Initial Skills

Story by Karen Weaver, photos by Anita McCarthy

“After I left school for so many years, I could not do well in my translation work…I’ve been facing difficulties in my work, but I think that after I complete this course I will do better.” Simon was one of a dozen people who came to the Initial Skills course hoping to refine his language skills.

Grammar, dictionary use, and pronunciation were some of the foundational lessons taught to the students in the class. In addition, the course helped them improve their ability to think critically, to do research, and to use the computer. They worked in groups to study a Bible passage from Luke, doing some research about the passage and developing a short Bible study for others to use. Next, they developed and recorded a radio drama based on their chosen Bible story.

A few of the attendees were pastors who became better equipped to study and teach the Bible through the things they learned. As they completed the course they were better prepared to study scripture and to preach in English and in their own mother tongue.

During the course Carol improved her typing skills and understanding of language to such a degree that she is now able to help Pastor Roy enter his translation work into the computer. Although she herself is not a translator, she is thankful she can now contribute in this way.

The majority of the men and women who attended were already involved in Bible translation, while a few of them were new members of translation teams. Attending the Initial Skills course helped them improve their capacity in their current work and become prepared to take more advanced translator training courses.

At the close of the five weeks, the teachers were happy to hear one of the participants testify, “I love this course because I learned many things that help me to know better English and to translate the Word of God into my Tairora language.”

Stuck to God

Story and photo by John Nystrom

When the best translation for a phrase isn’t clear to the translation team, sometimes a local language expert can help.  Indigenous speakers understand the language and the culture better than anyone and can suggest ways to make the verse communicate clearly to the hearts of the people.

In the Sepik region of PNG, several people gathered to conduct the final checking on the books of I, II, and III John and Jude. They were challenged to find the best way to write the description of a believer’s intimate union with Christ. The writer of I John says we are “in Him.” That’s easy to express in English, but not in languages that only use “in” for things inside other things, but don’t use it in a metaphorical way. How would you express this concept without using the word “in”?

Unsure how to translate this, the team asked Wolwale local language expert Philip Musi for advice. Philip explained while demonstrating by putting his hand firmly to a nearby post, “It’s like a lizard who has really stuck himself to a tree.” Everyone in the room knew exactly what that looked like.

Now the revised draft of 1 John 2:28a in the Onnele Wolwale language reads: Kongkom uporo kinini, pone samo pangkana ka samo paipe fori uporo plau God. 

A rough English back translation is: My good children, you-all really stick to and really remain good friends with God. 

Pray for the Onnele Wolwale translators and others like them to remain “really stuck to God” as they continue translating his Word.

Books in their Hands

Story by Karen Weaver, photos by Kathy Wilson

In the past four weeks, Jonathan Wilson had spent a total of twelve mornings standing at the Nindewari marketplace trying to sell Binandere Scripture books. In all that time he had only sold six books. Jonathan was disappointed because he longed for these people to have God’s word, to read it, and to cherish it.

Now he and his wife Kathy were planning to visit two Binandere villages upstream on the Gira River. Should he try to sell books there? Reluctantly he put the latest Binandere Scripture books in his backpack and carefully crossed the narrow log bridge, heading toward Kadeu village. The books he carried were a compilation of Mark, Luke, and Acts.

When he arrived at the first village, Jonathan had the opportunity to read the story of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector (Luke 18:9-14) out loud to several men who were gathered on a porch playing cards. Drawn to the words, two of the men quietly arose and began peering over his shoulder to see this book written in their language. As soon as Jonathan finished the story, one of the men announced, “I want to buy one of those books.” Just that morning the man had walked 13 miles to visit his relatives in this house and was happy to be there when Jonathan came.

At another house Jonathan read the story of the widow’s mite (Mark 12:41-44) “…Mapa eutu rori ouwa ainda yai sakabé awa berari itae piesira.” (“…[The] very little that poor widow over there had, she gave it all.”) He had barely finished reading it when two of the ladies who had been listening piped up, “We each want to buy one of those books!”

One by one, the Scripture books were purchased by the Binanderes. As Jonathan crossed back over the narrow log bridge in the afternoon, his backpack was much lighter. All the books he had carried that morning were now in the hands of Binandere men and women. No longer would they need to peer over someone else’s shoulder to see the book, or ask a visitor to read God’s Word to them. Now they could read the Binandere Scriptures for themselves.

No More Mud

Story and photo by Karen Weaver

It was the early 1980’s and Des and Jenny Oatridge had been living among the Binumarien people for more than two decades, translating the Bible into their language. God’s Word was changing lives, sometimes in ways that took even Des and Jenny by surprise.

One of those times came when the Oatridge’s long-time neighbor, Peetai, died. That evening Des went to sleep in his village house, expecting to be awakened before too long by the traditional mourning and wailing. Strangely, only quiet penetrated the night air. The next day Des accompanied the family to the graveside, but he was puzzled that no one in the village was plastered in mud, as tradition demanded.

After the funeral Des went next door to visit Peetai’s husband, Maraa’aro, to mourn with him and the family for a while. Des commented, “I didn’t hear any crying last night.”

Maraa’aro replied, “No, we didn’t cry and there was no mud, except for one distant relative.”

Puzzled, Des asked, “But why didn’t you put on mud? And why didn’t you cry?”

Maraa’aro explained, “Mud is an expression of extreme grief. When a person dies and we realize they are gone forever, we cover our heads and shoulders with mud as a sign of the agony we feel inside. That person is gone forever and we’ll never see them again. The crying is very similar. We call that crying when someone dies ‘hard crying.’ We hard cry when we feel distraught by the eternal separation that death brings. We are helpless and hopeless. There is no way we can beat the monster death.”

Des queried, “I’m still not sure why you didn’t cry for Peetai.”

Her husband gently explained, “Everyone knows where Peetai is going. We know she went straight to Jesus in heaven. She loved to read the Scriptures. She taught them to her children.” Lowering his tear-filled eyes, Maraa’aro spoke softly, “Before she died, she said, ‘I am going to the Good Place. Do not hard cry for me. You shall see me again in the place Jesus is making.’”

(Condensed from the book “Hidden People” by Lynette Oats, p. 303-305)

From Rejection to Transformation

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Story by Karen Weaver, Photos by Jerry Pfaff

“I’m sorry, but we cannot accept your group into our Translator’s Training Course.”

Although the response to their application was very disappointing, the reason given served as a catalyst for something greater. The director of the training course explained, “Since there are 11 of you wanting training, we think you should have your own course there on your island.” Implementing a course was easier said than done, but 18 months later, a Translator Training Course came to fruition on Manus Island.

It became clear that God had something bigger in mind than just training people from this one language group. In fact, 44 people representing 15 languages came to learn the basics of translation. Together they deciphered their own languages to analyze its structure and grammar. They learned translation principles and how to write a key term from the Bible when there is no equivalent word in the local language. They also studied Bible history and geography and learned how to use study helps in translation, including a study Bible.

Their enthusiasm for using the study helps presented a new problem. Because they were not expecting such a large group, the coordinators only brought 18 NIV study Bibles for the group to use. The attendees expressed their concern, “There are 44 of us living in villages spread all over Manus Island. We each need our own study Bibles!” Due to the quick help of a few key people, the Bibles were brought by truck from the highlands of PNG to the coast, then flown on a plane that was scheduled at just the right time to get the books there a day before these newly trained translators returned to their homes.

The course itself brought transformation in the lives of a few of the attendees. One woman was sent by her language group because of her excellent typing skills. During the course she came to understand the significance of Christ’s death and resurrection and to put her faith in him. Another person whose life was changed was a man who was a leader of a cargo cult. Over the two weeks the group saw a softening in his countenance and heard him begin to apply Scripture to his own life.

As these men and women launch into translation, pray that they would keep acquiring a fresh understanding of God’s Word and that it would continue to transform their lives and the those of the communities they are serving.

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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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