Part two of three parts; click here to read part one.

"The water kept coming—you could hear it rushing under the house."

This was the first and only time the Scotts pushed "the panic button"—a switch on the back of the radio that alerted the team at Yarinacocha that an emergency situation was at hand. The Scotts asked for prayer that the water would stop rising. That long, sleepless night they rehearsed the promise in Isaiah 43:2: "When you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you."

"At daybreak, the water was touching the bottom of our floor, but not one of the children was wet. Soon they came in their canoes and took us out."

The village was destroyed by that flood. Gustavo had taken several families and moved east to Gasta Bala and urged the Scotts to join them there. "We went through a fire to move to one place and through a flood to get moved to another place," says Marie.

Gasta Bala has been their tribal home ever since.

The Spirit broke through in 1984 shortly after the flood and subsequent relocation to Gasta Bala. This was the first authentic evidence the Scotts had seen that the Spirit was beginning to operate. Gustavo, who had asked Jesus to be his Owner 20 years earlier, owned up to his wayward lifestyle and repented. "Gustavo was translating the Books of Matthew and John with me," says Scotty. "The Holy Spirit was driving the Word deeply into his 'innermost.' One Sunday, when most of the village had gathered for a meeting, Gustavo stood before his people and said, 'I have been a poor example to you as your chief. Not only have I been getting drunk myself, but I have been bringing the liquor to you. Also I have been living in immorality.' He prayed and asked the Lord to forgive him and said that he wanted Jesus to give him victory."

Shortly after that several men from the tribe gathered around him and laid hands on him, "as they had read in the Book of Acts," and prayed: "Lord, help him not to get angry. Help him to preach the Word plainly to us. May he not beat his wife."

But it is a quantum leap to get from the early days of scribbled notes to the place where the tribe can pray "as they had read in the Book of Acts."

The translation process for the Scotts unfolded, in its early stages, according to the "typical" trajectory for translation work. Starting from scratch (including teaching tribal members which way to hold a book and how to grip a pencil), it usually takes about five years to get a complete picture of the basic language in order to begin translating. The first four or five years the Scotts simply listened and took notes. "We would ask them things like, 'How do you say "our house" and "my house"?' We would write a symbol for each sound. Then we'd have to find out where the word breaks are and then begin analyzing the grammar."

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By 1962 they had written an alphabet and developed a preliminary vocabulary. At this early stage, they began the process of Bible translation (though nothing was published). "We started about three or four years after we got out there," says Marie. "We didn't wait until we had learned everything about the language—we learned it as we were working. Gene was working on the Bible translation, and I was working with the literacy, making schoolbooks."

"I think the first translation I did was the flood story," Scotty recalls. "When we finished translating it, I gave it to the [then] chief, Alfonso, and he began to laugh.

" 'Alfonso, why are you laughing?' I asked.

" 'My grandmother told me this story,' he countered. 'But she didn't have it exactly right.' "

Over the next 10 to 15 years, a translator will collect and assimilate more data, rehearse syntax, decipher tonal distinctions, constantly refining. (Marie says, "There are still aspects of the Sharanahua grammar that we don't understand.") Computer technology has expedited the process, but sometimes unforeseeable complications thwart this trajectory. The health of the linguists, family problems, tribal problems, and how far the tribe has to come all play into the time it takes. And beyond translation, the linguists serve as the tribe's only access to the outside world, so they are frequently sidetracked with urgencies and demands unrelated to Bible translation. They become overwhelmed and exhausted. After several months of living with the tribe, they need to return to the SIL translation center and living community in order to get any serious translation work done.

Translating the Bible into these heretofore unwritten languages and making it accessible to these isolated cultures sometimes requires a radical departure from conventional translation principles. "You do not just translate words," says linguist Wes Thiesen (who translated the New Testament for the Bora tribe in Peru), "you translate meaning. You can translate it word for word, but then it won't make any sense to them." This is what linguists call the "functional" approach (vis-a-vis the "formal" approach) to translation.

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This means, as SIL's biblical researcher David Henne explains, that translators on the field "aim to preserve the meaning of the original text in a way that is understood in the community according to their customs and language structures." The translator ascertains the biblical author's intent and then introduces that intent into the frame of reference of the tribal culture. The Sharanahua, for obvious reasons, have no concept of snow. So to introduce the idea of "whiteness" such as Isaiah 1:18 reflects ("your sins … shall be white as snow"), Scotty would interchange the snow metaphor with "freshly peeled yucca" (a plant native to warmer climes, with stout stems and edible, potatolike roots). He applied the "yucca" metaphor to his translation of Matthew 17:2/Mark 9:3 when Jesus' clothes, during the Transfiguration, also become "white as … yucca."

"Lord, I've tried to step out from this,
and no one is coming to volunteer to do
the translation … I'm just going to
lay myself in your arms and trust you to
give the strength to see it through."

This is called finding the "mutual cognitive environment." And that can get complicated. When Jesus reiterated the Law (Matt. 19:5), saying, "For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife," Scotty extrapolated the thrust of the text and recast it in terms the tribe could appropriate. "The Sharanahuas don't leave father and mother when they get married; they often stay right in the same house. One thing they do differently than in our version of marriage is share a mosquito net. So we translated it: 'For this reason a man shall have the same mosquito net as his wife.' " This evokes, in Sharanahua terms, both the "leaving" and the "cleaving" aspect of the command.

Scotty used more than eight different English versions of the New Testament, as well as a Spanish version, along with a Sharanahua cotranslator, and still wrestled with how to make many biblical concepts accessible. For example, greeting one another with a "holy kiss" (1 Thess. 5:25) was an alien concept in this culture where it was "a respected thing" to lie and gain advantage. Scotty interpreted the essence of Paul's mandate and translated it, "Tell good to each other."

Scotty struggled with how to render 1 Corinthians 11:7-9, because the Sharanahua grammatical structures did not conform to Paul's meandering style. He came up with this translation: "Therefore, a man when he praises God and when he's telling God's Word, is not to put his hat on. God made man to be like himself. Therefore my dear friends if we are in God we will be hearted like God. God made man first. Then he created woman. And God made woman for a man. And he did not make man for the woman. God made men and women to companion together."

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Many times in the course of their life's work, the Scotts felt overwhelmed with discouragement. The natural disasters took their toll; the decades of seeing no spiritual fruit began to wear on them; Gus's spiritual peaks and troughs didn't help. Scotty recalls a time when he and Marie were so discouraged, and Marie stepped outside on a starry night—the stars there adorn the night sky like Christmas lights—looked up, and prayed, "Lord, we are so discouraged. If we're really supposed to be here, I know you could cause a star to fall."

"That instant," Scotty says, "she saw a star shoot across the sky. So I went out, being equally discouraged, and did the same thing. I asked the Lord to show me a shooting star as a sign of encouragement.

"No star," he laughs. "I guess one sign was enough."

Elaine Townsend, Wycliffe founder Cameron Townsend's wife, once asked, "Scotty, have you ever felt like quitting?"

He answered, "Which time do you mean?"

Twice he asked to be replaced. "I went to the director and said, 'It's going so slowly. I think someone with a Ph.D. could come here and do a better job than I am doing.' "

But the head of the linguistic department told Scotty outright that that would be "a catastrophe."

"So I said, 'Well, Lord, I've tried to step out from this, and no one is coming to volunteer to do the translation for the Sharanahuas. The director does not want us to go. I'm just going to lay myself in your arms and trust you to give the wisdom and the strength to see this translation through.' "

During the season of awakening that broke out in 1984, as tribal members were gaining literacy, every member (save five adults) gathered every evening to study the Scriptures (Gustavo read them aloud) and pray. This lasted "eight years for sure," says Scotty, which carried the effect of tribal members becoming more "hearted like God." Facing death, the dying began to hope for living with Jesus, while family members no longer grieved with unrestrained wails or feared visiting spirits of the dead. Gustavo's sister, Yahuandi, when she was dying of cancer, told everybody, "Now I'm going to go be with Jesus. I'm going to die. When I die, I don't want you to burn the house down. Don't throw all the good things in the river. I'm going to be with Jesus, and it's much better there. It's okay to wail, but don't wail too long."

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The same can be said of their fear of darkness. "We're not terribly afraid of tigers in the jungle, because we know how to kill them," says Cusco. "But the people who do not know the Lord will not go far from their homes at night because they are too afraid of the dark. But we are not afraid. The spirits are nothing."

"Telling good" to one another has meant, Cusco adds, that "we don't lie to one another anymore." This, in turn, has diminished intratribal conflicts and jealousies. And as the men have begun to "companion together" with their wives, the beatings have dissipated, and women do not live in fear of their husbands. According to Cusco, the men no longer feel it is "necessary" to have extramarital relationships.

I noted this transformation in the faces and demeanor of the women of the tribe. The older women, in many instances, bore a wizened countenance betraying the brutal realities of their hard lives. Their cheekbones were jutted and asymmetrical, their eyes crestfallen and sad. I asked one woman if I could take her picture, and she recoiled in horror, shooing me away. She feared that if I took her picture I would steal her soul.

The younger women, on the other hand, interacted casually and freely. Their chiseled features, wide smiles, and shining eyes proclaimed—without their realizing it—that the gospel ethic had made a difference in their quality of life. They didn't fear their husbands or my pointed lens; they smiled and asked for copies.

Part two of three parts; click here to read part three.

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