Her shrill and anguished cry rang out across the valley, ‘My baby, they’ve taken my baby!’
I lay stunned on the ground for a few moments, after having being dragged out of my wheelchair. My lip was bleeding and my glasses had been knocked off my face.
I had tackled one of the two intruders and brought him to the ground as he was running past me towards the front door with our precious 14-month-old son, Timothy, in his grasp. He momentarily lost his grip on Timothy as we all fell to the ground. My wife, Julia, attempted to grab Timothy away from the ruthless kidnapper, but they wrenched baby Timothy out of her arms. He was swung upside down, his head smashing into a large clay pot. They dashed off through the garden still holding Timothy upside down like a rag doll.
Julia ran after them, shouting, ‘Give me back my baby!’ repeatedly. They overpowered her and threw her into a bamboo grove. As she struggled to her feet, they disappeared out of sight.
Our three-year-old daughter, Lisa, witnessed the event and came to help me after the men had gone. I hauled myself back onto my wheelchair. I told her that Jesus would help us to get Timothy back. A hysterical and shaken Mom appeared moments later at the door. We prayed together hurriedly. Julia found our spare set of car keys as the kidnappers had taken the others. We alerted neighbours and friends as we negotiated the slippery, rutted road to inform the police. Our phone was out of order.
Translation from wheelchair
Julia and I had been living in Malawi for five years at that stage. We were working with The Word for the World Bible Translators (WW). We had recruited and trained a team of three nationals to translate the Bible into the Sena language, which was spoken by two million people in both Malawi and Mozambique. We worked with the team on a daily basis to check the translation for accuracy. I went out to the villages to do field-testing with the team, helping to train and visit pastors and teachers to review the translation. I also prepared the manuscripts for checking by consultants in readiness for publishing.
We were experiencing life to the full! God had blessed us with two beautiful adopted children, Lisa and Timothy. Just a week prior to this horrendous kidnapping we had received the wonderful news that our adoption of Timothy would stand though his biological father had contested the adoption.
We were pursuing the call of God on our lives, even though I had been cautioned several times, ‘It just doesn’t seem possible for you to work as a missionary in a third-world country in a wheelchair. Why not work as a dentist, and send someone else!’ At 19 years old, I had broken my back in a student prank during my second year of dental studies, but, by God’s grace, four years later I managed to qualify as the first paraplegic dentist. This accident was a major spiritual turning point in my life, and God called me to do the work of Bible translation through 2 Timothy 3.16,17: ‘All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work’.
Community rallies round
God was using us to bring his Word to an entire nation! The project was running well. We were happily settled in our rented home and had made many wonderful friends in Malawi. We were just three weeks away from our final planned consultation with the Bible Society of Malawi to finalise the Sena New Testament for publishing!
But now Timothy had beem kidnapped! The friends we alerted sprang into action to help, but the police response seemed rather lethargic, and inefficient. It was amazing how the community rallied to help. People prayed, they searched around the clock in 4x4 cars and on foot for days. People were given time off work to help with the search. They poured in donations for radio and newspaper alerts. Money was donated for the printing of fliers and posters alerting the public to the kidnapping. The community also raised funds for a reward for anyone coming forward with any information of Timothy’s whereabouts. Police and civilian road blocks were set up to prevent the kidnappers taking Timothy out of the country.
On the third day!
The community effort to find Timothy was prophetically called Operation Jonah. Julia and I prayed fervently as darkness fell and the cold, soaking rain set in. We hung onto promises in God’s Word that Timothy would be returned to us. One day followed another relentlessly as false leads proved empty. The story was headline news on television and in newspapers in Malawi and South Africa, and thousands of people were praying! By the end of the second day, with no sign of Timothy, we clung on to the hope that he would be found on the third day.
Just as Jonah was spat out of the big fish after three days, little Timothy was found abandoned on a river bank in the middle of the night. He was cared for by the village chief’s wife for the night, and taken to a nearby police station the next morning. Words could never describe our relief and joy to be reunited with Timothy, dirty, dehydrated and mosquito bitten, but alive! People working together had thwarted tragedy and ushered in God’s miracle. The kidnappers had been unable to whisk him out of the country as they had planned.
Due to the emotional distress of those three days, the harassment of the press, and a continued feeling of insecurity as a family, we decided to leave the country for a period of recuperation in the UK.
Although the police seemed to be making no progress on the case and the kidnappers were still at large after three months, I strongly believed God telling me to go back to Malawi to continue with our Bible translation work, and we would see a breakthrough. Weeks after we returned, 12 of my very close friends felt led to spend a day with me to pray for justice to be done. Shortly after this, those involved in the kidnapping were arrested, brought to trial and sentenced. A major crime syndicate in the town was also broken.
A fictionalised account of the kidnapping, the community effort to search for him, and the miraculous recovery of our precious 14-month-old son has been written in the book called Operation Jonah by E. Miller. All proceeds from the sale of the book have been donated by the author to The Word for the World Bible Translators.
Romans 8.28 says God works all things together for good. Satan tried to use the kidnapping to destroy our family, and derail the Sena translation, but, by God’s grace, the kidnapping ultimately failed and our faith in God has been strengthened. We finished the entire Sena Bible in ten years. It was published by the Bible Society of Malawi, and launched in 2006 to the glory of God. We then went to Tanzania, with all the experience we had gained, and started 15 Bible translation projects over a period of five years, in partnership with another Bible agency. We handed the work over to a team of nationals we had trained and have recently relocated to the UK to help raise awareness of Bible translation and funds for WW projects.
There are still 2,200 languages today without any Scripture! WW currently has 30 Bible translation projects in Africa, one in Slovakia, and eight in India. We also have three literacy programmes in Africa. Working in partnership with other Bible agencies and financial partners, we are striving to meet the goal of starting a Bible translation project in every language with a definite translation need by 2025. Our on-the-job training results in high quality, natural translations. On completion of our training, translators receive an accredited Diploma in Bible Translation. When a team has completed its translation project, the team members are trained to co-ordinate other translation projects, creating a new wave of experienced missionary Bible translators. Let us work together to bring God’s Word to all people in their heart language.
If you would like Graham to visit your church to share about the work of The Word for the World Bible Translators, please contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the website http://www.twftw.org
To order a copy of the book Operation Jonah (recommended retail price £8.99), email email@example.com