A tribute to the life and devotion of Shirley Chapman who spent more than thirty years with a remote indigenous group of people in the Amazon jungle. Shirley followed God’s call to live and work with the Paumarí people, learning their unwritten language, devising a way to write it, teaching them to read and then working to translate the scriptures for them.
It also honours the partnership with Mary Ann Odmark who worked with Shirley for many years, and Meinke Salzer who joined them in 1976 and who, with Shirley, saw it to its completion.
Many other people around the world have dedicated their life’s work to the translation of the scriptures. Countless others still do. We honour them all.
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As the single engine Norseman flew over the tree tops, Shirley gazed out of the window. Mary Ann was sitting beside her, and every so often they exchanged a few words or pointed out something interesting, but it was hard to talk over the noise of the engine. In any case, the view was mostly of tree tops from the thick jungle below them.
From time to time they caught sight of the Purus River. Although not so well known as the mighty Amazon, it is one of the most winding rivers in the world, with loop after loop meandering through the jungle. When it came into view through the thick canopy of foliage, the sun reflected off the water like diamonds on a tiara. Just occasionally they caught sight of a wisp of smoke as it lazily curled skywards from an isolated settlement.
It was a five hour flight from Manaus, and there was plenty of time to reflect. Shirley’s mind had been so full of shopping lists for this first session in the village and she wondered, for the umpteenth time, if she had forgotten anything important. She reflected on others who had made similar journeys. Her mind went back to the group who had ventured into Auca territory in Ecuador less than ten years previously, full of vision and enthusiasm just like she was now. But within days, five of them had been killed on the beach there in the village. She thought of the Auca lady she had met back in Sulphur Springs, and wondered where Dayuma was now.
Her thoughts went back to particular moments of her own surrender to God. Each one had been a powerful experience, but what did the future hold for her now among the Paumarí? How would they react to two single white women coming to live among them? There was no way of knowing.