I’ve mentioned before that Margaret Stringer is one of my favorite people. She was a missionary in Indonesia for forty years among former headhunters and cannibals. Though she had a variety of ministries among the people, one of her main jobs was reducing their language to writing, translating the New Testament into their language, and then teaching the people how to read.
The church we attended in SC supported Margaret. When she “retired,” she lived close enough to the church that she was available to come speak to the ladies’ group several times. She could have us laughing til we were in tears telling us about incidents that would have been quite scary when they happened to her.
Margaret tells how from a very early age, she was sure God had called her to be a missionary. She had a hard time getting the first visa she needed, and it seemed like everyone brought up to her how Paul wanted to go to Macedonia in Acts, but God wouldn’t let him. Margaret wanted God’s will, whether that was Indonesia or somewhere else. But the delays and obstacles just made her more sure that Indonesia was where God wanted her. Later on the field, she was grateful for the hard time she had getting there because of the assurance it gave her that she was in God’s will.
She tells of her arrival on the field, early missionary life, learning the customs and language, getting adjusted to jungle food (like grub worms). She talks about how important it is to understand the world view of the people you’re trying to witness to.
It took a lot of patience to teach people who had not been taught before or hire helpers to learn the language when they had not had paying jobs before. If they wanted to go fishing instead of come to “work,” they did.
One chapter is on “People I Can’t Forget,” most of whom became part of the church there. It took much time and patience and prayer and overcoming many mistakes, but what a joy to see God open people’s eyes to His truth at last.
Margaret includes here one of my favorites of her stories. Once she was in an area where no house or huts were available, so she stayed in a small metal building with open windows (screens but no glass). Once when a terrible storm hit, rain blew in, destroying about 90% of her handwritten translation work. As she tried to salvage what she could and mop up the rest, she felt discouraged. She “fussed” with the Lord about dropping her down in the jungle and leaving her all alone. When she went to bed, something fell off the wall and hit her on the head. She felt like that was the last straw. She turned on her flashlight to see what had fallen. It was a plaque that said, “He cares for you.” She started laughing and said, “OK, Lord, I get it. Thank you.” She comments, “For some people, God speaks in a still small voice. Others of us, however, He conks on the head” (p. 125).
Margaret tells of difficulties in the translation work. She had to consider not just getting the words into Citak, but making them understood in their culture. For instance, they did not have a word for sister or brother—their words were older sister, younger sister, older brother, younger brother. That took some thought when dealing with Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. All of their verbs incorporated time of day, so that had to be considered when translating narratives. The suffix “na” at the end of a sentence indicated the information was heard from someone else rather than witnessed directly. In Luke 11:11, when Jesus asks whether a father would give a serpent to his child when asked for a fish, they said, “Of course.” “The Citak people love to eat snake, and a good-sized python has much more meat on it than the average fish, so who wouldn’t want a snake instead of a fish?” (p. 205). they had to find a different word for a poisonous snake that conveyed the idea of the passage, that “no good father would give his son a poisonous snake when he asked for a fish.”
The Citak people had a big celebration day with invited guests, including dignitaries, when they handed out the completed New Testaments. One of Margaret’s greatest joys was seeing the Citak people’s joy at having the Word of God for themselves and their ability to read and understand it. But one of her greatest sorrows was when people from other villages with different dialects wanted the Bible in their language, too. She knew that it would take more time than she had left on the field to translate the NT for all the people there that needed it.
Margaret writes that the people “went from naked cannibals, without the Bible or ability to read, to 23 churches, and having the New Testament in their language. The journey was sometimes funny, sometimes frustrating, sometimes discouraging, sometimes dangerous, but always rewarding” (p. xvii). I’m thankful she shared glimpses of that journey with us.