God’s Spirit moved unexpectedly during the Easter Sunday service in a crowded church in Trinidad. As executive director for Wycliffe Caribbean, on most Sundays I would be away speaking in churches, but this time I had the weekend off and decided to attend a church a few blocks from my office. I had visited a few times and preached there once.
The usher seated me in the front pew, next to the pastor and his wife. After a rousing time of musical worship and celebration, the pastor introduced the special visiting speaker, the president of the denomination.
“But before our president brings the message,” he said, “I’d like to welcome our brother Jack from Wycliffe. Jack, please come up and bring a few words of greeting from Wycliffe.” Inviting visiting pastors or missionaries to say a few words is customary in many Caribbean churches, so I was not surprised. I took the microphone, knowing I was expected to speak for at least five to ten minutes. I gave a two-minute update on Wycliffe Caribbean and the world of Bible translation, and continued, “This Easter morning I am remembering what happened the first time we spent Easter in the Canela village of Brazil.”
I then told a two-minute story about the Canela old men’s council arguing over how someone had died. Some insisted he had been executed. Others disagreed saying he had died in a fight, “How else did he get holes in his hands and feet if he wasn’t grabbing and kicking at the spears?” Suddenly I realized they were talking about Jesus, His crucifixion and death!
As I prayed for an opportunity to speak, the chief called on me, and said, “We’ve been hearing news from our Portuguese speaking Brazilian neighbours that this week everyone is remembering the death of a really important man, but we don’t understand what happened. Do you know anything about this?”
“Yes, I do!” I said, and ran home to get the freshly translated story.
That was the first time I publicly read the Easter story in Canela. Even though it was only a first draft translation, hearing the clear facts about Jesus’ death and resurrection made a huge impact on the Canelas. (See “The Easter Confusion Continues” pages 59-60, A Poke in the Ribs.)
“Hundreds of millions of people,” I told the congregation, “speak over 4,000 languages all around the world in which none of the Bible has yet been translated. It breaks my heart that right now, today, this very Easter Sunday morning, they are still just as confused about Easter as the Canelas were back in the early 1970s.”
I sat down and the visiting speaker entered the pulpit. He opened his Bible, arranged his notes, looked over the congregation and said, “I sense I should give an opportunity for some of you to respond to what you have just heard. Do you feel God wants you to give yourself to Him to act in whatever way He calls, in order to bring God’s Word to those who still don’t have it in their languages? It may be that you are willing to personally go overseas, or to pray or give as you have never prayed or given before. If you are ready to make a commitment, come forward and I’ll pray for you.”
That’s when the Spirit’s work showed.
One by one, men, women, young people, and older folks got up and walked to the front and stood with bowed heads. After about twenty people had come, the pastor whispered to me, “I’ve never seen this before,” stood up and organized a line for people to be prayed for by the visiting speaker, by himself, by the chief elder and by me.
The people kept coming. We kept laying our hands on them and praying. After over half the congregation had come, received prayer, and had returned to their seats, nearly an hour had gone by. The visiting speaker never did preach his sermon. He stood with tears in his eyes, asked everyone to rise, and gave the benediction.
One Saturday, some months later, a Wycliffe team came to that church and ran a well-attended, in-depth workshop on how to get involved in Bible translation. The following year, Wycliffe Caribbean signed a ministry partnership agreement with that denomination, the largest one in that part of the Caribbean.
God is at work! In the ten years since I told that two-minute story, people groups speaking hundreds of different languages have received God’s Word in their language for the first time. And Bible translation projects are ongoing in nearly 2,000 other languages! May God speed the day that not one person on earth remains confused about who Jesus is, why he died and what His resurrection means.
He is alive! Happy Easter!