It happened at sundown.
My wife and I, with our three preschool daughters, had just arrived and were staying with some missionary friends in their home on the edge of a small Brazilian town. At dusk I went outside to cool off. I looked over the fields below the house where a wide path led from the jungle on my right to the town at my left. Our host joined me.
Suddenly he grabbed my shoulder and shouted, “Jack, look! There, coming out of the jungle!”
I looked and saw several dozen half-naked men, women, and children come trooping out of the jungle and trudging along the path toward town.
“Jack, those are Canela Indians. They are the people you and Jo are going to translate the Bible for!”
Whoosh! A rush of excitement. At last, after nine years of preparation—Bible school, pastoral experience, linguistic studies, Bible translation courses, jungle survival training, a Portuguese course, and a year in management—I was finally seeing the people we would work with.
My friend was explaining how they had walked for two days from their village, 80 kilometres (50 miles) farther into the jungle to trade baskets, but I wasn’t listening.
I drank in the sight of the Canelas, all of whom were carrying baskets on their backs, some of the men with muzzle loading shotguns in their hands. My heart overflowed with a stream of praise and prayer items.
“Today! At last! Love them. Make friends. Meet medical needs. Learn to speak the language. Develop a writing system. Teach them to read. Train teachers. Meet economic needs. Train translation helpers. Translate the Bible. Train Bible teachers. Publish the Bible.”
I prayed, “May those little naked kids someday have a Bible in their own language. May their children grow up in a Christian family.”
Twenty-two years later, God answered my prayer. I stood in the centre of the Canela village with a freshly printed copy of a Bible in the Canela language and boxes full of them at my feet, the entire village population sitting before me. As I called out the names of young men and women, they came to receive a copy of God’s Word in their language. They had earned the right to have their own Bible by memorizing many long passages from Scripture memory booklets.
I handed one young father the Book, shook his hand and said, “This is God’s Word. God will bless you as you read and obey it.” He took it, turned and, as he walked back to sit down on the ground with his friends and family, he opened the Book and began to read. He kept reading after he sat down. Soon, dozens of young men and women were bowed over their open Bibles reading and reading and . . . not listening to a word I was saying.
It was wonderful! That’s exactly what we came to do.
Later that day I said to my wife, “I’m so glad God made you and me into a team to accomplish this task. You know, this is the greatest day of my life. I’m 52 years old this year and as far as I am concerned, I could drop dead right now and my life would have been worthwhile.”
Every time I, or someone of my family, see a copy of that red Canela Bible, we feel grateful to God for choosing us to have the privilege of bringing His Word to an entire people group, for the first time, in their own language.
Jack Popjes started writing stories for their missionary newsletters during the decades he and his wife were Bible translators in Brazil. For the past 20 years, he has blogged weekly on missions, church, Christian spirituality, and Bible translation. His current blog is INsights & OUTbursts. He has print published three books and e-published two books of story based articles—all selected from his blogs. His storytelling ability makes him a popular speaker. firstname.lastname@example.org