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Marilyn Laszlo  

Indiana Farm girl turned Missionary to Paupa New Guinea

“I remember trying to get the word for tree. I was pointing to a tree and trying to get them to say the word for ‘tree’. Finally they said, “Ana”. So I wrote ‘ana’ (tree). My first word in the dictionary! Later, as I went around the village practicing the words I had collected, I pointed to a tree and said, “Ana.” They shook their heads and laughed. Something was wrong. Later I discovered that ‘ana’ was the word for finger.

Marilyn grew up on a small farm near Valparaiso, Indiana. As a young girl, while plowing the fields of her parents’ farm, she made a commitment to be a missionary--a commitment the Lord never forgot and which she began to fulfill when she joined Wycliffe Bible Translators in 1965.

Marilyn left the U.S. for Papua New Guinea , and traveled up the Sepik River in a dugout canoe with her translation partner. Their destination was Hauna village, home of the Sepik Iwam people, a small tribal group numbering about 2,500, with a history of head-hunting, sorcery, and deep hostility toward outsiders.

“Looking back on our arrival at Hauna village, I can see now how amusing it really was,” Ms. Laszlo recalls. “About 400 came out to see what we were doing. They had never seen white women before. And they were arguing among themselves whether we were men or women. Well, they finally came to the conclusion that we were neither. We were ’its’,” states Ms. Laszlo.

Marilyn learned the basic greetings with no written language, discovering verbs and nouns using hand signals and pointing. Besides learning the language and translating the Scriptures, Marilyn also was involved in teaching the people to read and write. Marilyn spent 24 years living with the Sepik Iwam people, creating an alphabet for their previously unwritten language, translating the New Testament and related portions of the Old Testament, and teaching them everything from literacy to basic sanitation and health care.

Her sister Shirley (who came over later) and their six language helpers worked together on the Sepik Iwam translation of the New Testament. The translation was completed in 1989, 23 years later.

Changed lives and new values, a school, clinic, store, and trained leadership are testimonies to Marilyn’s life of service and commitment to God made years earlier.

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