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Bible translator to share her story of ‘grace, tragedy and forgiveness’

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When Grace L. Fabian forgave the man who murdered her husband, she was simply following her faith.

She and her husband arrived in Papua New Guinea on the Fourth of July 1969 to work with Wycliff Bible Translators, producing literacy materials and translating the New Testament. They had four children, all born in Papua New Guinea. Mrs. Fabian, 75, returned to the U.S. in 2005 after the Papua New Guinea government ruled it would no longer renew work permits to expatriates age 65 and older.

Until then, she remained in the country despite a tragedy that occurred 20 years ago.

Edmund Fabian, 57, was murdered in 1993 in the study of his house at the Summer Institute of Linguistics at Ukarumpa missions center, in the eastern highlands of the country. He was killed by a blow to the back of his head with an ax. His killer was a Nabak tribe member who had been helping with Bible translation into the Nabak language.

Papua New Guinea is in the southwestern Pacific Ocean, separated from northern Australia by the Torres Strait. The independent country is on the eastern half of the island of New Guinea. The western half of New Guinea island is part of Indonesia.

The Fabians worked in the eastern highlands near the port city of Lae. According to the CIA’s World Factbook, there are 836 indigenous languages spoken in Papua New Guinea, which is a tribal society. Most languages have fewer than 1,000 speakers.

“It’s a linguist’s paradise,” Mrs. Fabian said.

Mr. Fabian was working on Book 1, Corinthians, chapter 13 when he was struck down. It’s also known as the love chapter.

Mrs. Fabian’s love of God guided her next step.

“I didn’t only want to be a Bible translator,” she said last month from her home in Pennsylvania. “I wanted to be someone who would obey the Bible. I could not find any loophole that said, ‘Well, in some cases, you don’t have to forgive people.’ There were no such verses.”

But she added, “I had no idea that in doing that, God was going to take that and make it something grander.”

Mrs. Fabian will share her tale of forgiveness and redemption Saturday as guest of Live More Ministries, a grassroots women’s organization in southern Jefferson County. She will speak at 10 a.m. at New Hope Baptist Church, 19983 state Route 3.

In 2009, Mrs. Fabian released a book, “Outrageous Grace: A Story of Tragedy and Forgiveness.” The memoir tells of Mrs. Fabian and her four children wrestling with grief and disorientation and of their quest for spiritual answers.

When Mrs. Fabian forgave her husband’s murderer, it opened other doors. Forgiveness, she said, shocked the Nabak tribe.

“For the Nabak people, it was so extraordinary,” she said. “In their culture, they know best how to get even with people — to get revenge. For them to see our family forgive was a kind of an object lesson that impacted them so much.”

All of the couple’s previous work suddenly made more sense to the tribe members.

“It wasn’t that they didn’t know the Gospel, but somehow it just all clicked for them when they saw us coming back to live among them; not seeking revenge but showing forgiveness,” Mrs. Fabian said.

In January, Mrs. Fabian, a native of Otego, Otsego County, returned to Papua New Guinea for a two-month visit. She had been told that Nabak hymn books were either sold out or in tatters. She sent camera-ready proofs of the book to a publisher in Papua New Guinea ahead of time. The books were distributed once she arrived with the help of a co-translator she had worked with previously.

“It was a happy, tear-filled reunion,” she said.

But she wasn’t able to make it deep into the highlands where she and her husband used to live and work because airstrips were closed.

“I’m a bit of a wimp,” Mrs. Fabian said. “I didn’t feel I could walk the five days’ hike so I didn’t get to see some of the people I wanted to.”

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The person who murdered Mrs. Fabian’s husband spent 15 months in jail and was then transferred to a psychiatric hospital where he spent five months. The court case was then held, she said.

In court, Mrs. Fabian said, her husband’s killer’s sentence was suspended and he was allowed to return to his village of Baindoang.

That disturbed Mrs. Fabian. She didn’t want a tragedy to hit another family. She wrote a letter to the judge.

“I wrote that we already had a tragedy,” Mrs. Fabian said. “I asked, ‘Would you please make sure he has his medication?’ At the same time, I didn’t want them to throw the book at this man.”

She added, ‘On medication, I thought he’d be calm and be able to think thoughts about the Lord.”

But Mrs. Fabian said nobody paid attention to her correspondence.

In less than a year, the man who killed her husband committed suicide, she said.

“My own thinking is that he realized that he was sick and he probably realized those hallucinations were starting again,” Mrs. Fabian said. “Once those medications wore off, I think rather than facing the possibility that he would go completely off and murder someone else, he decided to kill himself. But I can’t prove that.”

The news of the death saddened Mrs. Fabian.

“Maybe it was kind of a fantasy, but I still thought that he could be a witness; that God still had work for him to do.”

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Mrs. Fabian’s return to Papua New Guinea earlier this year included a surprise meeting that stirred up memories of mixed feelings upon her arrival in 1969.

In her book, Mrs. Fabian writes about her first week in the country and how “awkward” it was. She and her husband didn’t know the language and were just learning how to act “cross-culturally.”

A woman’s wailing awoke them one night during their first week in the country.

“We followed that sound and found people sitting around an open fire with a corpse there,” she said.

A woman had died in childbirth. Her baby survived.

“I’m sitting there thinking, ‘This is awkward. I don’t know what to say to these people. I don’t fit in here,’” Mrs. Fabian said.

Then the dead mother’s “auntie” brought the baby over to Mrs. Fabian, who held her.

“For me, it was like some kind of special moment from the Lord, like, ‘They have entrusted you with this baby — and I think you can make it.’ I was probably reading a lot more into it than was actually there, but from then on, it was like, ‘Ya, I’m going to stay,’” Mrs. Fabian said.

A church service was held in January when Mrs. Fabian brought the new hymnals to Papua New Guinea.

“As we were getting organized before church, this lady came up to me,” she said. “I didn’t know her. She said, ‘I am that baby that you held your first week among the Nabak people.’”

“She was so beautiful,” Mrs. Fabian said. “It was so special to meet her after all these years. Her auntie had taken her out to migrate to another town and I never knew what happened to this baby. Here, 44 years later, it was very special.”


the details: ‘outrageous grace’ author to speak
WHAT: Live More Ministries hosts speaker Grace Fabian, author of “Outrageous Grace: A Story of Tragedy and Forgiveness.”
WHEN: 10 a.m. to noon Saturday at New Hope Baptist Church, 19983 State Route 3.
COST: The free program includes breakfast at 9:45 by the New Hope Baptist Church Women.
OF NOTE: Live More is a women’s ministry. The program is open to women only.
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