A boy, a baker and the power of the Word of God

J O Fraser (courtesy www.omf.org)

The following story is adapted with permission from ‘Mountain Rain’ by Eileen Crossman.

In 1908 James O. Fraser set sail to China to serve with the China Inland Mission, now OMF International, and based himself in Yunnan province.  When he had enough language to begin sharing the gospel he started to talk to groups of people in the market places, on street corners or in tea shops.  He took with him copies of Mark’s Gospel and some tracts for those who could read and wanted to know more.

One day, during a visit to an area four days journey away, Fraser was in a crowded market.  He often used a little table for his booklets which he would sell cheaply or sometimes give away.  That day someone knocked into his table and the booklets fell, some into puddles, some trodden over by mules and some grabbed by people in the crowd.  A six year old boy quickly stuffed a copy of Mark’s Gospel down his shirt and disappeared into the crowd. The boy’s father, Moh, was a pastry cook who had sent him to sell his cakes in the market.  His son thought he might be interested to read the book and took it on the long journey back over the mountain trail where it “began a quiet revolution in that remote mountain home.”

Five years later, Fraser, on another of his many journeys to share the gospel in mountain towns and villages and while en-route to another destination, arrived worn out at nightfall in a small town. In his diary he records that he spent the next day “mostly in Bible reading and prayer, alone on the mountains.  Felt I needed it. Asked God to give a blessing in the evening – my first visit to the place.”

Heading back into the town he saw a group of performers setting up in the market place.  As they hadn’t started their show yet, Fraser got out his accordion and starting singing.  After a crowd gathered he shared the gospel with them.  Despite some opposition, about a hundred people listened late into the evening.

James closed by asking if anyone wanted to know more about Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the world.  A man stepped forward saying he wanted to follow Jesus.  He said he had come to believe that He was the Son of God.  Inviting James back to his shop the man showed him “a small, well-read copy of Mark’s gospel.”  It was Moh.  He told James how his son had come home with it five years earlier. Moh had read the little book many times and was “stirred by the story” and had longed to learn more.

Fraser nurtured this new disciple whose testimony aroused a lot of curiosity and not a little persecution and who went on to point many to Christ in that region.  He recalled later that he “never knew a braver man in his witness for Christ.”

Fraser became instrumental in a wonderful work of God among the Lisu people whom he dedicated his life to bringing the gospel to.  With no written language, Fraser created a script and together with others worked on translating the Bible into Lisu.  I spoke recently with a mission worker serving in Yunnan who told me that today even local authorities say the Lisu are a Christian people group.  The church there has taken root since it was planted through the efforts of Fraser and others in the early and mid 20th century.

Hebrews 4:12 says that “the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”  God says of His word in Jeremiah 23:29 that it is ‘like fire…and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces.” John Stott wrote that ‘The Word of God will prove its divine origin by its divine power.  Let’s let it loose in the world!”

Recently I gave a MicroSD card loaded with the New Testament, evangelistic messages and some songs to a man I’ve been witnessing to here in South East Asia.  A friend told me about a woman living in the Middle East who has given loads of Mp3 players containing the Bible to shut-in maids.  I also just heard about a nominally Muslim man in central Europe given a Bible to read by a friend.  His wife, more religious, didn’t want him to read it, believing it would contaminate them so she kept hiding it from him.

However, every time she hid it she’d read a bit from it. One day she read Matthew 5:27-30 where it is written, “I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matt 5:28).  She was amazed and deeply struck that Jesus cares about women.  Her heart was opened to the gospel and she came to Christ.  She said she’d never heard of a God like that, who cares so much about women that He put this teaching in His holy book.  Now they are both committed Christians serving refugees.  Not a passage you would have expected to be key in someone coming to Jesus!

Whether it’s in print-form, through storytelling, audio, video or braille, we must continue to distribute and teach the Bible, so it can have its powerful impact on individuals and communities.  Bible translation is also still much needed with, according to Wycliffe Bible Translators, approximately 1.5 billion people without the Bible in their heart language. While there is a lot of needed and exciting work happening in world mission, none of it is more important than the communication of God’s Word by which people can discover Jesus and learn to live as His disciples.  What God says in the Bible can cause revolutions in hearts and homes, destroy the power of lies and deception, explain who we are and how to live and ultimately draw people to God Himself.  By all necessary means may we press on to ‘hold out the word of life’ (Philippians 2:16) so that more people may experience its divine, transforming power in this broken world.

Today’s guest blogger is Alex Hawke, a mission worker in southeast Asia. You can follow him on Twitter at @AlexGTHawke.

A Bible in your own language

A Russian Orthodox Church at St Andrew's Monastery, Moscow

A Russian Orthodox Church at St Andrew’s Monastery, Moscow

In the western world many of us take if for granted that we not only have the Bible in our own languages, but that we have many different version.  But imagine you live in a country which has been under the domination of an influential neighbour for centuries. Their language is the one you have to learn if you want to progress in education or business; yours is only spoken at home. Although they have brought you education, literacy and Christianity, you still feel a bit of an outsider. Although they send you their missionaries to tell you about God, and give you his book to read, it’s only available in their language. It’s not surprising to find that there can be resistance to the Gospel in cultures such as these.

Until a quarter of a century ago, that was the world of some 85 million people of the former Soviet Union who are not Russian, and who speak between them some 130 different languages. They include large people groups such as the Tajik, who now have their own country, and many tiny tribes in places like Siberia, Kamchatka or the Caucasus who struggle even to this day for the recognition of their indigenous culture, whether by the Russians or by another dominant people group. Indigenous languages and cultures struggle survive in a homogenising world where in order to get on, become educated, and trade prosperously people need to fit into larger groups. People often abandon their own roots because of their perceived need to adapt and progress.

But now imagine what it means to a person living in one of those places when a Bible in their own language is put into their hands. Often they are amazed that somebody cares about their culture enough to publish a book in it. One person even commented on opening it “God speaks my language!” over and over again. It radically transforms their impression of God into the one who has come into their world and values them and their identity.

This is at the heart of the work of the Institute for Bible Translation (IBT). Based in Moscow in a former monastery which was founded five centuries ago with the express purpose of organising the study of Greek and Slavonic texts to a high academic level and translating them into Russian, IBT now serves the many non-Slavic people of the former USSR who have no scripture in their own language. Having gone through the lengthy process of doing a proper technical translation, they also then publish the Word in the form of books, audio-Bibles and digital Bibles. The aim is to get the Bible into the hands of people who would otherwise have no access to it. Many of these people are Moslem, although some have traditional shamanistic beliefs.

Recognising that there may initially be resistance to their work, the early works that IBT focuses on include a Children’s Bible, and a book of local folk stories, which are illustrated wherever possible by local artists, in order to reinforce their cultural relevance. Proverbs often follows, because many Biblical proverbs mirror local wisdom and are readily accepted.  Since parents are often keen for their children to learn their own language so that it will survive, books that are targeted at children are very popular. To date, the Children’s Bible has been produced in more than 40 languages, with over 9 million copies in print.

When a specific book is complete, there is a presentation ceremony wherever this is possible. In minority communities, even those who are Moslem, this is often seen as an opportunity to celebrate and affirm their traditional culture. So the local president, or mayor, or even the imam may be a central figure in the presentation. At an event like this, one imam commented that he always uses the Bible to teach from in his mosque, because it is in his own language! He can’t understand the Quran, as he doesn’t speak Arabic. So there is immediate evangelistic potential from the publication of a Bible in their own language.

While there continue to be many challenges, the work of IBT is advancing the Gospel in the former Soviet Union. The church is being encouraged and built up, and the Gospel is coming for the first time to many people in their own language. One beneficiary of the work commented:

I beg you, whatever problems you might face, never stop your work. It’s very much needed; every book means a redeemed soul!

With a response like that to the work of IBT, there is clearly a major need for this work to keep on expanding. You can read more about this wonderful ministry, and contribute through prayer or giving at www.ibt.org.ru.