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Aimed at Understanding

Jerry and Joyce McDaniels’ focus on literacy builds strong churches in tribal areas.

Not too long ago, men and women gathered for a church meeting in a remote village. An older man took his time carefully writing his name and title on a chalkboard: Maadi Damfaxa, village chief. He faced the audience and said, “I have passed 60 years and because of these [missionaries] that have come, I am now two things. I am God’s child and I can read His Word.”

If you never thought that “reading” was a crucial objective for missions, you should talk with Jerry and Joyce McDaniels. As international literacy coordinators for New Tribes Mission, they share a passion for ensuring that reading and writing play a huge role in missionaries’ work among tribal peoples.

“Since so many tribes have no written language when we first encounter them, culture and language acquisition is the missionary’s first objective—and the first part of a lengthy process that ultimately provides a translation of the Bible in the tribe’s own language,” Jerry explains. “Meanwhile, teaching people to read and write in their language is their real key to understanding God’s Word.”

Jerry and Joyce met while both were students at the New Tribes Bible Institute in Waukesha, Wisconsin. He dreamed of smuggling Bibles into the Soviet Union, but Joyce convinced Jerry of the need to work among tribal people, a desire she’d had since she was 7 years old. The McDaniels were just 22 years old when they moved to Panama in 1983.

“We packed our bags by faith,” Joyce recalls, “because we didn’t have money for the tickets the day before our flight. Here we were with a 7-month-old baby, no tickets, no idea what to expect. But God provided through a lady who called the NTM office and offered financial assistance to ‘any missionary who might need help.’”

“We were like fish out of water,” adds Jerry. “Life in the Kuna village was very rough. And we didn’t know how to say ‘hi’ or ‘bye!’ How were we going to minister to people we didn’t understand? Even more significant, how were they going to understand God’s Word?”

Twenty years among the Kuna taught the McDaniels the value of literacy in building strong disciples and planting mature churches. Building on their experience in Panama, they now work with NTM missionaries around the world to help establish and accelerate literacy efforts among tribal peoples.

It takes time to learn an unwritten language, to create a written alphabet, to teach people to read and write it and to translate the Bible into that language. The entire process can take as long as 15 to 20 years! But the payoff, Jerry says, is in creating a solid foundation for faith to blossom, grow and mature among people who previously had no concept of God or His love and forgiveness.

“We know from Scripture that Jesus spoke more than stories and parables. He preached and taught about spiritual principles that He wanted us to understand. God wants His people to read and write—that’s why He gave us His Word in writing.”

When asked about the role NTM partners like you play in making God’s Word understood among tribal peoples, the McDaniels said: “ We are a team! Thanks for working together for the sake of those who have yet to hear — and understand — the Good News of Jesus in their language!”

POSTED ON Jul 01, 2012

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