The Watchman

Kaiwa-3Salvador Sanches packs a notepad and pencil, a Portuguese Bible and a Guarani Bible into a plastic shopping bag. The sun has dipped below the horizon, his family is settling in for the night, and it is time for his work to begin.

Salvador walks to the local school in the Kaiwá settlement outside of Dourados in western Brazil. He is handed a key and walks around the boundary locking all the gates. Salvador is the school’s night watchman. But he has another job to do that night. For the last 12 years, between the hourly rounds of his watchman duties, Salvador has been translating the Bible into Kaiwá, his language.

Like many Kaiwá, Salvador is a rancher who keeps pigs, poultry, horses, cows and other animals. But he says that his position at the school is a good excuse for him to steal away by himself and concentrate on his translation work. “It’s much more peaceful to sit in the school and do my work there.” Salvador explains, “It is quiet and I don’t get interrupted. I take my dog to work and he helps keep watch while I work on the translation.”

Finding the Path

Salvador grew up amongst the traditions of his people, who are indigenous to western Brazil. His father was one of the religious leaders of his community and led special ceremonies for harvesting corn and honouring the ancestral land. He remembers hearing about Jesus as a teenager. The American man who visited them didn’t speak Kaiwá. Salvador did not really understand him.

As a young man, Salvador married and had two children. Life was difficult for his young family, and Salvador’s wife wasn’t happy. A traditional practice of the Kaiwá people is to commit suicide in the case of shame, stress or conflict. Salvador’s wife, too, chose to end her life. Like many Kaiwá, she was lost without knowing Jesus.

Years later Salvador met his second wife Sonya. During a time when she was very sick, she spent several weeks in hospital. The doctor who treated Sonya shared with her daily about Jesus, and she made a decision to follow Jesus. Sonya encouraged Salvador to do the same.


A pastor from Paraguay, who could speak Kaiwá, came to visit their church and stayed at their house. He showed Salvador a translation of the Scriptures in Guarani, a related language. He read to Salvador the first Bible verse he ever heard and understood, John 14:6: “I’m the way the truth and the life. Through me it’s possible to come to know God.”

“In the traditions and religion of the Kaiwá people, we talk about the same sort of thing,” Salvador says. “You have to choose which path you want to walk, to find God before you die.”

Even though no one knows how to find this path, Kaiwá people traditionally believe that everyone must find the path to God, or else they will become a lost soul, a wandering spirit, forever looking for a way to God. “All of a sudden, I found out in the Bible that Jesus is the path to follow!” exclaims Salvador.

Gifted with wisdom


“Within one month, what came to my mind was that I really wanted to study the Bible and know more,” he shares. So Salvador enrolled in Bible school. While he was there, SIL* linguist Loraine Bridgeman wrote a letter to Kaiwá students at the Bible College asking them to review some Kaiwá translations she had done of the Old Testament.

Salvador loved what he read so Loraine kept sending portions of Scripture. He enjoyed making adjustments to the text so that it sounded more natural and clear. He had planned to become an evangelist, but eventually Salvador decided to work with Loraine full time on the translation instead.

At first Salvador was worried about the quality of his work, because his Portuguese was limited. It was difficult to understand the Portuguese Bible that they used as a reference and to communicate with Loraine. But he persevered, and during the first year they translated the Old Testament book of 1 Kings in which Salvador discovered the story of when God gave wisdom to King Solomon.

“I believed that God spoke to me through Solomon,” Salvador says, “and I asked God to give me wisdom like he gave to Solomon, and he gave it to me. I began to feel that my work was improving.”

Other more educated Kaiwá men came to help with the translation. They quickly found it too difficult, so Salvador continued to work alone. “Loraine said to me, ‘God has given you a gift, Salvador,’” he remembers. “So I thought, if God has given me this gift, I will keep working.”

Salvador lifts his eyes from the red dirt of his front yard to the blue sky of western Brazil and takes a deep breath. “The work of God is not easy,” Salvador admits. “I know that all my people who have not accepted Jesus will not find the path to God, so that is my motivation.”

Still Going

By the time the complete Bible was published in 2013, Salvador had been working on the Kaiwá Scriptures for 28 years, and he is still going. In 2005 Brazilian translation advisors Cristiano and Eliane Barros moved to Dourados to continue the translation of the Old Testament with Loraine, now in her 80s, assisting as their expert consultant from her home in the US. Together this new team completed the Old Testament, and began revising the New Testament which was first published in 1986. Loraine worked with them until the very last day she could, just two weeks before she passed away at the age of 87.

Salvador would like to be a pastor one day, but for now he has chosen not to return to Bible school and instead prioritises the translation work to get it done faster. He thinks that church duties would distract him from the work of Bible translation.

“The thing that makes me happiest is that every day I am studying the Bible in my work,” says Salvador. “It would be easier for me if I worked [full-time] in the church, really, but because of my work on the Bible, when I do work in the church, I can really help well. That makes me happy.”


Words & Photos: Elyse Patten

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