The journey to provide the Border Kuna people with their own translation of God’s Word is both moving and compelling – a study in faithfulness and obedience of the highest order.
Sweat of Labor
The Darien jungle of Panama can be extremely hot, humid, rainy, and downright miserable.
When Rodolfo* and Pablo* recorded the Border Kuna New Testament, they were exposed, day after day, to harsh elements, tropical diseases, and an overshadowing high-security risk. Besides this, every moment of every day they were keenly aware that, once again, their families were back home in Guatemala living out their lives and waiting with expectation for their husbands and fathers to return home.
A group of Border Kuna people was there, too, lending their voices to Jesus, Paul, Mary, and the other characters that make a dramatized recording come alive. Although accustomed to the climate, the food, and the elements, they had also left their homes and families back in the villages. Knowing how desperately their people needed the Audio Bible, the participants were compelled by the hope of making a profound impact on all the speakers of their language.
Each person made extreme sacrifices just being there, not to mention the nearly unbearable temperatures they had to endure. The sweltering studio only allowed them to record for 15 minutes at a time – between escapes for a breath of fresh air and a drink of water – just to go back in over and over and over again for two months.
The studio was makeshift, but functional; arranged in a small house that was near a river, a busy road, and a bar. Given this configuration, one can imagine the difficulty of blocking out the sounds of outboard motors, buses, screams, laughter, and music while also trying to suppress the incessant heat. This recording, like so many others, demanded extraordinary commitment, endurance, and dependence on God.
Tears of Disappointment
More than forty years earlier, Wycliffe translators Keith and Wilma Forster visited the Border Kuna for the first time, cradling their 3-month-old baby in their arms. Knowing without a doubt that God had spoken to their hearts, they followed His lead and enjoyed His miraculous provision for them every step of the way.
After traversing 200 rapids in a dugout canoe, they arrived at the main village to ask for permission to live there and translate God’s letter about his Son Jesus into the people’s heart language. The chief called a meeting of the entire village that lasted for more than 4 hours the first day and 2 more hours the next day.
Once a decision was finally made, the Forsters were told the answer by the chief, the assistant chief, and each of the council members: “No,” “No,” “No,” “No.” It was a resounding no – they could not come!
Upon hearing their decision, Keith was extremely disappointed, to say the least. He quickly shifted gears and clearly explained to the entire village how much God loves the Border Kuna people; how he and Wilma had been sent to tell them that Jesus gave His life for them. He also shared that one day their children would ask about God, but the elders would have to tell them that the people who came to translate God’s letter into their language were sent away.
Later that day, Keith went down to the river to grieve and pray. As he knelt down sobbing – the Forsters would learn nearly 10 years later – the wife of the mayor heard his cries on her way to draw water and returned to tell her husband and the chief.
As a result of Keith’s great love for the Border Kuna, the chief summoned the couple and invited them to live with his people and translate God’s letter for them. The Forsters worked there for many years, translating the entire New Testament into the people’s heart language.
Blood of Martyrs
Later on, New Tribes missionaries also came to work in the villages. In 1993, subversives swept in and forcibly took Dave Mankins, Mark Rich, and Rick Tenenoff hostage, crossing the border into Colombia. After enduring several years in captivity, all three of these brave men died. In giving their lives and leaving their families behind, their labors also bore the sweetest of fruit – a church among the Border Kuna.
Wondering If and When
For many years, Faith Comes By Hearing kept its finger on the pulse of the Border Kuna area, wondering if and when an Audio New Testament recording might be possible. Knowing that a church existed, that most of the people were unable to read their printed New Testament, and that missionaries had been unable to enter their villages for more than 20 years made things even more tenuous.
When contact was made with a Border Kuna leader in early 2015, he and his people were overjoyed to find that God’s letter could finally be recorded in their heart language after all these years. A strategy was quickly developed and plans were put in place; at long last, this recording was really going to happen!
Rejoicing and Thanksgiving
As shared above, the Guatemala team went to Panama and recorded the precious Word of God. Soon, all the Border Kuna people will be able to gain a broader understanding of the ultimate price Jesus paid in shedding His blood as the ransom for their sins.
One day – because of the tears and endurance of the Forsters, the blood of the New Tribes martyrs, and the sweat of the Border Kuna people and the Guatemala recording team – a group of people from the remote Darien jungle will stand before the throne of God. Many will be there, praising and adoring the God who gave them His letter, together with an innumerable crowd of people from all nations, languages, tribes, and tongues.
All glory to God and our deepest thanks to Rodolfo, Pablo, and the Border Kuna people for recording God’s letter. With grateful hearts, we say “Thank you!” to faithful prayer partners, generous financial supporters, and every member of the Faith Comes By Hearing team for making the recording of this New Testament possible!
Note: The Forsters continued their translation work with a New Testament for the Kuna of the San Blas Islands, which we have also recorded. The Border Kuna is the last people group in Panama that is still waiting for an Audio Bible recording. Soon, they will be listening to God’s letter to them on Proclaimers.
Image 1: The Darien jungle of Panama (1).
Image 2: Keith and Wilma Forster.
Image 3: Dave Mankins, Mark Rich, and Rick Tenenoff.
Image 4: The Darien jungle of Panama (2).
*Pseudonyms used for security reasons.