A few weeks ago, I had the good fortune of visiting the site of John Eliot’s first and oldest mission to the native Massachusett/Algonquian people of eastern New England: the first Meetinghouse of the Praying Indians of Natick, MA. Across the street from the meetinghouse, in a tiny, but lovely little brick structure lives the Bacon Free Library, and inside the library is a precious relic from New England’s religious heritage: a second edition original of John Eliot’s Bible translation into the language of the native people of Massachusetts! It sounds a bit odd from what we know of the subsequent history and relationship between the English Puritans (along with later settlers) and the Native Americans that there was a translation made of the whole Bible into a language only spoken by a relatively small section of humanity. When I spoke to the President of the Natick Historical Society, that is what she marveled at the most: Where did Eliot get such advanced ideas of toleration and outreach to such a disadvantaged and foreign people? The miracle of Pentecost is a direct answer to this most profound question:
When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting.Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. And there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men, from every nation under heaven. And when this sound occurred, the multitude came together, and were confused, because everyone heard them speak in his own language. (Acts 2)
Each of the diverse peoples gathered on this great day in the history of the Church heard the words of life in his own native tongue. Think on this for a moment, and allow it to sink deeply into your consciousness. Of the hundreds of different languages spoken then (and even now for some of them), each native speaker heard the Gospel preached in his own vernacular. In other words, the Holy Spirit meets us right where we are in the cultural situation that we find ourselves, and missionaries like John Eliot confirm that His work of cross-cultural engagement spans all kinds of divides of time, space, and cultural milieus.
The apostolic work of Eliot’s Bible testifies to the miracle of Pentecost. And as the modern native children of those original New England tribes attempt to reclaim their language which has now been extinct for over 100 years, they have this Bible to thank for the written preservation of the same.