Thursday, July 1, 2010

We Don't Ever Want to Forget

The single-engine plane circled and landed in a remote village in Southeast Asia. As translators Andrew and Anne Sims stepped out, they were immediately surrounded by several hundred Ketengban men and women—all dressed in full celebratory dress with feathered headdresses, and even some with bones in their noses, and plugs in their earlobes. Brandishing bows and arrows, hooting, chanting and dancing, they swirled in and around Andrew and Anne, honoring them by draping net bags around their necks.

Andrew and Anne were caught completely off-guard. Even though they were responsible for the Ketengban translation project and this was Anne’s first visit since the New Testament dedication 11 years earlier, they hadn’t expected such an exuberant welcome. They were further baffled when they noticed that not everyone was celebrating.

Off to the edge of the crowd stood a somber group of about eight young men. Like everyone else, they were dressed in full traditional regalia, but they were also covered in white mud from head to toe. They stood expressionless and silent, never moving, never joining in the celebration.

The elders explained: “Today we celebrate your return, Andrew and Anne, you who brought God’s words to us in our own language. But we don’t want to forget what life was like before we had the Word, so we asked these young men to cover themselves with mud and to stand apart, silent and somber. They represent the lives of all of us before we understood God’s words to us. We were like dead men walking. We didn’t know God or His Son. We lived in guilt and fear and constant warfare, always under the power of the evil spirits, who terrified us and caused us to fear one another as well.

“Now we are alive in Christ and free from our dark past. We are insiders, part of God’s family—no longer outsiders silently watching from afar. But our children don’t remember what it was like to be outsiders and walk as dead men, because they were born after the coming of God’s words. We want them to understand our past so they will fully value what they have with Jesus and will always give thanks to God. We older people don’t want to forget how much God has changed us either!”

They haven’t forgotten, and they haven’t kept the good news to themselves. They’ve reached out to half a dozen neighboring language groups—bringing people to Christ and planting churches. They’ve also committed themselves to getting more of the Word into their own language. The New Testament, dedicated in 1998, was not enough for them. Two teams of passionate, highly motivated mother tongue translators are working on a shortened version (45%) of the Old Testament, with the careful guidance of Andrew, who now works as a translation consultant with The Seed Company. (Photo: the Old Testament Translation team)

Through computer assisted adaptation, the Ketengban are also sharing their New Testament with the speakers of Lik, a closely related language. Andrew is working with mother tongue translators of that language, using the Adapt It software program to go from the Ketengban New Testament to the Lik. They will polish the resulting draft until God’s Word is as clear to the Lik people as it is to the Ketengban.

The Ketengban have it right: Against a background of darkness, light shines more brightly. If you don’t have your own memories of the darkness and fear outside of God’s family, I’d encourage you to tuck away the Ketengbans’ story for those occasions when you need a fresh appreciation for all that God has done.

In Deuteronomy 4:9 (NLT) Moses says to the Israelites: “But watch out! Be careful never to forget what you yourself have seen. Do not let these memories escape from your mind as long as you live! And be sure to pass them on to your children and grandchildren.”

Hang on to those memories. Pass them on to your children and your grandchildren, your colleagues and your partners. Let the memories enrich your personal walk with Christ, and let them give you a renewed passion for sharing the Good News with those still struggling in darkness outside the family of God.
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