He was astonished when I answered, “The story of the gingerbread man.” “I can’t believe it!” he exclaimed, “You’re missionary Bible translators! Why waste time translating a kids’ fairy tale?”
I explained to him that we were just learning to translate and that this story, with its small vocabulary and large amount of repetition, was easier to translate than a Scripture passage. “Even so, I expect to make mistakes,” I added, “and I’d rather make errors in a children’s story than in a Scripture passage.”
Translating children’s fairy stories was the small beginning that two decades later led to an accurately translated 750-page Bible, with 250 pages of Old Testament and 500 pages of New Testament. When we returned to Canada, every Canela home had a Bible and at least one person in each home could read it, having learned to read using the orthography and educational materials we had developed. The Church continues to grow from the seed of the Word and many Canelas now live without fear of evil spirits.
Although that children’s story was a tiny beginning, we learned and practiced some enduring translation principles. I also learned the truth of the adage, “Something is Better than Nothing.” The Bible is replete with examples of this fact. Jesus solved the problem of feeding five-thousand men and their families by starting with one boy’s lunch of five small loaves and two small fish. It wasn’t much, but He started with something. (John 6.) The prophet Elisha started with a tiny flask of olive oil, but this oil expanded miraculously to fill every available container in the neighbourhood. There was so much olive oil, it not only paid off a huge debt, there was enough left to buy food for three people throughout an extended time of famine. (2 Kings 4: 1-7)
When Almighty God appeared to Moses and told him he would lead the Israelites out of Egypt, Moses was filled with doubt. So God asked him “What is that in your hand?” “A staff,” Moses replied. (Exodus 4:1-3). That simple wooden walking stick was the small Something that impressed Pharaoh by turning into a snake, then brought plagues on Egypt, split the waters of the Red Sea, brought water out of a rock, and was the focal point of prayer that gave victory in battle.
My wife and I faced a gigantic Bible translation task. Where do we start? It was as if God said, “What is that in your hand?” A children’s story. It was something, and we learned to translate by starting with that story.
What About You?
Any of us, facing a massive project or a messy problem, needs to turn to God for help. Don’t be surprised if He asks, “What is that in your hand?” Then look, see what you have to make a start, a small beginning. Then do it. Make that start. Begin with what is in your hand, and trust God to step in to do His Miracle of Expansion. A half cup of olive oil into barrels full. A boy’s lunch into a feast for thousands. An ordinary hiking stick imbued with miracle working power.
What is that in your hand? Something small, relatively insignificant? Doesn’t matter. Use it to make a small beginning and trust God to expand it to meet needs, solve problems, and erase doubts.
“Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin.” (Zechariah 4:10 NLT)