Back IMB Bible translators are guests at Brentwood Baptist this fall
October 7th, 2013
By Kaylan Christopher, Staff Writer
They like to tell people they first met in a Texas jail during college. Stephen S.* was in charge of juvenile detention ministries, having been a former juvenile detainee. Tricia was in charge of jail ministries for their Baptist Student Ministry.
As their relationship moved toward marriage, Tricia was called to the mission field and Stephen was called to ministry. But Stephen admits he struggled with the idea of following a girl onto the mission field—until two things happened.
The Story that Changed Their Story
First, the couple went to a conference about Bible translation. Then later, they connected with a friend returning from a short-term mission trip to Moscow, right after the Berlin Wall fell and the Soviet Union opened up.
Their friend told them a story about an old man who stumbled up to her in his tattered jacket on a street in Moscow. She handed him a New Testament, and understanding what it was, the man began taking off his jacket to give to her.
She said, "No. This is for you."
Holding his jacket out to her, he replied, "No. Please take it."
She said, "You don't understand. It's free for you. This doesn't cost anything."
The man reached inside the jacket pocket and pulled out two crumpled pieces of paper—two pages from the Gospel of John. He said, "For 25 years, this is all of God's Word I've had. You don't understand. This costs something."
Stephen said, "That was the moment I decided a life spent giving people God's Word who've never had it before is a life well spent. So I got over myself and followed where God was calling."
Developing the Art of Storying
In 1999, in a joint partnership with Wycliffe Bible Translators and International Mission Board (who'd never sent out Bible translators before), their family left for language school in France.
After completing the course, they moved to West Africa where they were assigned to a people group that was 100 percent Muslim, famous for stoning missionaries who came to share Jesus.
With a platform of literacy, they placed themselves under the protection of the community leaders and God gave them favor with the people. Tricia wrote the grammar while Stephen developed and analyzed the writing system.
The day came for them to display their findings to community leaders in a local schoolroom. With his outline in hand, Stephen presented from morning to evening, filling up the blackboard with the results and gaining applause at the finale.
"I was gathering my things, looked up, and realized there was a delegation forming in the back. That's never a good thing in West Africa," he said. "They came up and said, 'This is great. We appreciate your hard work. We just have one question: what were we meeting about today?"
Frustrated and spent, Stephen went home thinking: These are the stupidest people on the planet. How can I share God's Word with them if they can't even figure out the simple outline I presented—an outline even a child could understand?
"That night, God spoke to me almost audibly. And it never goes well when He does that. He said, 'They're not the stupid ones. I've given you this message and you're packaging it in a way you're comfortable with, not the way they can receive it.'"
That was the beginning toward this family’s journey of becoming learners and storytellers.
"We realized that when people want to share something important, they do it through stories. And they aren't going to want to read God's Word unless they hear it first. So we developed a process for it, using good translation principles, but using orally told stories. And God used it," he said.
They stayed in West Africa for five years before moving on to South Asia for another seven years, developing storying even more along the way. And just a year ago, they landed in England, where they're now on the team that drives Bible translation and storying for IMB.
Bible Translation for Brentwood Baptist
During their time in Asia, Stephen and Tricia connected with Scott Harris, Brentwood Baptist Missions Minister, who was looking for someone to help with several Brentwood Baptist-funded translation projects. At the time, they were the only ones doing it, so they signed on.
Currently, Stephen and Tricia are overseeing and directing several unique Bible translation projects for Brentwood Baptist: South Asia (two projects in several languages); North Africa (for the Deaf); and West Africa (in four different languages, one of which is for African truck drivers).
One of the IMB’s recent strategic priorities for those on the field is for every people group they work with to have access to God's Word—both orally and written. In partnership with Stephen and Tricia, Brentwood Baptist is helping make this happen.
Current Stateside Assignment
Currently, the S. family is the States for four months with their three children in tow—splitting their time between Tennessee and Texas.
"We're in culture shock right now," Stephen said. "In Starbucks, I saw two people praying together. And in the grocery store, the checker said, 'Have a blessed day.' We don't live in an overtly Christian environment like that [in England]. It's hard to talk about God. It's too personal and private for them. But it's nice to hear people here still openly talking about God."
While here at Brentwood Baptist, Scott has invited the couple to speak to several LIFE Groups on Sundays and train others in the area on storying as a means to share the gospel.
An Example of Storying in India
Living in South Asia, Tricia became friends with her neighbor, a high caste Hindu woman. She loved to talk about spiritual things and her many gods, but not about Jesus. So Tricia prayed for an opportunity to share His story with her.
Not long after, the woman had a baby, going through a delivery that almost killed her. Back at home, she was put on bed rest and struggled physically and emotionally. And on top of all this, she had three small children to take care of.
"I went over to visit and sat down on her bed next to her," Tricia said. "She cried and said, 'Up until now, I've had peace with my god, but now I'm not sure what I've done wrong that my god would do this to me.'"
That was Tricia's chance—her answer to prayer. She said to the woman, "It sounds like you need peace right now. I want you to know that the one true God loves you and He came to give people peace."
She then shared a story from Luke 7:36-50—about the woman who interrupted a dinner between religious leaders and Jesus so she could wash His feet with her perfume and tears. At the end of the passage, Jesus said, "Your faith has saved you. Go in peace."
By the end of the story, the Hindu woman was weeping and said, "God sent you here to me today to bring me peace because hearing that story convinces me that He really does love me."
"I call her once a month or so to check in," Tricia said. "Even to this day, at the end of our conversations, she says, 'Let's pray to Jesus and you tell me another story.' Because of her station, there's no other way she would've ever heard anything about Jesus before. But now, she's willing to listen to stories about Him."
*Full name removed for security purposes.