I recently went on a weekend retreat to the Monastery of Christ in the Desert in Abiquiu, NM. The monastery is deep in the desert at the end of an 18-mile “driveway” and cell reception is non-existent. I lost service and tucked my phone away almost as soon as I started down the road.
Guests of the monastery are asked to maintain silence – no talking to one another (except in designated areas) and no talking to the monks. The only exceptions to this rule are the monk running the gift shop and the fellowship hour following Mass on Sunday.
I arrived on a Friday afternoon and headed first for the refectory and gift shop to get my bearings (and some of the legendary handmade soap the monks are known for). When I came in, the monk running the gift shop looked up from fiddling with his phone to greet me. Surprised, I asked him if he actually had service and he replied that he did. He had an accent that I recognized as African, so I asked him where he was from. He told me that he was from Malawi.
“What language do you speak?” I asked him.
“Chichewa,” he told me.
“You know,” I said, “we have a Bible app where you can listen to the New Testament in Chichewa.”
He chuckled and said, “No, no. Not Chichewa. I have seen Swahili, but they do not have Chichewa.”
I promised him that we did, and asked if he was okay with me downloading an app to his phone. Within seconds the Bible.is app. The “Select your language” box popped up automatically and I handed the phone back to him.
“Here,” I said, “click on ‘Countries’ and then ‘Malawi’ and I bet you’ll find Chichewa.”
Sure enough, there it was! He clicked it open and hit play. He stared at his phone with a huge grin as it started to play – and, about five seconds in, he began to giggle. Then he started clapping his hands and hopping up and down in circles, still giggling. He gave me a huge hug, stopped and listened again for a minute, and then began another round of clapping, giggling, and hopping.
“Oh!” he kept saying, “I am so happy to be hearing this!”
He was still listening when I left the gift shop.
I didn’t see him again for the rest of the weekend, but he must have spread the word because, at the fellowship hour after Mass, I got mobbed. It seems that nearly half of the monks were from other countries, and many did not speak English well. Five or six different monks came up to me to give me a hug or shake my hand and tell me what language they had downloaded to listen. One young man from Vietnam who spoke almost no English even requested that one of the other monks translate for him so that he could be “introduce to this Bible lady.”
Needless to say, this was not a place I expected to introduce anyone to the Bible in their own language, but what an eye-opener! These are men so in love with God that they have given up everything to dedicate their lives to prayer – but even they did not have easy access to God’s Word in their mother tongues.
The need is all around us; sometimes in places we never even think to look.