Bible Translators Bring God's Word in Native Tongues

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There are still more than 2,200 people groups without a Bible in their own language, according to Wycliffe Bible translators.

Now, the organization is working with partners around the world to make sure everyone has the Word of God in the language they grew up with. Many translations are under way, and Wycliffe hopes to be working on the last of the remaining languages by the year 2025.

In the country of Panama, one native language is nearing completion.

Almost 40 years ago, a British missionary canoed into a remote area of Panama with a proposal for the local chief. Could he and his family live among the tribe to learn their language and tell them about someone called Jesus?

The answer, however, was no.

"I just sat in our canoe that was tied up at the river bank and I just wept before the Lord," recalled Wycliffe translator Keith Forster. "I mean, I bawled my heart out. Imagine that here I'd given up my home, my country, my career, everything."

After years of training, and obstacles, Forster's mission had abruptly ended -- or had it? As a parting gift, Forster offered a picture of his family and told the chief they were on a mission with a purpose.

"We were sent by God to take his letter and translate it for you so you, too, could understand.," Forester said. "So in the future, when your children ask us 'What is God like?' You will have to say to them, 'I don't know."

The chief changed his mind, and Forster and his wife settled among the Kunas, learned the language, and more than twenty years later, gave the tribe their own New Testament.

As the Word of God was translated into their own language, many Kunas decided to follow Jesus. And although, as Panamanians, most speak Spanish, it's the Kuna Bible that speaks to their hearts.

"Like Mandela said, talk to the people in the language you can understand, it's going to head. But talk the language, his own language, the word is going to the heart," said Kuna translator Lino Smith.

Smith was part of the team that translated the Bible. Another Kuna leader with weak eyesight, appreciates his large-print edition of the translated Bible.

"When I feel weak it gives me strength," said Kuna missionary John Kennedy Morales. "I feel loved and I can carry on."

Morales works as a missionary in a village called Tabardi.

"I use the Kuna Bible, because that's the way they understand better," Morales said.

Today, the translation team is revising the translation of the Old Testament, completing one more project in the task of giving every tribe and nation, God's word in their own language.

*Originally published November 26, 2009. 

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Stan Jeter

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CBN News Senior Producer Stan Jeter specializes in Christian news and Latin American coverage.  He has lived and worked for many years in South and Central America, most recently developing the Spanish Christian news program, Mundo Cristiano.  Follow Stan on Twitter @StanJeterNews and "like" him at Facebook.com/StanJeterCBN.