“Fulfilling God’s Call as a Bible Translator”
I interviewed Daniel (Dan) Duke, who has devoted 22 years to translating the Bible with Wycliffe Bible Translators. He grew up in my church and, holds his membership with us. Dan sensed God calling him to be a missionary when he was seventeen after seeing an ad for Wycliffe Bible Translators. The ad was a picture of a tribal man in Africa and a caption that said, “This man cannot read the Bible because it is not in his language”. He felt that he needed to pursue this stirring in his heart, and wrote a letter to Wycliffe who responded by giving him direction on what classes and training he needed to take in college.
To meet the requirements, Dan received a BA from I.U. Bloomington in Linguistics. His graduate studies, through Wycliffe Training and Anderson Theology. He continues his studies today, working on his Ph.D. through Leiden University of the Netherlands.
I asked, “Was your family supportive when you received your call?” “No, my father was openly oppositional.” His father had hopes that Dan would go to college, get a good education, and make a good living; he was embarrassed that his son wanted to be a missionary, and his family struggled with the thought of him living so far away, “we are a close knit family”. Dan’s father even said to him, “I would rather you were a drug dealer”. However, his grandfather was more encouraging, “If this is your dream to go to Africa, then you should follow your dream.” Dan struggled with this because he had always obeyed his parents; but he knew he needed to obey the Lord. It was tough for the beginning years, but in time, his father came around, and things were settled between him and his father. His family has been supportive through most of his years as a missionary.
Another question, “How are you funded”? He shared with me that he is responsible for raising all his funds. He never knows month from month how much he will receive. Wycliffe receives 10% of what is raised; they in return ensure that all his contributors receive a tax receipt, which saves him a lot of work. Dan reports that half his funding comes from churches and the other half comes from individuals and families. Churches normally will give 100 dollars; and individuals/families give 25 dollars.
Because Wycliffe is a parachurch organization, I was curious about what organizations Dan was working with. He states, “other mission agencies, like Worldteam; academic people (Christian and non-Christian), such as Leiden University students from the Netherlands, and I have worked with Unicef”. The Volkswagen Foundation has established a grant for students, to pay for the student’s expenses in the mission field; several of these students have done their research accompanying him in the field.
For the past 18 years, Dan’s work has been with tribes in Africa; he currently is working in Cameroon, the coastal region with the Bakola (pygmies) tribe and the Kwasio tribe. Dan shared some historical information concerning this area of Cameroon. In 1892, German colonies offered to help the American missionaries, which turned into a disaster because there was such a rush to convert the people. In doing so, mistakes were made, like only translating the Bible in one tribal language and insisting that all the tribes use that translation, instead of taking time to make a Bible translation for each tribal language. In addition, the African soldiers, accompanying the missionaries, forced the tribes to accept Christianity. In 1933, the resistance finally resulted in the tribes running the white missionaries out, and they established their own churches, which mixed their Christian beliefs with other non-Christian beliefs. Today, the resistance still exists.
One way, Dan has attempted to win the tribe over is with music, playing his guitar and harmonica, and singing songs to them, “little concerts”. In addition, Dan lives among the people, learning their traditions, working with them, going on hunting trips, and eating meals with them, these things help him to learn their language and builds trust. I wanted to know what kind of food he had been exposed to and what food was considered a delicacy, “The people are gatherers, they will eat whatever they can find, like rats, snakes, and caterpillars. Wild boar would be an ultimate meal and gigantic frogs (15 lbs. each, largest in the world) boiled is a delicacy for them. They eat the frogs like eating a cheeseburger, in big bites.” My response, “Ugh, did you eat that….a boiled frog?” Dan—“Yep, with the innards and all” – YUCK! He insists, “Boiled frog is good”.
After the discussion of the boiled frogs, one would assume, Dan had no trouble with culture shock; but he states, “I deal with culture shock all the time”. Dan explains that there are some things that contribute to this. One for example is values; theirs are so different from ours. He explained, “I would never steal from a friend and I would trust my friend not to steal from me. But the tribe people believe that it’s okay to steal even from a friend; they justify it because the friend would want them to have it.” He continued to tell me that he heard a tribal preacher say it is not considered stealing if they are stealing from a foreigner. Because of this attitude, Dan has been robbed multiple times. He states, “It is hard not to be bitter or angry with them when I am treated this way.”
“So, how do you deal with this stress” Dan – “I focus on God and the call he placed on my life.” And God has proven his faithfulness to Dan’s love and obedience to this call, for example during one rugged trip through the jungle when trees had to be cleared out of the road; a piece of wood flew into Dan’s eye. And without thinking, he pulled it out, causing a split in his cornea. Dan began to make phone calls trying to locate a doctor to no avail. However, he walked into a mission, where a group was playing cards, and one of them was a doctor. They cleared off the card table and operated on his eye on top of it. The doctor was suppose to have left earlier but had been delayed a day; was the delay a coincidence? Both Dan and I, and those with him that day, believe God worked a miracle to save his eye. Dan’s years working in the jungles of Africa are full of examples of God’s faithfulness.
In spite, of the times of discouragement, loss, and hurt, the work that God sent Dan to do is being accomplished. He has been able to disciple young men in the tribes who have found opportunities for education and are working to translate scripture with Dan’s guidance. Together they have been able to translate the book of Luke, and record it on to audio for their tribe’s people to hear. Dan is building relationships, crossing cultural boundaries, and persevering to see God’s word proclaimed in Africa – God is fulfilling his dream.
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Daniel Duke, Wycliffe Bible Translator, interview.