Lee was puzzled. Almost every verb in the Hdi language could end with any of the letters i, u or a, but not the verb ‘dv-‘ meaning ‘to love’. So he asked the translation committee, “Could you ‘dvi’ your wife?”
“Yes,” they said. That would mean that the wife had been loved but the love was gone.
“Could you ‘dva’ your wife?” Lee asked.
“Yes,” they said. That kind of love depended on the wife’s actions. She would be loved as long as she remained faithful and cared for her husband well.
“Could you ‘dvu’ your wife?” Lee asked.
Everyone laughed. “Of course not! That would mean to keep loving your wife no matter what she did, even if she never got you water, never made you meals. Even if she committed adultery, you would be compelled to just keep on loving her. No, we would never ‘dvu’ our wives. It just doesn’t exist.”
Lee sat in thought for a while, and then asked, “Could God ‘dvu’ people?”
There was complete silence for three or four minutes; then tears started to trickle down the weathered faces of these elderly men. Finally they responded.
“Do you know what this would mean?” they asked. “This would mean that God kept loving us over and over, millennia after millennia, while all that time we rejected His great love. He is compelled to love us, even though we have sinned more than any people.”
One simple vowel. For centuries, that little word had been there, unused but available, grammatically correct and quite understandable. When the word was finally spoken, it called into question an entire belief system. It not only meant that unconditional love was possible, it meant that this is the type of love God felt towards them.
The New Testament in Hdi is ready to be printed now, and 29,000 people in Cameroon and Nigeria will soon be able to feel the impact of passages like Ephesians 5:25, “Husbands, ‘dvu’ your wives, just as Christ ‘dvu’-d the church.…” Pray for them as they absorb and seek to model God’s amazing, unconditional love.
This is a shortened version of a story that first appeared on Wycliffe USA’s website. To read the full version, click here.