As I sit to write our millennium Christmas greetings, my heart is warmed by the memory of a brisk wind moaning over frozen fields dusted with snow, and the stark silhouette against a winter sky of leafless crab apples and oaks on the fencerows. I have always loved winter. Alas, the enjoyment of Midwestern winters on the prairie has not generally been my lot these past ten years, and will remain for the foreseeable future, along with hot showers, one of the principle privations of missionary life in Chad.
Actually, this is only a Christmas letter in name - there is virtually nothing in our lives to suggest that it is the Advent season, except the impending arrival of Diane’s parents for a two-week visit, and the announcement in church that everybody should contribute 30 cents to the Christmas feast fund. This, as it turns out, is no cause of disappointment for me since buying Christmas presents back in the USA is almost as dreadful a fate as cold showers are in Chad.
My days of late have been occupied largely by “checking” - a painstaking process of raking our own translation work over the coals to see whether people are hearing what we think we are saying. It used to surprise me as a bachelor how frequently this process would turn up some totally off-the-wall understanding of what, to my guys and I, was a completely obvious intended meaning. Now, after the experience of a year and a half of marriage I am a lot more sanguine about human communication in general and in my more cynical moments wonder whether anyone really understands what anybody else in this world is saying.
This exercise in communicative detective work, laborious though it is, has turned up some good stuff. Last week Joseph, whose mind (and consequent contribution to the translation process) has never been the equal of his good heart, roundly vindicated his worth on the translation committee by coming up with a Kwong word that seems to adequately translate the primary Biblical sense of the word “glory” (the surpassing excellence of God’s character). This is no mean accomplishment, considering that even your average, educated American churchgoer would have a hard time defining the word, and we have ourselves gone around on it for several years. Our best alternative to date was a big, long, hairy, Kwong phrase which translates as “the greatness of the goodness of God.” Joseph’s discovery is a windfall for me since the glory of God is the centerpiece of my theology (and the theology of Scripture, I would hasten to maintain). The word in question is “kuma” and it carries a heavy dose of the sense of “beauty” with a pinch of “splendor” and “astonishing” rolled into it. As with any new word, we’re still testing it out by checking other people’s understanding of it. Joseph, for his part, got himself a new lease on life as a translator. Keep praying for him that his mind would match the excellence of his spirit. Keep praying for all of us that we would be able to exploit the hidden wealth of the Kwong language to it’s maximum potential - for the praise of the kuma of God.
Well, the only other thing I can think of to invoke the Christmas spirit here in Chageen would be the Yule-tide brush fire shooting flames 30 feet into the air behind our house a few nights ago. It was a spectacular sight, though we forewent the carols and chestnuts since live cinders were being carried hundreds of feet into the air, and our house has a very, very dry thatched roof on it. It seems that a bunch of 12 y.o. boys (who are the same everywhere in the world) started the fire in hopes of scaring up some rats and other vermin which they could turn into a tasty Happy Meal.
Well, like I say, you have to sort of stretch things here to get at the Christmas spirit. I trust, together with Diane, who sends her warmest greetings as well, that you and yours will have a rich and meaningful season of praise back there on the frozen plains of the Midwest. Wish we could be there.
Merry Christmas, Kuma to God in the highest, and love to you all,
Mark and Diane
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