This story from the Wycliffe Bible Translators was shared with me by friends who minister with that organization. It’s such a beautiful illustration of God’s unconditional love, I felt led to summarize it in this blog post.
Lee Bramlett, a Wycliffe Bible translator, was working with the Hdi culture in Cameroon, searching for God’s “footprint” in the history or daily life of this people group. He was looking for a clue God had left to show the Hdi people who he is and how he wants to relate to them.
One night in a dream God impressed upon Lee to look at the word, ‘love.’ Through his study of the language, Lee knew that almost all Hdi verb forms could end in an i, an a, or u. However, the verb, ‘love,’ never showed the vowel u at the end.
Lee met with the Hdi translation committee and first asked them, “Can you ‘dvi’ (love) your wife?”
Their answer was affirmative saying it meant the wife had been loved but the love was gone.
Next Lee asked, “Could you ‘dva’ your wife?”
“Yes,” the men answered. “That kind of love depends on the wife’s actions. She would be loved as long as she remained faithful and cared for her husband well.”
Then Lee asked, “Could you ‘dvu’ your wife?”
The men laughed. “Of course not,” they said. “If you said that, you would have to keep loving your wife no matter what she did, even if she never got your water, never made your meals. Even if she committed adultery, you would be compelled to just keep on loving her. No, we would never say ‘dvu’.’ It just doesn’t exist.”
The Wycliffe translator sat quietly for a minute or so among the committee of elders. “Could God ‘dvu people?” he asked.
More silence. Then tears began to trickle down the weathered cheeks of the elders. “Do you know what this would mean?” one asked. “This would mean that God kept loving us over and over, century after century, while all that time we rejected his great love. He is compelled to love us, even though we have sinned more than any people.”
One simple vowel and the meaning was changed from “I love you based on what you do and who you are,” to “I love you based of who I am. I love you because of me and not because of you”
God had encoded the story of his unconditional love right into their language. For centuries, the little word was there—unused but available, grammatically correct and quite understandable. When the word was finally spoken, it called into question their entire belief system.
I wonder how many people in our acquaintance would have their belief system turned upside down if they truly understand God’s unconditional love—impossible to earn, but given so freely.
The wonderful postscript to this story is that the entire New Testament has been translated and printed. Now the 29,000 Hdi speakers can read in Ephesians 5:25, “Husbands, ‘dvu’ your wives just as Christ ‘dvu-d’ the church.”