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Radio is playing a ‘huge’ role in establishing new churches

A new translation of the Bible is being undertaken for the Totonac Indians of Mexico.

The Totonac Bible translators at work

This news was revealed to the ASSIST News Service by Dr. Dale Kietman, founder of Latin American Indian Ministries (http://www.laim.org), who explained that the translation is being undertaken for the Totonac people in Tepetsintla and the surrounding area.

“They speak another dialect of Totonac, and can only understand the current translation with great difficulty. There are believers among them, but they are anxious to have the Scriptures in their mother tongue,” he said.

“Two men from Tepetsintla, Pablo and Roberto, were in the translation workshop held in La Union. Eddie, a high school student, joined the team while he was on break. He seems to have the ability to put himself in the reader’s shoes and troubleshoot what might not be understood.

“This makes him great for checking the understanding of passages. The other mature men often marvel at the accuracy of his comments about the translation. Pray for his salvation, and that he would continue to help when he can.”

The work among this tribe is now being spearheaded by Totonac Christian leader, Felipe Ramos who is continuing the work that began in 1972 as the Totonac Bible Center, Inc.

Felipe Ramos during a Totonac radio broadcast

Ramos said recently that radio plays a huge role in reaching out to his people in remote areas and has contributed to the growth of new churches. He said that, “in every Totonac village, they played the program at highest volume,” both out of pride that such a language program was on the air, and also so everyone could hear. Now the almost weekly appearance of a new group gathering for Bible study has shifted the emphasis once again to training leaders for the new congregations.”

Dr. Kietzman went on to say, “Reports from the Totonac work continue to be very encouraging. New believers are added daily; new groups seem to begin every week or two. The radio ministry has been very effective in reaching into some pretty isolated places. Pastors Felipe and Silvestre and their colleagues are kept busy traveling the trails to get to all of these places.

“Pray also that the Gospel of Luke will be ready to be recorded and distributed by the end of this year. That is the goal they have set.”

Manuel Arenas pictured in La Union, Mexico
(Photo: Dan Wooding)

The original founder of this work among the Totonacs was Manuel Arenas, a brilliant young man who began work in 1972 as the Totonac Bible Center, Inc. At that time, its primary goal was to support the work of Arenas, who was the principal translation helper for Herman P. Aschmann in his early translation efforts among the Highland Totonac people. (Mr. Aschmann died on February 18th, 2008 – his 94th birthday– at the Life Care Center in Longmont, Colorado, due to complications from pneumonia.)

After having gained an excellent education in the United States and Germany, Manuel determined to establish a school among his own people. He recruited Felipe Ramos, another Totonac in seminary at the time, to help him begin the project. The Centro Cultural Pro-Totonaco in La Union, Puebla, is a witness to his vision.

Over the years, Manuel tried in various ways to expand his vision to all the tribal groups of Mexico. He organized three different consultations of Christian leaders from other tribes. The first was held at the Totonac Center, the others in the states of Oaxaca and Chiapas, as he wanted to attract more of the pastors from those areas. He also opened his school to students from other tribes.

After Manuel’s death in 1992, Dr. Kietzman, a former head of the U.S. branch of Wycliffe Bible Translators, became president of the Totonac Bible Center board in the United States. Increasingly, the support activity focused on other tribes, following Manuel’s vision. As a consequence, in 1996, the Board voted to change the name of the corporation to Latin American Indian Ministries (LAIM).

Note: The Totonac Culture was a rival city state to the Aztecs, who had ruled most of what is now Veracruz in Mexico before the Aztecs conquered them about 25 years before the Spanish conquistador Cortés landed in AD 1516. The capital city of the Totonac culture was at Zempoala, and at the time of the Spanish arrival, they numbered about 100,000 people. In 1980 there were 185,836 Totonac speaking people, 117,533 in Veracruz and 63,303 in Puebla.

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