Since this is a blog about Bible translation, I want to tell you all about one of the biggest breakthroughs I experienced in our tribal Bible translation work. Just before I turned 40, our mission supervisor required us to leave our work, move our family far away, and enter a counseling program for therapy to address the lifelong effects of child abuse. That was a very difficult time, but I applied myself as best as I could to therapy. Eventually, the cover came off the cesspool of masked emotions which I had protected for so long. I didn't want to live anymore. I had always been afraid of people and had stuttered badly as a child, I was so afraid. I wanted to tell others something of how I was dealing with the issues of the past, but when I tried to do so before one of our donor churches, I had a panic attack. I gutted it out (as I thought a "real man" would do), but could not control my body and started going into a black fog of fainting. I could hear myself speaking more and more slowly. Finally, I had to be honest and just say I wasn't feeling well. I asked my wife to come up and finish for me. For a year after that I was mute, like Zechariah, John's father, in public, unable to do any public speaking.
The next summer we had a break and were able to visit back on the reservation where we had been translating. Our pastor there notified me ahead of time that he had to be gone our first Sunday back and asked me to take his place, sharing with the congregation "what you've been learning" in counseling. I didn't tell him "no", I guess because I was too afraid to do so.
The Sunday arrived and I had no idea how I would be able to speak, let alone speak about what I'd been learning as a person. Our pastor's cousin was the worship leader that Sunday and noticed where I was sitting on the porch of our old office building next to the church. He asked me if our pastor had asked me to speak and I say yes. Then I somehow had the courage to tell him that I didn't know if I could speak. (I had often done so there before, but that was before dealing with the junk stuffed away in the closets of my psyche.) And then I heard from him what I had never heard before in my life, "It's OK if you can't speak. We'll figure something else out." "Failure" had never been an option in our abusive family when I was growing up.
The service started. The time came when the worship leader opened the floor for anyone to share anything they wanted. I wanted so much to speak, but was so afraid. But I started talking. I just sat in my pew. I doubt that I could have spoken if I had gone to the front to stand behind the pulpit. For the next twenty minutes I told the people for whom we had come to translate the Bible why we had to leave them and what we had been dealing with. I told them about the child abuse. I cried the whole time even though men in their culture are not supposed to cry. They cried with me. After the service they hugged me. One lady, who later became the main translator, told me, "Well, now we know why you had to leave. We thought there were something wrong with us because you told us you had to go away to deal with interpersonal issues." That day we became one with those people. The tables were turned. The people to whom we had come to minister ministered to us. They knew all about abuse. Many of their lives were filled with it. They thought nothing less of us.
We still had a year or two of therapy to go. It was always difficult. But we made progress and our family was rescued. Our children felt safer from their critical, workaholic father. It helped when I would journal and record my experiences in poetry. Eventually we were allowed to return to the tribal translation program. Somehow it was not the same as it had been in the previous years. Our relationships with people took on a different tone. The translation effort was still difficult, but there was a new integrity to it. The translation process became less cognitive and more relational, even while the quality of translation itself improved, both in terms of accuracy and clarity.
I mentioned in a comment on Suzanne's post that I used to have a banner on my college dorm room which said in bold, shimmering letters: TRANSLATE. I understood it in two ways, first, it addressed my desire to become a Bible translator, and second, it represented my desire that my life would translate the Bible for others. Little did I know then that when I was 40 years old the people for whom we were translating helped me translate the freeing message of the Bible into my own life in a way that I had never been able to previously. It reminds me of what Paul wrote:
You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everyone, revealing that you are a letter of Christ, delivered by us, written not with ink but by the Spirit of the living God, not on stone tablets but on tablets of human hearts. (2 Cor. 3:3-4, NET)I am passionate about translating the Bible for those who do not have it in their language (including those have a Bible translation but one which is not translated into natural forms of their language). But since going through those difficult times of dealing with my past--and I am continuing to do so--I am even more passionate about wanting to help people experience personal freedom through good news from God written in the Bible. I have been privileged to help a number of people who have been abused. I never would have chosen this kind of ministry for myself, but God ...