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A Life in Translation

Prestonwood Member Translates Bible for Two People Groups

The seeds of Ron Metzger’s conversion came during his daily commute to college, and it completely, utterly transformed his life.

Raised in the Methodist Church in Annapolis, Maryland, Ron and his family believed that being “good” was good enough to get to heaven.

But then his older brother, Richard, began dating a Southern Baptist girl and attending church with her family, and he learned the Bible said something much different. During their daily commute to the University of Maryland in College Park, a trip that lasted about an hour each way, Richard “had me as a private audience,” Ron said. And he heard plenty.

“We believed that if we live a good life, if we do the best we can, that’s ‘goodness,’” said Ron, a long-time member of Prestonwood. “But my brother said only Jesus is ‘the goodness.’

“And I told him, ‘I’m going to start reading the Bible and I’ll prove you wrong.’”

Ron Metzger with the Carapana in Colombia 

God’s Word quickly set him right.

“It wasn’t John 3:16 that convinced me,” Ron said. “It was the account of Jesus’ Passion, what He did for us. I said, ‘Lord, Richard is right!’ I got on my knees and said, ‘God, there’s nothing good in me.’”

Soon, the young man who had prepared for a career in accounting and statistical control was on his way to Colombia, determined to carry the Good News to a tiny people group called the Carapana who lived deep in the Amazon basin. As part of Wycliffe Bible Translators, his ultimate aim was to provide them with a New Testament in their own language, a language that had no written form.

Perhaps 1,000 people in the world spoke Carapana, Ron said. He wasn’t one of them.

He arrived in Colombia in 1966, spent months in intensive study of Spanish and months more serving at Wycliffe’s office in Loma Linda, a small city in central Colombia. Then, finally, he flew into the jungle, almost to Brazil, to serve among the Carapana.

And each evening, he set off for the longhouse where the men gathered. He listened as they told stories and joked together, often about him, he said. But he soaked up the language, much as a baby does, learning to differentiate between the sounds and eventually the words and finally putting them together.

But that was only the first step. Carapana is a tonal language, and a slight change in inflection in a single letter can give a word an entirely different meaning.

“We had to find a way for them to associate letters with sounds,” Ron said, a painstaking process to create an alphabet that took 25 years to complete.

Ron served alone for the first two years. And then he met Lois, another missionary in Colombia who would become his wife.

“She was working in the mountains, near the Ecuadorian border. And as the Lord planned it, we got together,” he said. They married in 1969 and worked together among the Carapana people for more than 20 years, until 1993 when guerilla activity forced them to leave.

Ron Metzger with children of San Andres Island 

Colombia in the 1980s and ‘90s was far from safe, particularly for American missionaries.

“New Tribes lost five missionaries and the International Mission Board lost one and we lost one,” he said.

Chet Bitterman, a Wycliffe missionary, was captured by guerillas from the 19th of April Movement in Bogota in 1981 and later executed, Ron said. Another young missionary, Ray Rising, spent 810 days as a captive in the mid-‘90s.

At their base in the jungle, the Metzgers relied on small planes to deliver needed supplies. Security was paramount.

“Every time the airplane was scheduled to come, we had to take a big white sheet out [to the landing area] and if we stood in the middle of the sheet, the plane would come in,” Ron said. “Otherwise they’d just fly off.”

But in the ‘90s, guerilla activity intensified and the Metzgers were ordered back to Loma Linda, leaving the people they’d served. By then, though, they had completed and published the New Testament in Carapana, leaving that great gift with people they loved.

“Then we retooled,” Ron said.

Ron and Lois had the opportunity to teach an island group in the Caribbean, politically part of Colombia but with a native population that spoke an English Creole, reflecting the earliest settlers on San Andres, Providencia and Santa Catalina islands.

“This was a totally new ballgame,” Ron said. “We were working with 25,000 to 30,000 islanders. The liturgy was there, but we were working to create the (written) Creole language.”

Lois and Ron spent five years there before returning to the U.S., their New Testament in San Andres Islander Creole still incomplete.

Ron Metzger and Robert Livingston translating Bible in San Andres Islander Creole  

“But God brought the Creole speakers” to Dallas, Ron said. “There are 30-odd Creole speakers here, so I could do the work here.”

The completed New Testament—“Di Nyuu Testiment ina San Andres Ailanda Kriol”—was recently published.

In 2008, Lois passed away and Ron lost his wife and his partner in life and Bible translation.

“We were back in the states, and she’d always had allergy problems so we thought it was allergies. But it went on and on,” Ron said. “We went to the doctor and he said this is lung cancer. She’d never smoked in her life.

“I don’t think it was even six months and she was gone.”

During their decades at Prestonwood—their home church while in America—the Metzgers were members of a Bible Fellowship taught by Bill Matthews.

And when Lois learned of her diagnosis, the class “went through the grieving process with them,” Bill said.

“God providentially worked so they came to our class and we’ve known them and loved them ever since,” he said.

When Ron retired from Wycliffe at the end of April, the class celebrated with him, long-time friends honoring him for his work in spreading the Gospel.

“I keep telling Ron that God has a lot of rewards for him up in heaven,” Bill said.

But even though he’s officially retired, Ron has some unfinished business.

Now that he’s completed the New Testament in San Andres Islander Creole, he has turned his attention to a Creole dictionary, which he’ll help edit.

“I’ve been doing editing forever and I know how Creole is written,” Ron said.

“And I want to make sure that all the words in the New Testament are in the dictionary, too.”

Published: September 22, 2016
Author: Michael Young