It was a five-hour trek by car up to the tiny village of Basar in the Himalayan Mountains of northeast India. The road was unpaved and rocky. I never get sick when I travel, but I couldn't help but feel queasy. My companion was Reverend Gode Doke, a small man with bushy eyebrows, glasses, and a colorful tribal vest.
I was a little unsure about interviewing this man for our Bible translation project. He barely spoke English, he was old, and more than that, he was eccentric.
My first impression was proved wrong as I uncovered his story. He has lived an extraordinary life! While visibly weathered, he has no idea how old he is. He speaks more languages than I could keep track of including Galo, Assamese, Hindi, and English.
He is also something of a community celebrity. His native language had no written form until several years ago, when he translated the New Testament and a collection of hymns into Galo. Now the Galo Christian community uses his translations and is eagerly awaiting the Galo Old Testament.
As Americans, we don't often think about the need for Bible translations. After all, English translations of Scripture have been around as early as the 1500s. But this isn't the case for all the world's languages.
Currently, there are approximately 7,000 languages spoken in the world. Of these, only 554 have a full translation of the Bible. Some have the New Testament; others only have a book or two of the Bible. Of the several hundred languages spoken in India, most do not have any Bible translations.
During my time in Northeast India, I met numerous Galo speakers. Each one seemed to be anxiously awaiting the translation of the Old Testament to join with their New Testament. What would it be like to have a complete translation of the Bible for the first time?
Maybe it would be like the prophetic words in Isaiah, spoken to God's people living in exile. They hadn't heard God speak for a long time, but then the Lord gave them a promise: "In time to come you will acknowledge that I am God and that I have spoken to you" (Isaiah 52:6). The prophet responds joyfully, "How wonderful it is to see a messenger coming across the mountains, bringing good news, the news of peace! He announces victory and says to Zion, 'your God is king!'" (Isaiah 52:7). Thinking back over my time in the Himalayas, I can feel the joy of the arrival of God's words, being ushered in by this faithful translator. Reverend Gode Doke has wonderful feet indeed.
Want to learn more about how the Bible is translated?
Watch this video about Bible translation in India:
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