The Gospel in its simple beauty (John 3:16, Kinyarwanda translation)

I love the Rwandan translation of the Bible. Kinyarwanda is my favorite language right now, and although I don’t know much of it, I can understand some familiar Scripture passages by comparing phrases to my English Bible and using my two dictionaries. (I have one print Kinyarwanda-English dictionary and one on an app, and I also have friends who speak the language.)

But what is this language and how did I come to know it? Almost exactly a year ago, I began an internship in Denver, where I worked as an intern for the health coordinator in the refugee and asylee department. I also befriended several case managers, one of whom was from Burundi and had long been a refugee in Rwanda before coming to the States and becoming a citizen. This particular case manager friend, Zacharie, speaks six languages including English, Kirundi and Kinyarwanda, and last July he began to teach me Kinyarwanda, the language of Rwanda.

Although I can read some Kinyarwanda at a painstakingly slow pace, I still know minimal vocab and certainly do not yet know the words nuances since I only had a teacher during summer 2014. Yesterday I tried to make some headway in my vocab, however. I learned that buhoraho means eternal (see John 3:16) and iteka means forever (John 3:18). I had thought they meant the same thing, but Zach informed me that the former is an adjective (ubugingo buhoraho–eternal life) and the latter is an adverb (nzagukunda iteka–I will love you forever).

Uwiteka is a name meaning Lord or Eternal One. (Eternal One– isn’t that beautiful?!) Simply put, according to Zach it means God. Mwami is a name for Jesus meaning King or Eternal. Jesus is Yesu.

Don’t zone out of this language lesson yet–I’m just getting to the point, the Gospel as read in John 3:16. The word that stands out to me the most in this passage presented below is cyane, an adjective meaning “a lot” or “immensely.” The letter C in Kinyarwanda sounds like a ch in English. Try saying the word cyane aloud now. Got it? Okay, I think we’re good with words for now, so let’s dig into the Scripture itself.

In my simplistic understanding of the language, I can read John 3:16 in Kinyarwanda and receive it as a beautiful, deep truth. I’ll show you the various translations below: First ESV, then Kinyarwanda, and my understanding of each.

John 3:16 and 17: For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

To someone who has never heard the Gospel like this before, those verses are powerful. But after you have been in church for your entire life and can say this passage while spying nocturnal sheep, it begins to lose its meaning. Personally, I gloss over it because I think I already know what it says.

Another con of knowing the English translation so well has to do with the language itself. In English the words “so loved” seem meaningless and archaic. “So” doesn’t mean anything anymore because everything is super sized in the States today. (Oops, I even used the modifier to describe how well I know English, and I didn’t even realize it! See, it’s practically meaningless now.)

Kinyarwanda is still fresh and thrilling to me, however.

Johana 3:16 and 17: Kuko Imana yakunze abari mu isi cyane, byatumye itanga Umwana wayo w’ikinege kugira ngo umwizera wese atarimbuka, ahubwo ahabwe ubugingo buhoro. Kuko Imana itatumye Umwana wayo mu isi gucira abari mu isi ho iteka, ahubwo yabikoreye kugira ngo abari mu isi bakizwe na we.

I can compare the translations phrase by phrase, clause by clause, and pick out which word means what based off the few I know already. My dictionary is always handy, of course. Kuko means because, Imana is God, yakunze is the third person singular and the distant past of the verb for love (gukunda), mu is a preposition translated in or into, isi means world, and cyane means a LOT: For God loved in the world a LOT, the passage begins. God loved the world a LOT, immensely.

While I want to learn more Kinyarwanda with the goal of communicating well in the language, I am glad that my simplistic understanding allows me to see the Bible in a new light, as if starting over again. Newness is, after all, what Yesu is talking about in the passage above.

Racial Reconciliation: Humility, Listening, and Clear Communication

Sammy Mallow, a sophomore at Wheaton College in IL, spoke about racial reconciliation when I interviewed him for an article this past weekend. His words were simple yet deep, profound and refreshing. I’d like to share some of it here since it does not all fit in The Wheaton Record.

Mallow shared the story of racial reconciliation between him and his former RA and now dear friend, Joseph McGann. Mallow grew up as a half Cambodian, half American missionary kid. He spent four years in Cambodia, one in the United States, back and forth and back and forth, for most of his life. McGann was socialized in New York, did home school and went to a Christian private school, and never left the country. “We learned a lot from each other,” Mallow said.

Mallow said, “I basically learned to appreciate more growing up in America like the way he did.” Mallow said he learned that he can still have a lot of fun with people who are different than himself, adding, “I can still connect with them and be understood by them and enjoy their company.”

On the other hand, Mallow said, “(McGann) learned that there’s a lot to the world.” He elaborated, “Different cultures are immensely important to learn about and to appreciate.”

Mallow continued with some solid advice. He said, “It’s important to be careful and be patient with people. When you’re trying to build a relationship with someone who is different than you — this applies to everything, but especially racial issues — you have to be careful to listen to what the other person is perceiving from you. Also, (you have to be careful about) what you are intending to communicate.” I believe that by “careful,” Mallow meant perceptive in listening and clear in speaking.

From Sammy Mallow, from the Solidarity procession about which I was writing when I interviewed him, and from my friend Mark Andersen, I have been reminded to listen to other people’s stories. How have our brothers and sisters of various skin colors or facial structures been hurt by comments that were allegedly jokes? What words have bad connotations or are degrading? Avoid those terms. Learn from those who are different than you. Their stories are important, and their experiences are valid. Affirm your brothers and sisters. Apologize if need be.

Jesus embodied ultimate humility and reconciled mankind to God so that whoever believes in Jesus Christ will not perish but have eternal life. As Jesus did, so we must do. We must be humble before our powerful God and before our fellow humans. If we understand who God is and what He has done for us through His great love, there is nothing else we can do! We must reconcile with each other; in this case, we must reconcile the wrongs done by racial prejudice and discrimination.

Why is this important? We must practice racial reconciliation because together we comprise the church, the body of Christ. We need each other. Furthermore, God is glorified before all mankind when all His people unite to follow Jesus.

As you go on with your daily lives, I pray that you will take this to heart. You ought not to be reconciled because I say so or because Mallow said so or for any other reason besides its importance to Christ Jesus. What I have said in this blog post is based in the Bible, and it has massive implications on the real world in which we live. Please read the following passage from God’s Word as you prepare to return to your school work, cleaning, job, parenting, web surfing, or whatever it is you were doing.

In his second letter to the Corinthians, chapter 5 verses16-21, Paul wrote, “From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (ESV).