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© ELWA Ministries Association USA
ELWA/SIM missionary, John-Mark Sheppard, is a Bible translator; who has been busy translating the books of the New Testament into the Manya language. The Manya are a group of roughly 100,000 people living in Liberia and Guinea and they are almost entirely Muslim, with just a handful of believers in Jesus. Early this year, John-Mark completed the first draft translation of the New Testament. He is now revising the translation with a variety of people, including Christian pastors and Muslim Imams to make sure the translation communicates naturally in their language and is also faithful to original text. He is hoping to complete the New Testament by the end of 2021.
This was not a written language before he began working there but he has worked with native speakers to develop a writing system. He now runs a literacy program, training hundreds of men, women, and children to read in their own language. It’s been exciting for them to see young men and women reading fluently in their own language and encountering God’s Word for the first time.
The Sheppards generally like living in Liberia but have had some challenges recently. There have been several cases of what people call “Jungle Justice” in their local town. When someone is caught stealing, people shout “rogue” and the thief is chased, caught, and mercilessly beaten by a mob, usually to the point of death. This happened one Sunday morning. John-Mark went out to intervene, but it was too late. The mob had beaten him with cutlasses and drowned him in the muddy pond nearby. John-Mark pulled the young man from the water, called the police, but he died a few minutes later with the crowd shouting with glee with what they believed to be justice.
The very next day in a nearby village, another young man was caught stealing a $10 mobile phone. The mob chased him for over two miles until they caught him at the top of a hill near the Sheppard's house. John Mark went with their house security guard to see if they could intervene before the man was killed. After securing the kids in the house, Sara walked to the end of the driveway to see if she could hear anything. The mob was marching the thief across the small field near their house, coming straight towards her! The man’s shirt was soaked in blood and they were kicking him and beating him with large sticks. Sarah noticed that many in the mob were their very own neighbors as well as the construction crew working right down the road. They were taking the man down to the river near their house to drown him. As they got near, they stopped and Sara begged them to have mercy on this man’s life in the same way God has had mercy on all of us. John-Mark called the police and calmly stood by the man as the construction workers wanted to stone him. He encouraged the violent, heated mob to please stop and go back to their homes or work. He told them that they had inflicted enough violence and that this man didn’t need to die, that the police would come eventually. Amazingly, the crowd slowly dispersed, leaving the young man to wash in the creek and wait for the police.
Sara writes, “Needless to say, these experiences were really traumatizing but we know that God works all things together for good. And through a series of things that I don’t have time to explain now, I realized that God was leading me to show mercy and grace to the very construction workers that we had asked to show mercy to that rogue. Frankly, I was really reluctant. Just seeing their orange workmen’s vests around the community was a trigger, but I couldn’t help but wonder if they had ever experienced grace, or if they knew about God’s love for them. And so, I baked several loaves of bread and three days after the incident, I walked to their working place and thanked them for the mercy they showed that day. To say they were stunned is an understatement, but they warmly welcomed me and invited me to come back anytime. So, I started a Christian-based trauma healing group with these 14 guys, the very perpetrators of that Jungle Justice. They were incredibly enthusiastic and have stopped by the house to share the various ways the counselling group has helped them. In the final lesson, we discussed how we could release our offenders because God has forgiven us and when we release our offenders, we can live peaceful lives, free of anger and bitterness. One young man shared how he was now ready to forgive his stepmother for casting a spell on his birth mother that had supposedly caused her death. Some expressed regret over the violence they inflicted on the rogue. Many wrote prayers asking God to forgive them and to change them into the men that God wants them to be. And I realized that I, too, was at the point of forgiving these guys for the hurt and trauma they caused me. God is truly the great Redeemer! “