GOSHEN — Don’t let Rachelle Telsworth’s soft-spoken voice fool you — this is one fiercely determined young lady who has overcome incredible setbacks in her life but hasn’t let them stop her from pursuing her mission.
Telsworth works with Wycliffe (pronounced Wick-liff) Bible Translators, but in a different capacity than she originally intended. She had to switch gears after being stricken with paralysis at the beginning of her mission trip to Papua, New Guinea, in January of this year.
The origin of Wycliffe Bible Translators goes back to the 1300s when most early Christians only encountered the Bible through oral versions. The organization continues its mission today to translate the Bible into the vernacular of the people. According to Wycliffe, there are about 7,000 languages in use today and up to 1,859 of those languages still need to have the Bible translated. Another 1,330 languages have only portions of the Bible translated.
Telsworth, who grew up in Centreville, Michigan, first heard of Wycliffe as a freshman at Bethel College in Mishawaka. When she heard a speaker say there were people waiting for God’s word to be translated into their language she said she felt she wanted to be a part of it. That summer she went on a 2 ½ week mission trip with Wycliffe and learned about the different areas where help is needed. When she graduated in 2013 with a degree in intercultural studies, she applied to work with Wycliffe. She received a response within two hours that they wished to interview her.
Once hired, she went to Orlando for training in how to build a team of financial partners, prayer partners and how to communicate effectively about what she’d be doing. Prior to that, though, while still a senior at Bethel she had to have brain surgery to repair a cavernoma — bleeding blood vessels in her brain that were giving her stroke-like symptoms.
One example of Rachelle’s determination is her response to a professor who told her because of classes missed due to the surgery she’d likely fail the class.
“I’m not going to fail your class. I’m graduating,” she told the professor and went on to reach that goal, graduatinge magna cum laude.
Telsworth said she was 100 percent cleared by her physicians to lead a normal life, including going on the mission trip.
She arrived in Papua, New Guinea, on Jan. 11 with a plan to stay for 2 ½ years working as a language surveyor. She’d travel through villages figuring out which languages were spoken and if there was a prominent language in order to determine which translation would be needed. Most people in Papua, New Guinea are multi-lingual she said, but the common “trade language” is Tokpisin.
Two weeks later she awoke at 5:45 to get ready for a hike. As she washed her hands she started to get pain in her fingers that spread up her arm. At first she thought it was a muscle cramp from work she’d done the day before, but the pain continued to spread to the other side and within 30 minutes she was paralyzed.
She was airlifted to Australia where she underwent testing and physical therapy. The diagnosis was transverse myelitis, which Telsworth explained is an auto-immune disease that causes the white blood cells to attack the spinal cord. After several months of treatment she recovered from the paralysis but she has been left with permanent nerve damage, numbness and pain.
After returning to the United States, she received a call from her Wycliffe coach wanting to know if she still wanted to continue working or if she needed to leave and return later. She told them she was willing to work part-time from home.
She is now a part of the “response team” for Wycliffe Mobilization, enabling others to go where she cannot. She calls people who’ve shown an interest in Wycliffe and answers any questions they may have, determines their readiness and availability and prays with them.
“I really enjoy talking to people and if they’re ready I refer them to a recruiter,” she said.
Telsworth said there are many different jobs needed at Wycliffe aside from translators. They need mechanics, pilots and information technology people and people like herself.
“There are at least 50 positions open right now with Wycliffe,” she said.
Rachelle said she once took for granted having the Bible in her own language and the thought of not being able to turn to it on a daily basis is what spurs her to continue.
The 24-year-old Goshen resident shared what she’s learned through her struggles. “Even though bad things happen — maybe you lose a loved one or you get sick — you can still have joy during times of struggle. In Jesus there’s hope. God never leaves us or forsakes us — there is still so much joy.”
She said she hopes her words and her story can give others hope “because I’m still pushing on, persisting and doing things,” she said.
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