Translating the Good Book
Couples passion is in Ute and Bolivian work
Janice Lang Gallegos, 58, has been helping translate the Bible into the Ute language since 1986.
One can call it a family affair 26 years in the making.
Her late mother, Elizabeth Marsh, and brother, Neal Lang, previously helped with the project.
Gallegos’ brother, Wayne Marsh, 54, said he got involved because of his mother and grandfather, John Hammond Marsh, whom he described as “a strong Christian man who used to have a Bible in his hand wherever he went.”
Jack and Nola Shoemaker, 82 and 81 respectively, have facilitated the translations since 1986. The project has evolved over the years, starting with cassette tapes and DVDs, and has progressed to include video.
“We’ve handed out a couple hundred copies of Luke and Genesis” on Ute reservations in Fort Duchesne and White Mesa, Utah, along with Ignacio and Towaoc, Jack Shoemaker said. So far they’ve translated the gospels of Mark, Luke, and John, the Acts of the Apostles, Galatians, James, Revelation, and the first three chapters of Genesis.
A similar project was conducted in South America.
“We did the same type of work before in Bolivia,” he added, noting the Shoemakers first moved there in 1958. They started translating the Bible into native languages two years later.
The Shoemakers, who volunteer for Wycliffe Bible Translators, worked with 15 native tribes in Bolivia. The experience had a lasting impact.
“I still dream in that language,” Jack said, referring to “Ese ejja.” He remembers all the words.
The Ute translation project is a time-consuming effort.
Approximately once a week, the Ute translations are done at the Shoemakers’ home 13 miles north of Durango in the Baker’s Bridge area.
Jack noted that Nola grew up in Granada, located in southeast Colorado. She attended Cook Indian School of the Bible in Phoenix for several years.
One of the keys to the project is knowing the language.
“She speaks Ute fluently,” Jack said. “Nola’s an amazing lady. She writes as fast in Ute as she does in English.”
The couple travels to Towaoc each Sunday morning for worship. It’s a long drive but one worth the effort.
“They want us to come,” Jack said.
On a recent Saturday in the Shoemakers’ home surrounded by pine trees, Towaoc residents Beverly Cuthair, her daughter Arlene and son-in-law Phillip Laner Jr. showed up to help with the voice-over video recordings, as did Ernie Price Jr. Floyd and Helena Morris usually help too, but weren’t there this day.
Cuthair is a lay preacher at the Ute Mountain Presbyterian Church in Towaoc. She speaks at the bilingual Ute/English service once a month.
Cuthair enjoyed her nieces and nephews while they played, while Nola served green tomato pie with ice cream and coffee.
With joy, Jack described the Ute translation for “Holy Spirit” as “the supernatural good power which enters into those who walk with the Shepherd.”
He’s still enthusiastic about the project.
“Learning these new ways of expression, I get more excited about it as time goes by,” he said.
Jack, who was raised in Durango, reflects back on his time in Bolivia, where he did “pacification work” with jungle tribes. It was a study in patience and filled with adventure.
“I very slowly tried to win their confidence. It took 12 years to make peaceful contact (with one tribe).”
He recalled traveling in a canoe on the Beni River to meet a reclusive tribe, when the Sonene chief Pedro Machuque met him going the other way. The chief wanted to be taught how to read and write, and learn about medicine and the Creator. “He wanted his people to be delivered from fear, alcohol and anger,” said Jack, who converted the chief to Christianity, along with most of the tribe.
“We’re a missionary family,” Jack said. “Our four sons were raised in the jungles of Bolivia (in the Amazon Basin).”
After taking a break for an interview, Gallegos, Marsh and John Byrd from Wycliffe Bible Translators went back to work.
CALEB SOPTELEAN/CORTEZ JOURNAL