Team, I wish each of you could have listened in with a spare headset on Saturday’s flight, while the missionary seated beside me was describing his work with the Orma Tribe.
As we gazed upon the dry African landscape, flying out to the people he had worked with for almost 30 years, my ears tried to digest every word. Tireless efforts have been made for many years as this team of missionaries has been ministering to this small tribe whose language, until they arrived, had been only oral. As we talked, he explained the challenges of learning a new language without a written alphabet. The missionaries there worked some 9 years to learn the language, develop a dictionary, and implement literacy programs. Finally, after nearly a decade of work, they began translation of the first book of the Bible into Orma, starting with Genesis.
While I made scheduled HF radio position reports back to Base, and he continued to describe the translation project to me, my thoughts ocassionally drifted, thinking of the great perseverance that these missionaries have demonstrated. He went on to share how, after Genesis, they translated a few other Old Testament books followed by some New Testament books. Now, after 29 years of work, the missionary team is perhaps within just a year of finishing the translation of the entire 66 books of the Bible.
After landing at the small village among the Orma people, I bid a quick farewell to this hero of the faith, amazed at the work being done amongst this Muslim people group. We were running behind schedule as my other passenger, a Bible Translation and Literacy (BTL) missionary, needed to get to a nearby village located 40 km away. We made haste and departed for our next destination.
Approaching the next village’s dirt and sand airstrip, I flew overhead, careful to look for goats, sheep or perhaps even people that might be crossing the runway located next to the little village. The townspeople had gathered and were now lining the runway, but other than that, all was clear. I circled back and brought the aircraft in for landing, taxiing to the awaiting group of villagers who stood by, eager to greet us.
The Kenyan pastor, who had been ministering to this little village for the last 20 years, was the first to greet us. He quietly instructed me that the people had been gathering with anticipation for some time and that I should extend my greetings to the gathered assembly in some formal way. The Orma Tribe speaks their own tribal language, but many know Swahili too, so I broke out into Swahili, talking about my family, where we are from, where we now live, and explaining that my name comes from Daniel in the Bible, referring to Daniel and the Lion’s Den. Describing Daniel and ‘Simba’ exceeded the threshold of my Swahili and the Pastor clarified what I was saying, changing the blank stares of the people into smiles again. How much of my bumbling they actually understood, I am not exactly sure, but many hearty handshakes around the group seemed to indicate that any cultural miscues on my part were minor, or at least generously overlooked by the gathering of locals.
At the pastor’s home we had important business to attend to, which for now I would only observe and listen. This remote village has no way to communicate with the outside world, as cell towers have not yet overtaken the sparsely populated region. Without phones or Internet, they are completely cut off from our normal every day communications. The BTL Missionary I had flown to the village retrieved the small box he had brought along that would connect to satellites for sending and receiving email, and he began instructing the pastor on how to use it.
Interested in what they were discussing, but also desiring to see the mission station grounds, I asked my host if I could walk about the area. “Sure,” he said, “and take Mary, she knows Swahili.” At this I thought to myself with an inward smile, “Yeah, but do I know Swahili?”
I said to Mary, “Tutatembea pamoja?” meaning, ‘Will we walk together?’ With that, the happy young girl escorted me about the mission station showing me the chickens, where trees were planted, and acquainting me with the grounds.
Too quickly though, our time for departure had come, as the sun began to wane. In this short amount of time though, the pastor had an incredible new capability that would speed up and help ensure the accuracy of the Orma Bible translation. Now this remote pastor could assist in the Orma Bible Translation project from his own village, as draft manuscripts could be sent to and fro with a simple push of the button.
With handshakes, photos and goodbyes complete, the two of us loaded up and flew back to the city, both changed by briefly rubbing shoulders with those who have labored so long and hard to bring the Good News to the Orma People.
Thank you, Team, for caring for the Orma People by sending us here to help minister to those who have not yet heard the name of Jesus. The Lord is using you for His mighty Kingdom Work!
Thank you for joyfully serving our Lord here in Africa through your many prayers and generous support of our family!
We miss you all!!!
Your Fellow Servants,
Dan, Lesli, Jon Michael, Sarah, Lydia and Abraham