In his book “The Fire of the Word,” Chris Webb tells the following story.
On a cold winter morning in February 1208 a young man named Francesco Bernardone went to a small church to hear mass celebrated. As the service ended, Francesco approached the priest quietly explaining that he had not understood the Gospel reading done in Latin. Would the priest kindly read it again?
The cleric obliged...line by line...this time translating Jesus' words filled with faith, hope, love and charity, and a call to head the Gospel message: "The Kingdom of heaven has come near!" As he listened and understood the words, Francesco's heart began to race. Hearing the calling of the Spirit on his own life, he exclaimed, “This is what I want!"
This conversion and subsequent obedience to God is now legendary: Francesco is known to us as St. Francis of Assisi. Francis, because he heard the words of Christ in a language he understood, experienced the Bible as a life-changing book. "So faith comes from hearing, that is, hearing the Good News about Christ" (Romans 10:17, NLT).
His experience is far from unique–the transforming power of God's voice, when heard and understood, has been repeated down through the ages. Efi Tembon, the director of the Cameroonian Bible translation organization, CABTAL, tells a story about a woman in Cameroon who went to a “listening group” where the oral Scriptures were read in her heart language.
The day she attended, the group listened to a Scripture passage about how God wants us to treat widows and orphans. Afterwards the group discussed the passage together. The more the woman listened, the more troubled she became. She remembered that many years before, her husband’s brother had died. As is common in the area, her husband had seized the land that belonged to his brother, leaving the man’s widow and children out.
The woman went home from the listening group and shared with her husband what she had heard. “We need to give that land back to the widow and her children,” she said. Her husband was convicted. They called the widow and her children, asked for their forgiveness, and gave the land back to them. God brought reconciliation between the two families.
Efi cites this as an example of the way the Scriptures—translated into the mother tongue and presented in the form that fits the culture—are changing hearts and lives and bringing people together. “We are now stronger because we come and listen to the Word of God every day.”
In Revelation 3:20, this same John says that not only did Jesus move in among us, but He seeks a personal relationship with us: “Look! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends” (NLT).
This is the message that Francis heard and understood...Jesus not only spoke his language, but He moved into the village where Francis lived and became his Friend, changing his life forever.
We could look back many centuries before St. Francis of Assisi, or forward many years into the future, and we would find the same thing true: God’s Word changes lives. And now, as the pace of Bible translation accelerates, the Word (Jesus) in many communities is going door to door calling out in a language people hear and understand.
Listen to what Chris Webb says, and be encouraged: "This ancient book has spoken into my contemporary world with startling clarity and irresistible authority....The Bible is…a thin place through which the presence of God breaks into this world and bursts with unpredictable consequences into our lives...The Bible clearly has the potential to provoke the most radical and far-reaching changes in individuals, societies and nations.“ (“The Fire of the Word,” 28, 30-31)
Engrossed as we all are in the opportunities and challenges of our daily work, we sometimes need to pause, step back, and contemplate the bigger picture. Let’s not lose sight of the tremendous power of this Word of God, and of the goodness of God in allowing us to have a role in releasing its power to the world. And on a more personal note, let’s not forget that God wants to release the power of His Word in each of our lives, too.