STOPS and STARTS
Recording in Mozabite
By a Roving Recording Team
Recording is very often not an easy task. Sometimes it is actually shocking how much spiritual opposition there can be in getting that job to the finish line.
GRN had advertised that people could sponsor an unrecorded language for a thousand dollars. An Ohio Sunday School had gone to work, babysat and held work days and bake sales, and specified that they really wanted the Mozabite language recorded. This is spoken by a Berber tribe in seven oasis towns deep in the Sahara desert. So our team flew over to France to look for them.
We found some Mozabite merchants had come over to Marseille to sell their wares. “Would you be willing to record some Christian messages in your language?” one of us asked, as we went around the marketplace looking for potential language helpers. “We would rather die than say things like that! Even if we were dying of hunger and starvation and needed the money, we would not say things like that!” we were sharply informed.
We sent word back to the Toledo church about this state of affairs. “You need to pray!” we told them. So not just the Sunday School, but the whole church,
got on their knees and had all-night prayer meetings to intercede for someone to step up to the job. Meanwhile, we made friends with an Oasis Bible study group for immigrants, recorded a few other things, and flew back to USA.
After 5 months, we received a message: There is a Mozabite believer! A young Mozabite man, “N”, had been walking down a street in Marseille, and he had heard some music floating upwards from a stairwell. He thought it sounded a little like his own kind of Berber music. It was Kabyle, sung by Christian believers also from Algeria, and it attracted him. He went down the stairs to check it out. He was greeted by two Kabyle believers who said, “Oh! You are Mozabite? We are fellow Berbers. Come, have a pretzel. Have some tea. Come in and join us.” And soon, he prayed to receive the Lord. They knew we were looking for Mozabites and sent word about this young man, N. An answer to prayer!
So, we flew back the second time to Marseille. N agreed to record some Bible stories in his language. A pastor said that he would help to translate, as our French was practically non-existent and N didn’t know any English. They came down to the basement recording center we had set up, and we got to work. We recorded the first 13 stories of the Good News program, which has 40 stories in all. Then everyone was tired and decided to call it quits for the day. (Little did we know that no matter what, this would be all we’d ever get in that language.)
What arose was a whole series of big problems. First, the pastor said to us, “I’m busy. Get someone else to help with this recording. You can get anybody to go from English to French to tell him what to say.” But it was not that easy to find “anybody” who was a Christian, who knew English and French well, and who had time available to help with the recording.
In the marketplace, we found a Mozabite who said he would help us back-check the messages. He did indeed listen, and said it was all good, except that the speaker had made “one big mistake.” At the very end of story 13, when Jesus was born, it said that He was the Son of God. Now, that was clearly not correct, thought this Muslim. We suggested “repairing” that by referring back to the story about Isaac, “who was born by a miracle.” He thought, hmmm, maybe that would fix it. “Who made this recording?” he asked. We said, “We aren’t going to say,
because he doesn’t want to become famous.” We asked him if he could tell which of the seven cities of the desert the anonymous speaker was from. He wasn’t sure. He guessed at one, which was wrong — we were glad that N’s identity was safe. “Would you like to also be a speaker on this recording?” “Well, I don’t want to become famous either” he said, politely declining the offer.
We received an invitation to lunch by a Mozabite woman, a friend of a friend. In Algeria, she would have had to wear a long white robe with one hole in it,
so only one eye could see out. But in Marseille, she could wear normal Western clothes – and so could our team members! On a small coffee table, she put a large bowl of soup, and handed out some soup spoons. Chairs were placed around the small, short table. We shared the soup by simply all dipping into it.
After lunch, we played the Mozabite recording for her. She thought it was fine, and very interesting, but it seemed to be cut off. (It ended with the Christmas story, the point at which we had finished recording with N.) So, she said, the Baby was born, and that’s the end of the story? We told her that it seemed that we could tell more of the story of what Jesus did (beyond picture 13 of the Good News program) if we switched languages, since we didn’t have any more Mozabite recorded. Which would be better, Algerian Arabic, or French? She decided that Algerian Arabic would be better. Our Kabyle language helper agreed. (And that is how you can hear it on the 5fish website to this day, the Good News begun in Mozabite, but finished off with Arabic).
(Up to here is contained in an article of the same name in the Autumn 2023 Alert. The rest is a continuation of the story.)
We still tried to make some appointments with N. We went to where he was working at the market, and tried to give him a small gift of money. That was a big mistake. He came to the house where we were staying and had a talk with us via the folks we were staying with. (We still couldn’t talk to him directly, not having a common language.) They helped him to explain how he was very affronted by our trying to give him some money. Americans, he felt, thought that they could “buy” anything and anyone! He was either going to do this recording for God, or not at all. Our hosts tried to calm him down and explain that we were only trying to be helpful and friendly, not to buy him or even pay him. Later, our Kabyle friends explained that the Mozabites are very proud, not like the Kabyles, who would accept a gift offered in friendship and not be offended. We found out that the Mozabite form of Islam contends that they, the Mozabites, are the “chosen people” of God, and no other people groups were as spiritually privileged as they were.
Five different men promised me that they would disciple N, and with this our second trip came to an end.
Some months later we went back to Marseille on yet a third trip. Long ago we had used up the $1000 that the Toledo Sunday School had provided to record this unreached language. People who had housed us before were now in the USA, but their daughter was still in Marseille, so we went to stay there with her and see if we could get any more recording out of N.
We found out that every one of the five men who been willing to disciple N, had had something major happen to him which stopped him from being able to disciple N. One had broken his leg in a severe way, and could not walk or even leave his room. Another’s mother died in the States, and then he was called into the military! The other 3 all had similar big problems prevent them from keeping their promise.
Then, there was a terrible earthquake in Algeria. More than 2,000 people died, and 200,000 were left homeless. More than 1,200 buildings were destroyed. A week later there was a severe aftershock as well. Men who had been helping us and who were still able-bodied left Marseille and went over to help out international teams of relief workers. Many people needed food, water, temporary shelter and all kinds of rescue and aid, and the Algerian government seemed helpless to do anything.
One result for us was that Muslim brothers of N came over to Marseille to stay with him. Soon they formed themselves into a bodyguard to keep him away from any Frenchmen or Christians, and make sure he dutifully went to the mosque at the appropriate times. Access to him became much more difficult.
Then, the whole city seemed to go on strike. Schools, airlines, refuse collection – all these things ground to a halt. There were huge piles of garbage mounting up on every street; bus drivers joined the general strike, and personal cars could not get through the intersections. The city was gridlocked. The only place to survive the stench, it seemed, was the beach. The best thing to do was attempt to get there on the limited subway lines, and then stay there all day, if possible, because there, you could breathe. We couldn’t make any appointments with N, and even if we could, he couldn’t arrive at a place at a set time.
Two Christian believers tried to help us out by getting Mozabites they knew to do some translation, for the sake of their friendship. But as Mozabite is an unwritten language, it was every man for himself when it came to what alphabet to use or how to spell words. And soon, these good-natured Mozabite friends quit, without producing anything.
One of us even tried her hand at translating a French message into Mozabite with the help of an old manuscript as guide. Eventually we had what we thought might be the next stories in the Good News, written down. We took this poor effort and our Kabyle Berber language helper to Omar, a Mozabite who worked downtown in a shop. Our Kabyle friend attempted to read the first story to Omar. Omar was horrified. “Stop, stop! Don’t ruin my language like that! I can’t take it! For the sake of my language, I will try to translate these stories for you!” So Omar took the real script in French, and said he would give it his best shot to translate it for us. But before he could actually do that, it would be time for us to leave France for the third time. We asked Omar to give his translation to a friend of ours. We never received that, either.
N got over some of his emotional and logistic problems, and the city began to get back to normal. Since he was now happy with us, we set up a date to resume the recording! But the very next day, there was some shocking news. The French gendarmes had swooped in and grabbed him. They took away his cell phone and hid him in jail somewhere in the city where no one could find him to help him. Then, they put him on a boat and repatriated him to Algeria. He disappeared somewhere in that vast desert. We lost him.
Our Kabyle friends, who had led N to the Lord, told us, “Give us the script, and we will go in there and find N, and take him somewhere safe, and finish the recording!” But despite their best intentions, that didn’t happen, either. The recording, such as it is, is up on the GRN website, where you can listen to it, still finished with Algerian Arabic; and the mysterious N is “not too famous.” In fact, he is lost to the outside world, somewhere in the remote vastness of the Sahara. We all hope that he still keeps his new faith, although pressured by many family members of the “chosen people.” He himself became part of the NEW chosen people, a royal priesthood, with a new family in Christ. Someday, in Heaven, we should see him again, and be able to keep that appointment. Then he can tell us in Mozabite what happened to Jesus when He grew up!