In early 2013, Matt* went to Immi—a village in Papua New Guinea—to get a jump-start on a Bible translation project for the Enga language. While there, he met Joseph, one of the local men who helped him learn the Enga language and culture. Matt was quickly won over by Joseph’s humble, gentle spirit, which is why he was shocked to learn of his new friend’s past.
Joseph had been one of Immi’s most feared warriors—fighting countless battles with neighboring people groups. He was so powerful that he was even hired out as a mercenary who fought for other villages. In the end, when the fighting was done, Joseph was one of the few Immi men left standing.
In 2010 a pastor felt called to start a church in Immi to reach out to those who had experienced heavy fighting. He taught messages on forgiveness, saying, “When Christ died on the cross, He died for all of our sins, even the most heinous.”
When he heard these words, Joseph humbled himself and eventually decided to trust Jesus.
Matt could clearly see how the trajectory of Joseph’s life had changed dramatically. He had become one of his people’s leaders, a man who leverages his life for the well-being of others. When Matt’s time in the village finally came to a close, he took the opportunity to thank Joseph and the other two men who had helped him learn the language and take care of his family. In a ceremony at a local church, Matt presented each man with an axe or machete, and then gave each man a Bible—one in English, one in the trade language of Tok Pisin, and one in a language spoken nearby.
“Before, your lives were based on weapons like these, and you used them to destroy,” Matt announced. “Now your lives are based on the Word of God. And these axes and machetes that you used to use to destroy will now be used to build new houses and build a new life based on the Word of God.”
Joseph locked his arms around the Bible, while tears poured down his cheeks. He tried to speak, but just stood in front of the crowd, eyes focused on that book—his first Bible. He could read the words, but only very slowly, since it wasn’t in his own language and most Engans cannot read well. Even so, Joseph cherished those words.
Today, the translation team is focused on producing an audio Bible—and a physical Bible—for the 300,000 people in the Enga Province. And Engans like Joseph are prepared to fight again, but this time it’s to do whatever it takes to get a Bible in their own language.
*Names have been changed to protect identities.