In 1920, a party of six missionaries under the authority of Baptist Mid-Missions (then known as the General Council of Cooperating Baptist Missions of North America, Inc.) left for the region of French Equatorial Africa and settled in what is today the Central African Republic. If you were to read of the goals and dreams of this small group, for which they prayed and pled with the Lord to grant, you would quickly realize that several of those dreams came to the forefront and were driving forces in their ministries for the next 30-plus years.
First, they had to learn the language of the people: Sango. Second, they had to reproduce the language in written form to teach it to the people and thereby train them to do the work of the Gospel. The ultimate and ever-consuming goal for these missionaries was building the Church. And without the written Word they could not accomplish that goal. I am privileged that my grandparents, Ferd and Ina Rosenau, were two members of that original group of six. As I read through my grandfather’s notes, I quickly saw each of these goals expressed in my grandfather’s dreams and prayers. He asked the Lord to let him acquire the language so that he could lead the Sango-speaking people to the Lord and then train them in formal training schools, which would prepare them to lead the church.
I remember as a child sitting on the steps, looking in the door of the Sango Intermission Language Committee room and listening to these same missionaries month upon month, year upon year. My family was totally involved in the Sango Bible translation. However, my parents always put us children first. And Grandpa Rosenau (Ferd) always kept a focus on the children, even though the ministry of translation was all-consuming.
The translators left their homes and came to Sibut for a month at a time to work as a committee. And that required housing and feeding. My grandmother, mother, and aunt helped maintain the group’s physical needs. They would go to Bangui, the capital, and buy the supplies needed to keep the group going. Spending this amount of time working together is why these missionaries were so close. They worked hours and hours, days upon days together. Ministry responsibilities did not allow the translation work to be a consistent endeavor. There were gap years between the translation work, and yet it was completed and produced in 1965. With much excitement and rejoicing, it was placed in the hands of the church in the Central African Republic (CAR) in 1966. For the Intermission Language Committee, this brought to completion a 35-year project (1930 to 1965). The Sango Bible was used for many years and then my dad, Eugene Rosenau, and the team in CAR realized the need for a revision. But at that time, they did not have the linguists on hand to make it happen. Someone needed to coordinate the effort, so Dad, in 1980, suggested to BMM’s Africa administrator, Dr. Buck, that Baptist Mid-Missions start its own Bible society.
This became one of Baptist Mid-Missions’ driving forces, culminating in the BMM General Council’s vote to create Bibles International. Today it goes forward on a technological level that those people in the first committee would have never dreamed. Members and donors of BI need to understand that, by God’s grace, He has allowed Bibles International to become something far beyond the dreams of that small group that first began the work in French Equatorial Africa in 1930. God has been so good, in His grace, to allow men and women with brilliant minds in digital technology, linguistics, and literacy to produce numerous translations. It came about because of this core, driving philosophy about getting the Word translated into the language of the people. And it continues to be a driving force of Bibles International today. (V.L.R.)
With a deep sense of sorrow mixed with hope, Baptist Mid-Missions announced on Christmas Day, December 25, 2020, (less than two weeks after he completed this article) that Dr. Vernon Rosenau was called Home to glory after an extended battle with cancer. He served 45 years with BMM as a missionary, administrator, and president. He concludes three generations of Rosenau missionaries who invested their lives for Christ. He will be missed!
As we celebrate our 40th anniversary as a ministry, we rejoice greatly in what God did with that small band of faithful missionaries in French Equatorial Africa. Dr. Rosenau’s reflections of that time period came through the eyes of a boy whose passion for Bible translation would be inherited from the sweat and toil of those pioneer missionaries. Proofreading the text involved the painstaking process of reading every word and punctuation aloud, typing the text repeatedly with carbon copies, and starting the process all over again. We owe a great debt of gratitude to the entire Rosenau family for laying the foundation for a Bible society. Following this humble beginning, God would use three gifted men to establish what we now know as Bibles International: Paul Versluis, Henry Osborn, and Fred Carlson. Today the investment of those servants continues to bear fruit that remains. Typewriters have been replaced by computers, for we are now in the 21st
Century, and the baton continues to be passed for the glory of God. (T.F.)