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IN THE CARPENTER’S WORKSHOP: Missionary mentality

I was visiting my missionary son Matthew, and his missionary wife, Teresa, in Texas recently.  I was very impressed with the missionary spirit and the dedication to translating God’s word into languages, which would share the gospel of Christ with people all over the world.

It is that spirit of Christ, which drives the teachers, technicians, office workers, maintenance people and all those who work on the campus.  It is a huge example to the local church, which is involved in the very same work but complicated with many other things.

Most churches and individuals do not support missionaries with dollars and prayers.  They spend most of their energy and effort in important local efforts.  Another dimension lies very close, and today may be the day to discover it!

The quotes for today’s column are from photographs around an activity center of the missionary school in Dallas.  They not only open us up to the missionary mentality, but they show us the desperate need to support Bible translators each day.

Now back to the missionary mentality.  It is very important that God’s word be translated into local tongues.  A speaker from Africa said, “Trying to quench my spiritual thirst with scriptures from another language is like trying to drink water with a fork.”

Philip explained the scriptures and Jesus to the Ethiopian eunuch in his chariot. But once he believes, how is he going to read about Adam and Moses and Jesus and Paul for himself?   That daily nurture that we need as Christians is vital to new Christians in the 9,000 languages that the world speaks.

Cameron Townsend, the founder of Wycliffe Bible Translators for which Matthew and Teresa work, came to a basic and necessary truth which all Christians must discover.  “The greatest missionary is the Bible in the Mother tongue.  It never needs a furlough and is never considered a foreigner.”

Can you imagine how many “missionaries” of this type are on duty across the world?  From the hotels where the Gideons place them, to the racks in churches, to homes of Christians and non-Christians everywhere, they are ready to tell people about Jesus.

Translators for this ministry and others have taken up this challenge to place in the hands of people the living word of God.  From training in the languages, to seeking to find each nuance of sound and word, which the Holy Spirit might have at its command, they are the front lines for Christianity in that battle.

People in America have the Bible close at hand in many translations.   Many take it so much for granted that they don’t read it on a regular basis, some not at all.  So they die spiritually, and our nation’s lack of morality reflects the sin and degradation from that lack of spiritual food.  It is not that this food is not available.  We just don’t go shopping in that spiritual supermarket and dig in!

Translators over the centuries have labored with original documents to produce the Bibles we read in English.  From the translators of the King James Bible who worked with limited resources, to modern translators who have many more original texts and documents at their disposal, they work to make sure that we have the stuff of salvation in front of our eyes.

My son provides computer support to Wycliffe missionaries who live among the tribes of Cameroon, Africa.  They used to learn the language one word at a time and put it in a shoebox.  Now they use computers.

As I understand it, the missionaries live among the tribe, learn the language, develop an alphabet, and teach the people of the village to read in their own language.  By the time the Bible is completed, they not only have a hunger for the word, they can read it as well!  It takes about 20 years for that process, and new translations are now celebrated as they attain completion every year.

A.W. Tozer wrote, “The Bible is not an end in itself, but a means to bring men to an intimate and satisfying knowledge of God, that they may delight in his presence, may taste and know the inner sweetness of the very God himself in the core and center of their hearts.”

It is the knowledge of Christ our God which we all seek.  That inner seeking which many try to fill with things and temptations of the world can only be filled with God.  As Augustine said a thousand years ago, “our hearts are restless till they find their rest in thee.”

When Matthew and Teresa return to Cameroon, it will be with the single purpose of translating the Bible into all of the 300 languages there.  Together with their partners who support them in prayer and dollars, and their co-workers who join them shoulder to shoulder in this work, that missionary spirit lives on! 

That missionary spirit which drove us to send missionaries to foreign lands decades ago must be rediscovered today.  Now, and rightly so, those converted lands are sending missionaries to us!