Dick Scott is getting ready for a party that has been more than half a century in the making. The longtime Foursquare leader is due soon to mark the completion of a project he started in 1960.
That’s when he arrived in Panama, where he will return later this year to celebrate the publication of the Bible in the Emberá language spoken by the Choco Indians who live there and in neighboring Colombia. The translation project is a testimony to perseverance and prayer, finally wrapping after setbacks and delays that might have caused others to throw in the towel.
“When God gave me this assignment, I told Him I didn’t care how long it took or what price I had to pay, I would take as long as necessary,” Dick recalls. “I had no idea how long it would be!”
He lived among the Choco for more than a dozen years, without electricity for the first half of his time there. In the remote coastal part of the country inaccessible by road, the indigenous people lived in thatched huts and used dugout canoes.
Dick’s work had actually started even before he arrived in the country. He spent two years training with the Summer Institute of Linguistics, and then learned Spanish, Panama’s main language. When he connected with the Choco, the first step was to learn the sounds of Emberá, write them down phonetically and then develop an alphabet.
It was formed with 33 letters, with Dick chipping away part of one of the keys on his manual typewriter to form a needed additional symbol. Then began the painstaking work of translating the Bible, working hand-in-hand with his Choco associate, Jose Cabrera.
In some ways, the project seemed to slow when Dick returned to the U.S. in 1973 to help develop communications skills in other Foursquare missionaries. But in other ways, the work speeded up, because he gained access to computers and better communication systems.
Dick took on other assignments, including as part of the staff of Beaverton Foursquare Church in Beaverton, Ore., and at his alma mater, Life Pacific College (LPC, also called LIFE Bible College). He was president of LPC for 11 years until 2003. During his time there, he led the school in its successful pursuit of regional accreditation and the changing of its name to Life Pacific College.
These and other roles—including two other seasons serving on the Beaverton staff—were his “day job,” with the translation project continuing at night. Jose’s untimely death was another setback, but Ricardo Cabrera, Jose’s son, stepped in to pick up the baton.
Ricardo and Dick were nearing the finish line a couple of years ago when they got shocking news: Some non-indigenous individuals in Panama City had decided to make some dramatic changes to the alphabet.
“It was a real kick in the guts,” Dick says. He and Ricardo had to go back to the grueling task of changing their manuscript to align it with the revised alphabet.
Now final reviews are being finished, with a view to printing the first copies of the new Bible within a few months. There also will be an audio version available for those who cannot read.
“Getting the Bible translated and published is only the beginning,” affirms Dick, who at age 75 is still very active and only recently hung up his racquetball racket. “It’s what the Bible does for people, and about the lives that will be changed, that really matters.
“Seeing the glow on the faces of some very old Choco men and women,” he continues, “and the tears coming down their cheeks when they heard God’s Word in their own language for the very first time, is what makes an extended project like this worth it all.”