“Hey, that’s my language!” said a local villager as he sat outside our medical and dental clinic listening to the New Testament in his native Zapotec language for the first time in his life. In fact, this was the first time anyone in “People SMQ” (about 5,000 people who live in four neighboring villages) heard the Word of God in their “heart language.” Many have, perhaps heard small bits and pieces in Spanish (their second language) but never in their “heart language.” Why is hearing in one’s “heart language” important you may ask? One village put it like this, “I have heard some of the Bible in Spanish before but when I hear the Bible in Zapotec it sticks because Zapotec is in my blood.”
Imagine having Spanish as your second language and only hearing God’s Word in that language. Would you “get it” like you would in English, if that is your primary language? Would you be able to understand important nuances like you would in your native tongue? Most importantly, would you understand that God’s message of salvation is for you and your people directly? Hearing the Word in one’s “heart language” has major implications even beyond having a proper understanding of what is being read. It conveys that God knows about and cares about your specific people group. It mean that if you pray to God your communication is not bound by a language you do not know all that well. It means you can cry out to Him in your language and He will hear and understand!
Quotes like the one above were being spoken each day as people listened to recording of the Gospels and Acts in their own language for the first time while they waited outside of the medical and dental clinic we were holding in one of the villages. In fact, when one of our team members was having a great gospel discussion with a man from the village that man kept repeating, “When I have heard the Bible in Spanish it just goes in one ear and out the other.” After he mentioned this several times, another man from the village jumped in and said, “You are like the story of the sower and the soils! I just heard that story earlier today!” Our team member sat there amazed as this man had just heard this story hours ago and was able to internalize it and apply it. Moreover, as word about the Bible recording in the native language of this Zapotec people group spread, villagers from the three other People Q villages began to come just to sit and listen to the Word of God.
If one is unfamiliar with the work To Every Tribe is doing among the unreached peoples of Oaxaca, Mexico, one might assume that we just showed up, set up medical and dental clinics, turn on the recording of the Gospels and that is all there is to it. In other words, reaching unreached people is not such a difficult task. However, consider the following: it took 20 years (a usual amount of time for the languages of unreached peoples of Oaxaca) just to translate the New Testament into this language that only about 5,000 people in the world speak. Once translated it needed to be recorded because most of the people cannot read this own language. Then, church planters were needed – enter To Every Tribe. Those To Every Tribe church planters have spent the last several years making contact with and developing a relationship with this hostile people group through short-term trips that revolve around serving these people in various ways. Only then, when the relationship was in the proper place, were we able to capitalize on the decades of work that had been poured out to reach that point. And Lord-willing, our brief time with People SMQ was only the continuation of the long-term work that the Lord will do through To Every Tribe in establishing a self-governed and self-reproducing church for His glory among them.
These are just a few of the amazing ways in which we had the privilege of watching God work while our team spent five days in the mountains of Oaxaca, Mexico among People SMQ who live 7,200 feet above sea level. Amazingly, people from two other nearby people groups came to the clinic as well and were engaged in gospel discussions. In fact, we believe one man was possibly converted from one of those other villages. These two other people groups, which speak completely different languages from that of People SMQ, invited the team of To Every Tribe missionaries that live in Oaxaca to go do clinics in their villages as well. We are hopeful that the Lord is opening doors for the gospel to these other unreached people groups.
Short-term mission trips, especially with larger groups such as the one we had, can often times be more of a setback than a help or encouragement to long-term missionaries. To that end, our team of missionary trainees had two primary goals: encourage the To Every Tribe Mexico team and help advance their church planting efforts among People SMQ. As I and three others worked long 12-hour days in the dental clinic, it was incredible to look outside and see our other team members hard at work in their roles: preparing the team meals, working the registration table, engaging those waiting in gospel conversations, and having fun with the village kids. The Lord more than answered our prayers as we saw Him open the doors for future ministry through key relationships that we built with leadership of People SMQ, other villages seemingly opened up for pioneer church planting work, and our Field-based missionaries energized to continue this long and difficult endeavor.
Thus, I urge you not only to pray for the unreached peoples of Oaxaca, Mexico, (particularly People SMQ) but also for the To Every Tribe Field-based Missionaries who are laboring hard to plant Christ-exalting churches among them.
This article originally appeared in the June 2014 edition of Ekballo magazine.