I learned to read at such a young age, I can’t remember a time I didn’t know how to read. (No, it’s not because I’m so smart, it’s just that I grew up in the Netherlands and Dutch is far easier to learn to read than English.)
Throughout my early school years I read books the way fire reads dry wood. I loved riding my bike around the neighbourhood, but books gave me wings that would take me anywhere: they were my videos and my movies. When I finished reading a book I felt more alive than when I started.
One of my favourite authors was Anne de Vries who wrote spellbinding books about a boy and a girl who lived on a farm. Their names were Jaap and Gerdientje and the stories of helping in farm work fascinated me so much I felt I knew those kids and their friends personally.
Because they were so real to me, I once greatly embarrassed myself in grade four in the Christian school I attended. Several times a year inspectors came and questioned the students. One time they asked the class, “What was the name of the girl who gleaned grain after the reapers?” obviously expecting to hear, “Ruth, the one who married Boaz.”
I had just finished reading a story about a girl gleaning grain and knew the answer to that question! I shot up my hand and shouted, “Gerdientje.” The inspectors looked bewildered, the teacher embarrassed, and as the class erupted in mocking laughter, my face turned red.
I, of course, knew the story of Ruth and the reapers. My dad had read it several times during our daily Bible readings. But he read from the 1637 Statenvertaling Bijbel, with hard-to-understand vocabulary, syntax and grammatical structures that were more than 300 years old.
The Jaap and Gerdientje stories, however, were written in the here and now language of today—the language my friends and I used when we told jokes, argued, or played tricks on each other in the streets of Hilversum. When I read the fictional stories I clearly saw the characters living their lives in full colour, complete with smells, tastes and stereo sound. Whereas when my dad read the true stories from the Bible they were merely words or fuzzy grey drawings in my mind.
No wonder I eventually became a Bible translator. My wife and I spent nearly thirty years in training, preparation and finally translating a partial Bible for the Canela people of Brazil. We wanted them to experience the stories and truths of the Bible in all their vivid reality.
We are dedicated to the translation of the Word of God into the here and now language of every one of the approximately nearly 7,000 people groups on earth. The goal is to have an active translation program operating in every language that needs it by the year 2025.
Thirteen years and nearly 2,000 languages to go. A new program needs to start every two or three days. With God all things are possible.