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Gained in translation

Charlotte and Dick Griffiths (Handout)

Marriage

Gained in translation

The Griffithses overcame challenges to build a marriage in the mission field (Second in a series on long marriages)

Four years after they married in 1954, Charlotte and Dick Griffiths moved to the jungle of Indonesia to translate the Bible into the Hatam language. Living among the isolated tribe intensified normal marriage stresses but also brought them closer to each other and to God. Dick, now 90, has mild dementia, but Charlotte remembers both hard times and good times.

Difficulties came early. Charlotte had scored higher in their translation school, so at first she tried to handle the project while her husband worked on their hut and the airstrip. But the demands of caring for their home and child made her progress on the Bible painfully slow. Eventually, they realized Dick needed to take over. He made the translation his sole focus, working to get each passage perfectly right. This eased the process and a point of tension in their marriage.

When their first daughter was young, Charlotte remembers, she felt jealous of how happy the baby made Dick. She said he confronted her about this, and she saw her sin and repented. On Charlotte’s first birthday overseas, her frugal husband gave her a plastic garbage disposal instead of the perfume she wanted. She got over her disappointment by “considering what he was thinking: keeping within our budget carefully and realizing I was going to need one.”

On other occasions, she appreciated his thoughtfulness: Dick arranged for the missions plane to bring a wood stove from the Sears catalog so Charlotte could bake bread. She said, “Hatamers began dancing in our yard when, for the first time, they saw smoke going out that chimney instead of filling the house!”

The work was tedious and slow: Dick translated a Bible passage, then paused to teach it to the newly Christian natives. Meanwhile, Charlotte cared for their home and growing family. The Griffithses taught their four children to enjoy the jungle but dress up for dinner and remember their manners in case they one day returned to the United States. Charlotte remembers bonfires in the cool mountain air and the family eating homemade pizza and singing as one of the children played the guitar. On Fridays the family hosted game nights and invited the station’s other missionaries: “Our house would rock with laughter.”

But missionary life was not easy. Charlotte said she and Dick had strained communication and conflicts that forced them to keep close accounts with God and each other: “These ‘rocks’ became the things that drove us together, not apart.” The Hatam noticed: One man asked Dick to “train” his wife so they too could have a happy marriage. One woman told Charlotte, “Your husband treats you like a brother,” meaning her husband cared for and defended her as a brother would a sister in that culture.

Dick turned 70 in 1998 and had to retire, with the translation still unfinished after 42 years of work. Dick was devastated to leave his life’s work unfinished, but a Hatam pastor, Simson Dowansiba, continued the project: By 2009 the translation was done. Dick and Charlotte, back in the USA, now have four children, 15 grandchildren, and 15 great-grandchildren. One of their sons lives with them and helps Charlotte care for Dick. She says she is still learning to fight her selfishness and bring to God even routine matters like planning a menu to please both men (one raised in Asia, one in Philadelphia).

Charlotte said Dick still has a sense of humor at age 90 and loves to hold her hand. She is thankful that God preserved her marriage as she learned to be “continually going to God privately with these things that were bothering me. … I found He was my best friend.” 

—This story has been updated to clarify that Hatam pastor Simson Dowansiba led the completion of the Hatam Bible translation, and to correct when the Griffithses moved to the jungle.

Comments

  • JerryM
    Posted: Sun, 09/08/2019 06:52 am

    Thank you for this story and series.  It is encouraging to read these testimonies.  They fill a void in a culture (including church) that increasingly views our marriage unions as disposable.