Bibles for the Poor by Karen

As you know, English is our first language.  We began learning Spanish back in 2015 so that we could bring the Good News to the people in the jungles of Peru.  During our time in the Amazon we constantly worked at improving our language skills so that we could speak Spanish in a way that the people there understood.

Jack was 8 years old when we went to
language school in Peru and Michael was 6.
After leaving Peru we had the opportunity to minister to the poor in Mexico.  Although the folks there speak Spanish, it's definitely different.  We had to make some modifications and incorporate the local vernacular to be understood.  Now that we're in Puerto Rico we need to learn the nuances of the local dialect so that, once again, we feel qualified to share the message of Jesus' love (in Spanish, of course) in a way that makes sense to those the Lord has called us to serve.  As I've thought about this constant struggle to speak in a way that people will understand, I've gained an ever greater appreciation for scholars who translate the bible into various languages.  The bible was first translated into Spanish during the 1500s, but it was in the dialect spoken in Spain.  At that time I'm guessing the majority of the world's Spanish speakers lived there, but these days, about 90% of those claiming Spanish as their primary language live in other countries, and speak noticably different.   

Nelson Mandela's Christian upbringing
really seemed to shape his idealogy. 

Did you realize that it wasn't until the middle of the 20th century that a Latin American version of the bible was created?  I'm so thankful that people have realized how important it is for an individual to be able to read Sacred Scripture in his own tongue.  

Nelson Mandela is known for saying, "If you talk to a man in a language he understands, it goes to his head.  If you talk to him in his own language, it goes to his heart."  

When the people here read the Latin American translation of the bible the Word resonates in their hearts in a special way and helps them to encounter the real, living person of Jesus Christ. 

When we do ministry we read from the Latin American translation of the bible and share a bit about what a given passage mean to us.  We do our best to engage people in conversation and help them to see how a given verse, story or parable might relate to their lives.

All praise be to God, we've had many experiences in which people were really moved by our conversations, which is wonderful; however, our desire has always been to give people bibles of their own so that they can encounter Christ, through the Sacred Scriptures, every single the privacy of their own homes...and on their own schedules.  As Catholics, we prefer to pass out Catholic bibles, but unfortunately we've yet to find a Catholic bible inexpensive enough to buy in bulk.  This dilema led us down the path of only buying people bibles after we've gotten to know them and believe that their desire to read scripture is real.  As I write this, I feel embarrassed because it's so contrary to the parable that Jesus shares about indiscriminately sowing seeds.  We've wanted to give bibles to everyone we meet, but how?              

Little did we know, Jesus had a plan... I'm not sure why I'm surprised... Jesus always has a plan!!!

Last week a package showed up for us at the post office.  It was a heavy, medium sized box which, unbeknownst to us, contained the answer to our prayers.  A friend of ours had purchased 30 copies of the New Testament - in Spanish, for a very reasonable price.  At first, we were ecstatic, but the excitement faded as we scrambled to find an imprimatur that didn't exist.  An imprimatur is the "stamp of approval" used by the Catholic Church to indicate that a given book complies with Catholic theology.  If a book lacks the imprimatur, it doesn't necessarily mean that the book is somehow filled with inaccurate information; it simply means that scholarly experts within the Catholic church have not completed a thorough analysis of its contents.  Books published by non-Catholic organizations sometimes include the imprimatur, but often times don't for lack of desire I suppose.  Historically, it has been our practice to only promote written materials which include an imprimatur....but it seems that an opportunity has opened up to utilize resources created for all Christian missionaries.  

When we realized that the translation we had received did not include the imprimatur, we decided that we should keep them on-hand to give to our Protestant brothers and sisters, but we knew we needed to talk with our parish priest to determine what would be best.  Together, we looked and read and searched for anything that would be a cause for concern.  The most significant difference between a Catholic bible and a non-Catholic bible is that the Catholic bible includes 7 additional books in the Old Testament.  Since the bibles that we received from our friend only include the New Testament, that difference became a mute point.  Our priest evaluated some particular verses that are known to have been altered during the Reformation in the 1500s, but he was satisfied that the Spanish translation in this particular bible was acceptable.  He checked to make sure that the bibles we had did not, in any way, promote some other church or affiliated organization.  He took his time to make sure.... and then gave us his blessing to pass them out to the people we meet AS LONG AS we write a note in the front cover indicating that the bible is a gift from "The Carmody Family" and not the Catholic Church at large.  Fair enough!!  We set to the task of writing a message to the future recipients in the front cover of each bible and begged the Lord for an opportunity to give them away.

Last Saturday we headed to Aguadilla to do our street ministry, like we usually do.  We packed water, our Spanish bible, Chris' guitar and our large song sheets, like we usually do.  However, unlike what we usually do, we also got to pack a bag full of the bibles to give away.  When the people had gathered, Sunday's gospel was read, there was a great discussion, we sang worship songs and passed out lunch.  When I told everyone that I had a surprise, they were excited but didn't know what to expect.  Underwear would have been greatly appreciated and everyone always needs toothbrushes, but bibles?  When I told them that a friend of ours had bought them bibles many started clapping and yelping.  Immediately they stood up and approached with open hands and big smiles.  Earlier in the day, when I was at home packing up our stuff, I prayed about how many bibles to take.  Given the fact that we have to ride to Aguadilla on our bikes, I didn't want to take too many because of the extra weight; however, I wanted to make sure I had enough.  Twenty.  Twenty seemed perfect.  In Aguadilla, we gave bibles to everyone that was gathered for prayer.   There were a handful of people kind of watching from a short distance, so we approached them and asked if they wanted bibles - which they all did.   I couldn't believe it - twenty.  We needed exactly twenty.  As I was thanking God for inspiring me to pack so many bibles another gentleman walked up.  He was looking around and seemed to notice the gifts that people had in their hands.  Then, he glanced my way.  I dreaded the idea of having to tell him that I didn't have anymore so I turned and looked in the other direction.  When I peered over my shoulder he was right there.  Ugghh...   He introduced himself...wait a minute... he introduced himself in English.  He's from the States and has been living here in Puerto Rico for the past decade or so.  He lives near the corner where we do ministry and just wanted to tell me that he loves what we're doing.  He said that he usually watches from his window, but assured me that he'd come and join us from now on.  This man had other nice things to say and, at one point, mentioned how much he enjoys reading his bible (which is in English).  God is so good!  Twenty was in fact exactly how many we needed.  As I've thought about this first bible give-away, I wish that I would have taken the time to present each person with his/her new bible with a bit more reverence.  As we were riding our bikes home I kept thinking about what I could have said to help them understand the importance of God's Word; I guess I was just too excited and overwhelmed by their joy to see the bigger picture.   Also, I wish I could have taken more pictures, to capture the twinkles in their eyes, but we were serving alongside an order of missionary nuns whose rule it is that no photos be taken during ministry.   They firmly believe it has a significant negative affect on the people to whom they're serving, which I totally understand.  After the nuns left I timidly asked some of the folks that were lingering if I could snap one quick photo and they all agreed... I wanted you to see some of the people that were there.. I think God understands!! 

We're really, really excited about the possibility of giving bibles to everyone we meet.  Given this newly discovered, inexpensive resource, it may be possible!  If you have any interest in purchasing some bibles for our ministry, please visit the website using the following link:

Please make sure the front cover is orange-ish, like the image I included above.  You should be able to have the bibles shipped directly to us here in Puerto Rico.  Our mailing address is:  

Chris and Karen Carmody, P.O. Box 1041, Aguada, Puerto Rico, 00602.

As I was preparing to write this blog I was thinking about how language has impacted the sharing of God's Word throughout history.  I thought about all I've learned these last couple of years and thought that maybe I'd include a short summary just in case you're interested...  

One of the many fascinating things I've learned pertains to the language of the Jewish people.  In 586 B.C. the Babylonians took control of the region occupied by the Jewish people and forced them into exile.  What exactly does this mean?  Well, the Babylonians killed a large number of the Jews who were living in the Promised Land; those that survived were forced to walk to the Babylonian capital city of Babylon which was approximately 1,000 miles away.  As you can imagine, many died along the way.  The ones who made it became slaves or indentured servants, which is a really hard life.  Historians believe that 0% of those who walked from Jerusalem to Babylon were able to make the return trip home 70 years later.  In the past, it never really occurred to me that four or even five generations of kids would have been born during that time; generations and generations of people that knew nothing of their ancestors' homeland.  These "Jewish" kids were born into the Babylonian culture and grew up speaking Aramaic, which was the common language of the Babylonians at that time.  After 70 years of exile, the Israelites were set free; however, that didn't mean that they were all super excited to return "home".  Some returned, but most remained in Babylon with the mixed families that had come into existence during the exile.  The Jews that chose to return were going to a place of which they had no firsthand knowledge.  They didn't speak Hebrew and had to rely on the Jewish elders to help them understand the fragmented dream that they were even trying to hold onto.  

In Jerusalem, the Israelites began to rebuild their society, their culture, and their very lives.  Part of this process included re-establishing their religion.  Keep in mind that all the sacred scriptures had been written in Hebrew, but that was a language that the common people no longer understood.  As Judaism was being re-established many of the people began learning Hebrew for the sole purpose of understanding the ancient writings and the worship services in the synagogues; however, they continued to speak Aramaic socially.  When Jesus arrived on the scene the Romans were in control, so in addition to Hebrew and Aramaic, people also spoke Greek and Latin, which were the two official languages of the Roman empire.  You can imagine that there was quite an assortment of writings which described Jesus' life, his teachings, and the works of His followers after His passion, death and resurrection.  Jesus would have spoken Hebrew in the temple, but Aramaic with the common people in the streets and in the villages.  The writings from that day were preserved, duplicated and used to establish Christianity for 350 years.  

In 382 A.D. Pope Damasus commissioned St. Jerome, the leading biblical scholar of the day, to produce a Latin version of the Bible.  Fluent in Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic and Latin, St. Jerome was able to use original source documents to create what is known as the Vulgate Bible.  "Vulgate" comes from the Latin word "vulgata" which means "common version".  It was Pope Damasus' desire that the sacred scriptures be captured in the most accurate way possible.  He also wanted the Word of God to be available, in its entirety, to as many people as possible.  So, he had St. Jerome translate all of the sacred scriptures into Latin, which is a language that the largest number of people understood at that point in time.  I've read that the Vulgate Bible is considered the most influential bible translation in the history of western Christendom, I imagine some have a different opinion.  I'm just thankful that St. Jerome was willing to devote over 20 years of his life to the effort of making God's Word available to the masses.  I'm thankful that people translated the Word into Spanish and that there is now a translation that resonates with the people we're serving here in Puerto Rico.  I'm thankful that our parish priest has approved our distribution of the New Testament version that our friend found and I thank the Lord in advance for anyone that is willing to send some bibles our way.

If you have a bible, I hope that you cherish it and read it every day.  If you don't have one, I encourage you to get one that is written in a vernacular that really resonates in your heart.  People sometimes ask how they can get to know Jesus when they can't see Him, hear Him, or spend "real" time with Him.  I try to explain how He "comes alive", metaphorically speaking, in the Scriptures, but I've realized that this is something that is hard to understand until someone experiences it for him/herself.  I hope that through this newfound resource we're able to bless many, many people with the priceless gift of God's Word.

Thank you and God bless, Karen

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