James at Rainbow Mountain, Cusco

James Gourley is from Ballymena, Northern Ireland, and is currently studying Spanish and Portuguese at Oxford University. He shares about his experience on SkillServe:

Learning. That is the word that comes to mind when I think about my four months serving through Wycliffe in Peru. During my time, I learned so much about Peru and its culture, about Wycliffe’s work, and even more about the amazing God that we serve!

As part of my university degree in Spanish and Portuguese, I had to spend a year living abroad in order to improve my fluency. I decided to explore year abroad opportunities with Wycliffe Bible Translators after a friendly chat with a Wycliffe representative at a university Christian Union event. I was willing to go anywhere within the Spanish-speaking world, but I must admit that I was mega-excited to find out about serving in Peru (a country right at the top of my bucket list!).

When I arrived in Lima, Peru, after a 12-hour flight, I think that I spent my first night there in slight shock. I don’t think I knew anyone in the entire southern hemisphere, let alone in Lima! Nevertheless, my excitement, desire to serve, and friendly housemate helped me to overcome any initial nervousness and I soon settled into my new life in Lima.

During my time in Lima, I worked as an office library archivist and was tasked with scanning, quality-checking and uploading scriptural and linguistic documents to the computer system. I learned about the many indigenous language communities in Peru who do not use Spanish as their main language and observed how the Bible is translated so that it communicates clearly to these cultures. For example, in John 6:35, Jesus says: ‘I am the bread of life’ which, in one of the indigenous language Bibles, was translated as ‘I am the maize of life’, a more common staple food for that culture.

Illustration of a stone wall. Beyond the wall is written 'Dios' meaning 'God'. The open doorway is labelled 'Cristo' meaning 'Christ'. In Peru, James exchanged the bridge metaphor he was familiar with for an equivalent door metaphor

Another example I observed was an image in a children’s biblical workbook of a stone wall which separated man and God. The image on the next page showed the wall with a door through it with ‘Christ’ written on the doorframe, showing how Jesus reconciles God and his people.

In my own culture, this analogy is usually depicted by a bridge (Jesus) uniting two sides of a river (people and God). I found it amazing that, although these images and analogies are different, the gospel message rings equally true for each culture.

A page from the book of Psalms

As part of my placement, I also took field trips to various projects in Peru to get a more complete insight into Bible translation. (I also took a wee trip to Cusco and Machu Picchu, but that was just for shameless tourism!)

My first trip was to the mountainous region of Ancash. There I helped a Wycliffe partner organisation to distribute long-awaited Quechua de Huaylas Bible translations to mountain communities. This included learning some Quechua; hiking through beautiful mountains (my years as a Boy Scout came in very handy) to remote churches; attending Quechua church services and promoting the new Bible translations. What’s not to like?

My second trip was to the jungle city of Iquitos, where the organisation was working with voluntary bilingual translators from the Amazonian Napo community. I was there to teach the translators how to use Microsoft computer programs for their work. While there, they called me ‘Santiago de la Selva’ which translates as ‘James of the Jungle’!

Visiting the Napo Bible translation team in Iquitos

My final trip was to a mountain town called Llata, where church communities had come from far and wide to celebrate the completed translation of the Bible into Quechua de Huamalíes-Dos de Mayo. Everything about this occasion was joyous: there was a parade, an open-air Quechua service and lots of multilingual fellowship (the best kind).

I got a really full insight into Bible translation work in Peru and I cherish the time that God gave me there. Please pray for guidance for my future as I reflect on this fantastic experience.

All in all, a wonderful experience in a wonderful country learning more about our wonderful God.

Story by: James Gourley

Date: 15/07/2022

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