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By Marlene Muhr
"Watchman, what do you say of the night?" (Isaiah 21:11b -French translation)
"Praise God! Here you are! Now let's trust Him to give us all the languages of this country." Before we could say a thing, Dr. Christy Wilson, our contact man, began to pray, claiming the languages in Jesus' name. When he finished, he looked at us with shining eyes, his face aglow -a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit! His inviting us to make recordings was, for him, another step of proving the Lord and believing Him for impossibilities. "How many languages are there?" we eagerly asked.
When he told us, our whole beings quivered with expectancy, and we thanked the Lord for skillfully guiding us to this landlocked country of Afghanistan.
It used to be a strategic part of the pathway between East and West, long before it was called a nation in the eighteenth century. Its center was known as the "Great Snowy Mountains," because of its deep valleys and dangerous summits.
Later, a ham radio message reached us in the heart of those mountains, where we were visiting a medical station. "Could you be back in Kabul in two days?" As there was no bus to take us to the distant local plane, a nurse sent someone to locate a truck going our way. He found one that was traveling by night. No good! But after much bargaining, and baksheesh, the driver was willing to change his schedule and go in the morning. He agreed for us to be the only passengers in the cab. Squeezed in the back of the truck, young turbaned conscripts waved their flags improvised from scarves, and sang during the whole five-hour ride over bumpy, sandy roads.
Our plane was to leave at six p.m. so we rested at the only hotel in the valley, about half a mile from the airstrip. When it was time we walked over, lugging our bags which became heavier with every step. The airstrip manager and some thirty tourists and nationals were waiting for the twenty-seat plane. An hour passed. There was no place to sit. Finally the manager announced that no plane was coming. "Of course not," snapped a German. "You knew the motor broke down yesterday and has to be replaced!"
Ann and I just looked at each other. Where will we go? Quick, to the hotel before it is filled!
We started back, luggage heavier than ever, when out of nowhere a car drove up. A robed, black-bearded driver got out, took our bags, and offered us a ride. At least, that is what we r thought he said. We jumped in, marveling at the miraculous provision of a taxi in this part of nowhere!
The stranger took us straight to the hotel and carried our luggage up the many steps to the reception desk. When we turned to pay him, he wasn't there, so we ran to the door, but there was no man and no car to be seen, anywhere. How could he vanish so fast? We had heard of angels, before. We will never know!
The other passengers sauntered in, but we had come first. "No, the hotel is full," the clerk told us, "but we will let you have the chief's room, since he is away." It had a private bathroom, nonexistent in these areas. It was doubly appreciated as I was sick all night. The late-comers had to sleep on the hall floor!
Next morning, the day of our mysterious appointment in Kabul, we returned to the airstrip in the company of an increased number of passengers. Would the plane be repaired by now? It landed! Everyone pressed forward but the manager dominated the situation. Only eleven of the twenty seats were unoccupied. He sized up the group. Then he singled out different people, saying, "You...and you..." "OH LORD, HELP US!" Only two seats were left...He took a deep breath, and pointing at Ann and me, "You...and you." "THANK YOU, LORD."
When we arrived at Kabul there were plumbing problems and no running water. We had dreamed of a cold shower and of washing clothes. Never mind. At least, we could sleep a little after our exhausting adventure. But there was a knock at the door. "Can you pack your bags and be ready to go in a few minutes?" called Christy Wilson. "I just received a phone call for us to hurry to a certain place." New life flowed through our tired bodies! No warm meal today. Never mind. We ate chocolate and cookies as we went down a tortuous road along a river gorge. It had been chipped out of solid rock by hand, during a period of over seventy years, before foreign help completed it in five more years. After two hours, we turned to the left, and bumped along on gravel.
It was dark when we approached a village in silhouette. We couldn't distinguish any houses. Christy got out of the car and shouted a name. No response. He called and called. Vague shadows seemed to move on several flat roofs. We tried to peer through the darkness. Nothing happened. We prayed some more. Then, not far from us, we heard a rattle of stones. Christy headed in that direction, and met...who? Were the "ghosts" friendly or armed? All of a sudden there was a clatter of greeting and chattering in a Babel tongue!
Before long we were in a courtyard full of cattle and donkeys. Everybody was taken by surprise -- the villagers, because they didn't expect visitors; the three of us, because our "phone contact" hadn't arrived yet with his two mountain men! What now? "LORD, HELP US!" Car lights flashed through the night. There they were! What joy, even if we couldn't quite make out their faces!
We all climbed the narrow stairway leading to the roof of a mud house -the reception room! We sat down on the rug cross-legged, wearing of course, trousers underneath our dresses, according to the custom of the local women. Pressure lamps were lit. At last we could see who was sitting opposite us -the two terrified men brought by All from their hidden villages. The first man was one of the handful who were recently saved, in the smoldering revival in his valley. The other was a soldier who was open to the gospel. They both were going to make recordings in their languages -- but nobody must know it.
When all the routine of hospitality was over, Ali, the elder of the clan, ordered everybody to bed who had nothing to do with our secret project. Without protest they disappeared in the surrounding small houses, leaving us ALONE. We entered an inner, unfurnished room and sat on the bare floor- where soon we began to scratch! The recorder was set up and the pressure lamps put out because of their hissing sound. We had only two small flashlights, one for the technician and the other for the interpreter to read the scripts. First, an aspirin was given to the Christian, and some ointment administered to the soldier's eyes which had suffered from the heat and dust of the trip. Then, sentence by sentence, the message of salvation was dictated and put on tape, while hour after hour crept by, with tensions mounting. Will we make it without being detected? Again, "LORD, HELP US!"
Four a.m. GLORY TO GOD! Our two speakers slipped back into remoteness -by taxi, a day by truck, and two days on foot. We lay down on string cots and had two hours of rest. By six a.m. we were up again and ready to go. Ali drove with us, bubbling over with praises. "Do you know," he said, "if my relatives had known what we were doing, they would have killed us!" We breathed a double thanksgiving to the Lord for His faithfulness and protection!
Christy kept reiterating the marvel of the Lord's wisdom. "My! He sent you at just the right time! Think of the possibility of putting something simple and clear like these recordings, into the hands of people all over this land, where we aren't allowed to preach!" For the last hundred years, regular, deep intercession, hours at a time, had been made by missionaries and others. He felt our records could become "songs" in the deep night of this country. He believed that many would listen gladly and turn to the Lord when they heard the Good News in their very own mother tongue.
Christy was God's man. He laughed with glee as he saw f speakers coming to his home nearly every day. "Well, we are expecting to make a record for every language group, so here they I come!" In spite of a very heavy schedule of his own, he gave himself unstintingly to the task of interpreting every talk that was recorded.
It was a wonderful experience to see him holding onto his prayer for "every language," and to stand with him in praise and anticipation. And one by one, the people turned up, often under cover of darkness. They came from all walks of life, representing fifty-one languages, only several of which were written, and only two of which had Bibles!
Some brought others who spoke different languages. The name of Jesus puzzled everybody. One admitted that he knew it was the name of a prophet. But when a national explained to him that Jesus "had died for me...and for you," the man said, "Really? Is that so? I never heard that before!" He worked with us in a sweet and open way, obviously enjoying it greatly.
An educated man who had assisted a language researcher in his province, introduced many speakers to us and watched over them so they would do it right. Quietly, kindly, he told them, "No, no, that isn't what we want, it's so-and-so," making them practice until they didn't stumble.
Once we recorded a government worker who showed great interest in the gospel. Since he was literate, Christy gave him a New Testament in his language. He took it to his office and read, until one of his superiors interrupted him. "What are you reading?" When he learned what it was, he grabbed it from him. "I'm taking it! It is mine now. I have been wanting one for a long time. I'm not giving it back to you!" Christy replaced it. And this he had to do four times! When Ann quizzed our national helper to see if this man had any thoughts toward the gospel, he smiled reassuringly and said emphatically, "Yes, oh yes indeed."
The same man also went language hunting for us. He would go to the market and watch for a different hat or costume, as each language group wore distinctive clothes. He would ask, "Where are you from?" And checking the list of those still to be recorded, he I would say, "Yes -I need you! Come with me!" He also visited the I Afghan army camps around the capital, Kabul. The country had i universal conscription and therefore there were representatives I from every linguistic group serving in the military. He would ask a I soldier, "Do you have any men here who speak strange languages?" Once the answer came, "Yes, there is a conscript who is a wild one." An appointment would then be arranged to record his tongue.
One day we had two students. Everything went smoothly until one of them questioned, "Why do you only talk about Jesus? Mohammed is the greatest!" Christy quietly discussed several of the prophets they believed in -Abraham, Moses, David. They knew, of course, how each of those men had yielded to temptation. The boys nodded. "But there is one Prophet who never sinned - Jesus Christ!" Christy gave them a summary of His life story. They listened in awe, and resumed their work without a word.
We were conscious that the Holy Spirit was watching over the recordings when a speaker asked to come back, after he had done his part with a very dull face and lifeless speech. He wanted to make some corrections. We wondered why. It finally leaked out. He had twisted the gospel application! He confessed, "When I was in bed last night I was thinking that perhaps it wasn't what the ladies had in mind. Maybe I did it wrong, so I decided to phone and ask if I could do it again and make the corrections. I knew the story was from the Holy Book, and I translated it word for word, but I thought the summary was different. Now that I know this was the meaning of the story, I will also translate it word for word. I didn't know it was from the Holy Book too. If that is what you want, I will get it exactly right." With the help of our interpreter, he concentrated on his work, and did it well. Before he left, he inquired, "Do you have any more of these studies? I like them."
A whole book could be written about how faith produced the substance of things hoped for during those four months in Afghanistan, the land of its ancient hero, "Babur, the Tiger." Later, there were fleeting signs of dawn breaking through its night. And the Watchman, the Holy Spirit, did not cease to warn the people: "The morning cometh, and also the night: if ye will enquire, enquire ye: return, come."* NOW...before it is too late!