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Missionary Spotlight – Pioneer work among the Afars

February 2008 | by Glenn Tainio

Pioneer work among the Afars

The Red Sea Mission Team (RSMT) is an international and interdenominational mission agency that has been partnering evangelical churches in the UK since the early 1950s. Its aim is to preach the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ to Muslims, and to establish churches among them.

The main areas of operations are around the Red Sea, but RSMT has also worked in West and North-east Africa, the Saudi peninsular and Pakistan – primarily in unreached regions with no established indigenous church.

While some of this work has a practical side (e.g. medical work and teaching English), its focus is to reach the millions of Muslims who have yet to hear of the one true God and the wonderful salvation offered through his Son Jesus Christ.

 

A missionary’s story

Dr Enid Parker served as a missionary with RSMT in Ethiopia and Eritrea, beginning in 1956. She left school at fourteen with no qualifications and worked as a domestic servant. At the start of WWII she joined the WAAF and worked in an office, and then as an anaesthetist’s assistant with Bomber Command.

After the war she was demobbed and became a teacher. She also became a Christian. Soon afterwards, at a prayer meeting, she was given a book by Len Moules which surveyed Christian work in India. The book said they didn’t have enough workers, and asked: ‘Perhaps you, reader, could go there and fill one of these places?’

They were asking for teachers. Enid had never thought of being a missionary – being in her thirties she thought she was too old. However, she wrote to missionary societies but heard nothing back. When she finally went to one society’s office to try for mission work in Tibet they said they couldn’t get visas; some people had been waiting two years.

Then she wrote to others in India, seeking to go as a teacher, but still there was no reply. Feeling called by the Lord to either Tibet or India, she was perplexed. However, a Christian colporteur she knew introduced her to the General Secretary of RSMT – and Enid soon joined the team as a teacher. That was 1955. She had been a Christian since 1951.

 

Languages

Enid Parker first spent three months in Aden while waiting for her visa for Ethiopia. She then went to Asmara as a teacher. The first thing she had to do was learn Amharic, the native language of Ethiopia. She also learned Arabic.

Visiting Thio, a fishing village on the Red Sea coast, she learned that the Afar language was not yet written. Afar is spoken in Ethiopia, Eritrea and Djibouti. The entire Afar population, numbering around three million, was either illiterate or had had to learn another language to progress with any education (usually French, Amharic or English). Most are Muslim and are poor; many are nomadic farmers.

Together with others, Enid began writing down the Afar language. They produced Bible stories and hymns in Afar. She also produced short radio programmes in Afar for broadcasting in the region. Enid continued to work on language and literacy among the Afar people and published her first Afar-English-French dictionary in 1985.

It is hard for us in the West to imagine what it means to a people to have their language written down for the first time – to have literacy materials to help them learn their language and dictionaries for translating it into other languages.

 

Awards

Recognised for her work, Enid has acquired ‘hero’ status locally, with titles like Qasa Molta (Respected Lioness!) awarded in the 1970s, and Commandeur de l’Ordre National awarded in 2003 by Ismail Omar Geulleh, President of Djibouti.

Her early reading primers included traditional tales, poems and riddles; and, to her joy, the first book ever printed in Afar was the Gospel of John.

After publication of her first dictionary, Enid began to work on an English-Afar dictionary, which was to take 21 years to complete and would include 13,500 English words with their Afar translations – and, amazingly, an example sentence for every single one (obtainable through the Dunwoody Press website: www.dunwoodypress.com). It is hoped that the new dictionary will be published locally in Ethiopia. It could also reach the business community, eleven universities, and schools in the Afar regions.

To arrange this, Enid travelled to Ethiopia last January at the age of 87 to find a suitable publisher. She plans to return from January-February 2008 to do further dictionary work. Dr Parker is one of many remarkable pioneers who have served with RSMT.

Glenn Tainio

Further information from www.rsmt.co.uk or [email protected] or 01732 885688.
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