In a small rural church nestled in the mountains of West Timor*, seven families worshipped together. In their homes and with each other outside of church, they primarily spoke their own language, called Tetun. But in church services, following the only model they knew, they used Indonesian**. Their Bibles were also in Indonesian. Because they didn’t speak Indonesian very well, there was a lot they didn’t understand.
Then came exciting news: God speaks Tetun! Tetun translators, working under the direction of the Evangelical Protestant Church of Timor (GMIT) and guided by Wycliffe advisor Dr Barbara Grimes, had translated and published the New Testament plus Genesis in their language.
With Scriptures that made sense to them, they could finally relate to God in their own language! They decided to begin worshipping in Tetun three Sundays a month, leaving one service a month in Indonesian, the language they shared with other GMIT congregations. In their home groups, they studied the Tetun Scriptures.
Equipped to dig deeper into God’s word than they ever could before, the church began to grow. Within a few weeks, seventeen(!) new families had joined the church, and more copies of the Scriptures were needed. Nearly two years later, that congregation is thriving and still using the Tetun Scriptures.
Many other Tetun congregations in the GMIT also shifted some of their worship services to their own language. Often this was three Sundays each month in Tetun (their language of discipleship), followed by one Sunday in Indonesian (their language of fellowship). Rather than spinning their wheels trying to make programs in Indonesian successful, congregations were now seeing real growth and transformation as they engaged with Tetun Scriptures.
Interest in the Tetun Scriptures also spread across denominational boundaries. A Catholic priest became one of the best distributors of the Scriptures! He sold book after book after book, repeatedly asking for more boxes, selling those, and asking for more. Both priests and pastors in the region have said that introducing the Tetun language and Scriptures into their worship services has brought meaningful change and spiritual growth they hadn’t seen before.
*West Timor is a political region that comprises the western half of Timor Island, north of Australia. It is part of Indonesia.
**Indonesian is the national language of Indonesia.
This story is adapted from a blog post that originally featured on Bob Creson’s (President/CEO of Wycliffe Bible Translators USA) blog. Read the original story here.