Missionary Diary: getting to the church on time for a once-in-a-lifetime event

David and Lilian Saxby are serving with Wycliffe Bible Translators Australia in Ambon, Maluku, Indonesia. They are part of the Ambonese Malay Bible translation team. The New Testament was published in 2022, and work is now continuing to translate the Old Testament.

Driving to the airport in Ambon, not even the heavy rain can dampen my excitement: “I can’t believe today is the day!” After 20 years of work, the Ambonese Malay translation of the New Testament is finally being launched!

As part of the translation team, my wife and I are going to be part of the event. But before that, I am on my way to the airport to pick up Max, the CEO of Wycliffe Australia, who is coming to Ambon for the celebration. He is arriving a day later than expected after some unfortunate flight rescheduling, but he’s still in plenty of time for the 4pm event. Or so I think.

As I wait at the airport, his flight arrival time comes and goes. Soon enough, it becomes clear that the bad weather over Ambon that morning has meant his flight has been redirected to another airport for refuelling. Hmm, this is going to be interesting. I send him a quick message, hoping he has found some WiFi.

Without ever having been to Ambon and not speaking Indonesian, he had no idea he’d arrived at the wrong airport! More waiting, then finally a revised arrival time. Oh man, this is really going to be tight. Do I still have enough time to pick him up and get to the event on time? My excitement is well and truly dampened. But at least the weather is clearing.

Translation team holding New Testament Ambonese Bibles

The translation team for the Ambon New Testament. Photo by David Moore

I continue waiting at the airport for Max’s flight to arrive. Eventually, he arrives with a big smile on his face and not even a hint of fatigue from his nightmare of disrupted flights. OK, we are good to go!

We drive to my home; then I zip into town to meet with the rest of the team in preparation for the event. Max and my family get there shortly afterwards, arriving at the event with three minutes to spare. Phew!

My wife and I and all the translation team are part of a procession to the church that is hosting the event. We go outside into the humid and drizzly afternoon. First in the procession is a traditional band playing a joyful tune with bamboo flutes, guitars, ukuleles and percussion. I feel my excitement returning.

Next come the leaders of the church denomination that has sponsored the translation project. Then the members of the translation team. We each carry a copy of the brand-new freshly published Ambonese Malay New Testament.

Many Ambonese people must learn and grow their faith in a second or third or even fourth language … The Ambonese Bible translation lets tens of thousands of Ambonese speakers know that God speaks their language.

The procession stops traffic as we walk down a main street to Ambon City’s central church. OK, now I’m really excited again. Once inside, we place the New Testaments at the front of the church, symbolically presenting them to the church and all the people of Ambon. Then in the following ceremony, Ambon’s most influential Christian leader officially endorsed the New Testament.

Christianity first came to Ambon and the surrounding Spice Islands in the 16th century. Churches generally use Indonesian, the national language, for their Bible, songs, preaching and other aspects of ministry. This means that many Ambonese people must learn and grow their faith in a second or third, or even fourth language. Because of this, language is a significant obstacle to understanding the gospel. The Ambonese Bible translation lets tens of thousands of Ambonese speakers know that God speaks their language. God is not foreign and far off. This translation gives hope for thousands to know God and his word better.

David and Lilian Saxby with their sons, Joshua and Zack. Photo: Gary McMaster (Wycliffe Australia)

As the celebration continues with Ambonese songs, music and dance, my feeling is one of ‘I can’t believe this is really happening!’ Twenty-five years ago, long before I came to Ambon, no one thought an Ambonese Bible translation project would get off the ground. But God made a way. Over the years, the project faced numerous obstacles and setbacks, including earthquakes, floods and evacuations. But God made a way. Covid pushed the New Testament publication back by two years. Travel restrictions meant I didn’t even know if I could attend the official launch. Yet again, God made a way. And we trust that God will continue to make ways for the Ambonese Malay New Testament to transform lives and for Old Testament translation to progress.

An Ambonese procession

Children’s band. Photo: Facebook

What a privilege it was to be part of this once-in-a-lifetime event! It was special for my wife and me because we have both had the pleasure of being part of the team working on this translation.

No one thought an Ambonese Bible translation project would get off the ground. But God made a way.

We have ridden the highs and lows, and along the way, we have seen glimpses of the impact of the Scriptures translated into Ambonese. But it is so much more special for the people of Ambon, who now have the New Testament in their own language.

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