I went to a conservative Bible college with mandatory chapel services every day. That makes roughly seven hundred mandatory chapel services before your cap & gown. And my goldfish brain remembers only about a handful of those hours! Allistair Begg stands out because of his Scottish accent, though I can’t recall a word of what he said… the morning I led a ‘human video’ in front of 3,000 students to introduce them to the music of my pal Jeremy Camp… the morning Donald Miller was supposed to speak, but the liberal-ness of ‘Blue Like Jazz’ scared the faculty into bumping him to a not-mandatory evening session… the morning Steven Curtis Chapman surprised us by strolling on stage with a guitar to lead worship… and, Marilyn Laszlo.
Marilyn was a petite firecracker, maybe a whopping 5″1′ and in her sixties. Few women spoke from that stage, but I reckon that even in a crowd of dozens of female elders, pastors, leaders, etc. she still would stand out.
Marilyn grew up on a farm in Indiana, not necessarily where you’d expect a women who’s changed (and changing) thousands of lives for her King to be born. She studied linguistics and moved to Papua New Guinea. And here’s the story I’ll never forget…
She felt called to spread the good news of the Gospel. A worthy pursuit, and one we should all feel thumping constantly in our souls. But how do you share the Bible when there are none?
The people of the Hauna village in Papua New Guinea had never heard of this God, this Holy Spirit, this Jesus – and while we here in America would thumb through the New Testament to show highlighted passages to questioning friends and family at our local coffee shop – what if there was NO BIBLE in their language?
That would certainly be an obstacle, but here’s another…
WHAT IF THEY HAD NO LANGUAGE?
These tribes of course had a way to communicate, a beautifully warm spoken language indigenous to their people that didn’t even include words for ‘orphan’ or ‘divorce’ because of how they took care of one another, but in all of their history it had never been written down.
They had no letters, no records, no sentences, no fliers, no posters, no books for their children. They told stories and kept them in their hearts, but there was not a mark of pen on paper anywhere they could write or read.
But God had told Marilyn to spread the gospel! To share the good news!
Where oh where to begin? How oh how to be faithful to that call?
This woman spent twenty-four years in that jungle village.
First she had to learn their spoken language, as an outsider and stranger. Secondly, creating those gurgles and rolls and clicks into an alphabet. Thirdly, using that alphabet to string together their language into markings. THEN she had the task of teaching those symbols to the people as their minds had to connect the sounds they made to these squiggles on paper. She had to teach an entire language all over again to it’s native speakers! This time in written words! And after all of that, alllllll of those years, she and a few translative partners and children from the village then began using this brand new written alphabet to translate the ENTIRE BIBLE!!! Cover to cover, until one day, decades after she began, she was able to hand a physical copy of that good news she’d been called to share into the hands of the people she’d been called to love.
Can you imagine that day?
Sit, with your eyes closed.
Imagine the day that she was able to take actual pages, bound together, filled with words of the love and stories of the work of God and all the time, the tears, the toil… and lay the BIBLE into the hands of these village people who in all their history had never had the passages of Noah, Moses, Esther, Job, Adam, Eve, Ruth, Peter, Paul, Solomon, David, Jesus in their hands or eyes or heart.
That day emphasized two things to me in a way that’s stuck and never been lost:
The reverence and delight this one missionary felt for the same Bible that I take for granted every day. She committed her life to it’s being shared, and I can’t commit to flipping it’s pages for ten minutes a day.
And mostly – the God she served. The powerful call on her life came from heaven itself, and her intimacy with Him, her obedience to Him, her trust in Him kept her going when it truly seemed IMPOSSIBLE to follow through on what He’d asked of her life.
She never married, never had children of her own, but that’s not how the worth of her life is weighed! While she wanted those things (and even that day laughingly said she’d be open to being set up on a date if we knew anyone) she wanted God’s kingdom closer to earth MOSTLY.
She’s still actively making His name known! (And in ways you can join me in supporting!)
The heroes of the Hebrews 11 ‘Hall of Faith’ and the stories filling it’s pages can sometimes feel like far-off fictional characters, but here was a flesh and blood woman standing in front of us, one with humor and integrity and a story that blew my socks off, a woman who has since been held in my heart as a modern hero of the faith.
What will God someday say of us? How committed are we to His calling and to His word? How do we feel about people that don’t know His name and how far will we go to spread the world with HIS LOVE?
Perhaps we start by praying with a repentant spirit for how we’ve wasted our days and taken for granted the Bibles on our shelves, I don’t know (nor should I) what each of us will feel convicted by or towards, but may we be sensitive enough to ask Him! And then, when we here His direction and command – to GO!
The people walking in darkness have seen a great light;
On those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.