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Can God understand me?

John Rentz hears the heartache of people in a remote region who can’t imagine God knows their language.

John and Rosalie Rentz have been involved in Bible translation work in the Solomon Islands for more than 30 years. John tells how he was called to this type of ministry, and why he is passionate about making the Word of God available in every language.

“I received my first Bible when I was eight years old,” said John. “My family attended church regularly and I was given the Bible as a gift from the church, but I never read it.”

At age 15, John attended a family reunion and saw a cousin who had been radically transformed by Jesus. Her faith was inspiring and he began to wonder if he could know Jesus the way she did.

“I went home, dusted off that same Bible, and began to read the Gospel of John. Through reading Scripture, I encountered Jesus and came to faith.”

John’s dream was to become a mathematician and study at Georgia Tech, but he felt called to become a pastor. He struggled with that call, but submitted to what he felt the Lord was leading him to do. He attended college and then enrolled at Asbury Theological Seminary.

“As I was reading the Bible one night, I had a vision from God,” said John. “I was reading Psalm 22, and I saw a man proclaiming the gospel on a remote island. I sensed God saying, ‘John, you belong in that picture.’

“I didn’t realize at that time that hundreds of millions of people did not have any access to the Word of God, much less in their own language.”

While at Asbury, John learned of Wycliffe Bible Translators. After graduation, he pastored a church in southern Georgia and continued to research translation work. While attending a Wycliffe training event, John met Rosalie, a beautiful Kiwi who also had a passion for translation work. The two were soon married.

John and Rosalie became acquainted with the newly forming mission agency, The Mission Society for United Methodists (which is now known as TMS Global). The Rentzes were in the first group of missionaries commissioned by the young organization in 1985. They have served jointly with Wycliffe and TMS Global ever since.

John and Rosalie moved to the Solomon Islands in 1987 and were placed on the Äiwoo language translation project. John’s vision of a man proclaiming the gospel on a remote island was being fulfilled.

“After World War II, there was a church established in every village in the Solomon Islands,” said John. “But the churches did not use the local languages of the people. Instead, they spoke in the Mota language. People had heard of Jesus and could tell you some things about Him, but many people could not understand what was being said in church because it wasn’t their language. They spoke one language in church, then their own local language everywhere else.

“My friend Edmond is a Reef Islander who was helping our team as a main translator. He was in a canoe traveling 40 miles to Santa Cruz when he was blown off course. He and a friend drifted in the open sea for six weeks. This was during World War II, so Allied planes dropped canteens of water and food supplies to the canoe, which is the only way they survived.

“Edmond told me that they prayed the entire time they were in the water. All he could remember were the first two words of the Lord’s Prayer in the Mota language—Our Father. So they said those words over and over for weeks.

“I asked Edmond why he didn’t cry out to God to save him. Why didn’t he pray something other than those two words? He responded, ‘We didn’t know the God of the Bible would understand our language.’

Because Edmond had only heard the Bible read in Mota, He did not know that he could approach God in his native tongue.

“How can you make disciples if they don’t have any access to His Word?” said John. “Surely loving God includes making His Word available to all people.”

Today, translation projects have yet to begin for more than 1,600 languages, which represent 160 million people. Wycliffe’s goal is to begin a translation work in every language by 2025.

Thanks to people devoting their careers to Bible translation work, like John and Rosalie, more people have access to the Word of God in their native language.