She Waited 104 Years
In a remote village in Africa, some missionaries were going door-to-door, inviting everyone in the village to come watch the JESUS Film later that evening. At each home, they used a Torch audio Bible player to play audio clips of the Bible in the local language. When people heard the words of the Bible in their own language, they were amazed. They wanted to know more about the story they were hearing, and everyone was excited about seeing this movie in their language.
At one home, the missionaries met a woman who was 104 years old. Upon hearing the audio Bible in her own language, she began rejoicing, because she had never imagined that she would hear this message in her own language. The missionaries began to tell her about Jesus, and she received Him as her Savior that day. She told them, “I am so glad that God has kept me alive long enough to hear this message in my own language.”
Why did these words from an audio Bible touch her heart so deeply?
What Is a Heart Language?
As the world becomes increasingly connected, communities are becoming more and more linguistically diverse. Though many around the world speak multiple languages to function in their society, every person has a heart language. Heart language describes the first language learned in childhood, also known as the mother tongue. The heart language most deeply resonates emotionally and spiritually, and it is the language that a person dreams in, thinks in, and prays in. It is the language spoken most freely and with the greatest ease.
Though someone may be able to comprehend other languages, the heart language is the most effective language for communicating deeply and learning new concepts, according to SIL. For multilingual communities, different languages are used for different contexts. For example, many learn English to study at school, speak a trade language at their job, and use their local tribal language at home. In some cultures, it would be seen as disrespectful or untrustworthy to speak a trade language in the home or village.
For decades, Bible translators focused on major trade languages that could reach the largest majority of people around the world, such as English, French, Spanish, and Mandarin. However, a shift began when Morgan Jackson of Faith Comes by Hearing saw the amazing impact of hearing God’s word in your own heart language.
While working on translations in Latin America, Morgan met a Bolivian pastor who used to preach to his congregation in Spanish, even though none of them understood it. When they finally heard the Bible in Quechua, their heart language, they wept. “When hearing the Bible in Quechua, they were entering the story,” said Morgan. “As they listened, hope was born in them with the knowledge that God spoke their language, that God might receive them. It is as if Jesus is talking directly to them.”
A Bible in Every Language
Because of the importance of heart languages, there remains a great need for getting God’s word into every language on earth. According to illumiNations, an alliance of Bible translation partners, over 3,000 languages in the world today still have little or no Scripture in their language. Through partnership and collaboration, Bible translators are working together to have the Bible translated into every language by 2033. Achieving this incredible goal will provide God’s word to those who desperately need it in their heart language.
Translating the Bible into thousands of languages is no small task. Some argue that it might be more effective to teach these smaller language groups to understand a trade language, so they can read the Bible in a language that has already been translated. However, a person’s heart language has shaped the way they process information and understand the world, and information shared through a trade language will not carry the same meaning or depth.
Bill Wolfe, director of global partnerships at the JESUS Film Project, shared about an experiment in a village in Africa that demonstrates this. A JESUS Film team showed the movie to the same village twice – once in the trade language used in the city for business, and again in the heart language used for day-to-day communication in the home. When the village watched the JESUS Film in their heart language, the response to the Gospel was four times greater than in the trade language.
Additionally, many of these people are also oral cultures, which are groups that historically have no written language and who prefer to learn by hearing rather than reading. In order to reach these cultures effectively, it is essential for God’s word to be presented in a way that they can understand, such as an audio or visual form. As Bible translations are completed, work can begin on creating evangelism resources like the JESUS Film or LUMO Films, which present the story of Jesus in an engaging way through film. The combination of heart language Scripture presented in an audiovisual format can have incredible impact.
Bill Wolfe began to understand this while visiting Vanuatu, a tiny island in the Pacific Ocean, to celebrate the completion of the translation of the New Testament after 13 years. The translator approached Bill with tears in his eyes, and asked him when they could make the JESUS Film in the local language. He told Bill that the JESUS Film was essential for helping the people understand the Gospel, not only because the film visually depicts concepts that may be foreign to their culture but it captures their hearts when they hear and see Jesus speak their language.
Listen to Bill tell the story in the clip below.
God Speaks My Language
The goal for creating visual, oral resources is to invite people to engage with God’s word and respond. For evangelism and discipleship, heart language resources in an audio/visual format are the most strategic and effective for heart transformation in oral cultures. David Palusky, founder of Renew Outreach, began to understand the great importance of heart language resources while working with a remote tribe in the Amazon. The first time that they watched the JESUS Film in their tribal language, they were completely captivated. “Nobody moved for 2 hours,” said David. “Everyone was frozen, watching and listening intently. Every word meant something to them because it was God’s story in their language.”
For smaller, remote people groups, these gospel films and audio Bible recordings are often the only media that exists in their language. “If I asked if you wanted to listen to something in English, you wouldn’t be interested, because there are billions of things available in your language,” explained David. “But if I ask a man in the Amazon if he wants to watch a movie in Urarina, he will say, ‘There are no movies in my language.’ Then I can say, ‘Watch this,’ and immediately, they are captured.” Once they see this movie and hear their own language, they want to have it, and they eagerly share it with others through their cell phones. Tools like the Lightstream make it possible to easily share these gospel media files onto cell phones, even in remote places.
Why It Matters
God promises in His word that every tribe, tongue, and nation will worship Him (Revelation 7:9). For the whole earth to worship Jesus, they must first hear the Gospel, and it’s ideal that they hear the Gospel in their own heart language in a way that they understand. When someone hears this story in their heart language, they realize that the God of the Bible is not the God of another culture. “They realize that He’s not just the God of the white man,” said David. “It’s very important for them to feel that God speaks their language.”
Across Africa, millions don’t have access to the Bible in their heart language. But through partnership with people like you, many are hearing the Gospel for the first time. You can help bring God’s word to tribes across Africa in their heart language. Your gift will double its impact through a matching partnership with the American Bible Society.