Northern Guatemala is a dangerous area where the Zeta drug cartel fights the military for control. The long-suffering indigenous Pokomchi population is often caught in the middle.
Now, thanks to a ministry that translates the Bible, the people have something to celebrate.
Drummers, children, and trumpet players led a procession down the narrow streets of San Cristobal in the highlands of Guatemala. Marching with them were visitors from the United States, Germany, and China. Some of them grew up in the Pokomchi culture.
"We were walking in the parade this morning and there was a sea of Polmchi faces, young and old," Wycliffe translator Beth Ramirez told CBN News. "All of a sudden I felt tears coming out of my eyes."
Linguists Boris and Beth Ramirez are a big reason for this celebration.
"There are no words to express how you feel," her husband, Boris, said.
"We're linguists," Beth added, "but we're wordless at this point."
Celebrating the Word of God
It's God's Word that's the cause of the celebration. The New Testament is now available in the Pokomchi language. And the Ramirezes are the linguists who finished the translation.
Twenty-seven years ago, the Ramirez family moved to northern Guatemala to pick up the project begun by German translators Ted and Gloria Engel in 1969.
Forty-three years later, the Pokomchi speakers finally have a New Testament they can read for themselves.
"(We're) very joyful, very happy to have in our hands the New Testament in Pokomchi," Emilio Caal Lem said.
The modern Bible translation movement actually began here in Guatemala, where a Caqchikel Indian famously challenged missionary Cameron Townsend, who was selling Spanish Bibles.
"If your God is so smart, why can't he speak Caqchikel?" he asked.
Not all Guatemalans speak Spanish. More than 40 percent are descendants of the ancient Mayas, and they speak 21 different languages.
Today, Townsend's vision for providing God's Word in every language has literally circled the globe.
Wycliffe Bible Translators, which he founded in 1942, is leading a final push to begin translation in the 2,100 languages still without a Bible.
Translators have a slow and tedious calling. Ramirez spent years studying the Pokomchi language, then hired a native speaker, Abelino Caal, to help -- and almost fired him for his lack of computer skills.
"I bless the Lord for having prevented me from making that big mistake because this is the man who truly finished the New Testament," Ramirez said.
For his part, Caal is grateful his people will now understand God's Word more clearly.
"Using the Word of God and seeing the Church grow through the Word of God when there is better understanding" is enough reward for him.
Tough Road Ahead
The translators worked with partner ministries to produce the Pokomchi versions of the Jesus Film, along with a dramatized audio New Testament sponsored by the Faith Comes by Hearing mission.
But the work of translation comes at a price, and according to Wycliffe veteran Bob Gunn, the challenges multiply as the project nears completion.
"And I can tell you this from many years of watching," Gunn said. "Over and over, we have deaths, critical illness, financial reversals -- all kinds of things happen at the last."
But those hardships are forgotten on a day like this. With the translated New Testament safely delivered, Ramirez believes a new world of opportunity will open up for Pokomchi believers.
"And I believe that God has called the Mayan church to send their own missionaries," Ramirez continued. "So I believe that is what we are going to see with the use of the Scriptures: a missionary Pokomchi church sending missionaries, Pokomchis, to the world."