God Encounters

By Karissa Uhlig

As a nursing student at the University of Vermont, Mary McLendon thought she knew who God was. She had grown up attending church, but she still had a lot to learn about Christ. God brought several people into her life who would help her realize that she needed him. They would change the trajectory of her life. 

At college, Mary met women from various ministries. She saw the relationships between these women and the Lord. She saw the peace and joy these women had and wanted that too! With their help, she developed a relationship with the Lord. They introduced her to someone who read the Scriptures and she heard and understood the gospel better than she had before. She worked as a nurse for several years in Boston. While there, she encountered a nurse, who inspired her to consider linguistics and Bible translation as a career. This nurse spoke at Mary’s church about how she became a Bible translator and served in Bolivia. Mary was inspired by the life the nurse saw in the Scriptures and wanted that too. Little did she know then that she would follow a career path much like this woman’s path.

Mary enrolled in the Summer Institute of Linguistics in Seattle to begin her training and see what it would be like to be a Bible translator. There, she met her husband, Woody, who was also studying to be a translator. After marrying, they took another year and a half of SIL graduate level courses in Dallas, Texas, and in Grand Forks, North Dakota.

Mary and Woody McLendon

With their linguistics training completed, the next step for Mary and Woody was French language school in Belgium. They would be serving in the French-speaking country of Niger, so it was important to become more proficient in French, an official language of Niger. Then, they served in Niger for two years doing group service and language surveying. When they were assigned to a language project, their intention was to continue serving for another four-year term. However, medical issues prevented them from doing so.

The McLendon family spent their furlough in Boston, Massachusetts, close to Woody’s parents while Mary had surgery on her back. During this time, the couple moved to JAARS, Woody in an IT position while Mary homeschooled their girls. Then, they returned to Niger.

But God had different plans for the McLendons. After they were two and a half months into their second term, more medical issues caused the McLendons to return to the United States. This time, one of their daughters had severe infections due to her eczema. Mary took a break from translation work to homeschool their three daughters. After all of them had graduated, she looked once again at how she could be involved in God’s work cross-culturally. She asked God for a nation she could pray for, and he laid the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) on her heart. 

Another God-encounter stirred Mary’s heart even more for the DRC. One Sunday, the McLendons decided to visit an African church in the Charlotte area. They wanted to visit a Congolese church due to Mary’s desire to pray for the DRC, but they were not sure where it was. They decided to visit an Ethiopian church instead. However, when they arrived at what they thought was the Ethiopian church, they were actually at the Congolese church! God had led them to the right place. 

Soon after, Mary met a Congolese man, Kividi Kikama, at a JAARS Day. She found out his people group, the Yansi, did not have Scripture in their language, and she, along with many others, encouraged him to start a translation project.

Mary poses with the Yansi translation team and the staff of the Bible translation organization in Kinshasa.

Mary now works in diaspora engagement at JAARS and also helps Kividi with the Iyansi translation. Those of us at JAARS are so grateful for the series of God encounters that brought Mary here!

Please continue to pray for the Iyansi translation team, that they would have endurance to finish their work!