Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: The Reader (04/15/10)
TITLE: Their voice has gone out into all the earth
By Sharon Kane
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"That's it. Keep going. You're doing really well."
Despite my teacher's indefatigable encouragement, I find this incredibly hard work. I wonder if I'll ever be able to read fluently like the young people in our village. They have lessons in the government school, and they look down on us – their parents, aunts, uncles – 'illiterate old fogies'.
"It is written in Isa the –"
"That says Isaiah. He lived long before Jesus was born, but he spoke about Jesus coming into the world. One day we hope to translate Isaiah and all the other Bible books written before Jesus came. But the most important part of the Bible is the part that teaches about Jesus. We wanted to translate that part first, so that your people could know the Saviour and learn how to live to please God."
I well know the effort that is going in to putting God's Word into Agarabi. My brother was one of the first people in our village to believe the strange teachings brought by the Korean missionaries, and one of the first local members of the Bible translation team. I remember with shame how I mocked him in those early days. God, loving us? God, speaking to us? God, caring how we live? Your brain has gone squishy from all those overripe papayas you've been eating!
But I couldn't deny the way my brother changed from being a selfish, drunken wife-beater, to a kind and generous man. Within a year I had decided to follow Jesus.
After that I took more interest in the translation work. Not that it'll do me any good even if they do finish it, I used to think. Along with others of their generation my parents didn't see any point in sending girls to school. After all, they reasoned, what has reading and writing got to do with cooking, cleaning and having babies? My brother was the only one in our family who had been to school. After becoming a Christian I started taking yams or sweet potatoes to him when he was in the translating house. I peered at the meaningless squiggles on his computer screen. Ah well, I sighed, when the time comes, he will just have to read the Bible to me.
Mi-sook had other ideas. One day she visited my house. After the preliminary greetings, she pulled a book from the jute bag slung over her shoulder. "Merpati, I'd like to start a class to teach the village women to read. We've made this book to help you. What do you think of it?"
The book was unlike anything I'd ever seen before. Pictures of village life filled the pages, accompanied by... well they had to be words, but the type was so big! And there were just a few words next to each picture. I gulped. "It's a very nice book. But I don't understand it."
"Not yet." Mi-sook had a twinkle in her eye. "But I think you'll catch on pretty quickly."
And so, along with five other women, I embarked on my toughest journey ever; the journey to become a reader. I blush now when I look at that primer and remember the difficulty I had in mastering the basics of the alphabet. And as for the wobbly marks that were my first attempts at writing – the seven-year-olds in first grade can make a tidier job of them.
Still, ten months later we all graduated from the primer class. My certificate is still tacked above my bed. That day I felt that I only needed to stretch my hands up and I would touch the stars.
I came down with a bump the following week when Mi-sook brought some 'easy readers' for us to try. Folk tales mostly, stories we knew from our mothers' knees. And the pages liberally sprinkled with bold pictures that gave us lots of clues. But still we stumbled on our everlasting voyage. Every word a boulder to climb over; every sentence a hummock to be surmounted; every booklet a mountain to be conquered.
I'm not sure at what point I became a reader. Stuttering over the opening lines of Mark's Gospel, I wonder if I've even yet arrived. But Mi-sook must think so, or she wouldn't be sitting next to me listening to me read my very own copy of God's Word, for myself, for the very first time.
'Their voice has gone out into all the earth' Psalm 19:4; Romans 10:18
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