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By Marlene Muhr
"Sing to the Lord a new song, His praise from the ends of the earth,.. .you islands, and all who live in them." (Isaiah 42:10 NIV)
"I saw so many islands, that I hardly knew to which I should go first," wrote Christopher Columbus in 1492, from the Caribbean Sea. "The beauty of these islands surpasses that of any other land, as much as the day surpasses the night in splendor."
The problem of choice, which the first tourist had to face five centuries ago, remained the same for us in the Spring of 1973, as we set forth to the Bahamas, the West Indies, and the Guianas of South America. "We" -- a team of three: Joy Ridderhof, Ann and I. We had made tentative plans and contacted various missions before we left, but only the Lord could direct us to the right places. He had put the needs of this part of the world on our hearts, a result of Joy's survey trip two years before.
As we "hopped" from island to island which, from the plane, sparkled like emeralds lost in the blue immensity of the sea, we thought of the varied, colorful people, who loved their enchanting patois, though most of them knew English or French. How could we communicate the gospel to them in their own kind of speech, and in an atmosphere free from prejudice? Our recordings needed to be like the Balm of Gilead, which would heal their hurts and cleanse their souls.
Everywhere the missionaries chose their best qualified nationals to translate our scripts and speak them on the tape. The Lord was with us, leading us, controlling all our steps, and helping us to work faster than we expected. Recordings were made in the Bahamian dialect of Nassau. "When I hear these records, something deep inside my heart leaps for joy. I have gotten more truth out of them than in any other way," a Nassau listener exclaimed later. And a missionary added, "I have had similar responses everywhere I have taken them. In fact they are all gone already. They went like ice cream on a hot day!"
In Jamaica, young pastors and evangelists cooperated with us enthusiastically. "If only one soul would be saved through these records, the making of them would have been worth it," they said.
Haiti, a mountainous French-speaking country of six million people, recognizes its Creole as a second official language. It was like music to my French ears as I listened to it! In a country where illiteracy was over eighty per cent, Christian radio was very effective. Yet there was room for thousands of our gospel records to be placed here and there. A Bible school teacher shared with us: "I was born and raised way back in the mountains of Haiti. My people still live there, and miss me, and keep on asking me to visit them. Recently I decided to do it. So I drove my car as far as the road went. Then I started to climb up the high mountains. I climbed and climbed, for about six hours, until finally I reached my village, where I stayed two days. When I returned home to Port-au- Prince, I went to bed for two days, I was so worn out. Thanks to your records, when I see my people again, I will be able to leave a voice behind me, a voice which will tell them over and over again, the wonderful gospel message in their own Creole and in their own cultural setting. It will be a Haitian voice, telling them the gospel in a Haitian way, and they will love it!"
French Guadeloupe, English Dominica, French Martinique and English Saint Lucia were our next stops. Again the Lord had blessing in mind, as a missionary wrote afterward from Saint Lucia: "Last night I collected a shipment of your records. Within two hours, a third of them had been put to use. The neighbors, who have been showing cautious interest in the Gospel, received them with excited enthusiasm. I'm sure they will be played many times for friends and relatives. I am delighted with their clarity and quality. These records will do much to make 1974 a year of harvest. We have three new church buildings, and this extra assistance should contribute a great deal to our evangelism of the country people."
While in Martinique something went wrong with our tape recorder, and it couldn't be fixed. The prospect of further recordings looked dim. However, we trusted God and believed that His I hot promise in Romans 8:28 also applied to this situation. We were to go to Saint Lucia next -a very small island which wasn't as with advanced as Martinique. But it was in this place that the Lord wanted to do a miracle!
Upon our arrival we were taken to the government radio station for an appointment with the chief technician. He had read about this type of recorder. "It is a privilege to try to repair it," he said. During the hour and a half it required, we answered his questions about our island work, and played some recordings in the various dialects. He was thrilled to hear them because his radio station specializes in Creole programs. Could we send him copies of all our records, so he could play them over the radio? We surely could!
In Trinidad a big surprise was waiting for us -a call, through Mr. Schleppi's letter, to make recordings for the eighteen thousand Djuka Bush Negroes in the jungle of Surinam, once known as Dutch Guiana. Only two couples were working among them. We had to go!
The missionaries in Paramaribo, the capital, knew all about Gospel Recordings. Ten years before, Vaughn Collins had made recordings in most of the languages there, but not for the Djuka tribe, which was inaccessible. Like the eighteen thousand Saramacca Bush Negroes, they are descendants of runaway slaves, who fled from their masters nearly three hundred years ago and had found refuge in the deep tropical forests of Surinam.
How could we get to the interior? The MAF plane was booked months ahead, and besides, it was time for the rainy season who when planes can't fly as usual. Kamina Tabiki, where Mr. Schleppi's call came from, is an island the length of its airstrip, in the middie of the Cottica River which separates Surinam from French Guiana. During the heavy rains it becomes a black lake swarming with malaria mosquitoes, and the only contact the Schleppis have with the outside world is by mission radio.
Prayer was made by many; the rains were delayed; and the MAF pilot was able to fit one extra trip into his schedule -ours! Mr. Schleppi ran a small school of young believers, who had come to the Lord through listening to gospel records made by Vaughn Collins, though they were not in their own language. "Your Djuka While records and the phonettes (small hand wind players produced by across t Gospel Recordings) will be a solution to evangelizing these people, for yea scattered along the big river and on many tiny islands. They live in I fear and superstition from birth to death," said Mr. Schleppi.
He planned for hundreds of records and phonettes to be distributed in the next rainy season, when the water was high places enough, and the rapids and hidden rocks less dangerous. It was during one of these attempts that the boat turned over near rapids, throwing many records and players into the river! But the young men would not let Satan defeat them, and diving in, recovered them all! Then they spread them out on the rocks to dry in the sun.
We were just finishing the last Djuka recording when the MAF plane appeared in the cloudy sky. The pilot picked us up, to drop us off at another airstrip, carved out of the compact, steaming virgin forest. "This is it!" he announced. "God bless you! See you in three days! Go with this black man. He will take you to the Wycliffe ladies." And up he went again, into the infinite sky.
We re-read the note which was handed to us. "Ladies: Please follow this man that we have sent for you. Don't be afraid. He is a good boatman." Signed, "Catherine." Why did we need a boatman here? And what was there to fear?
We looked at our smiling Saramacca guide who, taking our bags, beckoned us to come along.
A trail led us between gigantic trees draped in liana vines, arborescent ferns, tall bamboo, and a green mass of interlaced rampant undergrowth. Then -a brown river! And no more trail! We hesitatingly stepped into the small quivering motor boat, with our guide at the prow. After gliding through a tunnel of wild foliage, we sped over the river, avoiding hidden rocks and dodging rapids, and from time to time passing a dugout canoe.
At last, a clearing! And some native wooden huts on the left decorated with carved or brightly painted geometric designs. This was the village of Catherine Roundtree and Naomi Glock, the Wycliffe translators. What happy greetings! Through them we learned a lot about Saramacca tribal life. They had begun working among these people eight years before, learning their language, reducing it to writing, and then starting to translate the Scriptures. While they interpreted for our recordings, they suddenly came across the right word for sin, which the natives had kept from them for years -their reward for squeezing us into their busy program!
Our two-month trip, which took us from island to island, to the heart of the jungle, was about over. Seventy-six messages had been recorded in thirteen dialects. The Lord had taken us to the high places which He had prepared, and the MAF pilot came just in time, before the tropical downpour started. The Lord had answered prayer!