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Four Bible Translators Murdered in Middle East

Image of an old Holy Bible on wooden background in a dark space with shallow depth of field (credit: 4Max via fotolia)Islamic militants murdered four translators in an attack on a Wycliffe Bible translation office in the Middle East. Two of the workers sacrificed their lives to save the lead translator by lying on top of him, deflecting blows from the attackers' weapons. Several others were injured in the attack.

The invaders destroyed all the equipment, burned all the books, and damaged other translation materials in the office. However, Wycliffe Associates report that some computer hard drives containing translation work for eight other language projects were salvaged.

In a statement released after the horrific incident, prayer coordinator Mae Greenleaf said, "The remaining translation team has decided to re-double their efforts to translate, publish, and print God's Word for these eight language communities." The militants may have caused great physical pain, but they did not diminish Wycliffe's Christ-like spirit.

"Please ask the Lord to mend the hearts and wounds of the translation team who have gone through this horrible ordeal." Greenleaf echoed the sentiments of Jesus when she asked for prayer for her enemies as well. "Pray with me for the killers too . . . pray for these whose hearts are so hard. Pray the Lord will open their eyes to what they have done. Please ask the Lord to meet them, each one, right where they are."

It is hard to pray for enemies who have just killed your friends. Powerful are the prayers for enemies, especially when they have not been brought to justice. These murderers killed people who translated words. These translators sacrificed their lives for the sake of the Word. Because they knew it to be true, just as the murderers did, that these words were not ordinary words.

These words are living and active (Hebrews 4:12). They have the ability to bring life from death (Proverbs 18:21). They can convert a sinner into a saint (Romans 10:13–15). These are words that bring hope to the hopeless (Romans 5:2–4), encouragement to the downtrodden (Romans 15:3), and that serve as a lamp for those lost in the dark (Psalm 119:105). But most importantly, these words testify about the Word (John 5:39).  

Where was God, the Word, when this tragedy happened? He was where he has always been, on his throne. He is the reigning and ruling King (Psalm 115:3). His ways are higher than ours; his thoughts are not our thoughts (Isaiah 55:9). It is hard to fathom how he could allow something like this, but it is harder to imagine that he loves all of us, including those killers.

The written word is a powerful medium that can inform and sway. Rudyard Kipling compared words to a powerful drug, able to influence. Aldous Huxley said words are like x-rays, able to pierce through anything. But John Whittier poignantly said that of all words, these are the saddest: 'It might have been.'

Because of the courageous work of these translators, those sad words will never be uttered about their lives. These translators refused to apathetically speculate about the future; rather they vigorously worked to influence the future. Eternity was changed because of their sacrifices. Many will feel sadness at the tragic loss of their lives, but that sadness melts knowing where they are and imagining how far their work will go.

Yes, these killers ended their lives, but ideas and words live on past a life. When biblical words go forth, they never return void. They are sowed at a time, but they a reap a harvest throughout eternity.

Inevitably, a multitude of words, like these, will be written over the coming days. Words that cry out for justice. Words that advocate for action. Words that seek to make sense of this tragedy. But perhaps the greatest word will be the one lived out by you because of them—for your King.

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