True Love

6 09 2014

Before the JESUS film can be dubbed into any language, the essential work of translation into the mother tongue must occur. Our partners at Wycliffe Bible Translators are instrumental in the work of helping us translate JESUS into new languages. Because nearly every word that Jesus says in the JESUS film is taken from the Biblical book of Luke, we take seriously the importance of communicating clearly and accurately what Scripture says. The pursuit of just the right term for a theological concept is critical for a culture truly to understand the Gospel. Sometimes the treasure is present, but prayer and God’s directing hand reveal the awaiting gem.

Lee Bramlett and his wife are Wycliffe Bible translators in Cameroon who have been working on Scripture and the JESUS film translation into the Hdi language. Lee was confident that God had left His mark on the Hdi culture somewhere *, but though he searched, he could not find it. Where was the footprint of God in the history or daily life of these Cameroonian people? What clue had God planted to let the Hdi know who He is and how He wants to relate to them?

Then one night in a dream, God prompted Lee to look again at the Hdi word for love. Lee and his wife had learned that verbs in Hdi consistently end in one of three vowels. For almost every verb, they could find forms ending in i, a, and u. But when it came to the word for love, they could only find i and a. Why no u?

Curious, Lee asked the Hdi translation committee, which included the most influential leaders in the community, “Could you ‘dvi’ your wife?”

“Yes,” they said. That would mean that the wife had been loved, but the love was gone.

“Could you ‘dva’ your wife?” Lee asked.

“Yes,” they said. That kind of love depended on the wife’s actions. She would be loved as long as she remained faithful and cared for her husband well.

“Could you ‘dvu’ your wife?” Lee asked.

Everyone laughed. “Of course not!” they said. “If you said that, you would have to keep loving your wife no matter what she did, even if she never got you water, never made you meals. Even if she committed adultery, you would be compelled to just keep on loving her. No, we would never say ‘dvu.’ It just doesn’t exist.”

Lee sat quietly for a while, thinking about John 3:16, and then he asked, “Could God ‘dvu’ people?”

There was complete silence for three or four minutes, and then tears started to trickle down the weathered faces of these elderly men. Finally they responded. “Do you know what this would mean?” they asked. “This would mean that God kept loving us over and over, millennia after millennia, while all that time we rejected His great love. He is compelled to love us, even though we have sinned more than any people.”

One simple vowel, and the meaning was changed from “I love you based on what you do and who you are,” to “I love you based on who I am. I love you because of Me and not because of you.”

God had encoded the story of His unconditional love right into their language. For centuries, the little word was there—unused but available, grammatically correct and quite understandable. When the word was finally spoken, it called into question their entire belief system. If God was like that, did they need the spirits of the ancestors to intercede for them? Did they need sorcery to relate to the spirits? Many decided the answer was no, and the number of Christ-followers quickly grew from a few hundred to several thousand. One word. One vowel. All the difference.

Praise God for His Unconditional Love.

Reprinted from a prayer letter recently issued by Bryan Augsburger, Cru studio technician for The Jesus Film Project.

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John 3:16  King James Version (KJV)

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

* For more on this concept, see Don Richardson’s book entitled Eternity In Their Hearts: Startling Evidence of Belief in the One True God in Hundreds of Cultures Throughout the World, published by Regal Books in 1981 and in revised form in 1984.

D. Raymond-Wryhte

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