Sometime ago, a thoughtful friend gave me a pad of paper with a Scripture verse printed on the bottom of each page. I love it. Each time I jot down a grocery list or add up my budget, I get a jolt of encouragement, such as, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy” Matthew 5:7. And who doesn’t need more mercy?
The only problem is, I hate throwing Scripture away. Ingrained in my memory are stories of prisoners of war and victims of other human atrocities who have sustained their spirits by salvaging scraps of Bibles from garbage piles and latrines. I think of an indigenous Indian man and his blind daughter, who walked by foot for a month every year to attend an EBT Bible conference so that he could translate God’s word in his own language. And I think of John Allen Chau, the young American missionary, who was killed last November by members of a remote Indian island while trying to tell the isolated people who lived there about Jesus.
Chau should have found other ways to communicate the Gospel to those on North Sentinel Island, one former missionary told The New York Times, such as sending, “books, artwork or even a Bible that was translated into their own language.” But no one has translated the Bible into the language spoken by the people on North Sentinel Island. That is exactly why Chau studied linguistics, trained with missions organizations and risked his life by going there.
Bible translation is controversial work. In some places it is illegal. In others, even owning a Bible carries a sentence of death. Translators working in such areas often make tremendous sacrifices and face grave hardships so that others might be free to read the same words that have brought hope and life to them. I know because my mom was a linguist who translated portions of Scripture into a language spoken in a remote, mountainous region of the former USSR.
Today, others are carrying on her work. But when I crumple up a grocery list printed with God’s word, I realize how wealthy I am – not because I can drive ten minutes and fill my shopping cart with luxuries unimaginable in almost any other time in history (Mangos! Sockeye Salmon! Chocolate!), but because I can read God’s word in my own language.
According to the American Bible Society, there are more than 900 printed English translations or paraphrases of the Bible, with more on the way. Yet, while I can click on Amazon and have any number of Bibles delivered to my door, an estimated 180 million people speaking 1,879 languages (plus those who communicate using 284 sign languages) are still waiting for someone to translate the Scriptures for them. It hardly seems fair.
So when I glance at my to-do list and read what’s printed at the bottom, “Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly…” Colossians 3:16, I am reminded to pray for those who do not yet have Christ’s message in their own language as well as to support those working to bring it to them.
Meadow Rue Merrill, author of the award-winning memoir, Redeeming Ruth, writes for children and adults from a little house in the big woods of midcoast Maine. The Backward Easter Egg Hunt, the second book in her Lantern Hill Farm picture-book series, is available for preorder now.