The Gospel Hand-Off
The Gospel Hand-Off
"We need to cut down another tree!"
Simon and Lynn Caudwell were on the last day of a dusty trek toward Basketo, Ethiopia, in 1994. The road was blocked by yet another thick tree.
Their path had taken them through bogs that stymied their four-wheel drive and sections that narrowed to about the width of their vehicle, with a 3,000-foot drop on one side.
The Caudwells got out of their car, found a way around the tree, and pressed on toward the village. But when they arrived, rain threatened overhead, and they had to leave quickly before the storm made the mountain road impassable. It would not be the last time that circumstances beyond their control would halt their time in Basketo, a remote village southwest of Addis Ababa.
On this visit, their first, Simon was sizing up land for their house and ministry center. Lynn, meanwhile, was convinced she could never live in Basketo.
Lynn cried as they drove away, not because the visit ended abruptly but because she felt God had asked too much of them. "God, I did not know what you were asking of me," she prayed. "I don't think I can bring my children to such an isolated place."
The couple had been preparing for the challenge for years. After college they spent a year in field linguistics before moving with their two young children to Addis Ababa to study Amharic, the official language of Ethiopia.
The couple eventually moved to Soddo-Wolaitta, the closest city to Basketo. In this season of waiting to move to Basketo, Lynn was running an errand one day when she felt the Lord speak: "Lynn, I have come to give you fullness of life." Little did she know what that fullness would mean in the years ahead.
While in Soddo-Wolaitta, the Caudwells visited Basketo 20 times. They started building a house and ministry office. Finally they moved to the village in 1999. The uncertainty was over—so they thought.
Working with people in Basketo, the Caudwells finished the initial analysis of the Basketo language. With the linguistic groundwork laid, after six months the couple left on furlough, planning to return soon to begin actually translating Scripture.
Suddenly, their careful planning came apart. One of their children became extremely sick. The family rushed back to their home in Britain. After treating the young child, doctors urged the Caudwells not to return the family to Basketo due to its remoteness.
Simon was shocked and bewildered. Why would God lead them this far and no farther? The Basketo would welcome having the Bible in their mother tongue. Relatively few of them could read existing Bibles, available in key Ethiopian languages for more than 1,000 years.
Biblical texts were available in Ethiopia as early as the 5th century, specifically in the Semitic language of Ge'ez. As Islam spread across North Africa, many Ethiopian Christians resisted the new faith. Some scholars today believe they did so because they had the Bible in their own language.
According to the national census, about 63 percent of Ethiopians are Christians—44 percent Orthodox, 19 percent other denominations. Since the original Ge'ez Bible translation, Ge'ez has been replaced in prominence by Amharic. More than 80 languages exist in Ethiopia. But of those languages, only 19 have New Testament translations, and 8 have the complete Bible.
The Caudwells were not the first missionaries to leave behind unfinished work in Ethiopia. Missionaries of Sudan Interior Mission (now SIM) entered Ethiopia in the 1920s. According to local accounts, when war broke out in 1937, missionaries had to flee the country, leaving behind 150 newly baptized believers. Years later, when the Italian army had left, sim missionaries returned. To their surprise, they found not a straggling few but 10,000 new believers.