Family accepts 15-year mission

Bruce Frazer
Saturday, September 14, 1991

    Stuart and Cathie Showalter have chosen a lifestyle few of their fellow Americans could accept or even imagine.

    Their home for the next 15 years will be in Loropeni, a village in Burkina Faso, 450 miles south of Timbuktu. Isolated from the conveniences of Western civilization, it's a place where poisonous snakes, scorpions, accidents and 110-degree temperatures are commonplace.

    By going to this West African nation, formerly known as Upper Volta, the Showalters are "imitating Christ by living a simple life and serving others first," said Kenneth Culver, head of mission activities at the National Presbyterian Church.

    The Showalters, who are partly sponsored by that church, are missionaries with the Summer Institute of Languages, a sister organization to Wycliffe Bible Translators.

    Last week, they left their home in Silver Spring with their children, Nathanael, 4, and Esther, 1, to live among the 6,000 Kan people in Loropeni.

    The family lived in Loropeni from 1987 to 1989, when Mr. Showalter conducted research for his doctorate in linguistics, which he received from Georgetown University this spring.

    This time, they will return to try to turn the sounds of Kan language into written form.

    The project has five phases, Mr. Showalter said, beginning with continued study of the language and development of its written form. In the third and fourth phase, they will teach the Kan people to read and write their language and then establish a body of literature. Finally, they will translate portions of the Bible into Kanse.

    Three ethnic groups - the Jula, Lobi and Kan - live in Loropeni. The languages they speak are not mutually understood. But because the Showalters have to interact with the Jula and the Lobi as well as the Kan, they must also "understand the basics" of these languages, Mr. Showalter said.

    The Showalters will have no luxuries and few of what their fellow Americans call "necessities." Their isolation will be heightened by the Burkina Faso government's ban on radio transmitters.

    Next to her Bible, Mrs. Showalter said her most treasured book will be "Where There Is No Doctor." The nearest physician is hours away, she said.

    A solar plant and truck battery that provide power for lights and a computer are about as close as the Showalters get to Western high-tech trappings.

    Besides their linguistic work, life will be simple, the couple said. Mrs. Showalter will have help with cleaning but will do the family cooking alone. Evening leisure time will be spent walking and visiting neighbors in the small town or reading aloud to one another.

    They will take a vacation "perhaps every other year," Mr. Showalter said.

    Yet despite this acceptance of hardships and determination to help others, not everyone applauds the work of missionaries. Some anthropologists, for example, feel that missionaries disrupt social conditions and bring in foreign goods and services that make the indigenous people dependent.

    Mr. Showalter sees it differently.

    "The mother-tongue approach toward literacy can have a tremendous strengthening effect on minority communities of the world," he said. As those mother tongues are threatened by advancing Western civilization, he said, formation of a written language "can preserve their own heritage in a form that can be transmitted accurately through generations."

    In their missionary task, the Showalters make a distinction between form and function in a culture such as the Kan's.

    "There are forms of dance, speech, song and gathering in rituals that can be used to communicate the essence of the Gospel," Mr. Showalter said. "While it's a temptation to throw out these forms of expression because they have been used to express bondage to spirits, missionaries have to be able to make an important distinction. We recognize that the function is worshiping spirits which are overtaking the rightful place of God in worship, but still we can take this form and use it to express reconciliation with God."

    Mrs. Showalter who has a master's degree in linguistics and is seeking a doctorate, will share the mission task, which they describe as giving "people the written language they need to add literacy to their culture, and to give the church the Scriptural foundation it needs to carry out its mandate."

    Picture showing Showalter family not included in paper’s archives

    Stuart and Cathie Showalter are shown in the garage of their Silver Spring home before they left for Burkina Faso. They took along on the mission to a remote village their son, Nathanael, 4, and daughter, Esther, 1.

To see what happened during the next 15 years Click Here

Return to main page