Many American children learn in social studies class about the Mayan civilization, an ancient tribe from the Yucatan Peninsula of modern-day Mexico, who devised an intricate system of hieroglyphics and built enormous pyramids in the jungle.
But what many Americans don’t know is that the Mayans never went extinct. In fact, there are more than 700,000 Mayans still living in the Yucatan Peninsula, as well as thousands who have immigrated to the United States.
Rev. Ruberto Ek Yah is one of them – and the first Mayan LCMS pastor.
“The first Sunday after I came to the United States, my cousin reminded me to go to church. I couldn’t read the signs out front, but I saw that the priest was wearing the same white robe I was used to from my youth in the Catholic Church. The service was familiar; my cousin told me, ‘Now we are saying the Creed.’ Then, I found out she had brought me to a Lutheran church! But I loved it. The Lutheran faith is so Christ-centric. I stepped into that church and never came out of Lutheranism.”
Though Ruberto had never given a thought to the ministry, God had other plans. After graduating from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, Rev. Ek Yah (pictured above) returned to Portland, Oregon, where he serves at Trinity Lutheran Church.
When Covid hit, Rev. Ek Yah started conducting online worship services. His parents, who still live in Mexico, started sharing their son’s recordings with their Mayan friends and family.
“A few members in the Yucatan said they wanted to be in Bible class,” Rev. Ek Yah said. “In class, we all speak Mayan (like most Mayans), not Spanish. But the Bible doesn’t exist in Mayan, so I had to translate, literally, what I was trying to teach in each moment.
“My wife and I were talking about how if I could just have some materials in Mayan, it would be way easier to teach.”
That’s when Rev. Ek Yah met Rev. Mark Moss, LHF’s mission engagement associate, who encouraged him to think about translating Lutheran resources into his Mayan language. A few months later, LHF’s first Mayan publication, the “Jesus Never Fails” devotional booklet, is about to go to press. The booklet will be shared not only in the Yucatan Peninsula, but also among immigrant Mayans in Washington, Oregon and California.
“When I was working on the translation of ‘Jesus Never Fails,’ I translated John 3:16 into Mayan,” he recalled. “For the first time, I read John 3:16 in my language!
“Think about it! That’s how Martin Luther started. These people need to have God’s Word to them in their own language,” Rev. Ek Yah concluded. “That’s the same path I’m trying to follow.”