We’ve all heard people say, “You could just see the emotion on his face,” or “You could hear the emotion in her voice.” For some of us, this happens when we hear a powerful sermon, when our grandchild recites a Christmas poem, or perhaps when we receive the news of a friend’s illness or the passing of a loved one.
When talking about oral cultures, we say that God speaks loudest and clearest when He speaks to people in their heart language, the language they pray in. Not only do we talk about how God communicates clearly and loudly, we model it and live it out through our vision and through the accomplishment of our mission in collaboration with others of like mind.
Nevertheless, words, thoughts, and ideas can be just that – words, thoughts, and ideas – unless we have valid experiences to remind us of why we say what we say and do what we do.
Recently, during a training event for pastors in Guatemala, Abdiel [one of our Regional Coordinators] turned on the Proclaimer and we listened to Mark 5 in the South Central Cakchiquel language for the very first time. This is the passage where Jesus heals the man from the region of the Gerasenes who had “an unclean spirit.” The spirit is cast out; it goes into the herd of about 2,000 pigs; the pigs run into the sea and drown. The man is totally changed and he goes to Decapolis to tell the people what Jesus had done for him.
As we finished listening, Abdiel asked the pastors and leaders, “So what was going on when you heard the story? Did you understand it? How did it impact you or what did you feel?”
One of the leaders said, “It was like something special was happening inside of me, something I can hardly explain, but I had never heard it so clearly before in my own language, Cakchiquel.”
Another leader commented, “It was like I was in the middle of the story; it was as if I was there with them watching it happen. I could not only hear it, but it seemed like I could feel it and really understand it.”
Then a pastor reconfirmed what they were saying, “I had never heard the Scriptures like I just heard them now in my Cakchiquel language.”
Seated on a bench with us was Tim, the Bible translator who had invested 27 years of his life translating the New Testament, and Orlando, a native speaker of Cakchiquel and co-translator who worked with Tim so the people could have access to God’s Word in their heart language. As the leaders spoke, it was obvious to me that the two translators were moved. How would I know? Because I could see it in their eyes, see it on their faces, and hear it in their voices.
Later that same evening we arrived at a large meeting in the next town. It was an outdoor gathering near the center of town. The music group, Psalm 91, was already playing their guitars, drums, trumpets, saxophone, and keyboard, and the singers were singing. There was a three-column stack of audio speakers about 5 feet tall and 3 feet wide on each side of the platform. Being the guests, we were led to the front rows where my chest literally pounded from the volume and the boom of the speakers. It reminded me of being at a concert in an event center somewhere. Wow – this was really impressive in a smaller town in rural Guatemala!
At the appointed time, several of us were led to the platform to give a presentation. By then, there was a crowd of more than 1,500 people, not counting the ones standing in the shadows, those looking out the windows of their homes, and those in the doorways of businesses. What an amazing sight and a feeling of indescribable awe filled the air.
As Orlando read a passage of Scripture from the Cakchiquel New Testament, there was a marked silence. Several of us gave words of greeting, appreciation, and exhortation, and the people listened attentively as each of us spoke. Once again, Abdiel turned on the Proclaimer and played Mark 5. As the passage played and the Word of God boomed out of the huge speakers with the dramatization of voices, music, and sound effects, it seemed as though the air had been sucked out of the place as the massive gathering of Cakchiquel speakers listened silently.
You could almost sense the electricity when the voice of the spirits said in Cakchiquel, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? In God’s name don’t torture me!”
And even more electrifying were the words of Jesus, “Come out of this man, you impure spirit!”
You could even feel the ever-heightening emotion when Jesus cast the spirit out of the man and into the 2,000 pigs that ran toward the sea snorting and squealing. Then things seemed to rise to a higher crescendo when the man was seen in his right mind, clothed, and talking to Jesus.
You could see the emotion on their faces, hear it in their voices, and feel it in their applause. The atmosphere was alive, the actions and reactions were real, and the people were obviously moved. It wasn’t the microphones and not even the size of the speakers that captured the moment. There is something beyond description that takes place when people realize for the first time that God speaks their language. Yes, God speaks South Central Cakchiquel to the people of Guatemala. They hear it, they feel it, they know it, and they can now experience it – loudly and clearly.
Image: A Proclaimer training session for Guatemalan pastors.