Sometimes it’s hard to keep my eyes on the big picture. It’s easy to get bogged down in the details of life: to worry about all the things that need to be done before I can FINALLY move into the village one of these days instead of realizing what a great honor and privilege and answer to prayer it is to be able to serve there. The other day I read this poem on Wycliffe’s website (www.wycliffe.org/blog/posts/why-have-you-come), which encouraged me that even in the hard times (and to be honest there are lots of them!) it’s ok because God is working slowly, slowly, towards the end goal. May you be encouraged by this poem, and also be challenged to continue to pray for us whose life is like what’s described in it (except the candle part – we now have solar lanterns when the electricity is out).
WHY HAVE YOU COME?
(Originally published in the 1955 issue of “Translation” magazine, this poem by William Atherton captures the emotions of a Bible translator and his relationship with a local man who wants to know why the translator has come.)
Low burned the candle in the room
As o’er the table bent the scribe,
Intently working on a book,
In language strange – a pagan tribe.
But now a stranger entered in.
The writer rose to greet his guest,
And after usual pleasantries,
The stranger said with marked int’rest,
“Pray tell me, friend, just why it is
You’ve left your home and friends and land
To journey to this far-off place
Of mountains, jungles, rocks and sand
To live among a people strange,
Whose ways and words are stranger still.
These things I cannot understand,
Nor think I that I ever will.
Each day, along with daily food,
You get your share of sneers and jeers;
You’re ridiculed, misunderstood,
And oftentimes reduced to tears.
“And these things my own eyes behold –
I little know your soul’s deep pains
Occasioned by a thousandfold
Daily troubles, hurts and strains,
And you, I fear, would have to say,
(If all the truth would really out),
That numbered up among your foes
Are cruel discouragement and doubt.
“Now, even I plainly see
That fame or gain is not your goal;
Their paths are far from here.”
He smiled. The thought seemed somewhat droll.
“And midst it all, with single eye,
You hourly, daily toil away
On that strange book on yonder desk.
Why then or why is this, I say?”
The stranger ceased. He’d had his say.
He settled back for the reply.
The scribe, with mounting pleasure, said:
“Good friend, I’ll gladly tell you why.
‘Tis true, ’tis true, each word you’ve said.
And more, much more than that beside;
But ere I traveled to this place,
I knew that oft I would be tried –
(Though I’ll confess I never dreamt
The Master’s lessons were so steep
That I scarce knew the alphabet.
E’en now the thought fair makes me weep).
But, as I say, your words are true,
And there’s no use them to deny.
Nor to refute, nor answer back;
I understand the ‘what and why.’
But to your questions let us turn.”
At this with loving hands he took
His work from off the desk and said:
“The answer’s found right here – this Book.
Look! Look! Here’s the Word of Life,
No longer in a foreign tongue,
But in the old familiar words
Used by these people old and young.
So jests, or sneers, or rage mean
Nought when daily grows this sacred Tome.
Each line, each page so richly wrought
With golden threads of help from home.
And you must know that for each foe,
Ten friends have I my heart to cheer,
And prayer and love from them rise up
To guard my soul from pain and fear.
“And best of all, my Saviour’s here –
Companion on life’s rugged way.
So ’tis no wonder, my dear friend,
That I am willing here to stay.
“Then, some day, when this Book’s complete,
I’ll bring it as an offering,
As when the wise men came of old
And paid to him their homage deep,
With rich, rare gifts; and shepherds too,
In awesome reverence brought a sheep.
I know not how those gifts were used.
Nor do I ask. Our King is wise;
And each gift finds its proper use
To lead men to the heavenly prize.
“And so ’twill be with this, my gift.
He’ll take it, bless it, give it wings
To reach and make these far-off folk
Glad subjects of the King of Kings.
Then I will sing on the glad day,
When round His Throne the saints do stand;
For I will greet those who rejoiced
To have this Book placed in their hand.”
The weary lines which etched his face,
To happiness had given place,
And ere the scribe had stopped his speech,
Bright tears of joy, streamed down his face.
The candle glowed, the room grew still.
The stranger rose and clasped his hand.
“My thanks, kind friend, for telling me.
The Book! God’s Book! I understand!”