Many of you know retired Wycliffe missionaries Lee and Lynne Henriksen. Lee is the gray-bearded guy who comes down after the first service to Grace Café, wearing a huge grin, and greets everyone energetically. Most of us know that Lee and Lynne served in Ecuador and Colombia for 40 years, raising five children and translating the Bible into the Awa language. But when I invited Lee to share his story with a group of 7th to 10th grade students at our home school co-op, I learned so much more.
Although the family lived on a main road into the mountains, they frequently made the two-day hike inland to visit with the Awa, crossing perilous rope bridges and eating guinea pig, anteaters, and tapir. Lee shared that the one thing he could not bring himself to eat were the large caterpillar larva! (His daughter said she bit off the head first so it couldn’t climb its way back up her throat.)
One of their most challenging trials was when their son Nathan became gravely ill with croup. They could not risk moving him at night on the long trek to a hospital in the city. Lee remembers leaving the room, completely helpless. In moments like that, he was forced to trust God no matter the outcome.
Thankfully, the Lord used Lynne’s nursing skills and their son recovered. They also had to learn cultural modes of communication among the Awa. For example, they do not greet one another face to face but talk side to side. Their hand motion for ‘come’ looks like our motion for ‘go away.’ Lee’s enthusiasm for understanding and communicating with people for the sake of Christ shone brightly to the students.
The Henriksen’s primary goal was to learn the Awa language, develop a written alphabet, teach the people to read, and translate the Bible. Lee passed around copies of the Bible in Greek, Spanish, Awa, and Dutch to give the kids a feel for the difficulty of reading it when you have never had lessons in reading. He also shared copies of the primer they developed to teach children, parents, and grandparents how to read their own language. The complexities of the language impacted the Bible translation as Lee learned that different verbs are used for going into a boat versus going into a house.
The Henriksens were able to complete the New Testament in Awa and rejoice to know that the church among the Awa continues to grow. Lee himself was raised by parents who had no high school education, so he encouraged the home school students to study as much as they could. “You never know how God will use you, so be prepared!” he urged. Despite a status of “retired,” Lee and Lynne continue to encourage the next generation for Christ.