Harold and Diana Green didn’t set out to become Bible translators.
Originally, Harold was studying medicine; however, as the couple began considering how they could make the deepest impact for the kingdom, they realized that getting God’s Word into the hands of a Bibleless people group needed to be their life’s mission.
And they’ve never regretted saying yes to God’s call.
In 1965, when the Greens moved to a remote part of Brazil’s Amazon basin with their two young sons, Timothy and David, they realized God had already gone before them. Although the people of the Palikúr language group were isolated, they already had traditional stories that provided a framework for them to understand the gospel.
Years before the Greens arrived to serve the Palikúr, a man named Shinuwa had appeared to be dead, turning cold on his sleeping mat. Three days later, however, he awoke with an incredible account of meeting an angel who told him that he couldn’t continue on to God without a pass. The Palikúr didn’t know what this pass might be — until the Greens translated what Jesus said in John 14:6 : “ ... I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me” (NLT).
When I talked with Diana about this and other remarkable stories from her recently released book, “Jungle Gems,” she said: “The way [God] prepared the [Palikúr] people to receive his Word was quite amazing. … Their hearts were so ready.”
Transformed by the Word
When Harold and Diana had first arrived in the Palikúr community, it was fractured by feuds and distrust. However, Diana said, “Once they found the Lord and were forgiven, they knew they had to forgive each other. … Everything changed after that.”
Verse by verse, God’s Word began to sink into the soft soil of Palikúr hearts, yielding fruit even as it took root. Diana was humbled as she watched people surrender their lives to Jesus and obey Scripture: “To see the depth of [their] understanding … made a deep impression on me,” she said. “I knew then these people had a lot to teach us.”
In “Jungle Gems,” Diana recorded many of the stories that have impacted her most, knowing that Christians all over the world could benefit from Palikúr wisdom. She shared powerful examples of faith like Paka and Anudai, a disabled couple who demonstrated gratitude and forgiveness in the face of extreme hardship. Diana also recounted the testimony of Setwel, a traditional healer who realized that a lifetime of cursing people hadn’t disqualified him from receiving God’s blessings.
Comfort in Hardship
Though beautiful, serving overseas also held challenges for the Green family. They dealt with recurrent malaria, seasons of loneliness and discouragement, and opposition from those who didn’t want them to be there. At one point the family even came close to drowning when their canoe drifted into open ocean in the middle of the night.
Diana recalled their struggles: “We almost left a couple times because it wasn’t easy, but we never really felt like we had God’s permission for that. When we prayed about it, we felt like we were supposed to stay — and we’re so glad we did.”
Harold and Diana eventually realized that they had been called to Brazil not only to take God’s Word to the Palikúr, but to be transformed by it themselves. Scripture became their anchor when they were slammed by waves of doubt. “We failed a lot of times,” Diana confessed.
Micah 6:8 became particularly meaningful as the Greens grappled with their own frailty and mistakes: “ ... The LORD has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God” (NLT).
Diana explained the freedom she found in this verse: “You don’t have to be perfect. You don’t have to do everything right. And that’s always been a comfort to me — that all God requires is that we do good, and love mercy, and walk humbly with him.”
The Lord also comforted the Greens during times of heartache. Psalm 84:5-7 changed the way Diana saw seasons of struggle and sadness: “What joy for those whose strength comes from the Lord, who have set their minds on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. When they walk through the Valley of Weeping, it will become a place of refreshing springs. The autumn rains will clothe it with blessings. They will continue to grow stronger, and each of them will appear before God in Jerusalem” (NLT).
She marveled at the fact that “there were many times of weeping — but as we look back, they were places of springs. They were pools of blessing. And we see it now, but all we could do then was trust and cling to that verse. … We will get through the valley of weeping, and it will become a place of blessing.”
The Work Continues
More than 50 years after Harold and Diana first made their home among the Palikúr, God’s work continues there.
The Greens’ son and granddaughter traveled to Brazil with Diana in September 2018 to celebrate the publication of a new edition of the Palikúr New Testament, which also includes the Psalms. The Greens are thrilled to see the growth of the Palikúr church; people have taken ownership of their faith, spreading the gospel all over the region and even into neighboring French Guiana.
Diana knows that the Palikúr share the Good News so eagerly because they understand Scripture. From the moment they had God’s Word in their language, the Palikúr have been missionaries in their own communities, as well as to other language communities.
“[This ministry] was theirs from the beginning. It was never ours. It was just God at work. We just stood back and watched him do it!” Diana proclaimed. “If you have the Word of God and you read it, you trust it, you make it a part of your own life … you are able to communicate it to others.”
Diana’s passion for Bible translation hasn’t dimmed at all over the years, and she yearns to see Scripture available in every language in the world. “There are still people groups who’ve never heard of the Lord, who don’t really know him and have no chance of hearing about him unless someone goes there, learns to speak their language, and gives them God’s Word,” she said.
As people read “Jungle Gems,” Diana prays its stories of freedom and hope motivate others to do everything they can to get translated Scripture into the hands of Bibleless groups. The Greens’ faith has been profoundly shaped by the opportunity to witness firsthand the transforming power of Scripture, and that’s a blessing Diana wants to see others experience:
“It’s just a delight to see that God’s Word in a different culture, in a different language, still touches hearts.”