Missionary nurse and Bible translator served in Ethiopia for more than five decades
by Tammy Warren | Presbyterian News Service
LOUISVILLE — Marie “Breezy” Lusted, a Presbyterian mission co-worker and long-term volunteer, served as a nurse and Bible translator in Ethiopia for 56 years. She passed away in North Carolina on Oct. 29 at the age of 85. Her sisters, Ruth and Anita, a niece, Cindy, and a close friend were at her bedside. They said she regained consciousness briefly and said, “I’m ready to go.”
“We, as the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus (EECMY) — Bethel Synods, have many memories working with Marie Lusted for many decades in the mission field of God. Our church history remembers the sacrificial commitment she had rendered for our community, especially for our Anywaa people,” said the Rev. Teferi Berkessa, coordinator of the EECMY-Bethel Synods.
Mission co-workers Niles and Ann Reimer along with Anywaa translators, labored alongside Lusted, in Ethiopia for nearly 40 years as they painstakingly translated the entire Old Testament for the Anywaa people (formerly Anuak) who live along the western Ethiopia-South Sudan border. The Old Testament translation project, which was under the EECMY, began in the ’70s and was officially completed and celebrated at a two-day dedication service in Gambella in 2012.
Of Lusted, Niles said, “She was a lamp lit by her Lord, a light that continued to burn brightly even during the last six or seven years, in which she suffered continual severe pain and was hit hard by other medical problems.”
“Breezy, Niles and Ann had other assignments, but all had an interest in translating and the ability to do so,” mission co-worker Rachel Weller wrote in 2013. “Obstacles seemed to repeatedly attempt to halt the work, language helpers moving on in life and even death, a country revolution, a revolt against the revolution. Added to these were technical difficulties such as learning the newest thing in communication: how to work a computer — in a time when chips, disks and mice were most likely to be dipped, slipped and trapped!”
The translation work started with notebooks and pencils, progressed to personal computers and was finally completed by Skype with four translators working from two time zones in the U.S. and two locations in Ethiopia.
“These missionaries and Anywaa translators were persistent, and God blessed the work, allowing them to enjoy the satisfaction of a job well done,” Weller said.
Their work was preceded by the work of the visionary missionary and Bible translator Harvey Hoekstra who completed a translation of the New Testament in Sudan in 1961. This New Testament was then transliterated by Jim Keefer and Anywaa typesetters into Amharic script, as required by the Ethiopian government. Lusted helped proofread the text as it was being typeset. Years later when church leaders started asking about the “rest of the Bible,” the mission worker who had led the translation of the New Testament had gone on to another assignment. When no one else stepped forward, Lusted said, “Well, maybe I could do that.”
The dedication of the Bible was viewed as a sort of birth, giving the Anywaa people clearer exposure to the stories of God in the whole Bible in their language, Weller said.
Lusted, known to the Anywaa people as Nyajaak, a name she loved, was unable to travel to the dedication for health reasons, but she gave greetings in the Anywaa language via Skype. Niles, known among the Anywaa as Okwomchor, attended with his wife, Ann, called Nyodier in Anywaa. Ann passed away in August 2016 at the age of 85.
Retired PC(USA) mission co-worker the Rev. Dr. Carolyn Weber, who served in Ethiopia 2010–2015, wrote about the contribution of the Bible translation project, calling it “Life-giving words.” She said Anywaa people around the world — from Canada to Australia to America to Germany to South Sudan — had eagerly awaited the arrival of the complete Christian Bible in their language.
“For those of us who speak majority languages, it may be difficult to understand the importance of hearing and reading the Holy Scriptures in one’s native tongue, one’s heart language,” Weber wrote. “Many persons around the world are unable to believe that Jesus’ salvation extends to them or that they are worthy of receiving healing — when they only hear the Scriptures in someone else’s language — English or Spanish or Russian or Chinese. Thanks be to God for the long years of translation and proofreading that Christians have dedicated their lives to so that people may receive these life-giving words and know that God is speaking to them in their own language.”
In the ’60s, Lusted served as a nurse at a clinic in Pokwo, the Village of Life, in Gambella, a mission station established by legendary Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) missionary the Rev. W. Don McClure, who was killed by armed bandits in 1977, just days before he was to end his mission service. Like McClure, who was the first missionary to the Anywaa, Lusted was just 23 years old when she arrived to begin mission service in Ethiopia in 1955.
It was during Lusted’s time at the clinic that a woman came in and handed her a newborn infant who had nearly been buried alive after the baby’s mom had died during childbirth. Lusted found a home for the baby, Ariet, with a woman whose five children had also died at birth, a woman who valued education.
Ariet Omon, who was literally rescued from the grave with Lusted’s help, grew up and immigrated to the U.S. to Spokane, Washington. She had a chance to get married, earn a college degree in international affairs and raise two daughters of her own who are now in their 20s. This child, who would have been covered over with dirt and gravel in a living burial, co-founded the Anyuak Meer (Love) Ministry at her home church, First Presbyterian Church of Spokane, to assist Anywaa widows and orphans who are victims of genocide, HIV/AIDS and poverty. Ariet’s youngest daughter also won a citizenship award at age 12 for her work in supporting relief efforts for the Anywaa people living in war-torn southwestern Ethiopia and along the border with South Sudan.
Lusted’s legacy continues in and through many people.
“Words cannot express what Breezy has meant to me and to everyone,” Weber said. “The Lord wove her life together with all of our lives to make visible the deep love God has for each one and also the great compassion and healing and love and light of Jesus Christ that shone through her every moment on this earth. We give God all praise, glory and thanksgiving for Breezy’s life, dedication and for making those connections between us all!”
Lusted was born in Wisconsin and grew up in Washington, D.C. She received her degree as a registered nurse from West Suburban Hospital in Oak Park, Illinois, and a bachelor of science degree in nursing from Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois. She studied the Amharic language for a year and later completed a six-week Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL) course at Gordon College in Wenham, Massachusetts.
A memorial service will be held for Marie “Breezy” Lusted at Fort Lincoln Funeral Home, 3401 Bladensburg Road in Brentwood, Maryland, on Tuesday, Nov. 7, at 1:30 p.m. Visitation with friends and family will precede the service and a committal service will follow at Fort Lincoln Cemetery. The service will be led by Dr. David Miner, assistant pastor of mission and visitation at Wallace Presbyterian Church.
History of the Translation of the Anyuak Bible (Ethiopian Bible Society)
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Categories: World Mission
Tags: africa, Anuak Meer (Love) Ministry, Anywaa people, Bible translation, Carolyn Weber, EECMY, ethiopia, Ethiopian Bible Society, Gordon College, Marie “Breezy” Lusted, Mekane Yesus, pcusa, presbyterian, Rachel Weller, Spokane, Wheaton College, world mission
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Ministries: Theology, Formation & Evangelism, World Mission