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Starting from Scratch

Translating the Bible is at the heart of work with unreached people groups.

Delight and amazement … There is something deeply satisfying about seeing faces reflect the joy of understanding the Gospel for the very first time. It’s like a deaf child hearing the sweet sound of her mother’s voice. Or the long-blind person whose sight is suddenly restored.

Centuries ago, English reformer John Wycliffe understood the transforming impact possible if the Word of God were to be translated from Latin into the language of the common Englishman. Though controversial at the time, his work literally changed the world.

Changing people’s worlds occurs every day through the work of NTM missionaries among remote and unreached peoples. Translating the Bible into languages that have existed for centuries, but have never been written, is a daunting, painstaking task. But the rewards are life-transforming. NTM missionaries Phil and Elin Henderson’s work among the Mwinika people of Mozambique, presented in this issue, is just one example.

Unique among missions, NTM’s focus on preparation and training missionaries for the enormous challenge of penetrating areas where the Gospel has not yet gone goes well beyond typical Bible school courses and language acquisition. It is one thing to learn a new language. It is another to learn a language that has never been written down, then to create a written version and teach it to those who speak that language. At the same time, mobilizing and training residents to help translate the entire Bible into that language so people might read for themselves the story of God’s love and forgiveness!

Your help is instrumental in providing such training to hundreds of prospective missionaries at NTM’s Missionary Training Center. The Training Center expansion currently underway will permit an additional hundred missionaries to prepare for field service, fully equipped to share the Good News of Jesus with people whose lives are steeped in fear, uncertainty and hopelessness.

With your help, a new, previously unreached people group can now be reached every 45 days!”
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Birthing a Bible For the Mwinikas

Years of work culminate in new translation of God’s Word!

The NTM missionary team has prepared the groundwork for translating the Scriptures into the Mwinika language. The translation project will extend over the next 15 years including printing of complete Old and New Testaments and continuing translation and literacy preparation work. You can be a part of helping the Mwinika people learn and understand the Gospel of grace. Your help to fund NTM’s translation projects will enable generations of Mwinika people to read the Scriptures and grow in the knowledge of God!

For the people of Mozambique, recovery from decades of civil strife has been a slow and difficult process — especially when so many formidable obstacles remain. AIDS has decimated the adult population of this nation of 23 million with nearly 12 percent of adults living with the affliction — or dying from it. As a result, Mozambique is a nation of youngsters; fully half the population is age 15 years or younger.

Within Mozambique lies one of the least reached people groups on earth — the Mwinikas with some 237,000 people. It isn’t that there is no religion among the Mwinikas. In fact, the overwhelming majority (nearly 95 percent) identify themselves as followers of one major world religion. But, through a dedicated NTM missionary team — and with help from partners like you — the Mwinikas are learning about the love of Jesus Christ, and will eventually have their very own copies of God’s Word in their language.

Nearly six years ago, Phil and Elin Henderson and their two children began the arduous adventure of bringing written language to the Mwinika people in order that they might translate the Bible and make it available to this community. The Hendersons have written prolifically about their experiences, sharing with supporters the ups, downs, ins and outs of their work and the impact it is having (you can read their blog at

Phil and Elin provide some insights into the challenges of the task:

Learning the language isn’t as difficult as what comes next. How do we take all of these crazy sounds and turn them into an understandable alphabet? How hard this job is to take an unwritten language, analyze it and develop an alphabet that the people will be able to read and write, enabling them to interact with the Word of God!

The Mwinikas, like many cultures, use proverbs to teach about life. Here’s a common Mwinika proverb: Munkholo ophilivila eyano otjiye itthu dha muhataate. (The caterpillar’s mouth is red because of what his deceased grandfather ate.) In other words, you are what you are because of who your ancestors were. In the past you find an explanation for the present. How can we take and apply this proverb to teach Bible truths? Adam and Eve sinned and their sin affects us to this day. We find an explanation for our current sin problem in what they did long ago. This is a lesson the Mwinika villagers understand!

Elin’s language helper/good friend and her grandson have been faithfully attending the teaching of Bible stories and lessons. She told Elin that he starts saying around noon time, Munna, nikarowa oMulukuni, or in English, “Grandma, let’s go to God’s Place/Heaven.” The word in Mwinika for heaven is the place of God, oMulukuni or “where God is.” Her grandson has named the teaching site the “place where God is.”

Sometimes things don’t communicate well across languages, or if they do communicate, it is not always what the speaker had in mind. In the translation of God’s Word that is something you have to be looking out for. A good example is the story of Jesus calling to Simon and Andrew: “He said to them, ‘Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men’” (Matthew 4:19).

In the Mwinika language the common term for fisherman is namaiipha ihopa, which means, literally, “killer of fish.” In this passage the idea is that Jesus is telling Simon and Andrew, “whatever you did with the fish, now you will change and do that with people.” Well, for the Mwinika, what they did with the fish was kill them. So now we need to say they will change and do that same thing with people. “Follow Me, and I will make you killers of men.” Hmmm?? Somehow that doesn’t seem to communicate the idea that Jesus had in mind. In the end we translated this verse: “As you previously searched and tried to find fish so now you will search and try to find men.”

Phil Henderson is enthused at the progress they have made — but not nearly as excited as the villagers are at the prospect of having the Bible in their own language! “The Mwinika people have a proverb that they often use,” says Phil. “They say oweetta vakhani vakhani khaye okhotta mukwaha. It means ‘to walk slowly is not to negate the journey.’ Whenever it seems to us that we are moving slowly in our program we are reminded of this proverb. We may be going slowly but as long as we are moving we are getting to where we want to go.”

A Partner’s Perspective

Long-time NTM partner Dave Murray reflects on a visit to Papua New Guinea

Although I had never visited a foreign mission field, my wife Beth and I had been involved with New Tribes Mission over most of our 34 years of married life, but it wasn’t until I retired in 2004 that we both developed a true passion for using the financial resources that God had blessed us with to further His kingdom. New Tribes was a natural choice for us since we already had many ongoing relationships with various missionaries and it also provided us an opportunity to invest in mission aviation. Following my wife’s death in 2008, out of a desire to keep her legacy alive and also to become a more effective and informed giver, I decided to take my involvement to a new level and visit the mission field personally. That vision became a reality in September 2009.

During my stay I was able to visit and spend time with missionary families serving in ten different, remote tribal locations. We flew in on light aircraft, landing on short grass runways and, in some locations, helicopters were required as no suitable landing strip was available. While there, I flew on every type of aircraft used by New Tribes within Papua New Guinea giving me a unique perspective of mission aviation.

Most tribal cultures are steeped in animism and the occult. In fact, one night, less than ten miles from where we slept, three women and a man were mutilated with knives and then thrown off a high cliff by tribal members who believed these four had worked witchcraft on another woman in the tribe causing her to die in childbirth. These people live in fear each and every day. When they hear and learn of the God of the Bible and the sacrificial death of his Son, Jesus Christ, their fears disappear as they come to learn of God’s sovereignty, his grace and his mercy. In fact, many of these tribes are now reaching out to neighboring tribal groups, even sharing their newfound faith with those who once were enemies. I was truly impressed how these new believers “got it.”

Today, having flown into those tiny remote jungle airstrips, having met missionaries face to face, and having seen firsthand the impact the Gospel is having on tribal people, I now have a much greater passion to give and to pray for these people and the missionaries serving them. As Ron Blue writes in his book, Generous Living, to become a truly effective and passionate giver, we need not only to give, but also to get involved and build relationships with those we support! I believe I did that through this unforgettable journey and am trusting my continued giving will glorify the Lord by helping transform people who desperately need him.

Your gifts and prayers make a difference in thousands of lives each day as you help NTM missionaries work among some of the most remote and unreached people in our world. Thank you for the role you play in helping them understand God’s love and forgiveness. Thank You for Your Partnership!

POSTED ON Jul 01, 2011

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