‘Everyone was listening to it, and they kept saying, “Wow! God’s word is in our language! And it’s easy to understand!”’ Yan*, a Muniyo* man passionate about reaching his people with the gospel, recounted excitedly as he exchanged news with Seth, a Wycliffe linguist from the US.

One of the Muniyo translators

Yan had recently returned from the town of Sefi*, where, to his great surprise, he had heard the creation story he and Seth had helped create played over and over again. ‘They love it!’

I need those stories

Yan didn’t know how his people in Sefi had got hold of the story, but his report triggered a memory in Seth from a time when he couldn’t see God at work in any obvious way. Months earlier, together with another Muniyo colleague, he had been trying to test oral recordings of Muniyo Bible stories for comprehension among the community. But they hit several roadblocks as there was at times severe opposition to their work by some members of the community, partly due to differing cultural expectations about the project.

A Muniyo colleague tells the story of Jesus and the demon-possessed man (Luke 8:26–39) to Muniyo friends. He uses props to tell the story. The water bottle represents Jesus and the cup in front of it represents ‘Legion’. The rocks represent the crowd.

One day, when Seth had been facing a number of setbacks in his work, Taviri*, a local evangelist, happened upon the Wycliffe linguist while he was working on the recordings in the city. Taviri’s people group, the Wabisa*, also come from the mountains in Papua, but are vastly more numerous than the Muniyo. Even so, Taviri cared deeply for the Muniyo, and said the most encouraging thing anyone had said to Seth during the project: ‘I need those stories. Give them to me.’

God’s word is in our language! And it’s easy to understand!

Seth turned back to Yan, and filled him in on the background he had just pieced together. He suddenly saw that God had been at work behind the scenes the whole time, using local people in ways that were incredibly well suited to the Muniyo culture. Taviri, being Papuan, must have understood the culture of relationships and trust among the Muniyo better than he did, and had distributed the recorded stories among them with an ease that Seth never could.

A learning and practising lesson in an Oral Storying workshop

But the truth is, God in his grace used both local people and Wycliffe members from overseas to reach this people group with the gospel. Seth had worked with Muniyo people to craft and record the stories, and Taviri was able to distribute them. As Seth remarked afterwards, ‘God’s using local people in some powerful ways, and he’s using me in other ways, and we fit together well.’

*Names changed for security reasons

Photos used with permission. Top: Seth with Muniyo colleagues in front of Mount Cyclops.