Hidden Labor

A Shuar man holds the first complete Shuar Bible in Makuma, Ecuador – Aug. 2010. Photo by Chad Irwin.

A Shuar man holds the first complete Shuar Bible in Makuma, Ecuador – Aug. 2010. Photo Credit by Chad Irwin.

Revenge cycles tortured Shuar Indian lives for centuries. The father of a sick child asked the witch doctor only one question, “Who put this curse on my son?” Then dad and friends stalked and killed their new enemy––or anyone near and dear they could find. The survivors, of course, exacted a blood price from the assailants, expanding the vengeance circle. By age five a boy memorized the names of family enemies, then grew into his life purpose––kill them all.

When I arrived in Ecuador’s Amazon jungle in the mid-80s, the Shuar New Testament was complete, but the Old Testament remained a distant dream. Even when I posted “Needy Circle” two years ago I still hadn’t seen it. But just two weeks ago while light rain beat steady rhythm on the tin roof and low clouds reached down to tree tops, everything suddenly grew brighter. I held in my own hands a plain book––the entire Bible in the Shuar language.

Once a month for two decades we flew like bees to flowers, collecting the small team of Shuar language helpers. They left hunting, gardens, home, and family to labor together for a week in Makuma with Gospel Missionary Union (now Avant Ministries) translators. I wondered: What stories did the production of this volume hide? How many thousand man-hours did they invest? How many days did they live away from home? How many times did pilots land 3,000 pounds of aluminum on slippery mud airstrips? How many mechanics worked all night busting knuckles on recalcitrant aircraft engines? How many technicians burned fingers repairing village or airplane radios? How many sleepless nights did translators wrestle with words they could barely pronounce? How many electricians waded in the river to keep the small hydro plant producing power for the translator’s workshop? How many wives tended hot stoves in jungle heat, or nursed feverish children while the work went on?

Despite all odds, the truth of Isaiah 61:1-3 penetrated the dark labyrinth to proclaim liberty to the captives. Some surrendered their lives to pave the way, others carried on in sharp hardship, most persevered unnamed by people, but fully known by their redeemer. God working through their unseen labor so transformed the culture that even unbelievers live free of the revenge cycle. “For he makes his sun rise on the evil and the good, and sends his rain on the just and on the unjust” (Mat 5:45 ESV).


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