By Bernie May, in the Wycliffe Bible Translator’s bimonthly publication ‘In Other Words,’ March 1986, p. 8. Bernie May was Wycliffe’s United States Division Director.
It is easy to get discouraged these days.
Sometimes I’ll come home in the evening and turn on the TV to watch the news. It’s always bad. Nations are threatening to blow each other up. Terrorists are killing innocent people. Drunk drivers are crashing their cars into helpless motorists. People are being murdered, robbed, and beaten up. Disease is rampant. The world is filled with bad things, and it is discouraging.
Even in church I sometimes get discouraged. Attendance is down. Offerings are off. Church leaders are going bad. Churches split. People don’t seem to care about the things God cares about.
What should Christians do when things seem hopeless? We are the ones who are supposed to bring hope into this world. But how can we spread hope when we, too, are discouraged?
When the people of God grew discouraged in Bible times, God would often send a prophet to remind them of His faithfulness in times past. Some Isaiah or David would show up to remind them of the God who delivered their ancestors from Egypt, who parted the Red Sea, and who protected them from being wiped out by their enemies. In the New Testament they talked about the resurrection of Jesus. Prophets were messengers of hope.
Millie Larson is that kind of prophet. I have been reading her book Treasure in Clay Pots, and it has caused hope to spring up in my heart.
One of my first flying assignments when I went to Peru as a jungle missionary pilot in 1956 was to bring Millie and her co-worker Jeanne Grover out to their remote mission post with the Aguaruna people. I landed the little float plane on the Maranon River near a small Indian village and taxied up to the bank. I helped the women crawl out and then carried their big, canvas duffel bags up the high, muddy bank to the village. It was hot, the stinging insects were swarming, and we were covered with mud. I made three trips up that slippery embankment, carrying their bags. They also had a heavy radio. After sweating and straining to get that up the bank, I had to climb two trees to string the antenna wire, so they could communicate with the home base at Yarinacocha, more than three hours flight across the jungle.
I lingered under the thatched roof of the tiny hut with its dirt floor where these two wonderful young ladies were going to live– one a nurse, the other a translator. I felt reluctant to fly off and leave them there. I looked around at the Indians who seemed to glower at us. They were known as killers. When they talked, it was as though they were shouting at each other with deep, gutteral sounds. The children were naked. No one smiled. I had not been in South America very long, and these Aguarunas pretty well fitted my childhood concept of “savages.”
That night, back in Yarinacocha, I told my wife what I had been thinking. “It’s a hopeless situation,” I said to her. “Those two women believe they can make friends with those people, learn their language, form an alphabet, translate the Bible into their language, and then teach them to read. I admire their courage and idealism, but it is hopeless.”
Now here we are, thirty years later. Not only did they finish the translation, but the greater miracle is what has happened to the Aguaruna people. There are now churches in over 160 villages. There are more than 8,000 believers. There are 120 pastors. More than 250 Aguarunas are now school teachers. In fact, I recently talked to an Aguaruna man who has graduated from Peru’s National University with a degree in economics. And this is all because two women heard God’s call, responded, and never gave up.
Surely, that is the secret of overcoming hopelessness. Millie and Jeanne had heard God, dedicated their lives to this task, and stuck with it. As the story of the crossing of the Red Sea has given the Israelites hope through the ages, so the story of the Aguarunas give me hope.
So when the news is bad, as it always is, be encouraged. God is still at work.
Millie Larson (1925- 2014), in 2012 at her retirement home in Bagley, Minnesota, 20 miles east of Bemidji where she graduated from high school in 1943.
AN EARLIER BIBLE TRANSLATOR:
Englishman Robert Morrison (1782-1834) was the first Protestant missionary to China. He had prayed “that God would station him in that part of the missionary field where the difficulties were the greatest, and to all human appearances, the most insurmountable.” Morrison arrived in China in 1807 and spent the next twenty-seven years there until his death, returning to England only once in 1824-25. Morrison translated the entire Bible into Chinese and wrote a dictionary and grammar of Chinese for use by Westerners. In 27 years Morrison baptized only twelve converts, but his work paved the way for all future missionary work. There are now over 300 million Christians in China (as many people as were in all of China during Morrison’s time).
The captain of the ship that brought Morrison to China asked him if he really expected to make an impact on the Chinese Empire. Morrison replied, “No sir, but I expect God will.”
Isaiah 57:9b-10 — You sent your ambassadors far away; you descended to the very realm of the dead. You wearied yourself by such going about, but you would not say, ‘It is hopeless.’ You found renewal of your strength, and so you did not faint.
Romans 5:2b-4 — We boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.
Hebrews 10:23 — Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.
Almighty God, who called the Church out of the world so that the Church might bring the world to Thee: Make us faithful, we pray, in the work that you have entrusted to our hands. Stir up the hearts of your people here and everywhere, that by our prayers, gifts, and labors, we may do our part in the spreading of your Gospel over all the earth. Raise up for this great work faithful and able men and women, who shall count it all joy to spend and be spent for the sake of your Son, and for the souls for whom he shed his blood. Hasten the time when all the ends of the earth shall turn to the Lord, and all people of all nations worship Thee; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
—Service Book and Hymnal, Augsburg Publishing House, 1958 (adapted).