My cousin, Joyce, and her husband, Bob Sterner, are missionaries with Wycliff Bible Translators. When Wycliff wants to help a primitive tribe learn the Bible, its standard practice is to obtain approval from the government of their country to set up a base there. Governments usually allow these bases to be set up because they are often at a loss as to how to deal with these sometimes very violent primitive tribes. One other standard government tactic is just to machine gun them all, but that can look bad if the international press find out and it sometimes result in a guerrilla-type war. So, these governments are usually happy to let the religious people risk their necks to “civilize” a tribe that otherwise might never become so.
The base Wycliff establishes usually contains a group of technicians that give medical, radio and air support to the support the missionaries. The missionaries’ first job is to simply make contact with the tribe—which sometimes can be fatal. After the missionaries establish a relationship, they move in with the tribe and learn the language and culture. Then they write the language starting with an alphabet. Then they translate the Bible into that language.
To give you a time frame as to how long this may take, Joyce’s parents, my Uncle Paul and Aunt Esther Powilson, just retired from the mission field after 42 years with the Yagua tribe in Peru. They had just finished the New Testament and several books of the Old.
There is usually a lot of trouble with the local shaman (witch doctor) and his power in these circumstances. I have heard some stories that make the best horror, slash and gash movies look like home videos. I actually met one of the most dangerous head hunters and cannibal chiefs in South America. He had been converted and was helping write the translation in a Wycliff base in Peru called Yarenaculpa where my parents were missionaries. As a 10-year-old boy, I would go to sleep with the sound tribal drums pounding in the not too far distance as the local natives were doing their pagan rituals.
My Dad was the clinic administrator at the base and had to help care for a native that was brought in on a airplane with a machete that was buried across his head all the way down to his ears. He lived. It was a problem with someone messing around with some one else’s wife.
I have talked with missionaries that lost everything in the Congo 30 years ago. They almost were murdered by government death squads. This kind of violence is very common in third world countries. We in the USA are so very fortunate.
My relatives, Joyce and Bob, were at a base Ira Jira, Indonesia, until it was forcibly closed down 5 years ago by the new junta in that Government. Till now, they were technicians at a Wycliff base in Davo, Indonesia. The government there has recently let anti-Christian forces get away with murder there. The following is a letter from Joyce. When she talks about the translated scriptures and translator helpers being lost, it probably means the loss of at least 20 years of work. &
— Wes Gordon
Wednesday, July 05, 2000 Subject: Prayer needed
Well, things have not been real great here these last couple weeks. On a general note, one of our teams here works with a group in north Halmahera which has been devastated by the recent violence. The village they lived in has been burned, all the Scripture portions unsold burned in the church office, and at least seven folks who worked closely with them on the translation have been killed. They don’t know where the others are. Additionally, the boat missing had 290 from their village on it, and all but 10 people on board drowned.
Additionally, we just received word today that our Ambon office and apparently all other SIL member and employee houses have been burned, the Christian enclaves remaining are surrounded by well-armed Muslim forces and there is no food. Only God can understand what is happening and bring good from it. Our hearts are sooo heavy. Please pray for the Christians in Indonesia. This does look like a concerted effort to wipe out all Christians. If they succeed in Maluku the chances are great that they will move on to other areas.
Much love and need for your upholding prayers,
Joyce, for us both
Can anyone think of any better way to teach the truth of God to a primitive people, than to give them a written language and write the Bible in it? What value are booklets about the Sabbath or Holy Days, if the people cannot look up the Scriptures? Can we all acknowledge that the Sabbatarians have never preached the Gospel to these tribes? I hope that nobody in the Judgment will try to say that these people were not committed to obeying God. They just need to understand more truth. We probably do, too.
Christ said that people would know other believers by their love for each other (John 13:35), and these people have the greatest love—they are willing to lay down their lives for their friends (John 15:13). Before anyone says “God must not be blessing their work because they are having so much trouble”, remember what happened to the apostles in the New Testament. “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 5:10).
— Norman Edwards