According to Japanese legend, a young man named Sen no Rikyu sought to learn the elaborate set of customs known as the “Way of Tea.” He went to tea master Takeno Joo, who tested the younger man by asking him to tend the garden. Rikyu cleaned up debris and raked the ground until it was perfect, and the garden immaculate. Before presenting his work to the master, he shook a cherry tree, causing a few flowers to fall onto the ground. To this day, the Japanese revere Rikyu as one who understood to his very core wabi-sabi. Emerging in the fifteenth century as a reaction to the prevailing aesthetic of lavishness, ornamentation, and rich materials, wabi-sabi is the art of finding beauty in imperfection and profundity in earthiness, of revering authenticity above all.
Japanese culture sees the aesthetic value of imperfection in wabi-sabi just as much as the Greeks valued perfection in their art. Wabi-sabi is seen as beautiful because it is imperfect and broken. The gospel is like spiritual wabi-sabi. It is the story of how God redeems imperfect, broken people and uses them to bless a fractured world. – J.R. Briggs, “Transforming Failure,” Leadership Journal (April 2014)
Caleb* was an angry man whose life was filled with violent actions. One night, he killed a man in a fit of rage. Caught by the police, tried in court and found guilty, Caleb had plenty of time in a squalid jail to think about the direction his broken life had taken. Then someone gave him a Bible…
… With nothing else to do, he began to read it. It transformed his life. After his release from prison, he saw the need for youths in his community to read these life-changing words in their own language. He decided to become a Bible translator for his island language group. Later, he helped set up primary school programs to help children read in their heart language. He now teaches other teachers how to use heart-language Scriptures to teach children how to read. His previously fractured life was now bringing beauty beyond anything he could imagine.
Wabi-Sabi… authentic beauty through imperfection and brokenness.
While translating the Scriptures is always a lot of work, getting these Scriptures to remote areas is no easy task either. Sometimes it takes multiple modes of transportation. Last week the Arop-Lokep New Testament traveled by air to Long Island (PNG, not NY!), then it was carried to the beach where it was loaded on boats…
…and then they were taken to another beach to be unloaded. All the books arrived safe and dry! The dedication happens next week. Pray that these New Testaments would be used and that hearts, lives and communities would be impacted.
Translation isn’t just getting words down on paper. In any language, there are often different words that describe the same idea. Getting the one that “catches the meaning” is the goal. It is sort of like fishing… anyone can throw the line in the water but only the good fishermen come back time after time with the great catches. Pray that our language workers in Papua New Guinea would have great catches today!
Emotions ran strong as the choir sang “Masina, Masina…” at the Mussau hymnal dedication. Masina means “Thank you,” “that’s great” and is even used as a greeting in the Mussau language. But as the choir sang, it meant only one thing “It is well, it is well, it is well with my soul.”
On this day, these precious words had special meaning to the Mussau people. In February, John and Marjo Brownie were travelling from Mussau to Emirau Island with Leslie their co-translator and three others when the boat hit an unusually rough wave, immediately capsizing their small craft. The boat sank in seconds, setting all six adrift. John and Leslie became separated from Marjo, the boat captain and the other two men. They all drifted with the current but miraculously came ashore on Emirau’s western shore, John and Leslie arriving just before dark. If they had missed the island, the next land would have been Nauru, over 600 miles away. When the boat capsized, John’s computer and all the recent translation work went overboard.
The day before the hymnbook dedication, John and Marjo visited Emirau Island for the first time since the boating accident. They were tearfully greeted by the Emirau people who presented the Brownies with some of their belongings that had washed ashore, several days after the accident. When John opened a case that contained the computer with all the recent translation work, everyone cheered! Many people around the world had been praying that this work would be recovered.
Hundreds of people came the next day to the hymnbook dedication, including Ben Micah, Member of Parliament (MP) representing northern New Ireland Province. As they listened to the choir sing Masina, it was hard not be filled with grateful emotions. Many amazing things had happened that not only preserved everyone’s lives but also saved the Words of Life that had been lost at sea. Now these wonderful words were being sung in the heart language of the people.
The importance of having more than 150 songs in the Mussau language was not lost on those who had gathered. As MP, Ben Micah stated “There was nothing more important on my schedule than this day. I could think of nothing that would have prevented me from coming.”
It is a common experience for those hearing the Scriptures in their heart language to talk about how the new words seem to “come to life.” Words that you hear and read in a language that you learned as a child will always create the best understanding. Pray for the language groups with new Scriptures that they would actively seek after these new words and see them in a fresh light.
It’s easy to get caught up in the deadlines, paperwork and essential details of what needs to be accomplished in the work that we do. The language development and Bible translation effort has the same issues. But we all need to remember that everyone needs a time of refreshment. It’s important to take a much needed break in order to enjoy the bountiful blessings that God has sent their way. A kulau, which is pidgin for “young green coconut” is found at roadside markets and often offered as a drink at a rest stop on a long trip. The sweet clear liquid is a great refresher and is full of nutritious supplements. It’s way better than any sports drink! Pray that those working in the many different language projects in Papua New Guinea will find refreshment to enjoy today as they work to complete the task.
“It used to be that if you walked through a Yopno village in the evenings you would hear the sounds of people talking in each house. Now the only thing coming through the bamboo walls is the sound of Scripture.” This is what Ninipeo says about his visits to Yopno villages.
For 30 years, Ninipeo worked side by side with SIL translator Wes Reed as they translated God’s book into the Yopno language. Now he travels throughout the Yopno language area selling both printed Scriptures and audio Scriptures on a player called an Audibible.
In one village he visited, Ninipeo heard about an old man who had avoided the church all his life. One evening a primary school teacher invited him to listen to an Audibible with his family. Afterwards, the teacher couldn’t refuse when the aged man asked, “May I borrow this for one week?” After listening to it for four days, the elderly man drew a picture of a cross and put it beside his bed. Then he lay down, placed the player on his chest, and as God’s words were playing, he passed into heaven to meet his newfound friend, Jesus.
Karupe was called a “Poison Man” because he was notorious for his bad morals and life of crime and murder. One day he was being hunted down and he ran to Ninepeo’s house in fear for his life. Ninepeo opened the door, invited him in, and gave him an Audibible. Karupe listened and committed his life to Christ. Now he goes to church, helps the pastor, and serves communion.
In his travels, Ninipeo visited his extended family in the port city of Lae, outside the Yopno language area. When he pulled out an Audibible, the parents told their children, “You must come listen to this talk!” Ninipeo went to town to do his errands; when he returned five hours later, they were still listening to God’s Word.
Some people ask Ninipeo if he’s going to retire. He answers, “So many people are hungry for God’s Word that I must go out. I can’t rest as long as there is work to do.”