Monday, May 30, 2011

Thank God for Mary Siemens & the Wycliffe Bible Translaters. We praise God, the Dogrib People now have the Word of God in their own language.


Saturday, May 18, 2002 7:40 AM
Dear Max Solbrekken

I hope the enclosed story will capture the interest of your readers. We will be sending you a picture or to as soon as possible this week.

I would like to ask your readers to participate in our anticipation of the publication of the Dogrib Language New Testament later this year. It will be the fulfillment of so many years of work. The program coordinator has been working on it here in the north since the mid 1980's. And, he was the fourth Wycliffe program leader to work on it.

When we met in your office some time ago, you prayed for my chronic headaches that I suffered so long with. I have been healed of them.  I used to get a headache a week, but rarely, if ever get debilitating headaches since then.

Praise God, for our meeting. I hope we can be of service again.

I look forward to hearing from you.
Thank you,
David Siemens

Hand Made for God's Purpose

In the Northwest Territories of Canada's northwestern arctic there are four native languages spoken, Chipweyan, Slavey, Gwichin and Dogrib. The New Testament in the Dogrib language will be published this year. It will be the fulfillment of a goal envisioned nearly fifty years ago. The story of the Dogrib New Testament translation project is of an epic proportion, but the task was done by individually chosen people, one of who was Mary Mackenzie a native woman converted under Max Solbrekken's ministry in 1973. Mary's story reflects God's preparation of a translator for His purpose of bringing the gospel to the Dogrib people. Both tragedy and blessing contributed to her becoming a foremost translator in her language.

 Mary was born the third child of a devout Catholic couple in Fort Rae on the northern shore of Great Slave Lake in 1946. Tragically, Mary was diagnosed with TB of the spine at age two. Though many northern natives had TB, Mary's illness was especially shattering, for both of Mary's elder sisters had already died of whooping cough. The thought of also losing Mary to disease led the Mackenzie's to take the necessary but sacrificial step of sending Mary to Edmonton for treatment. At that time the sacrifice meant committing your child in such need of love and help, to strangers of a different culture and language with the knowledge that you might never see your child again. Mary left Fort Rae by plane in November of 1949, a child of age three unable to walk, but well along in her childhood understanding of her first language, the native Dogrib tongue.

Eventually, Mary was taken to Edmonton to the Charles Camsell hospital where life and death depended for so many northern natives upon their adaptation to the routines and methods of hospital life. Mary remained there for four years and survived extensive surgery of the spine and prolonged inactivity in a body cast. Much of what she endured there is lost to her childhood memory because of the days spent in inactivity and pain. What she lost of her childhood was gain for her character, which as in many who have endured much suffering, is not easily shaken by adversity and disappointment.

 Mary returned to the north in October of 1955 at age nine now able to speak English—another 'first' language, her infant Dogrib all but forgotten. Her re-education into the Dogrib language and society was just beginning. Her family now included two younger brothers and a sister. The return of Mary into the family was accompanied by many adjustments, and quickly relearning the Dogrib language was not an option. Only Dogrib was spoken in the home and at play. Mary's health returned. She became a fluent Dogrib speaker in her native community and later a fluent English speaker through residential school and high school.

During her adult years Mary sought peace and understanding that could not be found in the continual round of rituals and sacraments of the Catholic Church. At the age of twenty-seven in Yellowknife Mary was witnessed to by a local youth group, then was attracted to the example of local Christian missionaries and finally led to faith through a campaign of Mr. Solbrekken in Yellowknife in 1973.  At this campaign Mary came forward to Max's promise that all of the answers to her needs would be found within the Bible. Years of disillusionment with Catholicism made this an attractive promise. That conversion would have a great impact on the translation of the scriptures into Dogrib.

As a newly converted Christian in Yellowknife early language workers quickly recognized her talent. Having learned both Dogrib and English (actually, Dogrib twice) meant that she was a 'natural' at translation work. Through the encouragement of godly men and women Mary was encouraged to make the academic journey to professional language studies, which included learning to write and read a previously unwritten language.

Traditional native speakers can still discern a hint of the struggle it took Mary to learn to communicate perfectly in Dogrib—a struggle that fed her determination. Mary took English as a Second Language courses at college in Fort Smith NWT and later, linguistics studies with an eminent teacher in that field from the University of Victoria, B.C. By 1989, the time that the Dogrib Bible Translation Project was well under way, Mary was a full time translator for the Regional Dogrib School Board based in Rae. She was seconded to the Wycliffe Bible Translation Committee working under Jacob Feenstra for the Bible Translation Project. The Education Department recognized the importance of the translation work to education and to the Dogrib community at large. Mary continues in the exciting final stages of the translation project to today.

God used the tragedy of TB and the adversity of leaving home at age three to create in Mary an instrument for his purpose of bringing the scriptures to another corner of the world. Through the determination to reenter the life of her family and her tribe, she regained her lost identity and sense of belonging. Having been introduced to the love of Christ, Mary's love for her people brings the hope to her work that it will change lives. Please pray that the Lord will use the Dogrib Bible to bring salvation to the Dogrib people.

I hope this testimony to God's hand in Mary's life will be my way of saying thanks to Max Solbrekken for his part in the life of my wife. Mary, now Mary Siemens is married to David Siemens and has two grown children, Corrie and Peter.  She lives near Rae where she was born and she works in Yellowknife.

The Dogrib people inhabit an area northeast of the Great Slave Lake, one of the largest lakes in the world. The Dogrib area of activities is bordered on the north by the Inuit of the Arctic coast and to the west by the Slavey Dene (People) of the Mackenzie River. It is a vast region of the Canadian Shield geology that encompasses great mineral wealth, specifically diamonds and gold, but the Dogrib are a relatively small people group—comprising only some five thousand people.

The Dogrib people have successfully faced many challenges in their tenacious hold on existence through the centuries. The rugged land is traversable only by water in summer and by ice routes in winter. Snow covered winter extends from mid October until May. God in His Providence has led these people here and sustained them, providing them with food in the abundant caribou, fish and waterfowl and with protection from former enemies in their remote geographic fortress.

Modern challenges, while promising great wealth, threaten individual Dogrib's personal sense of worth that only the rebirth of a new identity in Christ can provide. The translation of the scriptures into their native language will provide a cornerstone to their culture and will be an unshakable personal shelter for those native people who are journeying through the storms of life to God's eternal shore.