Ninety-year-old Bible translator models individual authenticity in faith and practice
by Michael Weller | Special to Presbyterian News Service
GAMBELLA, Ethiopia — The Rev. Dr. Niles Reimer is an unassuming presence in any setting and that’s the way he likes it. For Reimer, a return visit in January to Gambella town in Western Ethiopia was the chance to see dear friends and make new memories with generations of young Christians. His many contributions include translating the Anywaa Bible, which made it possible for the Anywaa people to read the scriptures in their own language.
Reimer and his late wife Ann served as PC(USA) mission co-workers for more than 40 years, so his visits to Gambella are deeply personal. His visits honor the relationships he built and his desire to share in the experience of reading the Bible together. As he explains it: “It is all very ordinary to be in this setting with people who are my friends, sharing times of Bible reading and reflections.”
Known to his Anywaa friends as Okwomcor, there is nothing exceptional about a 90-year-old retired missionary spending two weeks in a remote part of Ethiopia, providing an opportunity to study Scripture with old and new friends or seeking guidance in applying the teachings of Scripture to life as individuals in the community of faith. Reimer’s latest visit to Gambella continued the ministry in which he and the Anywaa people live an ordinary life in the mundane circumstances of simple, faithful obedience in a loving, sharing, sometimes struggling community of Christians.
For his 2018 visit to teach pastors and evangelists, Reimer was scheduled to be with his son, Dr. Mark Reimer, as well as Dr. Carroll Loomis, a Presbyterian mission colleague from his service years in Ethiopia, and Dr. Loomis’ daughter, Becky.
Becky Loomis writes, “Unfortunately the trip didn’t go as planned. Dad got an upper respiratory infection that progressed into pneumonia and collapsed at the airport in route to Gambella. He ended up in the hospital in Addis Ababa and once he was a bit recovered went back to the U.S. Dad is doing much better though still weak and of course very disappointed about not getting to go.”
Reimer’s son Mark also came down with a flu-like illness that progressed to pneumonia, so he had to return to the U.S. for treatment as well, she wrote. “Niles Reimer made the trip alone and taught a course for the Gambella ministers — blind and at the age of 90!”
Though he was without his son and the Loomises, Reimer arrived safely in Gambella on Jan. 9.
During his two-week visit, Reimer and synod staff hosted two training sessions, one for pastors and a second session for evangelists from different Anywaa denominations. In both sessions, Reimer enjoyed discussions and group work, presentations and inductive Bible study based on the selected Scriptures.
Some people came from rural villages to see him, after missing him for many years. “God has been very good to me,” he said.
Reimer is a colleague in mission and I have been his apprentice in many ways over nearly 24 years. I am deeply indebted to Reimer for inviting me to observe and share in his approach to ministry as simply ‘life,’ — a variety of mission typified by the ordinary everyday relationships we all share together in Christ. He demonstrates cross-cultural connectedness in which individual authenticity in faith and practice are quietly modeled, demonstrated and put into practice. As I reflect on this description of what Reimer accomplishes in the Anywaa community, it sounds so ordered and sterile, as if Gambella is a laboratory for new mission experience, when it is actually quite human and very messy in its repetitions and rehearsals for working out what it means to live out our faith in the real world of human struggle, conflict, division, diversity, compassion, forgiveness, reconciliation and aspirations of wholeness.
Authentic relationship is not something Reimer invented, he simply demonstrates it through his life and ministry. For me, it has become the next step in partnership. We have lived comfortably with the term partnership for most of my working life in mission. It is probably time for us to explore ways to take yet another step in deepening the relationships we have with international partners. The continuing ministry of Reimer challenges us to move beyond the formalities of defined partnerships and enter genuine community with Christians of all ethnic, racial and creedal diversities.
Love, not in the sentimental, or paternalistic way, but love for the sake of love revealed in Christ and communicated by our mutual accompaniment through lives lived in relationship to Christ and in relationship to one another. This kind of love, which is expressed through the everyday life of prayer, Scripture reading, worship and fellowship can expand the experience of partnership as authentic relationship.
Reimer’s relationships with the Anywaa are founded upon a mutual love and respect that comes through knowing Christ intimately, or at least acting upon the desire to know Christ intimately. It is with thanks to him and the Anywaa community that this story is shared with you. It’s a glimpse of an amazing love story — love not contrived for the sake of the gospel but established in and because of the gospel.
Reimer and the Anywaa people demonstrate this authentic love with such humility and patience and grace that it is difficult not to end with all the connotations of sainthood that often become an accouterment of mission stories shared by long-time colleagues and admirers. This is especially the case for one who has, in love and in service to God, adopted a rich and deeply moving method of expressing love and demonstrating this love for his neighbors and friends and sisters and brothers in a local/global setting.
Reimer cherishes 2 Tim. 3:16-17: “All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.”
Michael Weller and his wife, Rachel, have served as PC(USA) mission co-workers with the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus (EECMY) since 1994. Michael previously served for 10 years as World Mission’s regional liaison for the horn of Africa. He teaches at the Don McClure Bible School and the Manpiny Theological College, ministries of the East Gambella Bethel Synod and the West Gambella Bethel Synod, respectively. Rachel facilitates the work of Community Health Evangelism (CHE) in both synods, empowering people to use available resources to improve their health and sharing truths from the Bible that lead to the life abundant that Jesus Christ promised.
To support the ministry of PC(USA) mission co-workers Michael and Rachel Weller in Ethiopia, make an online giftor mail a check payable to Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), P.O. Box 643700, Pittsburgh, PA 15264-3700. In the memo line of your check, please designate your gift to go to fund E200421.
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