A sense of intrigue rings the old house in one of Greensboro’s aging neighborhoods as two men greet each other in a foreign dialect and make their way up winding stairs to the attic.
They are on a mission potentially dangerous because many who oppose Christianity don’t like what they are doing. Their success will help thousands.
Soon the two men are busy writing on laptops, and chatting in one of the more than 54 languages found in Vietnam.
For six hours most weekdays, Pastor Samuel (not his real name) and his friend Gene Fuller pour over materials on their worktable, translating the Bible into Samuel’s native Vietnamese language. The pastor wishes to remain anonymous for safety reasons if he returns to his homeland.
Some of the Bible was published in Samuel’s language as early as 1955, but they are reviewing that part for accuracy, said Fuller, age 69.
With a translator’s notebook, Greek dictionary, various Bible versions on their computer, Fuller’s translating expertise and Samuel’s native knowledge, they labor over each word in the Book of Matthew.
“We want to get the best understanding that we can,” Fuller said. “We started on this in July, doing an exegetical study.”
They are checking for accuracy, and trying to discern whether Samuel’s people would understand the verses in their language, Fuller said.
Samuel, 44, is the key to that understanding because it is his language. But Fuller has the academic skills after studying the Bible in a variety of languages for more than 30 years. If there is a question about the meaning of a word, phrase or sentence, “I defer to him,” Fuller said.
Gene Fuller and his wife, Carol, are Wycliffe Bible translators, and also work with Montagnards at Rankin Baptist Church in Greensboro where First Montagnard Baptist Church has been established. Samuel is a Montagnard, a French term which means “mountaineer” and refers to the tribal people in the highlands of Vietnam.
The Fullers live with a Montagnard family because “(Bible translator John) Wycliffe’s policy is for you to live with the people you serve,” Carol Fuller said.
Samuel started several house churches in Vietnam, which is considered an illegal activity there. He fled to the United States with his wife and two children and has been in Greensboro for a year. “He mentored two elders to serve in his place while he is gone. He wants to go back when the manuscript is done,” Gene Fuller said.
Both children are enrolled in college, and Samuel and his wife are enrolled in English as a Second Language class.
The Fullers became missionaries and Bible translators in South Vietnam in 1968.
Both said they grew up in families that were “very missions minded” and were impressed to become missionaries. “We both were so burdened about the ethnic languages of Vietnam,” Carol Fuller said. “We felt led to go to Vietnam, and we volunteered after much prayer.
“We had no Bible, no money and didn’t know the language. We raised our (financial) support. Then we knew God had called us to Vietnam.”
They arrived at the height of the conflict and were “scared to death,” Carol said, but they found comfort in the Lord.
The Fullers were in Vietnam for more than six years, laboring in the Central Highlands and on the coast, translating the Bible into a tribal language. They also put together science and civics books and a dictionary for the tribal people.
They had to flee from Vietnam in 1975 because death squads were causing havoc. Carol Fuller was eight months pregnant with their second child. “We heard that some other missionaries had been killed,” she said. “Five Montagnard men were living with us, and they urged us to leave. They said they could make a way for themselves, but not for us” she added.
During two years in the Philippines, Gene Fuller made tapes of scriptures in the tribal language for Far East Broadcasting Co., which broadcast them to listeners in Vietnam.
Fuller was asked to open Wycliffe work in Thailand, and he spent six months there before returning to the United States for more study, earning his doctorate from the University of Pittsburg in 1982.
Carol suffers from health problems incurred while on the mission field.
Fuller became director of Wycliffe work in Borneo, an island in the eastern part of Malaysia. He traveled in the jungles and had 14 translation projects there to help tribes get the Bible in their languages.
They left Borneo in 1991 after eight and one half years. After teaching a semester at the Open University of Ho Chi Minh, Fuller, became director of the North American branch of Wycliffe, where he spent nine years. He was administrator of Vietnam projects for a couple years, before developing serious heart problems.
Since 2003 he has been working on the current project, and making trips back and forth to Vietnam. “They (Vietnamese) are precious people,” Carol said.
The Fullers don’t speak of retirement. In their minds and hearts, their work is not done.
(EDITOR’S NOTE — Burchette, a retired writer/editor at the Greensboro News & Record, can be contacted at [email protected])