The Gospel Hand-Off
"Then I said to myself, 'These people really need the Bible in their own language. For this has God called me to the work of Bible translation.' I became so convinced and so happy translating the Bible. I was willing to sacrifice everything I had: my time, my energy, and so on, joyfully."
Yet Getachew was not alone. The Caudwells and a support team of Bible translation consultants and trainers helped out. He received what anyone handed a ministry hopes for: a healthy, well-tended ministry already thriving and poised for more growth.
As the translation proceeded, the Caudwells built stronger relationships with the translation team. Getachew and Geresu stayed with the Caudwells many times in Addis Ababa, where Simon had undertaken a different ministry role.
"We were sad not to be able to live in Basketo and not to be actively involved in the project from 2000 onward," Simon says.
"Encouragement and moral support were at least as important as technical project support.
"Through the time spent building our house, by depending on their hospitality and protection, in walking the footpaths in Basketo, we built loving relationships with the Basketo church and community."
Handing off a ministry is rarely simple; a calling is rarely easy to release. Even now, a decade later, as the Caudwells live and work in the United Kingdom, they and their two children miss Getachew, Geresu, and the Basketo church and community.
Whenever a baton of leadership passes to new hands, challenges arise from either holding the baton too tightly or from dropping it altogether. For the hand-off of the Basketo project, finances proved to be a test.
When Getachew accepted the call to serve in translation, a long fundraising season for him did not seem wise. Funds for his project were provided through the member organizations of the Wycliffe Global Alliance. He became a fully funded employee.
This choice demonstrated how the Western church can facilitate key work in the developing world by investing its resources in local leaders who are ready for more responsibilities.
Such arrangements of sharing finances require trust and accountability that come through on-the-ground partners like Getachew and the Caudwells. Getachew will soon become a Wycliffe Africa member, and he will have to raise local financial support. This will bring fresh challenges for his local Christian support network.
Indigenous missionaries face strong social pressure to favor their own community and ethnic heritage, escape poverty, protect their status, and provide for extended family. Serving in remote areas as missionaries may mean their families are disappointed. And of course, finding funding and the time to finish training is a constant struggle. Even today, Getachew still works to complete additional translation training.
Posture of Service
As the Caudwells and Getachew have seen, God may use situations beyond human control to bring missionaries and their agencies to hand off work into indigenous hands.
In a victory the Caudwells could scarcely have imagined 12 years ago, the churches of Basketo now have the Gospels of Mark and Luke in their mother tongue, and the entire Basketo New Testament is currently being reviewed. Throughout the process, the credit for the work was due not to one or two missionaries, but to a wide team of translators, consultants, and supporters both in Ethiopia and worldwide. Today, the Basketo people are more than 90 percent Christian.
Indigenous missionaries like Getachew are increasingly sent out to neighboring people groups. Foreign and local ministries are ministering in greater ways than either could alone. "Foreigners increasingly need to adopt a posture of service to the local and national leaders," says Simon.
The Caudwells consider it among their greatest joys in Ethiopia that "God was overriding our plans—for better ones."
Adam and Christine Jeske, based in Madison, Wisconsin, are coauthors of This Ordinary Adventure: Settling Down Without Settling (InterVarsity Press).