For God So ‘Dvu’d’ the World…

Translator Lee Bramlett was confident that God had left His mark on the Hdi culture somewhere, but though he searched, he could not find it. Where was the footprint of God in the history or daily life of these Cameroonian people?  What clue had He planted to let the Hdi know Who He was and how He wanted to relate to them?

Then one night in a dream, God prompted Lee to look again at the Hdi word for love. Lee and his wife, Tammi, had learned that verbs in Hdi consistently end in one of three vowels. For almost every verb, they could find forms ending in i, a, and u. But when it came to the word for love, they could only find i and a. Why no u?

Lee asked the Hdi translation committee, which included the most influential leaders in the community, “Could you ‘dvi’ your wife?”  “Yes,” they said. That would mean that the wife had been loved but the love was gone.

“Could you ‘dva’ your wife?” “Yes,” they said. That kind of love depended on the wife’s actions. She would be loved as long as she remained faithful and cared for her husband well.

“Could you ‘dvu’ your wife?”  Everyone laughed. “Of course not!  If you said that, you would have to keep loving your wife no matter what she did, even if she never got you water, never made you meals. Even if she committed adultery, you would be compelled to just keep on loving her. No, we would never say ‘dvu.’ It just doesn’t exist.”

Lee sat quietly for a while, thinking about John 3:16, and then he asked, “Could God ‘dvu’ people?”

There was complete silence for three or four minutes; then tears started to trickle down the weathered faces of these elderly men. Finally they responded. “Do you know what this would mean?  This would mean that God kept loving us over and over, millennia after millennia, while all that time we rejected His great love. He is compelled to love us, even though we have sinned more than any people.”

One simple vowel and the meaning was changed from “I love you based on what you do and who you are,” to “I love you, based on Who I am. I love you because of Me and NOT because of you.”

God had encoded the story of His unconditional love right into their language. For centuries, the little word was there—unused but available, grammatically correct and quite understandable. When the word was finally spoken, it called into question their entire belief system. If God was like that, did they need the spirits of the ancestors to intercede for them? Did they need sorcery to relate to the spirits? Many decided the answer was no, and the number of Christ-followers quickly grew from a few hundred to several thousand.

The New Testament in Hdi is ready to be printed now, and 29,000 speakers will soon be able to feel the impact of passages like Ephesians 5:25:  “Husbands, ‘dvu’ your wives, just as Christ ‘dvu’-d the church…”  I invite you to pray for them as they absorb and seek to model the amazing, unconditional love they have received.

Around the world, community by community, as God’s Word is translated, people are gaining access to this great love story about how God ‘dvu’-d us enough to sacrifice his unique Son for us, so that our relationship with Him can be ordered and oriented correctly. The cross changes everything!  Someday, the last word of the last bit of Scripture for the last community will be done, and everyone will be able to understand the story of God’s unconditional love.

* Article adapted from a letter by Bob Creson titled One Little Vowel, published to staff of Wycliffe USA on 30 July 2012. Click here to see original article

* Photo by Zeke du Plessis – Two women photographed in a city not far from where the Hdi live.

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Three years ago… God’s faithfulness in action

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I’m in Cameroon this week meeting with the Ballards.  Rodney and Joy moved with their family to Cameroon just a few months ago.  Rodney is a new member of the Wycliffe News Network team, and he will be our Africa-based photojournalist once he and Joy complete French language study.

We were reflecting that it was exactly three years ago that…

  • I came to Cameroon for the first time.
  • I went on my first story gathering trip in Africa.
  • AND, Rodney first contacted me about the possibility of being a photojournalist in Africa.

Rodney said that he remembered that I told him that it might take me a few weeks to get back to him because I was traveling – guess where? In Cameroon!  We corresponded these last few years while Rodney and Joy transitioned from other work and built a team of ministry partners that would support them in new roles here.  Now, three years later… I’m in Cameroon again this time meeting with Rodney who is now a new WNN team member based in Cameroon.

It’s reminders like this that help me remember God’s faithfulness, and the guidance he gives us on our journey.  We may not know the future, but he does.

Photo courtesy of Rodney Ballard

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Following His Will

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Story by Zeke du Plessis

“It wasn’t my plan to come to Africa; it was God’s,” surmised Shu-Mei Lin. “God brought me here for a reason. I wasn’t sure what that was, and I still don’t know exactly. But, what I do know is that it is his will.”

Shu-Mei Lin is a Scripture Use worker with SIL Cameroon. She is originally from Taiwan. She remarks that she can only be amazed when she looks back and thinks about the sequence of events that led to her living and working in Cameroon.

It started when Shu-Mei was a French major at university and after school moved to Paris to continue her French studies. She became a Christian while she was there. “A year after [giving my life to Christ] I felt God call me to full-time ministry,” said Shu-Mei.

After her studies Shu-Mei went back to Taiwan, excited to share about her new life with her family but apprehensive about telling them that she was not going to use her studies the way they had thought. Shu-Mei said she almost lost her calling and found herself falling back into an old way of life in Taiwan. “…I felt an emptiness. I didn’t want this feeling for the rest of my life, so I applied to Bible School.” While completing Bible School in Paris, her whole family became Christians. “I consider this a miracle because God knew I couldn’t do this by myself. I needed my family to support me.”

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Shu-Mei has now spent four years in Cameroon. In her first two years she lived in Yimbéré, a rural village north of the capital Yaoundé. She assisted Martin & Joan Weber who have been working with the Kwanja language community since 1982. Shu-Mei was part of a team that helped the people become more engaged with the translated scriptures and make it a part of their everyday life. According to Joan, Shu-Mei thrived at this, “Shu-Mei has a gift of being able to engage people, getting them involved in scriptures.”

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Shu-Mei is also very good at relating to people from other cultures and especially connected with the Cameroonians she worked with. Martin feels that her upbringing and cultural background contributed to this. “Along with having an open and engaging personality, coming from an Asian background helped Shu-Mei, too. In many ways, the two cultures are similar when it comes to relationships and the relational hierarchy. They also both share a strong emphasis on shame & honour as well as harmony of the group over the individual.”

Shu-Mei now lives in Yaoundé training others to help language communities use scripture effectively. She shares that it hasn’t always been easy. Shu-Mei tells of tough situations during her time in Cameroon but said she feels privileged to have come out better on the other side. “Being a missionary in Cameroon has been challenging at times, but a real blessing, too.”

Shu-Mei now has a different view of Africa, “This is a rich place…. I am drawn to the richness of Africans and how they care for and relate to each other. Also, living here has made me appreciate my culture more.”

Read a longer version of this story.

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Clean Water

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It was time to clean our water storage tank.  Dirt often settles on the bottom of it.  The water is typically not brown, but the picture shows the water near the very bottom of the tank.  We’ve had an abundance of rain the last few weeks, so some were scared that more than just dirt was getting into the water lines.  We already use a special water filter for our drinking water to ensure that we don’t get sick from waterborne illnesses, but at the moment, we’re boiling it, too, just to be extra careful.

Like many houses in Nairobi, we have a large water storage tank in our back yard.  City water pressure fluctuates. Sometimes water is cut for a few hours in a day or for a whole day or two during a week depending on how much water is available for city consumption.  Water storage tanks like ours fill when the pressure is good and the water is running from the city.  An electric pump pumps the water to a smaller tank in our attic so that all the faucets in the house, save the kitchen cold water tap, have gravity-fed water pressure.  It’s a practical water system design.

By shutting off the valve to refill the storage tank, we drained it over a few weeks enough to clean it out.  The tank in the attic is still full…for now.  We’ll have to wait for the big storage tank to fill, though, before resuming all of our regular water-based activities.  Since living here, we have a little better understanding of what a precious resource water is and how we shouldn’t take it for granted.

Access to water and to clean water is challenging in many parts of the world.  People use water for drinking, cleaning, cooking, irrigation, generating power and more.  According to BBC, “The world’s supply of fresh water is running out.  Already one person in five have no access to safe drinking water.”

Water access can also be a challenge to Bible translation projects.  Local and foreign staff working on projects may get sick from waterborne illnesses.  Some of these illnesses can cause death. They may have to spend time collecting water by hand from far away sources, or spend money having clean water delivered by truck.  For these reasons, Wycliffe Associates (a partner organization of Wycliffe Bible Translators), is committed to Operation Clean Water. Through this project Wycliffe Associates is providing funding for clean water projects and training local people.  Here’s an excerpt from a report from a water project in Cameroon (a country in Central Africa):

“Recently, a team of Wycliffe Associates volunteers returned from the Ndop region of Cameroon, where they spent a week training locals on the design, construction, and use of Bio Sand water filters. Ndop is made up of 10 language groups with one language group having a translated New Testament. Bible translation projects are currently underway for two more language groups. This training demonstrates the love of Christ in a practical way, which helps open up communities to the work of Bible translation.

As the training concluded, participants took Bio Sand filter molds back to their villages to begin the construction of home filtration units from gravel and sand. These lifesaving units are a godsend for families where sickness and death are everyday realities as a direct result of using dirty water. Their main water source is a contaminated river used for bathing, washing dishes and clothes, watering animals, and drinking. Properly used, the filters will remove 95 to 98 percent of harmful bacteria from the water.” Read the full report and see how you can be involved.

Learn more about global water access.

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God is at work in our pain

2010-summer-cover-large_000 Wycliffe Canada featured Erin Chapman in their latest magazine. Erin lived in Cameroon, Africa with her family.  She’s faced two major losses in her life–first the death of her two brothers from cerebral malaria, and then the loss of her parents in an airplane crash. She is the only surviving member of her immediate family.

Her parents died the year I started working for Wycliffe.  I had been asked to share at a Wycliffe Associates banquet that year, and Bob Chapman was in the video that was shown at the event.  After the video, they talked about the plane crash, and we prayed for Erin. Inside I empathized with her pain, but I knew I couldn’t begin to understand it.

We’ve seen remnants of the Chapmans presence here–a plaque in our conference room at the office.  In Cameroon I saw a building dedicated to them.  Both of us have met people who knew them.

It’s sometimes hard to understand how God can work through such tragedy.  I encourage you to read this article–Family Resemblance. Erin shares candidly about her suffering and how the Lord was at work through what she experienced.

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