Only God could orchestrate the chain of events that first led David and Penelope Pickens to Colombia as professional musicians and then back again as Bible translators. Along the way, He used the witness of a martyred missionary and other Wycliffe personnel to bring about His purpose for the Pickens family and the Tado people of Colombia.
When Wycliffe Bible translator Chet Bitterman was kidnapped and martyred in Colombia in March 1981, David Pickens followed the story in the newspaper. “It was only a factual, clinical interest though. I recall not understanding what a Bible translator was,” he said. David wasn’t a Christian at the time, but he and Chet were both from Pennsylvania, and David had paperwork in process to play the trombone with the Colombia National Symphony Orchestra.
David moved to Bogota a few months later. There he met some Wycliffe missionaries and found them to be genuine and interesting. “Getting to know translators dispelled my conception of Christians being ignorant. I respected and enjoyed them,” he said.
During a weeklong visit to the SIL center at Lomalinda, David visited Chet’s grave. There he wondered what compelled people to make such sacrifices for the sake of the Gospel. God used several missionaries’ testimonies to show him that God’s Word is true, and that week he trusted Jesus as his Savior.
Penelope arrived in Colombia the next year also to play in the orchestra. Through the witness of David and others, Penelope became a Christian. They married in 1984.
The Pickenses returned to the U.S. in 1985 with intentions to further their music careers, but God had a different plan. As they began to seek His direction, they remembered the missionaries in Colombia who had made such an impact on their lives. They felt God was calling them into missions and decided to join Wycliffe.
David and Penelope received training at SIL International in Dallas and returned to Colombia in 1991 as Bible translators among the Tado people. Now they’ve begun to disciple and train Tado co-translators and have translated some New Testament passages.
Recently the Pickenses participated in an ethnomusicology course, where their training proved to be an asset in transcribing Tado music. Offering themselves as musicians with the national church has been an excellent means of serving and building relationships. “We are excited to see the national Christian church awakening to its responsibilities in missions and beginning to take part in the ministry,” David said.
A subversive presence in the Tado language area places limits on their work, but even so, the Tado church is growing. David reports, “We are seeing more Tado being saved now than before, and these believers are developing into true disciples.” Through the work of the Pickens family and God’s Word, more Tado are taking their place in God’s symphony of believers.