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

4 thoughts on “One Little Vowel

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  1. That’s it; that’s the word for His people. I hope and pray that we and many more can open up and really receive it- that is, His word and version of “love”.

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