I am but a scribe, my fingers the feather in your hand, my eyes dependent on the light that you shine on truth and error. I am just your servant, my body the vehicle you sent here, my health the strength you provide to do my service for you and your Kingdom.
But I am also your child, your daughter, chosen to be adopted, to be loved and treasured. Abba, your arms hold me tight; your purpose is the beat of my heart.
This past Sunday our sending church celebrated the completion of forty years of work in linguistics and translation: the printed Nyarafolo Scripture portions (the New Testament, Pentateuch and Psalms). It was a day of joy on this side of the Pond; on July 31 there will be a much bigger celebration across the Pond in Côte d’Ivoire in the north, where the Nyarafolo live.
I am looking back on the hours spent along the way analyzing the sounds and tones of this complex language, the interviews that informed us about the culture and its values, and the research we did on the original meaning of biblical terms and their application to various contexts and to the Nyarafolo understanding. The piles of pen-and-ink papers led to piles of computer-printed papers and eventually to actual books — some for literacy, and some that were the biblical books as they were completed, one by one. And now this Book!
I realized I was Abba’s scribe, given the particular task of contributing to writing what would become this people group’s sole access to literature in their mother tongue, including two-thirds of the Bible. The scribe is behind the scenes, not the author but the transcriber of the words. And more: when we were getting ready to translate a book assigned to us, I would spend hours researching the original language (Greek or Hebrew) and its meaning, clarified by commentaries and dictionaries. I was the exegete. I would explain what I had learned to my coworker Moïse, who would propose Nyarafolo renderings. We would sometimes dig into the possibilities at length, especially when an expression or new word posed a challenge. Then I typed the words into the computer, ready for more editing and checking.
In this day and age we often think of a scribe as a kind of copyist, but in biblical times a scribe was recognized as someone who also had studied the ancient texts to the degree that they were regarded as specialists in the content of those writings. Jesus said, in Matthew 13:1: “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house, who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.” (ESV)
Wow! When I realized the kind of research that was required of me, and the wisdom and knowledge required in editing and checking, I began to understand why God had made me a perfectionist. That trait had often made me feel like a failure, ever since first grade. I just could not be perfect and do perfect work! But God makes each of us for his purpose, and this trait made me persevere to do the very best possible. I
The truth is that he has prepared certain tasks for each of us to accomplish for him: “For we are his workmanship, having been created in Christ Jesus for good works that God prepared beforehand so we may do them.” (Eph. 2:10 NET)
When I think about what the Lord empowered us to accomplish as we worked on this translation, and the part he led me to play in it, I see that he created me for this purpose, to be his scribe! I loved the requirement of study, of correcting the work in its stages, of making sure that it communicated to the Nyarafolo people. And he had given me a love for his Word, which was essential.
That is my story.
What is yours? If you are Abba’s son or daughter he has prepared “good works” for you to do that align with his purpose. Where has he placed you? What opportunities are out there for you? What has he given you a love for? We have each been gifted for a purpose in God’s community and in his plan to reach all peoples – those in your neighborhood, family, church or region, those who are like you and those who are different. When we are following his direction, he has placed where he wants us, and we are to bloom where we are planted. Wherever that may be, we are to reflect his light to those in darkness around us and show his love to everyone.
May we each be who he wants us to be! May his purpose be the beat of our hearts!