Back in May, I was in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, getting ready to fly up to a town called Mwanza. I would then take a four-hour bus ride on to another town called Musoma. We have a large translation project going on in Musoma serving eight language communities, with plans to expand even more.
As I got in line to check in for my flight, a man walked up behind me and we began chatting in Swahili. After a few minutes he asked me, “What do you do here in Tanzania that your Swahili is so good?”
I began to explain our work of language development and Bible translation. And this man, John*, was very taken in by what I described. He was a bit hesitant, however, as to whether or not Bible translation into all the local languages was really necessary since it is already available in Swahili. However, I just left that “objection” alone. As we continued to chat, I found out that John was also traveling to the same final destination as I was – Musoma! And he is from one of the tribes for which we are actively translating the Bible.
I proceeded to check in for my flight and go through security. After getting settled at my gate, I saw John and he waved to me, calling me over to sit next to him. He began to ask me more about why I felt there was a need for Bible translation into his language. I felt the Holy Spirit prompting me to jump in and dig a little deeper. Pretty quickly, I realized that he didn’t understand just how deep and rich God’s mercy and grace are for us. He really was in the category I like to call, “Jesus gets me started, and then it’s my job to finish it.”
A few weeks earlier, I had heard a sermon about Jesus’ statement from the cross, “It is finished!” I felt the Spirit leading me to use that analogy to show John just how deep God’s grace is. By now, I had also learned John’s profession- he works for the Tanzanian tax authority! (Jesus loves tax collectors, right?)
I explained to John that the phrase “It is finished!” was used in legal proceedings in Jesus’s day to indicate that a debt had been paid in full. I asked John if he had a stamp at his office to use when someone pays off a tax bill. Of course, he said yes! (In Tanzania, stamps are very important! You could almost say that the more important the person, the bigger the stamp he/she will have.)
I then explained to him that when Jesus died on the cross, he paid for all of his sins, past, present and future. John sat there looking at me, just bewildered! He had never understood this before.
“Are you serious?” he asked.
I told him, “Do you see now how rich and deep Jesus love and forgiveness is for you?”
John was amazed!
I then asked him if he now understood why I feel the Bible needs to be available in his local language so his people could understand this message for themselves. “Absolutely!” he exclaimed.
As we boarded the plane, it occurred to me, “That man just came to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ!”
After arriving in Mwanza, John asked me if we could share a taxi to the bus stand. We then sat together on that four-hour bus ride, and upon arriving in Musoma, my colleague offered him a ride to his house. John and I had lots of great talks through the day, and he kept coming back to how amazing the message about Jesus really was and how he had never heard it explained to him that way before.
A few days later, John came by our offices for lunch. I gave him copies of all the Scripture we have in his language. The Jesus film is also nearly completed in his language, and he was very excited to hear about that.
Even since returning to the US, John and I have continued to keep in touch, texting back and forth. It was such an honor to be used by God to tell John just how amazing God’s grace really is, and to watch him respond to it! I love my job!
--By Paul Hefft