It was 1993. I was in junior high at the time, sporting fluffy bangs, big glasses, and braces, and my main worry was navigating the crowded halls of Kirby Junior High so as to ensure a seat in class next to someone I knew. Activities at school and church consumed most of my time, but my perspective on life was quite nearsighted. I had a small awareness, of course, that people of other languages and cultures existed in the world, and that many of those people had never heard the Gospel, but that awareness had not yet touched my heart.

One evening, a young guy from my church named Jeff came to our house. My parents welcomed him into the family room, and he sat down on the couch and began to explain his dream of doing Bible translation in West Africa with an organization called Pioneer Bible Translators. I heard bits and pieces of the conversation, but I didn’t dwell much on the idea of translating the Bible beyond vaguely questioning why a person would want to go to an unknown place and live in a mud hut. Jeff shared his vision and an appropriate amount of small talk, and then he left. That event held no real significance for my nearsighted life at the time, so the evening was tucked away in my memory, almost forgotten, until a time when I could adequately appreciate its value.

Why would anyone want to go to an unknown place and live in a mud hut?!

Twenty-one years, one husband, and four kids later, I found myself packing up our household and moving overseas to do cross-cultural ministry in West Africa with Pioneer Bible Translators. Much time and space had passed since that long-ago night when Jeff had spoken of the need in West Africa, but now we found ourselves settling in a town only 2½ hours from where Jeff and his wife Laura had lived. By this time they had relocated to the States (Jeff had become Vice President of PBT), but they were diligently moving forward with the Toma translation project. Nine years later they finished translating the entire Bible — all 31,102 verses — into the Toma language.

On June 4, 2023, my life story intersected again with Jeff and Laura’s, this time in Dallas, Texas. During the opening worship service of a four-day recruitment event, Jeff and Laura were invited to the stage for an interview about this monumental goal the Lord had enabled them to achieve. They shared stories about the hard things and the joyful things, about the moments of fear and the moments of awe, about the mishaps and the miracles. At the close of the interview, Jeff called two members of the West Africa Branch leadership team to come forward so he could formally present to the branch a copy of the Toma Scriptures. Being the newest member of the leadership team, I was grossly unqualified to receive that gift. But the honor was given to me nonetheless, and in that moment I felt the weight of 27 years of dedication and perseverance compressed and hidden between the covers of that Bible.

My story intersected with theirs, ever so briefly, on both ends of the Toma project, and I remembered the question I had so many years ago when Jeff came to our home. Why, exactly, would someone want to live in a mud hut? Why would someone want to leave home, learn two different languages, and become an outsider in a new community? 

I held the answer in my hands.

Alésha Hagemeyer
Alésha Hagemeyer serves our West Africa team in the areas of recruitment and member care. She, along with her husband Steve and their four children, first went to West Africa in 2014.
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