Why Have You Come? | Wycliffe Bible Translators

Why Have You Come?

  • July 28, 2017

Originally published in the 1955 issue of “Translation” magazine, this poem by William Atherton captures the emotions of a Bible translator and his relationship with a local man who wants to know why the translator has come.

Why have you come?
  • Low burned the candle in the room
    • As o’er the table bent the scribe,
  • Intently working on a book,
    • In language strange — a pagan tribe.

  • But now a stranger entered in.
    • The writer rose to greet his guest,
  • And after usual pleasantries,
    • The stranger said with marked int’rest,
  • “Pray tell me, friend, just why it is
    • You’ve left your home and friends and land
  • To journey to this far-off place
    • Of mountains, jungles, rocks and sand
  • To live among a people strange,
    • Whose ways and words are stranger still.
  • These things I cannot understand,
    • Nor think I that I ever will.
  • Each day, along with daily food,
    • You get your share of sneers and jeers;
  • You’re ridiculed, misunderstood,
    • And oftentimes reduced to tears.

  • “And these things my own eyes behold —
    • I little know your soul’s deep pains
  • Occasioned by a thousandfold
    • Daily troubles, hurts and strains,
  • And you, I fear, would have to say,
    • (If all the truth would really out),
  • That numbered up among your foes
    • Are cruel discouragement and doubt.

  • “Now, even I plainly see
    • That fame or gain is not your goal;
  • Their paths are far from here.”
    • He smiled. The thought seemed somewhat droll.
  • “And midst it all, with single eye,
    • You hourly, daily toil away
  • On that strange book on yonder desk.
    • Why then or why is this, I say?”
  • The stranger ceased. He’d had his say.
    • He settled back for the reply.

  • The scribe, with mounting pleasure, said:
    • “Good friend, I’ll gladly tell you why.
  • ‘Tis true, ‘tis true, each word you’ve said.
    • And more, much more than that beside;
  • But ere I traveled to this place,
    • I knew that oft I would be tried —
  • (Though I’ll confess I never dreamt
    • The Master’s lessons were so steep
  • That I scarce knew the alphabet.
    • E’en now the thought fair makes me weep).
  • But, as I say, your words are true,
    • And there’s no use them to deny.
  • Nor to refute, nor answer back;
    • I understand the ‘what and why.’
  • But to your questions let us turn.”
    • At this with loving hands he took
  • His work from off the desk and said:
    • “The answer’s found right here — this Book.
  • Look! Look! Here’s the Word of Life,
    • No longer in a foreign tongue,
  • But in the old familiar words
    • Used by these people old and young.
  • So jests, or sneers, or rage mean
    • Nought when daily grows this sacred Tome.
  • Each line, each page so richly wrought
    • With golden threads of help from home.
  • And you must know that for each foe,
    • Ten friends have I my heart to cheer,
  • And prayer and love from them rise up
    • To guard my soul from pain and fear.
  • “And best of all, my Saviour’s here —
    • Companion on life’s rugged way.
  • So ‘tis no wonder, my dear friend,
    • That I am willing here to stay.

  • “Then, some day, when this Book’s complete,
    • I’ll bring it as an offering,
  • As when the wise men came of old
    • And paid to him their homage deep,
  • With rich, rare gifts; and shepherds too,
    • In awesome reverence brought a sheep.
  • I know not how those gifts were used.
    • Nor do I ask. Our King is wise;
  • And each gift finds its proper use
    • To lead men to the heavenly prize.

  • “And so ‘twill be with this, my gift.
    • He’ll take it, bless it, give it wings
  • To reach and make these far-off folk
    • Glad subjects of the King of Kings.
  • Then I will sing on the glad day,
    • When round His Throne the saints do stand;
  • For I will greet those who rejoiced
    • To have this Book placed in their hand.”

  • The weary lines which etched his face,
    • To happiness had given place,
  • And ere the scribe had stopped his speech,
    • Bright tears of joy, streamed down his face.
  • The candle glowed, the room grew still.
    • The stranger rose and clasped his hand.
  • “My thanks, kind friend, for telling me.
    • The Book! God’s Book! I understand!”
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