Hope Still Floats

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Vibrant green hues of vast swamplands stand out in defiance to the hazy gray, Southeast Asia sky.  Our single-propeller float plane cuts through the mist and starts its descent.   Feelings of anxiety and nervousness are replaced with mounting anticipation.   

In a matter of minutes our exploratory team will step off the plane and into the unknown.  Reports indicate that the village below us is unreached and unengaged, with no church presence or any known believers.  I ask the Lord again to help us find a person of peace. 
With a calculated swoop, our float plane circles over the river which, today, doubles as a runway.  As we land, a sea of children and adults swarm to an overcrowded dock.  A boisterous chorus of laughter and applause resound when we step off the plane.  Old grandmas and grandpas chuckle with amusement.   Later, we find out that this is the first plane to come to this village in 12 years.  A rush of embarrassment and apprehension melts into gratitude.    
I am surprised to see person after person in this remote village—completely inaccessible by road or foot—holding up tablets and camera phones to get a photo of the bearded bulai (or white guys).  “Where are we?”  
With persistence, our team is ushered to the home of the local English teacher.   Quickly, she puts cold drinks and homemade cake in front of us, as if our arrival had been expected.  Finally, they ask, “Why are you here?”

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My teammate explains to the assembled leaders that we have come to study their language and culture.  I don’t speak the language, so I try to be polite, nodding occasionally as they talk back and forth.  I eat cake.

The next hour consisted of introductions, background screenings, meetings with the local authorities, more introductions, a visit to the local government head and even more introductions. The village chief—or the “Big Man,” as I call him due to both his position and his stature—invites us back to the home of the English teacher for lunch.  With a pungent cigarette in one hand and a fresh squeezed orange drink in the other, the Big Man summons us to the dining room floor where a feast of local favorites has been prepared.  Our stout host tells me through the interpreter that I look a lot like Chuck Norris.  In reality there’s no resemblance, but I tell him I get that a lot.

What happens next is surprising: the Big Man bows his head and prays for our meal.  Before closing my eyes to join him in this solemn moment, I notice a picture of the Lord’s Supper hanging on the wall next to a cross.  Not only has the Father answered our prayers to find a person of peace, we discover that God is already at work among this people group.  Something beautiful unfolds; we exchange communion and fellowship over fish and rice. 
When the Big Man proudly tells us that their primary way of celebrating Easter and Christmas is by getting drunk, I quickly realize there is still more work to be done in this village. Even with the presence of churches here, there is no Bible in the local language, and it becomes evident that it affects their spiritual maturity. 
When we finish lunch, they instruct us to jump on the back of several motorcycles and some local men give us a tour of their village. In a locked-up room, they show us a shrine; it’s a piece of wood dating back to the 16th century, part of a Dutch ship that survived a massive fire.  At the base of this monument is an altar of burning incense and an offering of food and yellow cloth that is placed there every time a person is healed by the power of the wood.  Immediately, we realize this is a place of unholy worship. As they reveal various other signs of mismatched religious and spiritual expressions, so too is the desperate need for Bible translation and Biblical teaching. 

A few hours later we exchange goodbyes and board the float plane to fly away from the village. Looking down through the window, I dream of the day when another plane will return to this village—a plane full of Scripture in the heart language of this beautiful people. It is for the Father’s glory we pray for people groups like this one; that this village may praise God in their own tongue. With this hope Pioneer Bible Translators will continue to go to the Bibleless.

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Nathan Davenport is the Director of Recruitment at Pioneer Bible Translators’ International Service Center in Dallas, Texas.

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