Christians in the South Pacific village gathered in their
light-blue frame church and sang two Psalms in their own language -
That Methodist service on a Sunday in August 1995 was historic.
Never before had the people of the village of Gaulim recited
Scripture in Ura. The village of grass-thatched, woven bamboo homes
is on an island off the New Guinea main island.
Until two former St. Louisans began visiting Gaulim, Ura was an
unwritten language. After six years of struggling to make an
alphabet, Ura grammar and dictionary, the St. Louisans gave the
villagers a taste of the Bible in their mother tongue. It didn't
make headlines even in the nation of Papua New Guinea. Only 1,500
people speak Ura.
"They put the two Psalms (Psalms 23 and 13) to music in just
two weeks. They were very excited," recalled translator Gary
Rosensteel, 44. "Frankly, all I could think of was how much more
(translating) we had to do."
At the Mehlville-area apartment where they are staying for
their yearlong furlough, Rosensteel and his wife, Peggy, 36, and
their two children, Lydia, 9, and Aaron, 4, talked about their
missionary adventures. So far, they've translated half of the
gospels of Matthew and Mark and the beginning of Genesis. They
guess they will spend another dozen years in Papua New Guinea
translating into Ura the rest of the New Testament and some Old
Testament selections. When they return next summer, they hope to
begin biblical translations into Mali, a closely related language
with 2,100 speakers.
Until two summers ago, the villagers' "church language" was
Kuanua, a language of former conquerors. Methodist missionaries
introduced Christianity to the villagers in that language.
Villagers don't use it anywhere else. All of its nuances are lost
to them. Most villagers attend church services every Sunday.
Without Scripture in their own language, Christianity seems remote,
Gary Rosensteel said.
"Only about 10 to 20 percent are believing Christians," he
said. Once the villagers study the Gospels in their own language,
they may understand Jesus, Peggy Rosensteel said.
"We know how the Scripture changed our life, and we wanted to
help it change other lives," her husband said.
At 12, Gary Rosensteel was baptized in a Baptist church. As a
teen, he experimented with drugs. In 1976, when he was 23 and a
college dropout drifting from job to job, he made a "radical"
conversion at a California church. He met Peggy Ewalt, who at that
time was a music student at St. Louis Community College at Meramec.
They married in June 1982 and committed their lives to
spreading the Gospels. They spent their honeymoon in a linguistic
training summer school in Seattle, got their college degrees the
following spring and then enrolled in the Summer Institute of
Linguistics in Dallas. The ecumenical, nonprofit Wycliffe Bible
Associates runs the institute, affiliated with the University of
Texas at Arlington. Gary Rosensteel got a master's degree in