Panama (FCBH/MNN) — For decades, projects to reach the Border Kuna people with the complete Word of God have been in progress. Today, all efforts are paying off.
Faith Comes by Hearing (FCBH) reports that the Border Kuna is the last people group in Panama that has been waiting for Audio Bible recordings. And now, FCBH is distributing their audio Proclaimers and starting listening groups in the region. Officially, all languages in Panama are recorded as Audio Bibles.
Yet, it hasn’t been an easy journey. Over the past 40 years of progress, there have been blood, sweat, and tears.
Tears of Disappointment
More than 40 years ago, Wycliffe translators Keith and Wilma Forster visited the Border Kuna for the first time, cradling their 3-month-old baby in their arms. Knowing without a doubt God had spoken to their hearts, they followed His lead and enjoyed His miraculous provision every step of the way.
After traversing 200 rapids in a dugout canoe, they arrived at the main village to ask for permission to live there and translate God’s Word into the people’s heart language. The chief called a meeting of the entire village that lasted for more than 4 hours the first day and 2 more hours the next day.
Once a decision was finally made, the Forsters were told the disheartening answer by the chief, the assistant chief, and each of the council members: No.
Upon hearing their decision, Keith was extremely disappointed, to say the least. He shifted gears and explained to the entire village how much God loves them; how he and Wilma had been sent to tell them that Jesus gave His life for them. He also shared one day their children would ask about God, but the elders would have to tell them that the people who came to translate God’s letter into their language were sent away.
Later that day, Keith went down to the river to grieve and pray. As he knelt down sobbing (the Forsters would learn nearly 10 years later), the wife of the mayor heard his cries on her way to draw water and returned to tell her husband and the chief.
As a result of Keith’s great love for the Border Kuna, the chief summoned the couple and invited them to live with his people and translate God’s letter for them. The Forsters worked there for years, translating the entire New Testament into the people’s heart language.
Blood of Martyrs
Later on, New Tribes missionaries also came to work in the villages. In 1993, subversives swept in and forcibly took missionaries Dave Mankins, Mark Rich, and Rick Tenenoff hostage, crossing the border into Colombia. After enduring several years in captivity, all three of these brave men died. In giving their lives and leaving their families behind, their labors also bore the sweetest of fruit: a church among the Border Kuna.
Wondering If and When
For many years, Faith Comes By Hearing kept its finger on the pulse of the Border Kuna area, wondering if and when an Audio New Testament recording might be possible. Knowing that a church existed, that most of the people were unable to read their printed New Testament, and that missionaries had been unable to enter villages for more than 20 years made things more tenuous.
When contact was made with a Border Kuna leader in early 2015, he and his people were overjoyed to find the Gospel could finally be recorded in their heart language. A strategy was quickly developed, and plans were put in place. At long last, this recording was really going to happen, but there would still be sacrifices along the way.
Sweat of Labor
The Darien jungle of Panama can be extremely hot, humid, rainy, and downright miserable.
When Rodolfo* and Pablo* recorded the Border Kuna New Testament, they were exposed day after day to harsh elements, tropical diseases, and an overshadowing high-security risk. Besides this, every moment of every day they were keenly aware that, once again, their families were back home in Guatemala living out their lives and waiting with expectation for their husbands and fathers to return home.
A group of Border Kuna people was there, too, lending their voices to Jesus, Paul, Mary, and the other characters that make a dramatized recording come alive. Although accustomed to the climate, the food, and the elements, they had also left their homes and families back in the villages. Knowing how desperately their people needed the Audio Bible, the participants were compelled by the hope of making a profound impact on all the speakers of their language.
Each person made extreme sacrifices just to be there, not to mention the nearly unbearable temperatures they had to endure. The sweltering studio only allowed them to record for 15 minutes at a time–between escapes for a breath of fresh air and a drink of water–just to go back in over and over and over again for two months.
The studio was makeshift, but functional, arranged in a small house that was near a river, a busy road, and a bar. Given this configuration, one can imagine the difficulty of blocking out the sounds of outboard motors, buses, screams, laughter, and music while also trying to suppress the incessant heat. This recording, like so many others, demanded extraordinary commitment, endurance, and dependence on God.
And with the endurance over the last decades comes new hope and life that will be given to God. Pray that the Audio Bibles will impact the Border Kuna people. Give praise that all languages in Panama now have a recorded Bible.