As we unloaded the plane, villagers watched with a curiosity that implied this was the first time they had seen a plane or a white man, though it was not. “This is a Yembi Chief” Brooks said, introducing us. Believers from other tribes were visiting as well, so several languages were flying around like it was the book of Acts all over again. I tried my best to follow the conversations, and when in doubt I smiled and nodded. We took a boat across the river and settled into our hut. It was like stepping into another world!
The hut we stayed in was constructed entirely from materials found in the jungle. A few of our meals consisted of rice, noodles, and spam that came in on the plane with us. The villagers also fed us vegetarian piranha, crocodile, and Saksak “tortillas” made from the pulp of a Sago tree.
On the morning of the dedication, the Yembi church leaders met with the missionary team to discuss last minute details. These are the believers who are “faithful men, able to teach” and meet the qualifications for church leadership as found in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. Praise God!
As we prepared for the ceremony, the weight of what took place here impressed me significantly. These missionaries left behind everything they knew in the States to live for nearly a decade among a people they had never met! They endured injuries, malaria, centipede bites, airstrip floodings, tractor breakdowns, and the heat and humidity burned through five computers. They invented an alphabet and graduated dozens of students of all ages from the Yembiyembi literacy program. They taught chronological Bible lessons from creation to Christ’s ascension four times in three years. They boldly proceeded with believer baptisms even with the threat of hostile spears from those who opposed Christianity. They discipled new believers and trained Yembi church leaders. And somehow, amidst all that, they found time to invest over 14,000 hours in Bible translation!
The celebration began with a procession leading from the riverbank to the bandstand. A Yembi Chief explained, “Bringing the Bibles up to the stand with our old songs from the past shows what happened here. Our minds went from complete darkness to complete light. God’s Word is light and clearly lit our minds. Now we see God’s true talk.” After singing the ancestor song, they sang a worship song to celebrate their new life in Christ!
One of the Yembi Deacons prayed.“God father, we are one stomach (at peace) with you that Your Talk arrived today. True, we were close to last on the list, the Hebrew, Greek, and English folk got it first and now we finally get it. True, we wished we could have had it sooner, but now we are one stomach and say thanks. Through many pains and persecution Your Talk came forth and we are one stomach with the work you gave us to do. Now we see the fruit of the work we have done, God you sent your light into this dark place, now we see clearly the road you made through Jesus, thank you!”
Yembi church leaders, Missionaries, and Pastors from supporting churches in the States all took turns sharing their perspective on this wonderful celebration. We sang a few worship songs written by the Yembi’s, and a Yembi church leader even gave us a history lesson on Bible translation starting with Hebrew and Greek and tracing how the Bible came to Yembiyembi. “What Wycliffe, Tyndale and Luther did for their people groups, the (Missionary team) did for us here.”
As we said goodbye to our Yembi brothers and sisters in Christ, headed across the river in a dugout canoe, boarded the airplane, and took off, I was convinced that the sacrifices our own family makes to serve with New Tribes Mission are worth it!
It takes the whole body of Christ working together to plant a church and translate the Bible among unreached people groups. There are churches and individuals praying and financially supporting the missionaries who serve full-time. There are mobilizers, Bible Institute personnel, missionary training centers, administrative offices, communication departments, supply buyers, mechanics, pilots, doctors and nurses, guesthouse managers, linguistic specialists, tech specialists, homeschool consultants and teachers, and of course, tribal church planters and Bible translators!
We can’t wait to serve at New Tribes Bible Institute and be instrumental in challenging, training, and encouraging students as they prepare to take the gospel to “every tongue, tribe, people, and nation” (Rev. 5:9)