King James. New King James. New International. American Standard. English. Spanish. German. Tagalog. Sanskrit. The list could go on and on and on. A Bible can be found in pretty much any language, version, or edition, and you dont have to look much farther than your coffee table or nearest church or bookstore to lay hands on one.
Most of us have grown up having complete access to the Bible whenever we choose, to the point of almost taking it for granted. Weve either moaned and groaned at the childhood obligation of joining the family for evening worship or memorizing Bible verses we learned in Church. Whatever the case may be, the fact remains that we are perhaps jaded with the concept of having a Bible at our disposal and in our own language.
The story is much different for the Chamorro peopleinhabitants of the Mariana Islands, including Guam. They do not have ready access to a Bible in their own language. Many years ago, a Chamorro Bible used to exist and could be found in many homes. But for very strange and odd reasons, the Bible literally disappeared. How did it disappear? And more importantly, why?
It all began with one teacher, Clarence Thomas IV, and an 8th grade computer class at Guam Adventist Academy (GAA). It was supposed to be a very simple matter. I wanted to do something challenging, says Thomas, different, and useful. So we decided to create an Internet radio station.
Thomas, who stands at a lean 65", is a man of mystery. Never wanting to share his accomplishments and avoiding attention, he casually recounts the events leading up to the project. With a Bachelor of Science degree in Computer Science from Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan, Thomas is well traveled, having spent a number of cumulative years in Brazil, Austria, United States, and now Guam. His love of cultures and following Gods lead is one of the reasons he is compelled to continue traveling around the world, making a difference in peoples lives.
The project for the 8th grade computer class was right in line with Thomas experience. The content for the Internet radio station would be researched and provided for by the students. Because GAA is a Seventh-day Adventist school, they wanted to provide something spiritual as a part of the Internet radio station. It was decided that they would offer readings of the Bible in the local language--Chamorro.
All I had to do was go to the GAA library and check out a Chamorro Bible, Thomas remembers. No problem. However, it was a problem. Arriving at the library, he found that there was no Chamorro Bible. It was just always assumed by Thomas and others that there was a Chamorro Bible. After all, how could such a religious island, such as Guam, spiritually survive without a Bible in their own language?
The bottom line was they needed a Bible for the class, so phone calls were made, and Seventh-day Adventist pastors were contacted, but still no Bibles were found. When answering our calls, pastors would say, Yes we remember seeing a Chamorro Bible at some time, but we dont have one. One man, David Flores Sr., even said that he used to have a Bible, but he loaned it out and it never came back. The same response was given by Eliseo Jimeno, a retired Filipino pastor and 50 year resident of Guam. He came from the Philippines in 1953 and established the purchase of the land that the SDA Mission, GAA, Guam SDA Clinic, and other properties are now built on. He had been instrumental in distributing Chamorro Bibles during the early 1960s and remembers that after awhile he could not get anymore copies to distribute. The Bibles he had been passing out
were the revised Chamorro Bibles that did not have the English translation or the Book of Psalms. Several decades later, he could not even find a Chamorro Bible in his home.
The local Seventh-day Adventist FM radio station, Joy92, used to have readings of the Bible in the local language and it was assumed that they were reading from a Chamorro Bible, but the local gentlemen, Pastor Bill Taitague of the Talofofo Seventh-day Adventist Church and Fred Ulloa, would simply translate the English texts into their own language. Is this normal for people not to question why they do not have a Bible in their own language? Why havent questions been asked a long time ago? I watch Thomas face as he relayed these passing events and a look of exacerbation and sadness flashes through.
Thomas was distraught and unsure what to do without a Chamorro Bible. Not only did he need it for his class, but he was disturbed that the people did not have a Bible in their own language. If you want to reach people, you have to speak their language and it makes a clear difference when you use the Bible in their own language, says Thomas. How can you get anything done without a Bible? And where is this Bible?
Janet Taitano Flores, office manager and registrar for GAA, made calls to all the libraries in Guam and none of them had a Bible. They called all the book stores and discovered that trying to locate a Chamorro Bible was a very sensitive topic. Those asked if they could locate a Chamorro Bible seemed as if it was an absurd idea, probably because they were not aware that one existed, or one which was covered in many years of pain from losing such a treasure.
Why dont the Chamorro people have a Bible? questioned Thomas. Other islanders have a Bible. Why dont we? It just didnt make sense. Where is the Chamorro Bible? Why have the people gone without a Bible for so long? So I went looking for those answers.
Thomas didnt have to go much farther than his own computer to begin finding answers to his own questions. He researched the history of Christianity in Guam and the first Protestant missionaries to arrive on island bringing with them the Gospel. History gave the name of Francis Price and his wife, Sarah, as the first Protestant missionaries to minister to the Chamorro people. In a brief biographical summary, Price had spent several years as a missionary and linguist in China and Chuuk Lagoon as part of the Congregationalist Church and under the supervision of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions. After his work was finished in Chuuk, which included translating a dictionary and part of the Bible into Chuukese, he arrived on Guam in 1900.
Following his arrival, he established the first solid protestant mission on island which included schools for boys and girls that taught them academics as well as cultural trades. Price also built a reputable repoire with the local people and learned the Chamorro language extremely well with the help of his language tutor, José Mendiola Taitano. By 1907, he had translated the four Gospels, Acts, and Psalms into the Chamorro language and in 1908 the first Chamorro Bible was printed and distributed. However, in years to come, the Bible would disappear leaving an island to wonder what happened to their gem.
After connecting Price with the translation of the Bible into Chamorro, Thomas asked Flores to contact the libraries asking for anything written by Francis Price. After much searching, a book written by Price was found at the Nieves M. Flores Memorial Library that appeared
to be the translated scriptures, although it did not resemble a modern Bible in any way.
I felt relieved that we had finally been able to secure a copy of the Chamorro Bible, says Thomas. I decided that wed make a copy of the entire book the library had found and Id be on my way.
He went to the library and had the librarian set up the copying machine to copy the Bible. Before he left to go to the library, he had even written a memo to the principal at GAA, Murray Cooper and Guam-Micronesia Mission of Seventh-day Adventists President, Willy Nobuo, saying they had found a Chamorro Bible. After making copies of the entire book, Thomas returned to his apartment and proceeded to examine what they thought to be the Chamorro Bible. Flipping through the copy, Thomas read the title page which contained the book of Psalms, but when he turned to the back of the book, he found that it only had twenty five chapters. Knowing that Psalms has 150 chapters, he knew that something was wrong. After a careful study of the book, Thomas realized that the section he was looking at was not Psalms, but Acts of the Apostles.
Although the book was part of a Chamorro Bible, it only contained the four gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, and Acts of the Apostles. While Psalms was included in the title, the book itself was actually missing Psalms. Astonished, Thomas quickly realized that the four gospels, Acts, and Psalms had been translated into Chamorro, but for reasons beyond his understanding, the Psalms had been dismissed from the latest publication. In other words, this book was not the original Bible that Price had translated and published in 1908; it was a 1952 republication of the original that excluded the Psalms. So what happened to the original?
Even though it was a partial publication of the Chamorro Bible that Thomas had located, he was ecstatic to see Gods Word in the local language. He shared it with Flores at GAA and asked her to translate selected scriptures to validate the authenticity of the translation. They went to several key Biblical texts and each time Flores would translate it to English, they both felt a wave of excitement sweep over them because there was finally a good translation of the Bible in the local tongue.
I asked Flores and several others to translate key texts because I needed to have confidence in the credibility of the translation, says Thomas as he smiles in recollection. Id already decided this Bible needed to get back into print. Seventh-day Adventists live and die by the Bible and it is only right that the Chamorro people should have access to the same treasure. Thomas leans back in his chair with a look of reverence in his eyes. The sacredness in which he talks about the resurrection of the Chamorro Bible is one that can only be understood by those who it has affected first hand. A hushed silence almost demands existence.
Ive always wondered how God preserved the Bible through the ages, Thomas ponders. He really guards it, and I got a view of how He does this. There are only a few copies of the Chamorro Bible in the world and Thomas set out to find the original publication of the Bible that Price had translated and distributed. I was looking for a full Bible, not the partial and incomplete one we had here at the Flores library. No one should be without a Bible especially if there is a translation.
Thomas spent many hours on the Internet searching through archives and libraries that may possibly have a copy in their library or Special Collections Department. He found references at several libraries to a Chamorro Bible, but was unable to obtain contact information in which to communicate further. Thomas understood that he was not going to be able to find what he was looking for without speaking with someone directly. He needed to make contact with a real person and dialogue with him or her to receive results. After searching many libraries, he was finally able to secure a contact number for a woman by the name of Denise Hersey at Yale University Library. She was just the person he needed to speak with. Hersey was the Coordinator of Access Services for the Mudd Library at Yale.
Thomas explained that he had found a reference online to what appeared to be a Chamorro Bible in the Mudd Library and needed to verify if this was truly the Bible he was looking for. Shelved along with hundreds of other books on open shelvesnot in the Special Collections Hersey pulled the Bible referenced. She confirmed with Thomas the contents of the book and that it was the complete translated Chamorro Bible containing all four Gospels, Acts, and Psalms, and included the diglot, which is the parallel pages of Chamorro and English. Yale, and Hersey herself, did not realize what a rare and valuable book they had sitting on their library shelves. Most books with these rare characteristics and limited circulation are placed in the Special Collections department of libraries. However, the Chamorro Bible sat silently on a library shelf hidden amongst the heaps of literary publications.
At finally finding an original Chamorro Bible, Thomas was overjoyed beyond words. He petitioned Hersey as to how he could borrow the book from the Yale library. Hersey said that because it was referenced as a regularly accessible book, all Thomas needed to do was fill out an Interlibrary Loan (ILL) through another library on Guam or through the GAA school library.
Having never needed to use an ILL in Guam before, Thomas and Murray Cooper, principal of GAA at the time, were not sure exactly how to do an ILL, muchless if the GAA library would be considered a credible library through which to file an ILL. Cooper filled out the form and they faxed it back to Yale the same day, saying a silent prayer.
On September 10, 2001 (EST), Yale approved the ILL and Hersey contacted Thomas to let him know that they would be shipping the Bible next-day air and that Yale would cover the cost; GAA needed to pay for sending it back to Yale. Amazed at Yales generosity, Thomas and Cooper both were astounded and speechless at how Gods hand was at work. Yale would be shipping the Bible the next day.
September 11 brought a rude awakening to America as the terrorists attacked New York city and Washington D.C. As history will recall, it was a day of confusion and disturbance. Aware of what was going on in the mainland, Thomas was instantly concerned for the whereabouts of the Chamorro Bible that Yale had just shipped. Due to the terrorist attacks, planes were grounded, shipments were halted, and not much later, the anthrax scare threatened the U.S. postal system which decreased productivity for awhile. There was nothing Thomas could do to ensure the travel safety of the Bible except to pray. This rare book that has disappeared over the years could just as easily disappear in the chaos and disturbance of this new war on terror that was on Americas horizon. It was out of Yales hands and out of Thomas. He could only wait.
Nine days later, on September 20, Cooper walked in Thomas classroom holding a box and a grin spanning the width of his face. They both knew what was in that box and they both said a prayer of thanks. Thomas checked the tracking details which revealed the shipment process of the Bible. Despite the terrorist attacks that threatened the nation, Yale had mailed the Bible on September 11 at 3:23 p.m. and it was transported from Connecticut to Kentucky, California, Hong Kong, and finally arrived on Guam at 12:15 p.m., September 20, Chamorro Standard Time, which is 15 hours ahead of EST. Divinely guided and kept from obvious delays, the Chamorro Bible had finally made its way back home.
When the Bible was finally held in Thomas hands, he recounts that he realized this was an amazing experience to be holding such a priceless treasure. No one foresaw the importance of this, and were only seeing the beginning, explains Thomas. Weve only seen the tip of it. Its a rare Bible. The people have a right to their own Bible.
Once again, Thomas set out to make copies of the true original Chamorro Bible containing the four Gospels, Acts, and Psalms, as well as the Chamorro and English translation. It became very clear to Thomas that this Bible must be reprinted so that the Chamorro people could have unlimited access to the Word of God.
Having a Bible in the Chamorro language says that Jesus hasnt forgotten them. It says, Hey, Jesus knows my language too.
Thomas handled the progression of the Chamorro Bible Project with fragility and tenderness, most of the time not knowing how or in which direction to move next. Dont play with Gods Word, Thomas says with conviction. It is a whole different piece of literature.
Theres something about it. Its supernatural; its protected. Thomas hesitates a moment as if searching for the right words to describe what he has experienced and is still feeling. To be working this close with Gods Holy Word is a whole different thing. I wanted to get out of it because I could see that it wasnt human. I was scared of making a mistake; Im not qualified. Who am I to be involved in something like this?
Setting out with the Xerox copy in hand of the Bible, Thomas sought out several Chamorros who whom he knew were fluent in the language. He needed to know that Prices translation was credible and a faithful translation into the Chamorro language. Speaking with David Flores, Sr., resident of the village of Talofofo, he assured Thomas that Prices translation was written in excellent Chamorro and could be understood. Comparing the Chamorro with the English and Hebrew/Greek translation, he joyously discovered that in many places the Chamorro text was purer and truer to the original Hebrew/Greek texts than the the English translation. Thomas also showed the copied texts to a Chamorro bus driver. The driver was shocked and surprised to see a Bible written in his own language. He wanted to know how much he would have to pay in order to get a copy of my copy of this Bible, Thomas grins. That has been the response from everyone who has come in contact with the Bible. A Bible in my own language? Theyd never seen it before. Recently, a woman by the name of Josephine Chargualaf Varley was shown the Bible and her response was much like the previous gentlemans.
Wow! This is terrific! She automatically read the title on the cover and began thumbing through the Psalms stopping periodically at certain versus. I never knew a Bible in Chamorro ever existed, exclaimed Varley. I always wondered why, and thought it would be great if someone took the time to translate. I remember reading the novenas as a child and thinking it would be great to have a Bible in my language.
Varley continues skimming through the Bible and holding it close to her chest in amazement. Reading a Bible in your own language makes God so much more personal. This is absolutely wonderful. I want a copy.
Thomas realized with surety that he must go ahead with the project.
A year and a half later, Thomas sits in my office with a look of astonishment that has not faded mingled with a tinge of undetected sadness at the deprivation of the Word for so long. I can see a few droplets of tears glass over his eyes at his intuitive knowledge that God has His very hand in this project and in the spiritual survival of the Chamorro people. Its been a sacred journey that is reflected in the essence of Clarence Thomas and this story.
This has been my role, and Bethany, its enough. Its enough. Thomas nods his head fighting back the tears that threaten to betray his countenance. I have worked with the angels and its been a real privilege.