Witnessing A Missionary’s Heart!
“…How beautiful are the feet of those
who bring glad tidings of good things!” Isa. 52:7, Rom. 10:15
We crossed the border and entered Gallup, New Mexico at 3:30 pm, approximately thirty-five miles from our destination, the Zuni Indian Reservation. Fatigued and famished from the long commute, our missionary suggested that we dine and proceed to sleep; for we needed to wake very early the next morning. Our spiritual brother, close friend, professional linguist, and Zuni missionary, Curtis D. Cook, had a full itinerary planned for us to accomplish the very next day. Once in our hotel room, we prayed for Curtis and the Zuni people; asking for the Lord’s blessing upon this very brief, yet extremely important missionary trip. Curtis was eager to distribute his recently completed and self-published; “A Practical Zuni Dictionary.” For us, it was indeed a privilege and honor just to hold his “landmark” Zuni dictionary in our hands, a work designed to accompany the Zuni “Gospel of John”, which he began to disseminate on a previous trip. Ingeniously, Curtis intends for the dictionary to serve as adjunct to John’s Gospel, by further aiding the Zuni reader to understand many of the terms that occur in the Gospel. We observed Curtis’ masterful work contained many years of effort, diligence, and sacrificial love to produce. In essence, Curtis selflessly utilized his God-given gift of language translation by melding it with a passion for the Zuni people’s salvation.
Curtis Cook is a seventy-six year old Christian man who resided among the Zuni people for many years and has continuously ministered to the Zuni people for over fifty years. On January 1, 1964, at a tender age of twenty-six, he moved to the Zuni reservation. Once arriving, he immediately, with zeal began learning the Zuni language. Remarkably, by 1967, a mere three years later, he completed and distributed a translation of the Gospel of Mark. It is evident that God called and gifted Curtis at an early age to accomplish such significant work for the advancement of His kingdom. It is also apparent that God has great accomplishments in store for him as He continues to open doors for his Zuni ministry to continue. We have encouraged Curtis that, because of his unique ability, we believe God has entrusted him with five talents as in Matt. 25:15. As an example to all of us, Curtis rose to God’s high calling, acted as a responsible steward zealously performing tasks required of him. It is evident to all who have witnessed his work that Curtis has a God-given deep compassion and love for the Zuni people. Curtis’ many facets of adeptness attest to the enabling power of the Holy Spirit.
Early in his work, Curtis developed an alphabet for the previously-unwritten Zuni language, a task which was essential to his endeavors to bring them the written Gospel, and which was fundamental to the preservation of the language for future Zuni generations. Few Christians have accomplished mastering an unwritten language within their lifetime.
Curtis’ greatest translation achievements came many years later. After he was providentially relocated from the Zuni reservation to another state, he diligently continued his research. His true labors of love validated his understanding of the gravity of 2 Tim 2:15, which states; “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” His heart for the Zuni people led him to complete the arduous four hundred mile road-trip numerous times over the years, lovingly maintaining friendships established and continuing communication with many. Those trips were necessary for him to compile the ample linguistic data needed, through focused field work, requiring two years of concentrated writing and editorial work to complete the dictionary.
He is currently providing the Zuni grade school, St. Anthony mission school, high school, and UNM Branch College with The Zuni Gospel of John and “A Practical Zuni Dictionary” as curriculum aids, designed to preserve the language and to provide the Gospel. He prayerfully disseminated copies to the Zuni Hospital, visitor center, and Tribal Council, in order to spread awareness of the critical need of preserving the Zuni language.
Providentially, it was on “Reformation Day” when we set out to accomplish Curtis’ schedule of events, and because things were planned in rapid succession, we proceeded at a torrid pace. We visited the Zuni hospital and the Catholic mission school, and then met with a Branch College administrator. We had lunch with a Zuni High School teacher who is very eager to obtain more copies of the Gospel and dictionaries as part of his curriculum. We also visited the Zuni tourist center where we were blessed by a special Zuni woman, who kindly escorted us to a four-hundred year old Catholic mission which is adorned with astonishing Zuni art work on the interior walls. Curtis was speaking with this young woman in Zuni as we walked about admiring the artwork, when, to our surprise, he called us to come and pray. When he proceeded to pray in the Zuni language, the young woman was so touched by his prayer that tears streamed down her cheeks. She thanked Curtis profusely, requested a copy of The Gospel of John and asked us to take a picture of her with Curtis on her camera. We were amazed by the love Curtis exhibited for this woman, but what was even more remarkable, was the reverent admiration she demonstrated to Curtis. It made us realize yet again, that we were witnessing the power of the Holy Spirit working through Curtis. As we departed from the mission, we proceeded to tour Curtis’ former residences on the reservation; and as we observed the humble condition of his former dwellings, it gave us a sense of his great self-sacrifice. As we drove through the reservation, Curtis shared many stories with us which gave us a clearer perspective. We realized how able and seemingly content the Zuni people are, as they dwell with the simple things in life, which most American’s take for granted.
As we headed home, the six-hour drive passed quickly, as we all excitedly recapitulated the day’s events. Nearing home, we asked Curtis if he was tired from enduring such a time-tedious day fraught with appointments, coupled with the long drive back. He responded; “I’m very much okay, actually I’m still jazzed on adrenaline!” When I inquired if he planned to accept the request to teach at the Zuni school, he stated; “We’ll see how the Lord leads…My heart is with the Zuni people.” We know he spoke the truth, because we witnessed the actions of a man who illustrated compassion and genuine care for the Zuni people. We are praising our Lord for blessing us with the privilege of witnessing Curtis on one of his missionary trips, and witnessing the power of God through evangelism.
Three things became ostensive to us based on our observations and experiences regarding the conduct of missionary work. First, how vital it is to communicate in the language of the people whom the missionary is attempting to reach with the Gospel. The proof was the evidence by how positively each Zuni person responded to Curtis when he spoke to them in their native tongue. It demonstrated to them a genuine love and respect. Second, living among or staying in constant communication with the native people exhibits a love for them which cannot be expressed in mere words. It portrays a true willingness to partake in the same day to day obstacles and burdens they experience. Such sacrifice validates the Gospel message; Christianity portrayed in action (James 2:17, 26). Jesus Christ’s earthly ministry encompassed that reality; He lived (tabernacled) among the people (John 1:14). Third, evangelism is accomplished through caring actions toward those who are hearing the Gospel. Fourth, praying for the missionary as they actively engage with each person is imperative as they seek to glorify Jesus’ Name. Lastly, if Christians are unable to go into the mission field, they are called by God to become “senders” aiding those who are able to go. Only by Andrew Fuller’s assurance and life long sacrifices, could William Carey become the great missionary to the unknown world of India, as Carey left home stating to Fuller “…I will go down, if you hold the rope!” Andrew Fuller held the rope! This reminds all Christians of their unique responsibility of fulfilling the missionary cause through evangelism.
Witnessing Curtis’ tenderheartedness with the people as he gave his undivided attention was very moving and will forever remain in our memories. For example, there was this elderly Zuni woman, who, from the very instant she heard Curtis greet her in Zuni, as he shook her hand, she would not release his. As she intently listened to Curtis speak, peering into his eyes she seemingly was enamored with Curtis. It was obvious by their conversation that she was affected by his warmth and display of compassion. We surmised that she sensed his love and naturally responded to it positively. Yet we knew it was the Holy Spirit actively working through Curtis. It was the very first time they had met.
It was a sacred and divine blessing to witness the power of God working through one of His faithful servants. Curtis is a true exemplar we ought to emulate as we seek to obey the command of the Great Commission (Matt. 28:19-20). God’s providence was evidenced by all the Zuni’s whom God brought to Curtis – those who either personally knew him, or knew of him, and those who had never heard of him – and by how they embraced Curtis with a rare cheerfulness, respect, and appreciation for him. Curtis D. Cook revealed a true “missionary’s heart”, which was demonstrated over and over again. We were taught so very much through this brief yet powerful missionary experience. We pray the Lord grants us the ability to serve with Curtis again, serving Christ, “Witnessing a Missionary’s Heart“. Amen!
~At the time of the writing of this article, this author continues to pray for the Zuni people who have a continued need to receive the G0spel of John, along with “A Practical Zuni Dictionary”, which is finally translated into their language and is now available through – http://www.foreignchristianbooks.com/