Exciting News from Mursiland!
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Click above to read about what the Lord is doing here.
The Mursi people, numbering around 46,000 to 47,000, live to the southwest of the Aari in the South Omo Region of Ethiopia. Nomadic cattle herders, they move around to take advantage of available grazing and water for their cattle, as well as suitable conditions for growing their crops of sorghum and maize.
Though not directly involved in the Mursi translation and literacy effort, I carry it on my heart. I'd like to share with you how that happened. In November 1999, I was in Addis Ababa near the end of my first "commuter trip". Jonathan Geddes came to me one evening to share his concern for the Mursi people, among whom he and his family had been ministering for 7 years. A veterinary doctor, he had won the hearts of the Mursi by treating their cattle for various diseases. He and his wife Barbara wanted so much to share with them the Good News of Jesus, so they learned their language and began trying out different ways to write it down.
Initially, none of the Mursi had any interest in literacy (or the Gospel for that matter), and so, as well as sharing the Good New, in 1994 the team began to attempt to engender greater appreciation of pictures, reading and learning. Early in 1997, they were excited that the first few Mursi decided to follow Christ. Then later that year a young man named Olisarali (oh lee sa ra lee), whose cattle Jonathan had treated at times, expressed interest in the writing and asked Jonathan to show him how it worked. Jonathan met daily with Olisarali and a few other young men and boys until, after ten weeks, Olisarali's father (an important leader among the Mursi) said, "That's enough playing around!" and sent him off to herd their cattle in another area.
So Jonathan thought, "That's the end of that." But soon he began receiving notes from Olisarali. The first note was quite short. Jonathan responded. Olisarali told of how the other cattle-herders would mock him for his interest in literacy, throw cow dung at him, break his pencils and tear up his papers. Jonathan wrote words of encouragement, assuring him of his prayers. Olisarali's notes got longer and longer - the record was 33 pages!
After six months of such rejection, one day a friend, and then a cousin, asked Olisarali to show them how to read and write, which Olisarali gladly did. Eventually others became interested, and when they saw that the written
notes communicated more accurately than their word-of-mouth messages, their enthusiasm knew no bounds. Now the notes from Olisarali were filled with a different kind of desperation: "Everyone wants to learn to read and write. They tear my paper into bits so each one can have a small one. They break my pencils into tiny pieces so each one has something to write with. PLEASE! Can you send me some more pencils and paper?"
After working at times with Jonathan, helping translate various Bible verses into the Mursi language, Olisarali began to understand who Jesus is, and it was in early 1998 that Olisarali decided to trust Him as Savior and Lord. He immediately sought out his friends to share the Good News with them. Olisarali was hungry to read more of God's Word, but there was no Scripture in the Mursi language, and Olisarali didn't know Amharic, the national language of Ethiopia. Very few of the Mursi had any competency in Amharic.
Jonathan and his family were due to leave for Home Assignment in Australia in December. Since they were unsuccessful in their attempts to arrange for Olisarali to study Amharic, they began to consider taking him to Australia with them so he could learn English. After all, there are many more versions of the Bible, and many more translation helps, in English than in Amharic; and the Geddes family would be there to speak with Olisarali in his own language and help him over the rough spots.
So Jonathan had come to Addis Ababa to present this idea to SIM leadership. Before he came to talk with me, he had received very negative responses from a couple of our colleagues. He thought, "I'll talk with Carolyn about it, and if she says I'm crazy I'll give up the idea." As he was telling me about Olisarali's keenness and accomplishments, I thought to myself, "Jonathan wants to take Olisarali to Australia with him, and that's exactly what he should do." This had to be of the Holy Spirit, because I knew as well as anyone what a radical idea that was in our conservative SIM circles.
We agreed to approach the SIM Ethiopia director together, and his response was, "Okay, if the Linguistics Committee unanimously agrees to the idea, and if we are able to get the necessary visas, you can do it." Our hearts sank. One of our colleagues who had already told Jonathan he was crazy was a member of the Linguistics Committee. As we left the director's office, Jonathan asked, "How are we going to convince Ruth?" (Ruth is a very godly person, involved in Bible translation and literacy herself, but neither Jonathan nor I had any hope of changing her opinion.) I said, "We can't convince Ruth. We'll just have to pray and ask God to convince her." We agreed to meet at 7 that evening, pray together, and then approach Ruth on the subject.
Jonathan was a bit late, and just as we were about to pray, in walked Ruth. We invited her to sit down, and Jonathan began to tell her Olisarali's story. He had a binder with the notes and letters Olisarali had written and a map he had drawn. When Jonathan had almost finished his story I said, "Show her the binder." When Ruth saw the map she asked, "Did Olisarali draw this?" "Yes." She was quiet a minute and then said, "I'm going to Australia in February. You won't be able to get a visa for Olisarali by December, but perhaps he could travel with me in February." We thanked God for this confirmation of His plan, and then celebrated with a chocolate bar and hot drinks.
After Ruth left, Jonathan asked me, "How did you convince her?" I said, "I didn't convince her; I just prayed." "You didn't talk with her before she came in this evening?" "No, I just prayed." Well, the rest is history now. Olisarali spent eleven months in Australia, where he told the people, "I've come looking for something - your language - so I can change God's Word into the language of my people." He learned English and has been back in Mursi land for about 8 years now. He began working with one of our SIM couples on the translation of the Scriptures into Mursi.
When Olisarali's friend Kashai learned to read, he found he was able to read the newly translated Gospel of Mark in the nearby Me'en language because his mother had been from there. Together with other Mursi believers they began meeting regularly to read God's Word, producing rough drafts of portions of Mark (and now Acts) in Mursi to discuss, and for teaching their friends. Kashai would read from the Me'en, Olisarali from the English, and one of the SIM team would assist by explaining unknown terms and concepts and sharing insights from exegetical helps. Older Mursi believers would help to refine the Mursi expressions to make them clear and natural, and a younger one would be chosen as the scribe to write down what they had together translated.
A relentless spiritual battle continues: The SIM couple returned home a few years ago, and Olisarali became distracted by political and other concerns. Please pray for a certain translation advisor as she moves to the Mursi area and works to get Scripture translation back on track. Please pray that the Holy Spirit will again move in Olisarali's heart so that he will return to his first love and serve the Lord whole-heartedly. Pray that the Mursi church will soon have full access to God's Word in their heart language.
If you'd like prayer updates on the Mursi work, click here to e-mail.
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