Explosion of Life

By Rachel Greco

New signs in eight rooms, three new video monitors telling new stories, and one redesigned African exhibit breathe fresh life into the Museum of the Alphabet at JAARS.

Last spring, Debbie Newby, Director of the Museum of the Alphabet and the Mexico-Cárdenas Museum at JAARS, was trying to decide what to do while the museums were closed due to the pandemic.

When it was obvious the pandemic wasn’t going away anytime soon, Debbie decided to take advantage of the closures to do renovations on the Museum of the Alphabet. “Some of the renovations you can do much faster when there aren’t people walking through,” Debbie said.

Beginning in June, Debbie and her staff took down 65 signs in eight rooms. “There were so many signs on the walls,” Debbie explained, “that people couldn’t read them all and would move on to the next thing.” The museum staff replaced these 65 signs with twelve, which they updated and rewrote to tell the stories of the alphabets and those who created them.

Museum director Debbie Newby in the SIL room

Debbie’s team also gutted the SIL room—a room that explains the role of this linguistic partner of JAARS and its role in Bible translation. The team took down the old exhibits, painted the room, and added a world map and other unique graphics. This room not only highlights some of the key people in Bible translation through the years, but also includes the stories of current as well as local translators and translation projects.

The Translation Steps Room will become a Bible translation center in Papua New Guinea (PNG), complete with a thatch roof and a beach or mountain scene typical of PNG. Guests will have the opportunity to explore a computer-based adventure: experience a day in the life of a translation consultant or a literacy specialist.

But one of the most exciting changes has occurred in the Africa exhibit—an exhibit close to Hayley’s heart. Hayley, one of the Museum Fellows, served in Uganda for a year and a half before she came to JAARS. “That was the first extended cross-cultural experience that I have and where I feel the Lord is calling me,” Hayley said. So when Hayley saw that the Africa exhibit would be one of those they would redo, she told Debbie she’d like to help. Debbie said to her, “Why don’t you just spearhead the whole thing?”

When Hayley stood in the Africa exhibit, looking at what might need to be done, her coworker Sharylee came up and said, “I don’t really understand a lot of what’s in this exhibit.” Often, when people arrived at the Africa exhibit, which is about halfway through the museum, their attention would waver. This saddened Hayley because she wanted people to learn about the land she loved, the land that her friends call home.

“I really wanted to tell the story of Africa in a way that highlights all the incredible work that is being done on the continent, and how it is a continent full of vastly different people who have their own languages, their own way of life, their own dignity and humanity as part of a whole. Wanting to captivate people’s hearts and draw them into that was my whole goal and hope,” Hayley explained.

Hayley with the map of Africa she helped design

One way Hayley hoped to accomplish this goal was to paint a wall map of the African continent. JAARS comes alongside many Bible translation organizations in Africa, offering technical, transportation, media and training solutions, so each country where JAARS has a partner is painted in a different textile unique to that country. “One of my favorite things when I was in Africa,” Hayley said, “was just walking through the markets or driving down the side of the road and seeing this color, this explosion of life.” Sue McMahon, the artist, has done an amazing job making this mural and the culture of Africa come to life.

Sue painting the map of Africa

The museum is reopening on Saturday, April 17 at 9 a.m. Come see the explosion of life and trace the outreach of JAARS throughout Africa for yourself!

Look for museum updates here. In the meantime, you can take a virtual tour here. We hope to see you in-person at the museums soon!