contribute with little or no pay. Sometimes, they are persecuted. I met another Ghanaian whose father was the first pastor from one of the language communities in northern Ghana. His childhood memories include that most people were against is father, considering him a traitor for leaving the traditional religion. The believed that he endangered everyone because the spirits and deities would certainly retaliate for being abandoned and everyone would suffer. But his father showed immense faith and perseverance. Now Christianity is widely accepted.

No missionary biography will be written about that pastor nor about John Daboney. When I see their contribution I think of these verses in Hebrews:

Many of these people were tortured, but they refused to be released. They were sure that they would get a better reward when the dead are raised to life. Others were made fun of and beaten with whips, and some were chained in jail. Still others were stoned to death or sawed in two or killed with swords. Some had nothing but sheep skins or goat skins to wear. They were poor, mistreated, and tortured. The world did not deserve these good people, who had to wander in deserts and on mountains and had to live in caves and holes in the ground. (Heb 11: 35-38, CEV, emphasis mine)

At the dedication of the Nawuri New Testament in November

At the dedication of the Nawuri New Testament in November

John Daboney and many others like him really are better than the world deserves, better even than we missionaries deserve. In mid February, John passed away suddenly; barely three months after the dedication of the translation to which he was so dedicated. In Ghana and in many other places more like him continue to work on the translations in their languages. Pray that God would meet their needs and that He would encourage them. But most of all, thank him for calling them and filling them with unselfish faith.

If you liked this, you might also like Counted, Not just anyone can translate, or Why nationals.

Don’t forget the heroes

A few months ago I was intrigued by the following news article.

Jewish and historical groups in Poland have called for a special day be put in the Polish calendar to remember the thousands of Poles who aided Jews during WW II.

The Association of the Children of the Holocaust, the Jan Karski Association and the Museum of the History of Polish Jews have addressed an appeal to President Bronisław Komorowski to initiate a Day in tribute to Poles-holders of the Righteous among the Nations medals.

Those who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust deserve a special place in the nation’s memory and historical debate, the appeal says. Read more

Map of eastern Africa

Map of eastern Africa showing Rwanda, Congo and Kenya

Something similar is needed for Africa. We see the horrors in Africa, such as the genocide in Rwanda in which radical Hutus killed almost one million Tutsis. We rightfully ask why? How could such a thing happen? Those are excellent questions, but we should ask other questions too. If you take time to read about the genocide in Rwanda, you will notice that those killed are described as “Tutsis and moderate Hutus”. The fact is that many Hutus died protecting Tutsis from the murderous rage of the  radicals in their own Hutu ethnic group (or tribe). The movie, Hotel Rwanda, illustrates just one such case.

I was in Kenya when the 2008 election crisis caused ethnic clashes. One of my colleagues, a Kenyan who gave me computer support, was saved from certain death by people of the ethnic group which were supposedly against his ethnic group. They harbored him against the attacks of their own people.

Ed and Congolese graduate

Ed and Lamumba (not his real name) graduating with a degree in Bible translation

When I worked in Congo, we sponsored a Congolese Bible translator for advanced translation studies. I’ll call him Lamumba, as it still is not safe to use his name. When he came out of Congo to start the studies in Kenya, he told a harrowing story. In his area there was a tribal war going on. One tribe would take control of his town and then kill or imprison people from the other group, then the other tribe would take over and do the same in reverse. When the militants from his own tribe were in control, a believer from his church, but from the other tribe, was imprisoned. He took that person a meal in prison. Incredibly, people from Lamumba’s church, who were from his own ethnic group, perceived that as aiding the enemy and sought to kill him. He had to sleep in a different house every night to avoid them.

When we react in horror to ethnic clashes, as we should, we should also remember that God probably has his heroes right smack in the middle. There will be many Hutu martyrs for Jesus in heaven who died defending Tutsis against the attacks of their fellow Hutus. There are other Congolese, like Lamumba, who helped fellow believers in spite of the tribal clash that should have separated them. Some probably died for it. The instigators of the ethnic conflict in Kenya are going to be tried in the International Criminal Court, but no official body is looking into the stories of those in their ethnic group who acted against their machinations.

God remembers, and one day he is going to put on display the righteous acts of those who suffered to do right, and thereby thoroughly humiliate this world (Rev. 17:8). Don’t find yourself listening to the stories and saying, “Oops! I really should have expected that,” or, “Oh! How wrong I was to condemn all Africans!”

Not just anyone can translate

Because I am involved in Bible translation, I read about translation – all kinds of translation, not just Bible translation. These days, that means reading on the web. I came across an important article by a professional translator and researcher in translation issues, Nataly Kelly. It is entitled “Clearing up the Top 10 Myths About Translation“. A number of the 10 myths are not very applicable to Bible translation, but one is applicable not just to Bible translation, but to all kinds of Christian ministry in places where there is more than one language – which is most of the world. So what is this myth?

Any bilingual can be a translator or an interpreter.

Nataly goes on to write:

The ability to write in English does not make a person a professional writer. The ability to speak English does not make a person a professional speaker. Likewise, the ability to write or speak two languages does not mean that a person can translate or interpret. Plenty of people who are perfectly fluent in two languages fail professional exams for translation and interpreting. Why? Being bilingual does not guarantee that a person will be able to transport meaning from one language and culture to another without inflicting harm in the process.

Why do I think that this is important for Christian ministry in areas where there is more than one language? Well, because it seems to me that many missionaries, evangelists, pastors and even whole churches do not know it. Churches in settings with more than one language pick a person from the congregation to translate the Pastor’s sermon. They do so only on the basis that the person speaks both languages. The interpreter receives no orientation or training, nor is his or her interpretation evaluated.

Short term missionaries come and pick just any person who speaks the local language and English to be their interpreter. The interpreter may even be interpreting Bible stories in the VBS classes run by the short-term missions team. The result is the message gets lost in poor translation. But that is not what God intended, because we read in Deuteronomy chapter 30:

11 “This command I am giving you today is not too difficult for you to understand, and it is not beyond your reach. 12 It is not kept in heaven, so distant that you must ask, ‘Who will go up to heaven and bring it down so we can hear it and obey?’ 13 It is not kept beyond the sea, so far away that you must ask, ‘Who will cross the sea to bring it to us so we can hear it and obey?’ 14 No, the message is very close at hand; it is on your lips and in your heart so that you can obey it. (NLT)

Congolese translator candidates

A leading Congolese Bible translator teaching potential translators selected by their churches. Out of this group, only one or two will be chosen. Photo by Doug Wright

We need to be wary of making God’s message difficult or far away. Unfortunately, naïvety about language causes some to do just that. When churches and missions were offered (they did not ask, we offered) training for their interpreters in Burkina Faso, they came back afterward to say how much more people understood of the sermons, thus affirming that the interpretation of sermons needed improvement and that they did not know that improvement was needed.

Here in Ghana and most places, all Bible translation is done by native speakers of the languages. But not just any native speakers. Churches send a group of at least 8 potential translators matching a specific profile to a short course in translation. In 5-10 days we can see which are gifted in translation and which are not. The gifted ones are chosen as translators. It is not just any person whom God has gifted to translate into his language.

Bible Translators receiving specialized training in Tamale, Ghana

Bible Translators receiving specialized training in Tamale, Ghana

But we do not stop there. Bible Translators receive specialized training and that training is renewed regularly. For example, if the national translators in a language has translated the Gospels, and they plan to translate the Psalms next, then they will get special training on translating poetry before they start. The need for training is why we made it a priority to help a Christian University in Congo start a training program for Bible translators.

It will seem odd to those of us who speak English or another major language, but it is not uncommon to have pastors trained in English in Africa who do not know the names of the books of the Bible in their own languages, nor the correct words for key concepts like faith, salvation or repentance in their own languages. The Ghanaian responsible for pastoral training for a large denomination here in Ghana confirmed this to me just this week. This is because their schooling and training is entirely in English. If you take someone like that to be an interpreter into his language, you will not get a good result, even worse if you just take any person off the street.

Interpreting the pastor’s sermon, or for a short terms team does not need the same degree of rigor as Bible translation, but they do need more than just choosing anyone. Businesses, governments, book publishers, Nataly Kelly and many more know that they need professional translators with specialized training to get their message clear. Sometimes we Christians don’t, proving Jesus’ words:

For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light. (Luke 16:8 ESV)

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Span

The span is amazing. In fact, the span is spectacular – every bit as much as this bridge in France.

Across Africa, learned believers with strings of letters behind their names are working on the same teams with believers with no formal education. Their purpose? To translate the Bible into African languages.

Without the learned members of the teams, some parts of the job would be impossible – such as developing an alphabet for the many previously unwritten languages. In some cases, African churches have started their own translation efforts only to find them stymied. They rightly realized that using just the English alphabet their language could not be written in a way that could be read back. But they did not have the scientific knowledge to know what to do about that. When we sent them a linguist specialized in such matters, the problem was solved.

Siwu traditional authorities

Siwu traditional authorities, near Hohoe, Ghana

The team members without formal education bring another kind of expertise which is just as valuable – they know their languages and what their people believe. Their role is to make sure that the translation communicates clearly. I saw this powerfully a few weeks ago when a paramount chief congratulated us on producing a translation that spoke deeply to them. Of course, it was not because of us, but because of the hard work of some his own subjects.

I saw it again in the Congo when we showed the Jesus Film (which is really an abridged translation of the Gospel of Luke). When Jesus would speak, people were saying, “I can understand clearly!”

In fact, sometimes “educated” people bring in English words and that can obscure the meaning. For such reasons, an “uneducated” viewpoint can bring clarity.

I can’t think of another endeavor which benefits from the direct involvement of people of such divergent educational levels. The span really is amazing. God’s very diverse gifts and callings working together in a beautiful way with powerful impact.

The unlearned believers translating the Bible and putting it into practice are the foundation of the explosion of the church in Africa. Yale historian Lamin Sanneh (himself from The Gambia) has called the results of their work “incalculable”.

God seeth not as man seeth. He hath chosen the foolish things of the world, the weak things of the world, the base and despicable things of the world, men of mean birth, of low rank, of no liberal education, to be the preachers of the gospel and planters of the church.
(Matthew Henry Commentary, regarding I Cor 1:27)

John Agama

Who spreads the Gospel to places where it has never been? Missionaries, right? Actually…

Protrait of John Agama

Portrait of John Agama painted by the son of a missionary. it is hanging in John Agama Hall on the GILLBT Training Centre in Tamale, Ghana

This is a portrait of John Agama, now deceased. He was the national chief of police in Ghana for a number of years. He was also a leading Christian and was nationally known as such. While the Gospel was preached in the southern parts of Ghana, from which John came, even from the early 1800s, in the mid 1900s it still had not penetrated into the northern parts. This concerned him.

So along with some other leading Ghanaian Christians including William Ofori Atta, they invited Wycliffe members to come to Ghana and they asked them to concentrate their Bible translation efforts in the north, which they did. The first came in 1962, exactly 50 years ago. I could tell a similar story for other countries where the work of Bible translation got started through the initiative of national Christians. Missionaries came and led the work, but the vision for it came from within the country and nationals did much of the real translation with the training and quality control supplied by specially trained missionaries.

John Agama

John Agama

We see a similar story for one of the largest churches in Ghana, The Church of Pentecost. It was started by James McKoewn and has grown to be one of the largest churches in Ghana. It has been self-supporting from the beginning. It now runs schools, clinics and even a university which it funded only with money it raised in Ghana. It has outreach in at least 80 countries worldwide, all funded from within Ghana. James Mckoewn as the only missionary it ever had. All of the other pastors and evangelists have been Ghanaian. James McKoewn did a marvelous work, but he only did a very small percentage of the evangelism and discipleship himself. He concentrated on mentoring a small group of Ghanaians who evangelized and each developed their own small group to mentor. We see the missionary, McKoewn, but the majority of evangelism and discipleship was done by Ghanaians and they carried the vision long after Mckeown was gone.

Church of Pentecost Council 1954

Church of Pentecost Council 1954 James McKoewn center and his brother on the right. Courtesy Church of Pentecost Canada

I met a man in the town of Tamale whose father was the first pastor from the Konkomba people. The Konkomba resisted the Gospel for many years. As the first pastor this man was persecuted, reviled and rejected. Threats were made against him. The man I spoke to remembered growing up in a household that the community at large rejected and insulted. They were though to be traitors. People believed that by rejecting traditional religion they were putting the community at risk from spiritual forces. So they were thought to be a threat that needed to be expunged. But his father stuck to it.

Some of us read and are inspired by missionary biographies. That is great. Unfortunately, there are many, many untold stories of their first converts who suffered as much or more and who did more to champion the Gospel than the missionary and for a longer time. Not that the missionary failed, but by the nature of things the nationals had more impact and stayed longer.

Today in northern Ghana there are many places where the Bible has been translated and the missionary has left. But dedicated Ghanaians are doggedly, without pay even though they have little themselves, running night literacy classes so that their fellow believers can read the Bible and even so that non-believers can have the benefits of knowing how to read. They do this year after year. There is no missionary to tell the story to those who sent out the missionary. But the story will be known in eternity. It will, I believe, be shouted from the rooftops.

One of the lessons of these observations is that missionary impact is extended greatly when the skills and vision are passed on to nationals. Asking a missionary how many converts he has made is okay, but it might also push the missionary to do more primary evangelism to please his supporters, but long-term and sustained impact will come from mentoring and training a small group of local people.

Why nationals

You’ve heard these:

  • • It costs less
  • • They already know the language
  • • They already know the culture
  • • There are not enough missionaries from the West
  • • There are more and more nationals with good training

I could add to this list of reasons why we should work more with nationals and not send missionaries. It is a pretty impressive list of reasons. I agree with all of them, although some are overstated or simplistic.

In spite of the good reasons, I still find the list unsatisfactory. It is very pragmatic. Nothing wrong with being pragmatic, but missions is about vision – God’s vision – for this world. It is much more than just pragmatic. If our decisions were only pragmatic no missionary would spend a decade or more in a small minority to translate the Bible. That kind of action flows out of something much deeper than a need to be pragmatic.

So, a list of pragmatic reasons for a mission strategy leaves me hungry. I need something more.

So let me propose two reasons for working with nationals which are based in what the Bible says. (I could use a fancy word and say that they are theological reasons.)

First, God is calling them. If one takes the time to talk to some of the nationals involved in Bible translation across Africa one will quickly find evidence of God’s hand in their lives. The first time this dawned on me was many years ago. A national told me how he became a Christian in middle school, started to feel a call to Christian service in secondary school, ended up studying linguistics at university wondering why God pushed him through that door, worked for a while in adult literacy and then studied theology. God had led him to the perfect preparation for Bible translation without him knowing it. I had to admit that God’s hand in his preparation was clear. Other Africans involved in Bible translation have similar, if sometimes less dramatic stories to tell. You can read one in detail in an article about Mozambican Bonofacio Paulo in Word Alive magazine.

Besides, we have made mistakes when we have involved Africans because it cost less and they already knew the language without asking ourselves or them about their motivation. It is better to follow where God is leading, even if it costs a bit more. Being pragmatic has its limits.

You might find my second non-pragmatic reason is less convincing. It took me years to be convinced by it myself. That is probably because I come from an individualistic culture (Southern Oregon in the USA) and I did not grow up in a major denomination. Most of my early experience was with independent Bible Churches and a church loosely attached to a smaller denomination. That left me with an understanding of the church which I have come to see as deficient. Not wrong, just not all that it should have been.

Where there is a church, we need to involve national Christians, especially church leaders, in decision-making because they represent Christ’s church. Now, there are false churches, corrupt churches, weak churches and churches with all kinds of other defects. So one needs to be wise and discerning. But where there is a group of true believers and they have leadership they respect, it necessary to assume that God will speak helpfully through them. I have been disappointed when operating under that assumption, but far more often I have found godly and wise counsel in addition to enriching my life. Even where the advice was bad, I believe that I honored God by working with his church. In the cases where I have been disappointed, I have often found that sticking with it for a while (2-3 years) turned that situation around.

So, instead of looking primarily at pragmatic issues like cost, I now first look to see what churches God has in the situation that I might consult and second who He might be calling. The pragmatic stuff follows, rather than leads.

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Singing in Sign Language

Singing in Sign Language

This week I am featuring a very special guest blogger – my wife, Dayle. Enjoy.

I was thinking, “I better turn off my phone ringer.” Then I remembered that I was attending a worship service for the Deaf. Who would it bother? Cool. Then Ed phoned me  and my first reaction was to quick answer to stop the ringing. Then I relaxed. Sound is not where it’s all happening here.

Leading deaf worship

Emmanuel Acheampong, main translator, leading the worship team

I was at the a dedication of the first ever portions of Scripture translated into Ghana Sign Language done by DOOR (Deaf Opportunity OutReach; a Wycliffe Affiliate). People were starting to gather to begin the program.

Deaf Youth Choir

Deaf school choir signing a lively song.

How can someone sing without sound?  Vibration, movement, heart, mind and some elbow room are where it’s at! The singing reminded me of cheer leading. The cheering was for Jesus. “Who are you going to live for?”  “Je-sus, Je-sus!”  “Who are you going to look to?” “Je-sus, Je-sus!” “Who are you going to serve?” “Je-sus, Je-sus!” The drums play the beat and everyone feeling the vibration can keep right in step with the songs, moving left and right when appropriate, clapping or signing. The Deaf school choirs were very impressive with their choreography combined with the sign language.

Drummer

Drummer - an indispensable accompaniment to Deaf worship, everyone feels the vibrations and keep the same rhythm

When you were a kid at church, did you dislike bowing your head and closing your eyes to pray? You don’t have to if you are deaf. Everyone LOOKS. While the person who is signing is praying, he is not necessarily closing his eyes. He is looking up. I love the sign for “amen”. Hold your left palm out in front of you facing up. Hit it with your right hand formed into a fist, on the little finger side of the fist. It feels like a solid, “AMEN”.

During the service there were a few fussy babies, not disturbing anyone but their moms. It was the few little ones who got away from their parents and began entertaining the masses out in front, who were able to distract from the program! And they could dance! They were met with laughter, understanding and even some appreciation.

Holding up DVDs and storyboards

Deaf translation team holding up DVDs and storyboards of the translation

Signing is so logical and many of the signs happen around the part of the upper torso where the process of the meaning happens. Thinking is up at the forehead. Feeling, owning, love, happiness, sorry, are all at the heart area. The mouth gets eating, sweet, talking and so forth. One of my favorites is “funny”, which is signed around the nose and the eyes are squinted!  Even though I had practiced for 3 days to read some sign language, it was impossible to keep up watching the Deaf communicating with each other. Their hands are very nimble and flexible and they “speed read”!The more I participate in sign language, the more the latent linguist in me comes to life and questions begin multiplying like snow gathering on a snow ball rolling down a snowy hill. It is like Christmas morning with a new item that must be assembled and has hundreds of pieces and you can’t wait to use it once it is built. The sign language translation was distributed on DVD (with a person signing it) and on “storyboards” which are books with drawing of the signs.

Communicating in sign language takes out lots of words we would use, putting whole thoughts into one sign. More can be said in a hurry. There is so much to learn about all the implications of Sign Language Bible translation. My heart is completely crushed when I think that it is only now, today, that Deaf  people are seeing Scripture in their heart language for the first time. Chagrin and deep sorrow. How did they have to wait so long? Then it switches to ecstatic anticipation of what God is going to do with His Word to the Deaf ones. A whole new world has opened up to them and they are now hearing God speak their language. They will be sending missionaries to minister around the world. We are at the edge of powerful changes.  God is at work. Who are we going to look to? Who are we going to live for? Who are we going to serve? Jesus! Hands down.

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The Rock that God Put

Growing up, I suppose that I assumed that street names and house numbers were everywhere. When I got to Africa, I found that was not always the case. Nairobi streets are all named and each house or office has a number. There are maps of the city. When we lived in Ouagadougou a few main streets had names, but I never saw numbers on buildings and I made my own map.

Ada Isaac in his home villageIn the mid 1980s while living in Burkina Faso, I was looking for a man named Ada Louka Isaac. He was a high school math teacher who had shown an interest in the translation of the Bible into his language – Kassem. I knew that he lived in a suburb of the city of Bobo-Dioulasso. I traveled to Bobo-Dioulasso by train and caught a taxi at the train station. I gave the taxi driver the name of the suburb.

I knew that the suburb was new, had few homes and that most lots were vacant. So I thought I would have little problem finding Isaac’s home. Boy, was I wrong. People had planted millet on the vacant lots. It had grown to a height of 15-18 feet turning the rutted dirt roads of the suburb into little canyons from the bottom of which I could see nothing. The taxi driver quickly realized that I did not know my way and began complaining that the price we had settled on would not be enough. (The taxi did not have a meter.) As I was assuring him that I would pay him a fair amount, there was a loud crunch and the sound of things breaking from under the vehicle. With a look of concern the taxi driver stopped, got out and looked under his taxi.

We were in one of the narrow millet canyons. I could only see ahead and behind. Not only was I not going to find Ada, I would have to walk out of the suburb. I got out of the taxi. Through the millet stalks I saw something. When I walked toward it, I found a few young men making tea. After the obligatory greetings, I asked if they new Isaac Ada (using the short form of his name). One of the young men asked: “Do you mean Ada Louka Isaac, the math teacher? He lives way over on the other side! You will never find him! But I can show you the way.”

He grabbed his moped and we walked back to the taxi. The transmission of the taxi had hit a protruding laterite rock. Laterite is so soft that the sounds we had heard were the rock breaking, not the transmission! In a few minutes I was at Isaac’s place.

How many years ago did God put that laterite rock in that spot? How did he arrange for it to not be leveled by the grader that made the road? Why did those young men decided to make tea where I could see them? Coincidence? I don’t,  think so. I found Isaac because of the rock that God put. If I am effective, it is because of all the ways God intervenes to make things happen.

Isaac did get involved in the translation into his language. More, he became a founding member of a national organization in Burkina Faso doing Bible translation. He is still a personal friend.
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