The Right Man for the Job

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Story by Karen Weaver, Photo by Karen Weaver

In 2006, audio recording specialist Dan Bauman accompanied translator Alan Canavan to the Bwanabwana Islands in Milne Bay Province. On the day they planned to record Mark’s gospel, Alan gathered people together to read the passages. His plan was to have a different person read each chapter, but he was one person short.

Along came a youth in his late teens who was eager to participate. Knowing this young man pronounced his V’s as W’s, Alan was hesitant to use him. Could this be the right person for the recording? Alan looked to the left and to the right, hoping to see someone else approaching. There was no one. He consented to let John read.

Happy to have a part, John read his chapter while Dan pushed buttons on the computer to record his voice. Although John had worked hard on getting the pronunciation right, afterwards Alan wondered if it was smooth enough. Maybe he should find someone else and record that chapter again. In the end he decided to leave it.

A decade later, in 2016, Alan was visiting the islands, checking some Old Testament passages and encouraging reading of the New Testament. A young man in his late 20’s approached him and asked, “Do you remember when Dan came out and we did that recording of Mark?” Alan remembered.

John continued, “That day changed my life.” Now he had Alan’s rapt attention. John explained, “Ever since the day of that Scripture recording, I started thinking hard about my whole life. From then on I started reading the New Testament. Now I read it all the time.”

Knowing this man had had some struggles with drunkenness in his past, Alan was skeptical. However, his trusted friend and co-translator confirmed, “It’s true. Ever since he read that chapter of Mark for the recording his life has turned around and now he is one of our best churchmen.”

Alan finally understood why no one else had appeared to read Mark that day. Seeing how participating in the recording had changed John’s life, Alan was convinced that John had indeed been the right man for the job.

Just the Beginning

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Story by Karen Weaver, Photos by Susan Frey

In late July, Musungwik village was a buzz of activity. Men built a grandstand and two shelters for guests, covering the latter with coconut fronds to provide shade. Hosts welcomed guests into their homes, brought food from their gardens, and cooked a feast which included chicken, rice, yams, and fruit. Young children swept debris from the village while the women adorned the gathering place with flowers. Each task was done as a labor of love in anticipation of the arrival of the Urat New Testament.

On the morning of July 30th people gathered in the village square. In the distance the sound of singing could be heard, and slowly a group from Nanaha village danced their way into the dedication area, dressed in traditional costume. They lead a procession of five Urat women carrying the newly printed New Testaments in bilum baskets. Each woman represented a different church denomination.

After they placed the baskets holding their precious contents on a corner of the grandstand, the speeches began. Though they had not collaborated on what they would say, each person seemed to speak on a central theme, repeatedly emphasizing the importance of the Urat Scriptures, and each offering glory to God for bringing it through to completion. At the conclusion of the speeches, pastors from six denominations laid their hands on the New Testaments and prayed for God to use them in the lives of the Urat people. Afterwards, key people were given a book and others had the opportunity to purchase them.

Now that the Urat people have God’s word in their language, is this the end of the work of bringing God’s Word to these people in their heart language? No, it is just the beginning. The church leaders and the Urat co-translators have plans for more literacy courses, Scripture Application workshops, and an adaptation of this New Testament into another dialect of Urat. They trust that God, who brought the Urat New Testament to completion, will continue to be their strength and guide on the path ahead.

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Listening to God’s Word

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Story by Karen Weaver, Photos by Kathy Husk

As the coastal residents wandered around the town of Alotau awaiting the start of the annual boat races, they visited booths where vendors were selling food or local handicrafts. Many were drawn to a booth where videos about Bible translation were playing. While they chatted with the people there, many took advantage of the opportunity to download both audio and printed Scriptures onto their phones at no cost.

When they heard God’s Word speaking from their phones in their language for the first time, often their faces lit up into big smiles. God was speaking to them! Some also purchased printed Scripture portions. Many accepted the free gift of a lanyard which said, “God’s Word in every language.”

One person who was especially grateful for the audio scriptures was a young man named Singh. That’s because Singh is blind. He was excited to hear God’s book spoken in his heart language of Wedau. He exclaimed in English, “This gives me goose bumps!”

When his father bought him a solar-powered audio player, Singh happily carried it home. The next day he returned to tell his new friends, “Last night I fell asleep listening to the Audibible.”

For some visitors to Aloutau that week, the highlight was seeing the boats with their colorful sails race across the bay. For others, like Singh, the highlight was discovering a way to listen to God’s word in their own homes in their own language.

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God Has the Answers

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Story by Karen Weaver

“What will we do if we ever lose Tomas?” This was a question Brad and Toni Guderian asked themselves many times during their 23 years of working in Milne Bay Province in southeast Papua New Guinea. Tomas was their closest friend and ally in the language program, their main language helper, and a liaison between them and the Koluwawa community.

Then the worst happened…Tomas left the community and was no longer able to work on the translation. Questions swirled through the Guderians’ minds, “How will we complete the translation?” “Who will help the community understand what we are doing?” “Will there be anyone to look after our house while we are away?” “Does anyone else understand translation principles like Tomas did?”

Although Brad and Toni didn’t have any answers, God did. In his perfect timing, he brought not just one person to replace Tomas, but a team of people. Some help translate. Others help watch over their village house when they are away from Fergusson Island. In general, Brad and Toni are now much more connected to and cared for by the community as a whole. They have experienced what Joseph did when he said, “God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” (Genesis 50:20 NIV)

However, even as they give thanks for the current situation, Brad and Toni know there are many obstacles that still lie ahead. The boat they have used for transportation is being sold and they will have to find other means to get to Fergusson Island. The person who has typeset many New Testaments is retiring and will not be available when the Koluwawa New Testament is ready. Their finance office is short-staffed, which may mean they will have to find a new way of acquiring cash within the country. Though the Guderians don’t know a solution for these problems, they trust the Lord to solve these and every future challenge, just as he has in the past.

No More Hymnbooks

“Sing to the Lord a new song, his praise from the ends of the earth.” Isaiah 42:10

Since the days of the ancient Hebrews, men and women have been expressing their praise to God through songs of worship.

Like the Hebrew people of the Old Testament, the Usarufa people of the Eastern Highlands of Papua New Guinea express feelings of great joy and deep sorrow through their music. They like to sing and have always included songs in their worship services. However, though they weren’t sure why, there seemed to be something missing in the quality and depth of meaning of their hymns. Although they sang the songs every week, they still could not remember the words and relied heavily on the hymnbook.

This began to change last Christmas when churches from many villages gathered for their annual Christmas Camp. They had this in common: They were all mother tongue speakers of the Usarufa language. At the camp, they worked together to translate some hymns and choruses into the language that communicated from their deepest being, the Usarufa language. As more and more songs were translated, the excitement grew. Around the camp, people began singing the songs of praise to the Lord in their heart language.

For the past six months, the Usarufa churches have been singing the songs that were translated during the camp. Now their voices ring out with a new gusto and a new sense of awe and worship of their Lord. One community leader, Waks, testified, “Previously we could never remember the songs. They just didn’t stick in our heads. But now that we can sing them in our own language, the people memorize the songs very quickly. No one needs the hymnbooks anymore!”

AIDS Awareness DVD

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“This is powerful! We need this in our language! Our people need to see this!”

What had evoked such a response from the Kamano-Kafe translation team? It was the DVD produced by a church in Papua New Guinea several years ago depicting the devastation of AIDS. The story focuses on one family in which the parents contract the disease through the husband’s unfaithfulness. The story goes on to show the tragic effects on the wife and children.

After obtaining permission to reproduce the 80-minute film in minority languages, the team faced technical challenges. In the USA, media specialist Lauren Runia utilized new technology to pull the video from a DVD and prepare it for recording. Then he and his wife Connie spent a month in PNG training five highly capable men to record the voices, dub the sound onto the film, and create the DVDs.

As part of their training, they recorded and produced the film in the Kamano-Kafe language.

The Kamano-Kafe version was completed by the end of the training. It will be sold on SD cards and on DVDs at their annual Christmas Camp in late December.

In the future, these trainees will work closely with the PNG churches to make this powerful tool available to local communities in their heart language. In fact, it is already having an impact on the people who helped produce it. One of the church elders who served as a voice on the recording was very excited as he told the team, “There are many places I want to show this video!” A woman who played the voice of the mother on the film was so touched by the plight of the children in the story that she was genuinely crying as she read her lines.

The first case of AIDS in PNG appeared in 1987 and since then has been spreading rapidly. The film is needed to teach the causes and effects of this devastating illness. Zach, one of the video trainees, declared, “Many men and women will change their lives by watching this video.” He explained, “Because it is in their own language it talks straight to the heart!”

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