Why the Tarahumara Need a Bible

Posted on: 
February 17, 2021

Note. This story refers to speakers of a small dialect of the much larger Tarahumara language group.

To Hear with Their Hearts

My family has been living among the Tarahumara people of Northern Mexico for the last number of years, working as church planters. There are only a few thousand speakers of the particular dialect where we live. Most of the men, and some of the women speak some basic Spanish. Although the work has not been easy, we have seen God’s Spirit moving, and some people have believed the Word and repented from their sins.

Over the years, one of the most common prayer requests that the Tarahumaras who come to hear God’s Word on Sundays have requested, has been that God would help them to understand and learn God’s Word. So often they say that they can hardly understand it, and that after they hear it they forget it so soon. It is very difficult for them, because the only chance they have to hear God’s Word is once a week on Sunday mornings, and every message needs to be translated from Spanish into Tarahumara.

At first when we moved to the mountains we couldn’t understand any of what was translated, but slowly over time we’ve learned some of the language, and realized how much is left to be desired when the Tarahumara brothers try to translate the messages on Sundays; not because they don’t do their best, but because there are so many Biblical words and concepts that they don’t understand, and because they interpret everything through their worldview (like we all do). One day my dad was telling the story of Jesus’ triumphal entry. “And the people were shouting, hosanna! Hosanna means about the same as hallelujah,” he explained. My mom and I were horrified when we heard how it was translated: “The people were shouting at Jesus and mocking him, saying, ‘You’re a hallelujah!’” This is a simple example of how the message so easily gets misunderstood. In the Tarahumara culture, if you shout it means you’re angry. Also it is common for Christians to receive ridicule from unbelievers with the term, "You’re a hallelujah now." So when they hear the word, “Hallelujah,” the first thing that comes to their minds is something derogatory.

Once one of the brothers read 1 Cor 13:1, slowly and painstakingly stumbling over the words, "Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging symbol." And then he went on to explain, “Before we knew Christ we gathered at the Catholic temple and heard them ring the bell each week, but our hearts were never changed. We always kept on doing bad things. But now that we have heard about Jesus we have power to leave our sins and live a changed life." This was the meaning that he took out of this verse. While that is a good testimony, it is not the meaning the author intended.

So how will the Tarahumara people really be able to understand and learn God’s Word until it becomes available in their language? And for many of them, even if there was a Bible in their language, they would not be able to read it. For years we have been praying for laborers to join us in the work, and we are so excited because God raised up a team to go! They have spent years studying and preparing to be Bible translators, and are now ready to begin learning the Tarahumara language and culture. After doing some more language study myself, Lord willing, I will be working at preparing curriculum and materials for teaching literacy, so that when the Bible is available the people will be able to read it.

—Juanita B

Visit the Tarahumara Project page

  • “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” Romans 10:17
  • “Repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. And you are witness of these things.” Luke 24:47, 48
  • “Go therefore, and make disciples of all nations.” Matthew 28:19
  • “In you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” Genesis 12:3
  • “That the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, and of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ through the Gospel.” Ephesians 3:6
  • “That they all may be one; as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You, that they also may be one in Us; that the world may believe that You sent Me.” John 17:21
  • “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations’?” Mark 11:17
  • “Ask of me, and I will give You the nations for Your inheritance.” Psalm 2:8
  • “Behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes.” Revelation 7:9
  • “Finally, brethren, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may run swiftly and be glorified.” 2 Thessalonians 3:1
  • “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.” 2 Timothy 3:16
  • “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” Psalm 119:105
  • “As cold water to a weary soul, so is good news from a far country.” Proverbs 25:25
  • “More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb.” Psalm 19:10
  • “All the ends of the world shall remember and turn to the LORD, and all the families of the nations shall worship before You.” Psalm 22:27
  • “Truly, as I live, all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the LORD.” Numbers 14:21
  • “Declare His glory among the nations, His wonders among all peoples. For the LORD is great and greatly to be praised; He is to be feared above all gods.” Psalm 96:3, 4
  • “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea.” Habakkuk 2:14
  • “That all the peoples of the earth may know that the Lord is God; there is no other.” 1 Kings 8:60
  • “For from the rising of the sun, even to its going down, My name shall be great among the Gentiles; in every place incense shall be offered to My name, and a pure offering; for My name shall be great among the nations.” Malachi 1:11
  • “All nations whom You have made shall come and worship before You, O Lord, and shall glorify Your name.” Psalm 86:9
  • “For as the earth brings forth its bud, as the garden causes the things that are sown in it to spring forth, so the Lord GOD will cause righteousness and praise to spring forth before all the nations.” Isaiah 61:11
  • "Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!" Psalm 46:10
  • "This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth." 1 Timothy 2:3, 4
  • "You are worthy. . .; for You were slain, and have redeemed us to God by Your blood out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation, and have made us kings and priests to our God." Revelation 5:9, 10