While on assignment for Word Alive over the years, I have sat through my fair share of church gatherings in languages other than English.
What comes to mind? I remember colourfully dressed Jola-Bayote women dancing up the aisle in Guinea-Bissau; deaf congregations in Spain and Kenya “singing” with their hands in sign language; Sinte (gypsy) believers singing zestfully to vibrant music in Germany; an animated and pacing Tetun preacher exhorting fellow believers in Timor, Indonesia.
It is always encouraging to see other believers gathering for events that use their mother tongue. Admittedly, though, the novelty of these events wears off after an hour or two, because almost always I have no clue what is actually being said or sung. So it was this past September as I sat in a high-altitude village at an outdoor church gathering. It was conducted in Eastern Apurímac Quechua, spoken by 200,000-plus people in south-central Peru (like the farmers in the photo above). I was with 10 fellow Canadians from the Chilliwack Alliance Church in B.C. For about a day and a half, virtually every waking hour featured preaching, and Bible reading, and worship, and prayer, all in Eastern Apurímac Quechua. Some sermons lasted three hours!
Later, Chilliwackian Adrian Koppejan contrasted fellow Canadian Christians with these eager and patient Quechua believers he saw: “If the [church] service is an hour or an hour and 15 minutes, then we are done. They sit there for the whole day and evening.”
By the first afternoon, I was getting antsy, tired and—to be honest—bored. Though feeling a tad guilty for this, something finally dawned on me. Though I could understand a few words here and there (“Amen?” from the preachers and “Amen!” from the hearers), I was an outsider at this church event. The language barrier kept me entirely cut off from comprehending almost everything. Truth was being shared and celebrated, but it meant absolutely nothing to me.
I realized something: this is how it is for millions of people worldwide who are barred from truly understanding the Bible. For a few days in that Quechua village, I was like one of those who do not have one verse of God’s Word in their heart language. I couldn’t engage with the life-giving message being shared there. If the Bible wasn’t available in my mother tongue, I thought, how and why would I take any interest in its message? The same is true for Bibleless peoples around the world. Unless God’s Word is translated into their mother tongues, they are outsiders to the greatest Book for mankind.
To change this, Wycliffe Canada—and Canadians praying, giving and going with us—are partnering with organizations such as AIDIA (the Spanish acronym for “Interdenominational Association for the Holistic Development of Apurímac”). As you can read in this issue, AIDIA Bible translators have finished the New Testament and are forging ahead with the Old. At the same time, their co-workers are dynamically promoting Quechua literacy and Scripture-use among their own people.
Praise God for that! No matter where life-changing Christian truth is being shared from the Bible, no one should have to be bored by tragically failing to understand, just because of a language barrier.