Gareth and Katharine Mort
When Mr and Mrs Smith, from Scotland, started praying for the Kamuku people thirty years ago, after discovering them as one of the featured language groups in the Bibleless Peoples Prayer Project, they had no idea that God would answer their prayers through Gareth and Katharine Mort. And neither did the Morts. Though they weren’t Morts to begin with – at least, Katharine wasn’t.
Discovering who Jesus really was
Katharine came to faith through God’s word. She’d been brought up as a Catholic and felt that she knew God, but it was only at university, when a friend asked her if she wanted to read the Bible with them, that she discovered who Jesus really was. ‘God opened my eyes, I understood the gospel, and I put my trust in Jesus.’ This trust was enough to decide that when she graduated she’d give Jesus a year of her life, which she spent in Papua New Guinea. There she discovered that she loved analysing languages. She also realised it was nonsense just to give God a year, that her whole life belonged to him! Later she went to live and work in Nigeria.
Gareth heard the call to mission when he was only eight years old. Many people can take a long time to find their role in life, but not Gareth: ‘At the age of 10, I’d decided that Bible translation was it. Apparently a lot of people who are called to mission are called at that age; well, I was one of them, anyway.’
But then again, mission was in his blood. His family had been involved with OMF. It had taken him a long time to find his way to Nigeria as, until then, Wycliffe had thought his asthma might prevent him from working in a hot climate. Yet a trip to Cameroon showed that the climate was actually beneficial. In 2003, he moved on to Nigeria. He’d only intended to stay for two years, but one thing led to another and he ended up staying.
Gareth and Katharine got married in 2009, going on to have two children. Katharine had been working with the Kamuku people for a year or so, learning their language, analysing it and creating a writing system. Gareth had been in that area before, working in neighbouring groups, and he joined her in the village after they got married.
Part of God’s family
The Kamuku people embraced them wholeheartedly, and it’s something that has clearly impacted Gareth and Katharine. Recent insecurity in the Kamuku area is preventing them from returning to their village home, so the future is uncertain, but they hope to return soon. ‘We’re part of God’s family there,’ Gareth tells me. ‘Most of our Kamuku friends donꞌt speak our language and we are worlds apart, but they have really taken us into their hearts.’
Although by Western standards, the Kamuku people are seen as poor, the Morts have learned that they are rich in other ways. The Kamuku are immensely generous people. When they harvest their crops, they come and share their produce. Sometimes when they hear that Gareth and Katharine are travelling, the church gives them a gift to help with expenses. They share from what they have. The biggest contributor to the Kamuku work is the Kamuku community. During a Bible study, they were discussing 2 Corinthians 8:1–15, where Paul commends the Macedonians for their generosity despite the fact that they are in extreme poverty. When they heard this, they asked, ‘If they are poor, then how could they afford to give?’ They did not see themselves in that way at all.
The biggest contributor to the Kamuku work is the Kamuku community.
You can see from this why Gareth and Katharine would be glad to bring up their children as much as they can amongst the Kamuku people. ‘It’s an education that money cannot buy,’ is the frank way that Gareth puts it. ‘These values of generosity and treating each other like family are so different from what we experience elsewhere and will hopefully stand them in good stead.’
The scariest job in the world
When Gareth is asked what he does for a living, he has an answer that’s guaranteed to grab people’s attention: ‘I have the scariest job in the world. I’m the person who has to sign off a translation as being the word of God.’
In practice, Gareth’s job is to check that what is in the target language matches up with the original text and meaning of Scripture. This is not as easy as it sounds. When it comes to translating Scripture, there are so many unknown ideas. For example, can you imagine how hard it might be to translate the names of the twelve gemstones that decorate the foundations of the New Jerusalem (Revelation 21:19–20), or that translating a number as big as 144,000 (Rev 14:1) would take a whole paragraph?
These are just two of the many challenges that Gareth has encountered in his role as a translation consultant, but he makes it clear that he and Katharine are not translators: ‘We serve with Wycliffe Bible Translators, but we are not the translators. We help mother-tongue translators to do the best job they can.’
What Jesus went through for us
For Gareth, one of the delights of his role is those light bulb moments when people realise the truth, impact and beauty of God’s word because they can finally read it in a language that they understand.
One of these moments happened with a member of the Awak translation team, a man named Barnabas. They were working on the passion narratives, on the section where Jesus is in the courtyard with the high priests, being mocked and beaten, when Barnabas just stopped and said, ‘You know, this really makes you think about what Jesus actually went through for us.’
This really makes you think about what Jesus went through for us.
Now, this man had been a Christian all his life. He was 50 years old, had read this thousands of times in Hausa and English, and suddenly, the penny dropped. Suddenly, he realised the reality of what the Bible was saying. Suddenly, he understood the reality of what Jesus did for him. This is why Gareth loves going with translators to test the translated Scriptures by reading to people in various contexts. He can see the interest and impact of that because these people may never have heard Scripture in their own language before.
The amazing reality of grace
It’s also wonderful to hear Gareth and Katharine talk about how translation impacts the lives of those they are working with. Nuhu, which means Noah in Kamuku, is a great example of this. A local pastor introduced him to them. He’d written some songs and wanted to know how to write them in Kamuku.
Realising his passion for his language, they wanted to see if he would be interested in helping with translation. At first they weren’t sure that he spoke English as he didn’t say anything at that initial meeting, but when Katharine suggested that he could translate the Bible, he replied, ‘Well, I’ve actually already done Matthew.’ This was marvellous news, and Nuhu became a valuable part of the new team that was being established. Gareth and Katharine saw his desire and passion for translation and gave him the training that he needed to develop the necessary skills.
Although Nuhu was a regular churchgoer and believed in God, the more time he spent studying and translating God’s word, the more he realised the amazing reality of grace – that it didn’t matter how hard he worked for God, he was already loved. ‘So he would say that he became a Christian though translating the Bible,’ confirms Katharine.
He became a Christian though translating the Bible.
Nuhu knows how to get on with things too. As Katharine says, ‘Honestly, he’s a God-sent person. He uses the talents that God has given him and he’s got initiative.’ Katharine was involved in helping him to write and develop literacy materials and over the past two years he’s been running literacy teacher training, which is immensely valuable because, now that they have Scripture translated into their own language, people need to be able to read it.
And Nuhu clearly sees the value in what he is doing. Last year, Gareth and Katharine had been away, and Nuhu had been doing some training in the village. One Sunday, the woman leading the church service decided that the first passage would be read from the Kamuku Scriptures. It’s with delight that Katharine tells how encouraging this was: ‘It’s not only because she’d chosen to do this, but also because she had the ability to do it – because she had been taught to read. They do try and use their language in church.’
Jesus speaking Kamuku is an amazing thing.
Initially, Gareth wasn’t too sure whether to use it, as it seemed quite old, but the impact of the JESUS Film dubbed into Kamuku cannot be underestimated either. It was shown in some villages that Gareth had never been to and after three showings where 591 people saw it, 237 people responded to Jesus after the film.
‘It’s been so amazingly used by God,’ Gareth admits, ‘and it does have an impact. Jesus speaking Kamuku is an amazing thing.’
The JESUS Film has also helped to make people aware that they have materials, like Luke’s Gospel, in Kamuku, so now they want to be able to read it. Since 2019, the literacy team has been running classes where they bring people from different villages together and train them in how to use the skills they already have in reading Hausa to learn to read Kamuku too. The trainees then go back to their villages and teach others to read Kamuku. This has been hugely successful.
The word of God unleashed in churches
In the Kamuku project, things haven’t been moving very fast. ‘We might want the translation to be done in five years, but that’s not the way God works,’ Gareth believes. ‘Things come together in the way that he wants things to come together.’
Both Gareth and Katharine believe passionately in the importance of the work that they’ve been called to. Gareth’s next words paint a powerful picture: ‘We are the technicians at the coal face of Bible translation, but we are very aware in Africa that Bible translation is not a silver bullet.’
What he means by this is that you don’t want Bibles stacked in warehouses providing food for the local termites. ‘You want the word of God to be unleashed in churches because that’s where the real ministry happens.’ This is the vision that Gareth shares with us.
That’s exactly what the Smiths were praying for. And over thirty years later, Gareth has had the immense pleasure of telling Jane Smith that the Kamuku people are in the process of translating God’s word into their own language, and that lives are being changed in Nigeria. People are being brought into the family of God and transformed for eternity.
Pray for the Mort family:
- Praise God for keeping Gareth and Katharine through 2020, and that translation work has been able to continue despite disruptions.
- Pray for peace and security in the Kamuku area, and provision for those suffering loss
- Pray for fruit in the lives of many people through the translated Scriptures.