In the corner of the window above my kitchen sink sits a box of tea, about the size of a pack of mints. ‘AZAWAD,’ read the letters printed across the front – a region in northern Mali and apparently one of the world’s earliest tea brands. Below, camels trek across a faded desert.
I first saw the box in the window above my mother’s kitchen sink, leafy twigs still sealed inside their yellowed cellophane wrapper. When I asked why she didn’t drink it, my mom explained that she’d received the tea as a gift in the land where she worked as a linguist, translating ancient scriptures into a language in which it is not yet published. After being diagnosed with cancer, she’d moved back to the States, but the box reminded her to pray for the people she’d left behind.
A year or so later, my mom died – translation incomplete. While seeking someone to carry on her work, I set the tea in my own window, taking up her prayers where she’d left off. Four years later, a team of linguists and local language speakers adopted the project. Despite limited funds and small salaries, they are currently finalizing the books of Genesis and Luke, have completed first drafts of Mark and Matthew and are working on the Gospel of John.
They hope to finish by 2025, but this week, as Christians around the world prepare to celebrate Easter, I am reminded of how many people still lack the Bible – the world’s most published book – in their own language. “Of the more than 6,000 vital languages spoken worldwide, over 3,800 have little or no Scripture translated,” according to an article published online in this week’s Christian Post.
In an effort to change that, ten leading Bible translation organizations banded together this week to form an alliance, IllumiNations. Their goal? To eradicate Bible poverty by making scripture available in every language by 2033. According to the article, the “I Want to Know” campaign provides collaboration and a centralized database so that translators can share resources and work faster.
“When someone has poverty, that means they lack something,” said Mart Green, the ministry investment officer of Hobby Lobby who organized the effort. “Sometimes that’s used around food or other things, but… God’s word is food to our life.”
Reading this, I am aware of how well fed I am. A quick Internet search reveals more than 450 translations of the Bible in English. An estimated 20 million Bibles are sold each year in the United States alone. I own at least six. But if I believe the words inside, it’s time to share.
While some may not want to read the Bible, everyone deserves the choice, which is why I’ll continue to pray. I’ll also give. And when the translation my mom began is complete, I’ll pour the world’s most anticipated cup of tea.
Due to sensitivity issues, I can’t share the full details of my mother’s work online. But if you knew my mom or are interested in helping support it, please contact me for more information.
Meadow Rue Merrill, author of the memoir, Redeeming Ruth, writes from a little house in the big woods of mid-coast Maine. She is also the author of the children’s picture book The Backward Easter Egg Hunt and four other books celebrating the holidays in a way that builds children’s faith. Connect at www.meadowrue.com