Sunday, August 03, 2008

Church Mission Experience to JAARS

Just a few hours ago, three vans laden with twenty people from Covenant-First Presbyterian, crossed the Ohio River to return from a mission experience trip to the Jungle Aviation and Radio Service (JAARS) headquarters in the booming metropolis of Waxhaw, NC. Our group was intentionally intergenerational, consisting of three families with children, three early retirement age couples, and two young married couples. We went to serve, to learn about mission, and to be inspired by the ministry of JAARS. We came home inspired.

JAARS is the logistical support arm of Wycliffe Bible Translators. There are over 6,000 languages spoken in todays world. Roughly half of these language are unstudied, having no alphabet, no written works, and no record of how they are spoken or the stories that they contain. Most importantly, the speakers of these languages have no access to the Bible in any way. Wycliffe has teams of people that do the whole range of language work: surveying, anthropology, creation of a written script for the language, creation of grammars, translation of scripture, creation of various media to communicate the message of the scriptures.

But part of the challenge is that these languages are usually spoken by a small remote population. These populations are deep in jungles and high in mountains. These language specialist missionaries need some serious logistical and technical support to enable them to do their work: enter JAARS.

JAARS trains and equips not just pilots, but drivers, maritime specialists, computer specialists, administrative support personnel, and any number of other logistical support people. And we had a chance to experience some of their work this weekend.

Friday morning, we spent half a day on a service project working with JAARS maritime services. Some of us cleaned and repaired donated boats that were destined for the jungles of Ghana. Others cleaned typewriters that were donated for the teaching of literacy in remote areas (believe it or not, they don't have laptops in many places deep in the African interior). We even assisted with updating their mailing list database so they could more effectively communicate with supporters.

And then we heard the stories. Stories of the Maritime work which included teaching swimming and personal aquatic safety skills to indigenous peoples (Ghana has one of the largest manmade lakes in the world, and every year thousands of people die from drowning because their boat sinks and they don't have the safety skills).

We heard firsthand stories of a remote tribe in the Amazon .... a tribe that didn't believe that women were human .... a tribe that routinely killed babies that were inconveneient. We heard how this tribe, after years of relationship building and translation work, gained access to God's word. We heard how God's word changed the lives of people in that the men realized they couldn't beat the women anymore because the women too carried the image of God. They couldn't kill the orphans anymore because they too carried the image of God. Astounding and powerful stories.

The next day, we split up and learned about the many facets of the ministry, from the challenge of using various media to communicate the gospel (songs, storytelling, hand cranked tape recorders, visual storytelling techniques), to the logistical challenges of transportation. We had opportunities to fly with jungle aviators and learn about the difficulties of those parts of the world.

And we spoke with dozens of missionaries...those back from the field and those heading out freshly.

This week, I'll be reflecting on some of the experiences and what I took away. I hope you'll stick with us for the conversation

Soli Deo Gloria