One Little Vowel


U (Photo credit: duncan)

If God is so loving, why are there people who have never heard of Him?  It’s a question that is often raised, especially by people wrestling with Christ’s statement, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6 NIV)

Missionary Don Richardson tackled this question in 1981, when he wrote the book Eternity In Their Hearts.  It details over 25 stories describing how missionaries around the world would come upon a remote people group, only to find that embedded in this group’s culture were concepts regarding a supreme God and His plan for their salvation.  Preaching the gospel to these people groups was a simple matter of connecting the dots — God had already planted seeds in their cultural understanding that prepared them to receive His Word.

My friends Nick and Amber, who are preparing to serve through Wycliffe Bible Translators in South Asia, sent out this account in their newsletter a few days ago:

A translator working with the Hdi people in Cameroon reported having a dream that prompted him to take another look at the word for “love” in their language. In nearly every verb in Hdi there are forms ending in i, a, and u. But when it came to the word for love, they could only find i and a. Why no u?

The translator asked the Hdi translation committee, “Could you ‘dvi’ your wife?”  “Yes,” they said. That would mean that the wife had been loved but the love was gone. “Could you ‘dva’ your wife?” “Yes,” they said. That kind of love depended on the wife’s actions. She would be loved as long as she remained faithful and cared for her husband well.

“Could you ‘dvu’ your wife?”  Everyone laughed. “Of course not!  If you said that, you would have to keep loving your wife no matter what she did, even if she never got you water, never made you meals. Even if she committed adultery, you would be compelled to just keep on loving her. No, we would never say ‘dvu.’ It just doesn’t exist.”

Thinking about John 3:16 he asked, “Could God ‘dvu’ people?”

There was complete silence; then, tears trickled down the weathered faces of these elderly men. Finally, they responded. “Do you know what this would mean?  This would mean that God kept loving us over and over, millennia after millennia, while all that time we rejected His great love. He is compelled to love us, even though we have sinned more than any people.”

One simple vowel and the meaning was changed from “I love you based on what you do and who you are,” to “I love you, based on Who I am. I love you because of Me and NOT because of you.”God had encoded the story of his unconditional love right into their language. For centuries, the little word was there—unused but available, grammatically correct, and quite understandable. The word called into question their entire belief system and the number of Christ-followers quickly grew from a few hundred to several thousand.

The New Testament in Hdi is ready to be printed, and 29,000 speakers will soon know the impact of passages like Ephesians 5:25: “Husbands, ‘dvu’ your wives, just as Christ ‘dvu’-d the church…”  I invite you to pray for them as they absorb the truth of God’s unconditional love.

As God’s word is translated around the world, people gain access to this great love story of how God ‘dvu’-d us enough to sacrifice his Son in order to right our relationship with Him. Someday, the last word of Scripture for the last community will be done, and everyone will be able to understand the story of God’s unconditional love.

If you’d like to be a part of this global transformation through Bible translation, please click on the link below to find out ways to get involved with Nick and Amber’s team of prayer and financial support.


He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.  Ecclesiastes 3:11 NIV


Resting in Atonement

Deserted streets on Yom Kippur

Deserted streets on Yom Kippur (Photo credit: Meir Jacob | מאיר יעקב)

“The tenth day of this seventh month is the Day of Atonement. Hold a sacred assembly and deny yourselves, and present an offering made to the LORD by fire. Do no work on that day, because it is the Day of Atonement, when atonement is made for you before the LORD your God. Anyone who does not deny himself on that day must be cut off from his people. I will destroy from among his people anyone who does any work on that day. You shall do no work at all. This is to be a lasting ordinance for the generations to come, wherever you live. It is a sabbath of rest for you, and you must deny yourselves. From the evening of the ninth day of the month until the following evening you are to observe your sabbath.”  Lev. 23:27-32

In. Lev. 23:27-28, the Israelites were told to do no work on the annual Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur). In fact, just in case they didn’t get it the first time it was stated that they shouldn’t work on this day, it was further explained in verse 29, and then a bit more in verse 30.  Verse 31 has a little more explanation about the no-work thing, and then verse 32 says it one last time.

So the Lord was apparently really, really serious when He said that they should do no work on the Day of Atonement.   It was a day set aside for solemn reflection, a day to “deny” or “afflict” themselves by taking time to consider their sinful state.  It was the day, according to Lev. 16:30, that “atonement will be made for you, to cleanse you. Then, before the LORD, you will be clean from all your sins.”

According to Hebrews 7:27, this was the Old Covenant method of atoning for sins, but it was imperfect in that it had to be repeated each year; under the New Covenant, we have a perfect priest in Christ who has atoned for our sins, once for all, and it does not need to be repeated.  However, as with all things in the Old Testament, there is a foreshadowing in the Old Covenant practices that we can apply under the New.

And in this case, I think the Lord made it pretty clear.  We are to do no work on the Day of Atonement.  We are to contribute nothing to our Atonement.  We must let our High Priest do the work there, because we cannot do anything to help.

In other words, we can’t earn our way to heaven.  We can’t save ourselves. The most we can do is to be honest about our sinful state, to take time to stop shrugging off our sins with “well, everyone does that” and “I’m better than most people about this” and “I’m a pretty good person overall, surely that counts for something.”  Once we come face to face, in the quietness of reflection, with how awful we really can be, deep down inside where we let no one else see, and once we understand that no amount of goodness on our part stacked up next to it can actually remove the awfulness, then we can truly appreciate the amazing gift God has given us by sending His son to atone for those sins.

And then, all that is left for us to do is to accept the gift.  We can’t earn it.  We can’t impress God into giving it to us by doing good works. He has already accomplished our atonement and already offered it to us.  And on the Day that we realize that and accept His Atonement, He wants us to do no work but rather, just accept it.  And say thank you.