Our latest edition of SeedLinks highlights the power of prayer in fulfilling the Great Commission. We continue on that theme today with a guest post by Bernie May. He is the founder of The Seed Company and former president of Wycliffe Bible Translators.
Back in the early 1980s when I had just been appointed president of Wycliffe Bible Translators, I attended a strategic planning seminar for young executives. The instructor began with a rather obvious question, “What is the goal of your organization?” That was easy. Wycliffe’s mission was (and still is today) to translate the Bible into every language of the world. Though simple to summarize, the mission itself was giant. At the rate of Bible translation in 1981, it was projected it would take about 200 years to finish the job.
Then the instructor posed a second question, a harder one: “What is the single, most important thing you can do as CEO to advance your organization toward that goal?” I am embarrassed at how long it took me to come up with the right answer. I thought first of resources—people and funds; if we had greater numbers of people and more funding we could make a lot of headway. But somehow that response didn’t seem right. The Holy Spirit helped me see the true answer—PRAYER.
As I thought more about prayer I realized we were focusing our spiritual petitions on where missionaries were present, not the places and people without them. What if we began praying for the people groups and languages of the world that had no missionary, no Bible? In the Ethnologue, a publication listing the world’s known languages and the availability of Scripture in each, I saw there were around 3,000 unreached language groups.
That night my wife and I prayerfully searched the Ethnologue and chose the Dubu, a very small people group in Indonesia. It was so isolated no one knew much about them, save that an anthropologist had traveled in this region and had discovered a village of 220 people speaking this unknown language.
So in 1981 we began each day praying for the Dubu.
Soon after that, I extended the invitation. I wrote an article for Wycliffe’s flagship magazine that was sent to constituents and partners. In it, I challenged readers to make a similar commitment to pray daily, by name, for one of the world’s Bibleless people groups. I offered to send a name to each person who responded and expressed interest.
Scores of requests came. The response was so incredible that we organized a program and launched Wycliffe’s Bibleless Peoples Prayer Project. We focused this great resource—the prayers of many—on the strategic need to see God’s Word made available in all of these unreached languages. I was overjoyed to witness God’s people’s commitment to prayer for the lost.
But, after eight years of praying daily for the Dubu, I hit a wall. I began to feel discouraged. I had been praying someone would take the gospel to them but it wasn’t happening. Then I believe God prompted me with a new thought: Pray specifically that one or more of the Dubu would travel outside their isolated village to an Indonesian city where they could hear the gospel. It seemed to make sense, and thankfully it was something new to pray for. And so, I prayed on in faith.
A year later I heard from a missionary in the area that what I had prayed for had happened. One of the Dubu men had traveled to Sentani, a large coastal town, to seek work. It happened that he sought housing with a Christian family. They told him about Jesus and he accepted Christ. A year later he returned to the village, called a meeting of the whole tribe, and they also accepted Jesus as Savior.
In recent years I have learned the Dubu church is doing well. They report sending out four evangelists to other Dubu villages to share the gospel. And the latest news from the Dubu region is that two young men are in Bible School in the city with a desire to translate the Bible into their own language.
God has done and is doing exceedingly more than all we could ask or think for the Dubu people. Thirty years since our first prayer for them, my faith is unwavering, believing that God wants them to have His Word in the language they understand best—Dubu.
Today, my wife and I prayed for the Dubu. It is perhaps the single, most important thing we can do to help advance this goal.
“The LORD did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the LORD loved you and kept the oath he swore to your ancestors that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt” (Deuteronomy 7:7-8, NIV).
Today, Wycliffe’s Bibleless Peoples Prayer Project has more than 13,000 participants. These intercessors lay a prayerful foundation for the work of Bible translation with a firm belief in the power of prayer and its place as the starting point for all future Bible translation projects.
This post originally appeared on the Issachar Summit blog on April 17, 2012.