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.

Counted

The Nawuri traditional Chief had traveled a long and difficult road from northern Ghana with his entourage to attend the celebration of GILLBT‘s 50th anniversary, where he was presented with the first copy of the New Testament in the Nawuri language. He took the stage in his traditional dress. He intended to celebrate, because he wore black and white – the colors of celebration in Ghana.

After a few remarks about what a great occasion is was and how thankful he was, with his voice and face full of emotion, cried,

“We have now been counted among God’s people!”

Probably without knowing it, and certainly without being a theologian, the Nawuri Chief had touched a neglected bit of Bible truth. You see, we in the West see God’s plan as something for us personally. One of The Four Spiritual Laws™ says that “God has a wonderful plan for your life”. Indeed, the Bible affirms that salvation is offered to each individual.

For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Romans 10:13 ESV)

But the Bible is also full of God talking about his plan for the “nations”. Of Abraham, God said:

Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him (Genesis 18:18, ESV)

The Old Testament prophets and the book of Revelation are full of talk about the “nations”. In fact, that word is used hundreds of time in the Old Testament and numerous times in the book of Revelation. The word does not just mean “country”. It also refers to ethnic identity. Our Western culture is individualistic. So we read the Bible through individualistic eyes. The stuff about the nations either does not make sense to us, or we don’t see it at all.

Traditionally, each people group in Africa had its own set of beliefs which were considered “true” for them, but not for their neighbors. We see the same thing in the Old Testament: the Jews had their God, the Philistines another, the Egyptians their religion, and so on. Most times, everyone was willing to leave everyone else to his and her religion, considering that each one had their own truth. (Is this starting to sound like something you hear from people today? Well, it’s not as new as they might think.) Some would even exclude others from their religion, as Jonah wanted to do with the people of Nineveh.

In saying, “We have now been counted among God’s people!”, the Nawuri Paramount Chief sees that the translation of the New Testament into the Nawuri language confirms that the promises given to Abraham and fulfilled in Jesus Christ are also for them. He sees the Nawuri as one of the “nations” receiving God’s blessings through Abraham. In addition, he is turning his back on the idea that the Nawuri should have their own private religion.

The reaction of the Nawuri chief is echoed at New Testament dedications across the world. Those of us from majority cultures can’t understand what it is like to live feeling like we speak a language that has no value and that our identity is ignored by the larger world. When I say that I am an American, everyone, but everyone knows what that means. But before reading this, what if someone told you he was Nawuri? You might not even be able to find Ghana on a map, much less the Nawuri people group found there. The unpleasant truth is that, in the grand scheme of things in world economics and politics, the Nawuri really don’t matter and they are not known.

And so the Paramount Chief also said,

“When we go to politicians we are not known. But when we go to God we are known!”

Having your identity known to the most powerful person in the universe overcomes the fact that no one else knows you, that no one else cares. The Bible in one’s language, is proof of that God cares and that he knows.

Some learned people have mistakenly assumed that missions and the translation of the Bible devalues people or destroys their cultures. Yale professor of history, Dr. Lamin Sanneh, has debunked that theory in a number of his writings. For example, he reports that:

When a local Christian held in his hands a copy of the gospels for the first time, he declared: ‘Here is a document which proves that we also are human beings – the first and only book in our language.’ He was echoed by the testimony of another Christian in Angola who celebrated holding the Gospels in his hands for the first time, declaring jubilantly, ‘Now we see that our friends in the foreign country regard us as people worth while.’ (Bible Translation and Human Dignity, Anvil Journal 27-3, 2012)

The Nawuri Paramount chief knows in his heart what Dr. Sanneh’s research has uncovered. Bible translation, it turns out, brings to many peoples a profound sense of self-worth, of value and heightens their sense of purpose in this world – a purpose given by God. When the Nawuri paramount chief stood and made his moving declarations, I saw before my eyes one more case of the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham that he would be a blessing to all nations, and that is not just my opinion. It is the stated conclusion of the Nawuri chief and of many, if not all, of his subjects.

If you liked this, you might also like, Feeling the Gospel in our Bones or Before Missionaries, There was God.

The first box of Nawuri New Testaments on the stage, from which the Paramount Chief received the first copy