Few things bring me more joy than seeing the gospel incarnated in the different cultures of our world. Each one has the potential to reveal something of the nature of God and his love. I was reminded of this recently when I read two accounts about Bible translation in Cameroon, both distributed by Bob Creson, the president of Wycliffe USA.
The first story relays the experience of Lee and his wife Tammi, who are translators among the Hdi people of Cameroon. In the Hdi language, verbs generally end in i, a, or u. But the word for love only seemed to come in two forms, dvi and dva. Why was there no dvu?
Lee asked the Hdi translation committee, which included the most influential leaders in the community, “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!” they said. “If you said that, you would have 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 say ‘dvu.’ It just doesn’t exist.”
Lee sat quietly for a while, thinking about John 3:16, and then he 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.”
The second story is that of another translator, Patricia, who shared Tammi and Lee’s story with speakers of the neighboring Mbam cluster of languages. They responded to God’s love in much the same way as the Hdi men. She then asked if it was possible to unconditionally love your wife. Like the Hdi men, they laughed. So she quoted Ephesians 5:25.
“Husbands, ‘dvu’ your wives, just as Christ ‘dvu’-d the church.”
She could almost see the thoughts swirling around in their heads. Were they really to love their wives that way? Unconditionally? No matter what the wives did or didn’t do? Impossible. Unheard of. And yet, if the God of the Bible told them to… if He had set the example in Christ…
I wanted to stand and cheer when I read these stories. Westerners like me take it for granted that husbands would love their wives. So when we read Ephesians 5:21–33, we focus on what strikes us as countercultural: the command for wives to submit to their husbands. We often don’t recognize that this passage is about mutual submission. But the Cameroonian men recognized it, because it turned their world upside-down. You can bet it did the same for the Ephesians.
Western culture can blind us to what these Cameroonians (and the Ephesians) saw so clearly in Paul’s directive for husbands to love their wives: Christlike love is profound submission. It is so complete and so pure that it compels the privileged to relinquish their power in submission to those the world despises. This is what it means to love as Christ loved us.
Watching God engage different cultures is not just a trendy exercise in diversity; it reveals something about our God. The gospel challenges every culture in unique ways, and is incarnated uniquely in each one. This holds true when it comes to God’s message of mutuality between genders, as well. We’re simultaneously moved by the gender injustices that exist in every culture and encouraged by the ways biblical equality unleashes God’s healing and reconciliation around the globe.
In this issue, authors from around the world share their stories and provide insights into biblical equality in their contexts. Their selfless devotion to Christ and their profound awareness of the transformative potential of biblical equality remind me that it’s more than an abstract concept. Biblical equality is a movement of the Holy Spirit, and it makes a tangible difference in the lives of women, men, and children around the world. Praise God!