Recently, I returned from a Blue Ridge mission trip in Southeast Asia with four others: Woody Torrence, Dave Kountz, Paul Burneson and Jennifer Farney. We went to visit Blue Ridge missionaries David and Naomi Coward, who have been working to translate the Bible into a local language for more than 20 years. Here’s some of what we learned:

From Ashes to Beauty
When David and Naomi first went abroad to be translators, Naomi became very ill with chronic fatigue syndrome. She was so debilitated that she was often bed ridden. A few years later, war came to the region and they had to be evacuated to Australia. Then, the Cowards lost their visa to stay in country.

Any of these circumstances could have led them to quit and come home. Instead, they asked God how to continue and He answered by pointing them to five villagers who they could train to be translators. At first, this significantly slowed the work, but now they are making great progress. And all five shared how God had saved them and changed their lives because they became translators.

What may have been intended for evil, God has used for good.

Seeing God’s love in action
We stepped back in time and spent three days in the village where David and Naomi have been faithfully working for many years. It was very obvious that they were loved by all and have a huge extended family there. We now have a context for all the letters that the Cowards have been sending over the years. We have faces, places, and spaces that have suddenly come alive.

Our initial sea crossing to the village was in an old, open boat that was very slow and the waves were quite choppy. The trip took three hours. We had prayed before we went for this sea travel. And God blessed us with a one-hour return trip in a faster boat and on a sea so still it looked like glass.

The life of a missionary
We also got to spend time in the Cowards’ regular residence — where they spend four months each year. It is not in the village because they need electricity and Internet for their work. In the village, most of your time would be spent on things like getting and preparing food, cleaning, bathing, etc. It's hard to really comprehend what they have to do just to exist in this kind of culture until you actually experience it.

Also, in the village culture, they don't have stores like we do here but you get most things through relationships. For example, we wanted to take a motorcycle ride (they don't have cars there) to an outlying area. You can't just rent them. Instead, you get David's "brother" (the son of the village head who “adopted” David when they first arrived) to find some friends who own motorcycles. David agreed to put two liters of gas in each of the motorcycles if they let us borrow them for a couple of hours. This whole barter system is foreign to us Westerners.

The village lady we stayed with had a large house (by their standards anyway), and she fixed us three big meals each day. She and her family moved out of the house so we would all have room to be together. While we were gone during the day, she made our beds plus provided a couple of snacks. I only wish we could have spoken a little of the language to tell her how much we appreciated her hospitality. I can't imagine moving out and turning over our house to five total strangers and serving as cook and maid for them. We were blessed in so many ways by staying with her.

We went to a church service on Sunday and sang "Fairest Lord Jesus" in the local dialect. It caused quite a stir — although I'm not sure it was because it was in their local language or because we sang so badly. At least they were smiling.

It was a great experience and I look forward to seeing how God will use what we learned there!

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