Friday, April 1, 2011

She shines: one woman in Nigeria

*Every so often, I'll post "she shines" stories, featuring one woman God is using in His kingdom.*

Last night, Wycliffe Bible translator Rachelle Wenger blew me away. She rushed into our class with some of her Mennonite family members in tow--in a skirt, with a beautiful scarf wrapped around her hair as a head covering and a face that radiated joy.

In a class of 25 people, you could have heard a pin drop.

Rachelle is in white at the front of the photo. (
Rachelle explained that she is a 35-year-old missionary in Nigeria, where she ministers to the nomadic Fulani people, who are mainly Muslim. Her main work? Translating the Old Testament from Hebrew into the Fulani language. To accomplish this feat, she trained with Wycliffe and learned the Fulani language, but she also attended Hebrew University in Israel where she learned to speak and write fluent Hebrew. She also happens to know Greek--but only to write it, not to speak it fluently. And she says everyone should apply themselves to learn the biblical languages.

Her talk was colored with stories of tricky translation issues, with the joy of seeing some elements of the Old Testament culture firsthand in Nigeria, and with the adventure of engaging two Fulani to help her in translation efforts.

Many times she is the only Westerner in her area, but when asked if she ever feels isolated, she said no. The Fulani have loved and accepted her so well, although she is different, that she feels peace and joy in her work. I got the feeling Rachelle was born for this.

When I approached her afterward to thank her and to tell her how she shines with God's love, I mentioned that I knew very few women who are interested in studying biblical languages, and she seemed surprised. I mentioned that we need more women to learn them and to offer their unique perspectives on biblical scholarship, and she was unfazed. "Everyone should do this," she said. "Man or woman."

You can't fit Rachelle Wenger into a box or a category. I won't even try. But you can see her mind and her heart are wrapped up in a glorious calling that only the God of the universe could have prepared her for. Now I am happy to say I know a female Hebrew scholar, who resides in West Africa, with a calling that cannot be questioned.

Do you feel it's important to learn the biblical languages? In your opinion, what keeps many women (and men) from attempting this?


  1. Yes, I do feel it's important. In my opinion, we don't attempt to learn biblical languages because it's hard work, and our global culture says that English should be enough. I think our North American perspective is particularly isolated as compared to a European perspective where languages abound and are learned and respected; it's an issue of values in this respect. It's difficult, too, to convince those who view "women's ministries" in terms of pedicures and chocolates that diligent academic work is within their capabilities! As a 54-yr-old woman who is also in seminary, working on a Masters, I know that I am often asked, "what in the world are you doing that for?" I grieve the lack of anticipation, of the sense of adventure, of the wanting to live life to the fullest that I seem to be faced with in other women my own age.

  2. @Brenda - I am with you, sister. Although my theology degree does not require languages, I am starting to wonder if I should push myself to pursue them. Very arrogant of us to think we understand the Bible without any thought to the nuances of the culture or languages in which it was written.

    I don't know you, but I get the feeling that you don't lack any of the anticipation and *abundant life* you miss in others your age. May God bless you as His Spirit flows through in seminary and beyond. Please come back and try to win the book "Half the Church" next Wednesday. I'd be tickled if someone like you nabbed it!