This month we hear about the work of Jessi in South Asia.
What do you do?
I have the honor of working in an amazing country at a unique time in history. It is a land filled with contrasts: extreme poverty with a backdrop of the most breathtaking mountains in the world; a hotspot for human trafficking but also the home of one of the fastest growing churches in the world; a nation of people who love their home but almost every family has a member (or several!) overseas as a migrant worker. There are 123 languages spoken here. While nearly everyone can understand and speak the national language, only 40% of the population (~30 million) speak it as their first language. With church growth mainly happening among minority groups, there is a huge need for the Bible and Christian growth materials in minority languages. That’s where we get to serve. I get to work alongside national believers and a variety of Christian and secular local organizations to help bring clarity to the language needs of these minority communities.
How do I do this specifically?
Through sociolinguistic research! Most people glaze over the instant these words hit their ears—what? What does that mean? It’s way more fun and accessible than it sounds. It boils down to looking at the way people use language(s). You probably interact with people who have different accents than you every day, right? And if you thought about it, you might find you hold certain attitudes about people who speak different dialects. You may even have difficulty understanding them. You encounter sociolinguistic issues every day. It’s just my job to think about them in Nepal and use a better understanding of the way people use their language to help bring God’s Word to them—in their own language.
Who are you working with?
Wycliffe Bible Translators
How long have you been there?
How did you decide to go?
From 14 years old, I was on the hunt for where in the world God would send me and what in the world he would do with me. By the time I reached my twenties, I had been to more than 20 countries, thought about a million options in missions, and began studying Arabic and Mandarin thinking God would certainly send me to one of the “hardest” places. After graduating from Georgia State, and after over a decade of asking for his direction and only hearing that cricket chorus that accompanies the cavernous silence of God, I was preparing to give up my dream of being a missionary. Maybe I wasn’t called after all. There’s a huge need. I’m capable of helping somewhere, right? It didn’t seem God felt that way. I had already applied to law schools and was readying my heart to switch gears when I heard about a week-long program (TOTAL It Up) Wycliffe hosts in order to introduce all the facets of language work to interested people. I told God this was my final attempt to follow my dream and headed to Orlando to discover that this is where I fit into his global work. Language. I love words. I love linguistics! The gospel writer John opens his letter by calling Jesus the Word. We see in Jesus the very communication, the transfer of information, of Almighty God to our little receivers—our eyes and ears. And we can see him and know him through his Word. Think about how many versions of that Word, the communication of God, we have in English. There are millions of people in the world who have not encountered the Word of God, the gospel, in their own language. And I could play a part in making that encounter possible. Amazing. Humbling. Exciting. I said “I’ll go!” and God sent me.
What’s your background?
I grew up in a Christian home in the suburbs of Atlanta. I remember being a very little girl and after hearing missionary stories at Vacation Bible School thinking, “If people don’t know about Jesus, well, what would I do with my life but tell them?” As I grew up, I remember my parents telling me that I wasn’t their child, I was God’s child, and he gave me to them to shepherd, love, train, and support, and that’s what they’d do as I followed his leading in my life. I can’t imagine anything that could’ve given me more freedom and desire to discover and pursue God’s purposes for my life.
What are your goals?
In the last four years our language survey team has completed research for eight language groups representing well over 200,000 people who are one step closer to having the Word of God in the language they understand best. I love what God is doing in South Asia through the life-transforming work of Wycliffe.
Our goal is to see transformation of individuals, communities, and the nation through a deeper, personal understanding of God’s Word.
My goal is to support the work of Bible translation in South Asia, walking in obedience to where God sees fit to use me. Currently I’m working remotely as the personnel administrator—helping take care of our people in Nepal and help new recruits as they prepare to join us.
The night before we left for the first fieldwork of a large language survey, I asked God for a verse to take with me; something I could meditate on during the long bus rides and long work days in the village. So often I ask for things half-heartedly and then am surprised when he answers so clearly. This was one of those times. He gave me Psalm 138:8: “The Lord will fulfill His purpose for me…” I took it and clung to it. All week.
We worked diligently with our language helper and contacts in the area, transcribing and translating a story we would use for intelligibility testing in the furthest areas this language is spoken. But before we could test it elsewhere, we needed to hometown test it to make sure it was a good story with good questions. After five days of work, we had to admit it: our story and questions were not going to work. Our test failed. We had not achieved the primary goal for our trip.
We spent our final day in the village collecting a word list and recording more stories, hoping that when we returned in a month we would have a head start on trying the whole process all over again. There were two young men who helped us all that final morning. They were so helpful, sharp, passionate about their language, and excited about the work we were doing to help them begin language development. We were thankful for their help and encouragement that day.
The next morning, at 4am, we found ourselves standing on the side of the road, waiting for our bus with our host, the pastor of the village church, and his brother, our language helper. I took the opportunity to ask if Christians in their village experienced any difficulties because of their faith. He answered that yes, there had been some troubles, but not now. When I asked for more details, he told us how last year the church decided not to participate in a village-wide religious festival. This decision caused quite a stir, and some leaders were so angry they threatened to bomb the church. With a smile on his face, the pastor shared how the church had gathered, prayed, and nothing came of the threats. Praise the Lord!
Then, his brother explained that the two really helpful young men we met the day before were leaders in making threats against the Christians. He had invited them to help with our word list and story collections specifically so that they would know the Christians love them and that language development work is not just for Christians, it is for all of their people. I was so glad I had asked. Here we were, ready to get on a bus, thinking we had not accomplished what we set out to accomplish during that week. As we said goodbye to our brothers, our friends, I was reminded that God is up to so much more than we are aware of sometimes. Maybe the purpose of our time in that village was just to create an opportunity to heal and build relationships between Christians and non-Christians, that non-Christians would see and know the love of Christ. I rejoiced in the knowledge that even when it looks like my purposes are not accomplished, “The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me.”
Any interesting life-style differences from the United States?
Too many to list! I live in the capital city with a few million other people. Transportation is quite different where I live. Sometimes we hike for days (sometimes on leech infested trails! Ack!) to get to our destination. Other times it’s days of bus rides on precarious mountain roads. Or rickshaws. I ride a mountain bike ten minutes to work and find that even a short commute in a major city can be extreme, making me appreciate the shocks and lightness of my bicycle. On my ride, I dodge cows (considered holy in this Hindu country and allowed to roam freely), people, potholes, elephant excrement, and a number of other interesting things. There is a shortage of electricity, but thankfully there is a fairly well-followed schedule for power outages (up to 16 hours/day certain times of year). With the help of a solar panel and a set of batteries I can have light in my apartment. Houses are close together and made of concrete so there’s always something to listen to, whether it’s music from the neighbor behind you, your landlord’s mother yelling at a child, or one of the many vegetable sellers walking down your alley yelling, “Cauliflower! Potatoes!!” No meal is a meal without rice, and a lot of it! In the summer when we need a break and crave air conditioning, or in the winter when we are frozen stiff and need heating, we head to the only Pizza Hut in the country to enjoy their controlled temperatures.