Built it, but will they come?

This is from the book The Hidden Half, over 40 years old, but is such an excellent story, I had to post it!

Marilyn Laszlo is a missionary with Wycliffe Bible Translators. She told a story recently that summarizes the heart cry of the unreached people of the world.


For the past thirteen years I have been working in Hauna, a little village which is 500 miles up the Sepik River in the heart of the jungle in Papua New Guinea, an island just north of Australia.

On the island of Papua New Guinea, there are over 700 distinct languages, most of which are unwritten. Actually, there are over 3,000 language groups in the world that have no written language. They do not even have an alphabet, much less any books.

That is the way it was in Hauna Village, home of the Sepik Iwam people. They had no idea that the words that came out of their mouths could be written down.

My partner and I were given training in linguistics and we began learning the language one word at a time by pointing to objects and by acting out concepts. Eventually the Lord gave us a team of fourteen translation helpers to work with.

When we started translating, I became very burdened about the older people in the village. The witch doctors were being left out. They are the most powerful men in the village and are always busy because there is always someone sick or someone dying.

My partner and I wanted to have these older men come from 6:30 to 7:30 every night, after we had translated that day. So we had our translation helpers go out in teams of two to each of the four clans in the village and get one older man from each clan to join them.

Every day these witch doctors or “spitters” came to listed to the Word of God. Their word for doctor is inkam hiiswoki, which means “the man who spits” or “the spitter.” If you have malaria the spitters take a sharp bamboo and cut your forehead where it hurts to let out the bad blood. Then they chew on a plant that supposedly contains a very powerful spirit, and they spit and blow into those cuts. This is the power that will help heal you.

We had translated a portion of the Gospel of Mark, chapter eight. As we were reading these verses we came to verse 23, the story of Jesus spitting on the eyes of the blind man to heal him. Now we have blind people in the village, but no medicine man has been able to heal them. So when we read this verse, the older men jumped up and said, “Wow! Why Jesus must be the most powerful spitter in the whole world!” From that day they started coming to church. They identified with this spitting man, Jesus, and wanted to know more about him.

As we translated and taught the people to read and write their own language, we became burdened for all of the unreached tribes around us. Hauna was becoming a shining light throughout the area as people started to hear about our work. One day a canoe loaded with fifteen people came for medical help. They spoke another tribal language and came into our house with the smell of their rotting sores and other diseases. I told them in the trade language, Pidgin English, that they must stay in our village at least a week so I could give them a penicillin series for their sores.

While they stayed with us they watched what was going on. They saw 200 people coming to school to learn to read and write their own language. They saw us write God’s talk ion the people’s language and listened to the Sepik Iwam pastors preach the Word of God in their own language.

When it was time for them to go home, the leader asked, “Do you think you could come to my village and put down our talk so that we might know about God, too?”

I had to shake my head and say, “I’m not finished here yet. I have several more years of work in this place/” I could tell he was very disappointed, and I promised that someday I would at least come to visit his village.

Several weeks later, we organized a party to find his village. When we got there, the leader was thrilled to see us. He called everybody to come and see the two white misses. As we were walking through the village I noticed in the center a new building, very different from their regular houses. I asked, “What is that building there in the center of the village?”

He said, “Oh, that is God’s house-that’s our church.”

“Your church? Do you have a mission here?”

“Oh, no, we have never had a mission here.”

“Well, do you have a pastor here – you know, someone that comes to preach God’s Word?”

“Oh, no, we’ve never had a pastor here.”

“Well, is there someone here in the village that can read and write Pidgin English who holds services in your church?”

“Oh, no! There is no one here that can read or write. And we have no books.”

I looked at him and said, “Then what is that building for?”

He said, “Well, we saw the little church in your village and our people decided to build a church, too. Now we’re waiting for someone to come and tell us about God in our own talk.”

I turned and started crying. I have never seen that kind of faith. Out in the middle of the jungle stands that little church, and today they are still waiting – waiting for someone to come and tell them in their own language about Jesus. There are thousands of groups just like them, waiting to hear the Word of God in their own language. They are waiting for you.

originally posted sunday, january 30, 2011