In 1666, a terrible fire destroyed the central part of London and left many church buildings in ruins. St. Paul’s Cathedral was completely gutted. 261 years later, in 1927, a man named Bruce Barton published a book titled “What Can A Man Believe?” in which he told a story about the rebuilding of St. Paul’s by master architect, Sir Christopher Wren. Barton’s parable has taken on various forms over time, but the core principles remain - three people working on the same wall, doing the same work, but with three completely different perspectives.
Here is the excerpt from Barton’s book: “One morning he [Sir Christopher Wren] passed among the workmen, most of whom did not know him, and of three different men engaged in the same kind of work he asked the same question; ‘What are you doing?’ From the first, he received the answer: ‘I am cutting this stone.’ From the second the answer was: ‘I am earning three shillings and six pence a day.’ But the third man straightened up, squared his shoulders, and holding his mallet in one hand and chisel in the other, proudly replied: ‘I am helping Sir Christopher Wren to build this great cathedral.’ These are the three ways of looking at life:
1. I am just cutting this stone.
2. I am only earning a living.
3. I am doing a small part of a great work. I have not seen the Architect and I do not altogether understand the plan. But I believe there is a plan, so I work with good spirit in which there is no fear.”
Whether this story is fact or fiction, the picture is helpful in the context of heart-language Bible translation work. For the translators themselves, laying down one verse at a time is difficult and time-consuming work that takes a superhuman amount of commitment. It takes years of their lives and requires ongoing passion and perseverance - grit. A translator from Eurasia has said that their greatest need is to do the translation work with full reliance on God. They recognise they are working for the great Architect who is Himself building His church, and so they draw strength, hope and joy from Him directly. For all involved in Bible translation, whether it is in graphic design, IT, training, sponsoring projects, giving, leadership, or volunteer work, the vision that each one is doing his or her small part of God’s great work provides meaning for even the most mundane of tasks.
For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God.
The Roma Bible translators in Slovakia and Croatia/Serbia rely on God’s wisdom and strength to continue to the finish line of their translation work. Sometimes, they experience a boost of encouragement and joy as they see God answer their prayers. For example, in the Gurbet language translation project, they are busy community checking Acts 9. Community checking is when they take the translated Bible verses to the community, sit with them and read the translations out loud. They then ask the people if it makes sense in their heart language and if it sounds natural and accurate. This act of reading the Scriptures often has a profound effect on the hearers.
Michal relays the story that they were in a barbershop in Leskovac where the Community Checker led the men through a group reading of Acts 9 in their language. The chapter speaks about Saul’s saving encounter with Jesus. They then continued to talk about Saul’s character – how he was so zealous for the Mosaic Law and hated Christians initially. They expressed amazement at what happened when Saul met Jesus on the road. They spoke about how supernatural it was, and they would also like to meet God like this. They were touched by Saul’s response and immediate conversion.
Among those in the barbershop, there were twin brothers who had not been going to the church for a long time, and this story struck them like a thunderbolt. At that moment, they both knew that God was calling them back to Himself. Also, the barber was touched by the story and said he would like to visit the Roma church the following Sunday. And he did! Since then he has attended every service. The translators are so thankful to God that He changes people's lives just by hearing a few paragraphs from God’s Word!
They went on to say how grateful they are that the community continues to receive their translation and that they react positively. It is not a guarantee that mother-tongue speakers will accept translations. Michal says, “It gives us new energy to continue in this magnificent work that we are doing by God’s grace for our Lord and our community. We are so thankful we can use community checking as a tool to speak to people about God and share with them His Word.” The Spirit uses small acts like reading Scripture in a barbershop to further the Kingdom and accomplish God’s grand purposes for Bibleless communities! And like the third builder of St. Paul’s Cathedral, let’s remember that each of us is doing a small part of His great work.
Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labour in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain.