Seeds are sown in India

A five-year-long fundraising campaign comes to a close with a gala.



Samantha Gassaway, Writer

“No, this gospel story has changed my life, and it needs to be told,” said alumna and current special projects assistant in the journalism and integrated media department Mairin McCuistion, first India Project Bible translation coordinator. Oral Bible translators have faced persecution, fear, imprisonment and martyrdom to see the hope of Jesus Christ spread to the nations. They reject questions of doubt with devotion and stand firm in the face of fierce opposition.

A nation in need

Citizens of northern India are a people group Biola adopted for the purpose of oral Bible translation in 2013 via a pathway through the Student Missionary Union called the India Project. The India Project was started by a group of people passionate about a nation in grave need of the gospel, inspired by the vision of Biola’s President Barry Corey.

The first student put in a position of leadership on the India Project was McCuistion, who has seen the project grow through her time in the position and after her graduation. McCuistion has had the rare opportunity to witness the project she spearheaded expand and grow — and come to a close.

“We saw God’s hand all over it,” McCuistion said. “They wanted to partner with the Seed Company that works basically at the forefront of Bible translation. They are kind of an offshoot of Wycliffe and basically — in Bible translation — created an accelerated process for oral communities.”

Oral and written translations

Oral Bible translation poses an added roadblock to evangelism, according to senior English major and India project fundraising coordinator Claire Zasso. Due to some rural communities of India being comprised of majority-illiterate people groups, written Bible translation would potentially do more harm than good to their cause.

“We actually have to train people who are already familiar with that dialect to tell them Bible stories orally,” Zasso said. “There was this wonderful girl named Mairin McCuistion, and she took it up and she was the first coordinator. She took it up all by herself the first year… Mairin had a huge heart for India.”

The heart Zasso has for the mission in India is reflected and encouraged by her partner Lauren Hall, senior journalism major and India Project public relations coordinator. Both are in agreement the problem of Bible translation is much more dire than people of the world would like to believe.

“There are currently 1 billion people in the world that do not have a Bible in their native language, which is kind of crazy. Over one billion people who are still Bible-less,” Zasso said. “3.5 million of them are in India. India is heavily populated [with] a lot of people who speak very, very differently. There are a lot of people groups packed into that one country… You’d think that here, in 2017, that would no longer be a problem. Not the case.”

An enormous task

Furthermore, the task for Wycliffe Bible Translators is enormous, but small offshoots like the Seed Company, the India Project’s partner, help take the weight off.

“One of the misconceptions with the project is that we’re raising money for physical, tangible Bibles, and we’re not. But it’s all oral, and it’s not the entire Bible. It’s between 40 to 50 stories of the Bible that get orally translated into languages,” Hall said. “They’re more of the common stories, so obviously the resurrection, the crucifixion. We don’t want to say that some stories are more important than others in the Bible, but it’s the ones that really propel the gospel.”

Through the Seeds for India gala on Friday, April 7, the India Project team is bidding a bittersweet farewell to the SMU India Project staff positions and the project because of minor downsizing and reorganizing of SMU, supposedly due to budget cuts, according to Hall.

“For Claire and I, it’s very melancholy. It’s been a very challenging road. We have just had so many doors close. When we both took these jobs, it was not at all what it looks like now. We essentially thought we would be organizing really small fundraisers on campus throughout the year,” Hall said. “We did not anticipate having a gala, we did not even know the project was ending when we joined.”

The spark that lit the fire was a five-week mission trip in 1988 sent by SMU to India, which was comprised of 32 students and raised approximately $99,000. After this model and inspired by their devotion, McCuistion and her team found a new drive for the people.

“We wanted to honor that trip and honor Biola’s rich history of ministry relationship in India,” McCuistion said. “When I got the email from Claire [that the project would be ending], it was sad to see. This was something that SMU really took ownership of, and Biola had really taken ownership of… I think this gala is going to be a wonderful celebration of what we’ve been able to be a part of.”

Hall admits a bitter taste was left with her after her best friend, Hasiet Joy Negash, passed away unexpectedly during a short-term mission trip to India in January 2015. However, Hall describes the process of working with the India Project as incredibly redemptive, and the call from God she felt to work with SMU in this capacity too strong to ignore.

“I didn’t want to have anything to do with India at all, but around this time last year, two girls who were in my position last year came to the floor in Blackstone and talked about the India project, and I felt really moved. I felt really called to apply — the Lord called me to apply. I didn’t know what to expect from SMU at all. I honestly didn’t have the best view of SMU,” Hall said. “It’s been a rough year with the India project, but it’s also been a place where I can grieve.”

Though the project did not raise the amount they were aiming for to begin with, SMU, Hall, Zasso and McCuistion all agree on a hope beyond finances that this project will be completed one way or another. The gospel of Jesus Christ and the salvation of this people group is too important — and the commission too great — to leave the people of India in the dark.

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