By Laura McKillip Wood
Eugene Peterson calls a life of discipleship “a long obedience in the same direction.” If anyone embodies this quote, Dr. Mark Huddleston and his wife, Martha, do. Called into ministry at a young age, they served first in the mountains of East Tennessee. During this time, Mark also continued his education, studying for a master’s degree and eventually working on a doctoral degree. In studying the Bible, he became more and more convinced that his faith should lead him to carry out the Great Commission overseas.
“When we heard about Pioneer Bible Translators (PBT), I realized that Bible translation was a ministry that would satisfy my desire to be both pastor and scholar,” he said. Mark left his PhD program and began the linguistic training required for Bible translators. In 1980 Mark, Martha, and their four boys moved to what was then called Zaire (now Democratic Republic of Congo) to work as Bible translators for the Bali people. A church had been established there long before, but the people had no Scripture in their own language. They used the Swahili Bible instead. While they did use Swahili sufficiently for trade and other public needs, they did not use it for religious or personal purposes, so their understanding of the Swahili Scripture was limited.
Life in the Jungle
Mark and his family loved living among the Bali. The people appreciated their work with the language as well. “Other people groups had looked down on them because they could not write their own language or explain its grammar rules,” Mark states. “I was amazed at how much it improved their self-esteem when I began to analyze and explain their grammar. They even said that I had ‘given them their language.’” During the eight years they spent there, Mark analyzed the Bali grammar and created a writing system for the language. He oversaw the publication of a songbook and the translation of short Bible stories covering the life of Christ and most of the book of Acts.
Even though the Huddlestons loved living where they did, life was not without its challenges. They lived in a remote village accessible only by a trail through the jungle or by airplane. Unfortunately the pilot serving their village was killed in a plane crash not long after they arrived, “so our air support and contact with the outside world was very irregular. This put a strain on us all, but especially on Martha, who bore the major workload of caring for and homeschooling our four young sons.” Since there were no cell phones or computers then, snail mail was their only link with family and supporters. It could take as long as three months to send a letter and get a reply.
Life in the States
When Martha developed an allergy to a malaria treatment, they returned to the United States. From 1988 to 1997, Mark served at PBT’s international office in Dallas. He enjoyed working in various capacities of recruiting and training Bible translators, literacy workers, and support personnel.
He’d just received a new assignment with PBT when he got a letter from Nebraska Christian College saying the school needed a missions professor. “I blithely tossed the letter aside and said that I might have been interested if it had come a week earlier. My wife gave the life-changing reply, ‘Well you should pray about it.’”
Twenty years later, Dr. Huddleston just retired from his ministry at Nebraska Christian College, where he served first as Professor of Missions, then as registrar. Now that he has retired, he teaches one class and has begun another chapter in his life.
Mark was just hired in a part-time position as an exegetical consultant for PBT. In this position, he will do final checks of new Bible translations so that PBT can publish them. This is a way that God can use his years as a missionary, his advanced education, and his experience in the classroom together to spread the Word of God around the world. Martha is also excited about supporting this work through prayer. As Mark stated it so well, “the very best part is the assurance we feel that we are both doing what God wants us to be doing at this moment in our lives.”
Laura McKillip Wood formerly taught missionary children in Ukraine and now works as registrar of Nebraska Christian College. She and her husband, Andrew, have three children (lauramckillipwood.com).