Young Missionary Couple Start In East Africa

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The Importance Of Orientation On The Mission Field

Entering into an overseas missionary assignment is not as easy as just getting on a plane and moving into a cross-cultural setting and beginning to minister to the people there.  I suppose you could try doing that.  And I know there have been others that have done this, and perhaps have even done well.  But that is probably the exception, not the rule.

You see, there are so many cultural and linguistic barriers that separate us from other people, that one must carefully get trained and equipped to overcome these barriers before effective ministry can really begin to happen.  Below is an except of a newsletter from a young missionary couple who moved to East Africa back in 2010.  Take a look at what they said, being so newly arrived to Africa, and then read about some of our experiences after that.

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 “This month has flown by. We realized it has now been six months since we arrived here in East Africa. It definitely does not seem that long. Looking back, we can see how we have changed, grown and adapted to our new environment. We can also see the incredible amount of blessings God has showered on us. Here’s just a few of the big ones.

Our language learning time was such a blessing. We made many friends and learned so much about the people and culture. A fantastic house became available and the timing was so perfect that we were able to move into it right after language school. We survived our village living and were able to take away so many insights from that experience. And now, we are working full time and things are going well.”

“Another blessing has been our health. We have not had any sicknesses lately which helps us greatly in accomplishing our work. God has also blessed us in the area of friends. He must have known how much we needed good friends to hang out with and relate to while being in such a different culture, because he gave us an amazing team. It has been so wonderful getting to know them and I really feel like we have made some special bonds.

We are also building relationships with a few nationals. It is slow going because of the language barrier but it is most rewarding to be able to connect on common ground. I pray that God is working through us and our slowly improving Swahili to touch their lives.

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 From even just this short report, it is clear that this couple got off to a good start.  They talk about making good friends with others quickly, and how they developed relationships with the national people there.  It is vital that these things happen in order to be effective in Christian ministry, drawing strength from one’s colleagues, as well as building a common ground of friendship with the local people, using the local language as the bridge into their lives.

Unfortunately, things did not go as well for our family when we went over to East Africa in 2006-07.  There are a number of reasons which all added up against us at that time which I don’t need to go into right here.  But probably the greatest of all the mistakes we made, if we can call it that, was that we did not take the time to be properly oriented into the life, culture and language of that country.

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It had been planned from the beginning for us to attend language school to learn Swahili and learn about the culture of East Africa, just like this young couple mentioned above.  We had three choices of where we could do this: two locations were many hours distant from where our mission office was in a large town, or at a language school just outside that town.

We chose the school near our office, partly because we did not want to uproot our family with two teen sons again in a short period of time.  But also because we knew our office was very short handed at that time and we had come specifically to help relieve the workload and leadership responsibilities.  It had been a long time since the leaders had been back home in America and we came to carry the load while they took a break.

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What ended up happening then, is that we drastically cut short our language and culture learning.  I ended up having the most training with just one month at the language school and one month of informal tutoring.  I got to the point that I could greet people, and I knew enough Swahili to pay our guards who watched over our house and yard, but not a whole lot more.

That had great impact negatively on our ability to build relationships with the African people to whom we had come to minister.  We attended a Swahili church, but understood little and had great difficulty being able to worship God, not knowing what was being spoken.  We ended up falling back on speaking English, which limited who we could speak with.

We do know that God used us to help out our East Africa Branch at that time.  But the stress of language and culture barriers were more than we could handle at that time, and our ministry to nationals was minimal for sure.  So if anyone is reading this who wants to minister to people in a cross-cultural setting, please take the time to learn as much language as possible first.  Then see how God can bless you in that new environment, and use you to be a blessing to the people there.

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Bible Translation Team Work In Africa

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[Editor’s Note: the couple in this newsletter had only been in their country for a few months, and yet you will read how quickly they get very involved in the work.  This tells us two things: a) the people in East Africa are very spiritually hungry to see the Bible translated into their own mother-tongue, and 2) this article shows that there is so much work to be done, but not enough workers to get all this work done.  And that is a good reason to be in prayer. ]

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Our Lives At A Glance This Month.

We have completed three weeks of consultant checking for Romans and Galatians in 10 languages.  Two expert consultants guided us through these books as we assisted translators in making necessary changes to their drafts to be consistent with the original Greek and maintain understandability.

We have also just been a part of our first branch meeting and we were so encouraged by the unity of our team and where God is directing this work.  During the meeting, we took on responsibilities for doing exegetical checking in two of the languages in the cluster. This along with our other current responsibilities will keep us quite busy! 

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PBT partners with another Bible translation organization here in East Africa which is responsible for training national translators. We will be teaching in this annual training which takes place this August after which we will be involved in another consultation. We have much to do to prepare for these events!

We have recently lost some financial commitments. We now have commitments for 81% of our budget goals. This does not jeopardize our ability to stay on the field but remaining at this level will limit our ministry opportunities in the future.  Please pray with us that God will continue to meet all our needs here on the field.

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No Condemnation

One of the amazing aspects of our job includes digging into God’s word on almost every level imaginable, from the grammatical to the theological. For two weeks we delved into the book of Romans doing our best to understand the meaning of the text and guide translators in making tough decisions about how to render certain terms and ideas in their language. 

The book of Roman exposes the Law for what it is – inadequate to save us because of our sin. And as chapter 8 says, “what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering.”  And because of this, there is “therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus”! This is the life-saving, freedom-giving message that people are waiting to hear and read in a language that speaks to their hearts. Praise God that very soon the people represented by these ten languages will have access to these words of truth!

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A Team Effort

We are so privileged to be a part of an ever-growing team! This team includes fellow PBT missionaries serving in various areas of literacy, Bible translation and Scripture use, support personnel who see to our logistical needs, nationals who work to take care of our homes and facilities so that we are freed up to do translation work.

It also includes a partnering organization which facilitates many of the steps in the translation process, national translators, exegetes, as well as members of each language community who read and review the translations. This task could not be carried out without all of these individuals and what an awesome pleasure to see our team act as the body of Christ with each member exercising his or her own gifts.

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We have begun to settle into our roles serving as exegetes for two of the languages in the cluster and possibly a third in the future. My wife is also working in the area of linguistic analysis and I offer my talents as a ‘techie’ and musician to meet branch needs.

Still we retain the role of ‘learner’ as we continue in our language and culture learning. Please pray for our team, for unity, for exponential impact as we work together, for the binding of Satan as he would love to render us ineffective through division and for us as we continue to negotiate our roles in the team.

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What a great story!  There is no doubt that this couple are excited about what they are doing in their ministry work for the Lord there in East Africa.  And by reading this story, you can see that there is a lot involved in getting the Bible translated into another language.  It also takes a lot of team work as you can see from what they wrote.

In a week from now, I will share a portion of another story that this couple wrote which speaks more about this annual training program that PBT is a part of which helps to equip nationals to also become Bible translators.  God is doing great things through people like these missionaries.  And He is also doing fantastic things through the national men and women who are partners together with us in this global task of getting God’s Word into the hands of all people in their heart language.