God Speaks Our Language

Story by Rachel Greco

A kerosene lamp flickers in the dark as men and women sit on a tin container or palm mat for an evening session of village checking. Leo and Greg have already spent weeks translating the first drafts of several passages of Scripture and then checking their resemblance to the original Scriptures. Now they’re ready for the third step of translation: checking the passages with people in nearby villages, hence the term, “village checking.”

Lote speaking men and women listen to scripture portions read aloud. They offer constructive criticism to ensure clarity and accuracy. They wrestle with the words to find just the right expression to convey the message while preserving the richness of their language. The Lote experts, humble men and women who live off the land and cook by fire, sit in the shadows, now interacting with God’s word in their own language for the first time.

For this people, Scripture is typically reserved for Sundays, read in a trade language that is not necessarily clear or easily understood. The Bible they use is not usually expected to evoke emotional responses. Thus, the people’s reactions ranged from jovial to profound as they interacted with the Scriptures written in their language at one of the checking sessions:

“This doesn’t sound like God’s Word because it seems like John the Baptist is truly angry.” But that’s the way it’s actually supposed to be, because John really was angry, which shows that true emotions come across in the vernacular that weren’t captured in the trade language.

“When we read the trade language, it’s like the words bounce off our skin, but when we hear it in our language, it cuts straight into our hearts and gets into our blood,” one person said at another session.

For one checking session, Greg spent two days traveling to a village deep in the mountains by bike and walking. Gathered around the village that night, an elderly man heard the scriptures read aloud in his language for the first time. He called the children of the village over and said, “Children come! Listen to this. Before we only had God’s talk in someone else’s words. Now God speaks our language!”


Equipped for Translation

Story by Karen Weaver

Papua New Guineans in every province of PNG are dedicated to translating God’s Word into their own heart language. In July and August, eighteen of these faithful men and women, representing six languages, spent five weeks away from their families so they could receive intense training in Bible translation.

Students learned translation principles, grammar, and the art of writing a sentence that flows smoothly and naturally, yet remains true to the original meaning. Through drama and role play they experienced the excitement of crossing the Red Sea, the hope revealed in the Passover meal, and the joy of writing songs of victory.

All six of the language groups represented already have some Scripture in their language, ranging from two books to the entire New Testament. Each of the participants translated some portions of Genesis and Exodus as part of their training. Most of them plan to continue in New Testament translation as well.

One of the participants, named Vetari, told why he was happy to attend the course. He explained, “At this time, most of our pastors are from other language groups so when they preach it is in English or in the Motu language and it is hard for us to understand. It is much better for us to translate the Word of God into our own language so our people can understand it and use it in their lives.”

Although many language groups in PNG do not have trained translators working with them, the Buhutu, Ghayavi, Kaninuwa, Misima, Saisai, Uare languages do, thanks to the dedication of these eighteen men and women.

These participants have now returned to their home provinces better equipped to carry on the task of Bible translation. They are just a few of the many Papua New Guineans who embrace the fact that God’s Word was written for them and was meant to be understood by all people in all languages, including theirs.

Hard Work for the Kou

Story by Stephanie Ernandes

Men from the Kou language group, a remote area in Papua New Guinea, had heard about other language groups near to them who had God’s word translated into their own language. These men greatly desired to have the Word of God translated into Kou – so they too could have the Bible in words familiar to them. Their community so wanted God’s word in their heart language that they gathered their money together and sent five men away from their homes, families and gardens to come to a Translators Training Course (TTC) for five weeks.

Barry Moeckel, the TTC mentor that worked with the Kou team describes this group, “Although a bit shy, they expressed their gratitude in a way that was very appropriate in their culture—they brought me bananas, several times. They didn’t say anything, but simply handed me two or three bananas, smiled broadly, and walked away.”

The Kou team worked very hard during the duration of the course. Among the many things they learned and did while attending, they translated Genesis 22:1-19 (God asks Abraham to sacrifice Isaak, God’s provision of a ram and God’s promise bless all the nations of the earth Abrahams offspring) into the Kou language. How exciting it must have been to return to their community with this, the first-ever scripture written in the Kou language, in hand!

They have been given assignments to complete while they are home such as checking comprehension of the Scripture they translated with their community and translating 10 more chapters of Genesis. After completing these assignments they will, Lord willing, return for TTC2 in 2018 – the second of four training sessions designed to bring these Papua New Guineans to complete understanding of translating Scripture. These men are heros for their people group much like John Wycliffe, the man who first translated the Bible into English, is for us. What an amazing, life giving, life changing work these men are doing for their people!

Unplugging Wells

Adam Speaking to a Crowd of Enga Villagers

Story By Rachel Greco

Like removing rocks which block a well, fluency in reading and speaking can open up the glorious goodness of God’s Word to people in Papua New Guinea.

During Adam and Martha Boyd’s last visit to their village of Immi, they had the opportunity to visit the area surrounding their home. One day their family crossed the long suspension bridge over the Lai River and headed along a path up the mountain. Just as they were about to turn around and go home, they came upon a small market area. As the family arrived, Adam was quickly ushered into the center of the market area and told that he needed to speak to the people.

Extemporaneous speaking in Enga is not his strength. Fortunately, however, he was able to recall some of the things he had said in the sermon that he had recently delivered in the Enga language, and did his best to share about the Kingdom of God with the people at the market. He also played for them a small audio sample from the Gospel of Matthew over his phone.

This unexpected occurrence made him realize that God has given him a tremendous opportunity. Because people are so excited to hear a foreigner speak Enga, he has the possibility of going almost anywhere in the province and drawing a crowd just by speaking. Possessing an increased fluency in the Enga language would enable him to share the deep truths of God’s Word.

Becoming comfortable with reading a language can also help un-stopper the plug of God’s truth. In June, Martin Harty, one of the Enga Bible translation team members, came to Ukarumpa and recorded the book of Luke. Because of Martin’s fluency, they were able to complete the recording in just five and a half days. They now have three gospels recorded in the Enga language. Three openings of wells that the people who are not yet fluent in reading Enga can come and drink from.


The Color Purple


Tree with Purple Fruit

Story by Rachel Greco

The Kasua people of Western Province have no word for the color purple. They have words for many other colors: black, red, white, yellow, green, and blue, but not for the color of royalty.

About nine New Testament passages mention people placing a purple robe on Jesus. The Kasua translation team always wanted to use the word ‘red,’ or ‘keyalo,’ to describe the robe. Tommy, one of the translation team helpers, disagreed because this is not historically accurate or signifies the royalty of Jesus.

One of the main rules of translation is that the team must stick to the historical facts when they translate a passage. If they don’t, then how can the readers trust what they’re reading is true? Other questions about truth could bubble in the reader’s minds about the Scriptures. For this reason, Tommy was not willing to change the word purple. So the team hung up the problem, hoping to revisit it later with more inspiration.

God did not disappoint.

Years later, Tommy hiked with some of the men near their village. They saw a tree that possessed bulbous growths growing on the side of it like fruit. These growths were “the most beautiful color of purple I’d ever seen,” explained Tommy.

“What is the name of this tree?” Tommy asked the men.

“This is an Okani tree,” they replied.

Tommy suggested, “Why don’t you, in those passages where we’ve been struggling to translate the color purple, use ‘they put a robe on Jesus the color of the fruit of the Okani tree’?

“Yeah. We know exactly what color that is,” the men said enthusiastically.

Everyone in their village would also visualize this phrase accurately, as the Okani tree is the only tree in that area that produces this kind of purple growth. So now, among the Kasua people, in his royal purple robe, Jesus is shown to be the king that he is.

Puzzle Piece

By Rachel Greco

Hundreds of language groups without Scripture in their language lay scattered throughout Papua New Guinea like clusters of stars. How does a translator know which people group to work with?

One young woman, Joy*, from a farm in Montana, read a story in 2010 about a language group in Papua New Guinea called the Nama. One of the Nama people said, “Having the Bible in English is like having a cold glass of water we can’t drink because we can’t understand it,” which splashed Joy’s heart.

While Joy attended the Pacific Orientation Course (POC) in 2011, the survey team took a trip out to the Blafe language area to see where they could begin a new translation. After POC, Joy heard about this trip and said, “I was very excited. It brought back all my memories of the Nama,” but she still planned on visiting other locations.

Joy wanted to visit the Blafe language group first, because that’s where she felt God was leading her. Before she went, she gathered some input about the ministry side from friends and compiled a list.

Joy was blown away by how God checked off everything on her list as she visited this language group. The people’s spiritual hunger was evident, as was their desire for truth and growth. Joy saw the things that would be difficult about living in this area, such as the travel, but God showed her ways around each challenge. On a more practical side, since she had grown up on a farm, the remote setting and rural life of the area thrilled her.

As Joy prayed about working among the Blafe people, the first verse in 1 Thessalonians 2 stuck out to her: “Our visit to you is not a failure.” Many of the themes in the following passage fit the needs of the area, such as new beliefs sneaking into the community and how to keep following the Truth.

God tugged Joy all the way from rural Montana to Papua New Guinea, snapping her together like a puzzle piece with the Nama people, her new family.

*The name has been changed for the anonymity of the speaker.

Papa Patiqu

By Rachel Greco

Patiqu never went to school.

When Carl and Pat Whitehead met Patiqu in 1976, he knew Tok Pisin, Papua New Guinea’s trade language, but not how to read and write it. He and other people in the Menya people group wanted the Scriptures in their own language because they recognized that Tok Pisin didn’t speak clearly to them.

Patiqu’s clarity of speaking drew the Whiteheads to him. They invited him to work an hour or two with them every day so they could learn the language, hoping to translate God’s Word someday into the Menya language.

They taught him to read his own language after they developed an alphabet. Then, using the skills they’d given him, Patiqu taught himself to read Tok Pisin.

A few years later Carl decided to expand the translation team by looking for additional educated men. The Whiteheads would pay all the work-related expenses and help in other ways, but wouldn’t be paying the team a regular wage. They had been paying Patiqu for his help until then, but explained that they wouldn’t be able to in the future.

After considering the loss of pay, a few days later Patiqu came back to Carl and said, “I feel that God wants me to stay in translation.”

Other men swam in and out of the translation team, but Patiqu was always there, a steady rock through the river of life. The Whiteheads described him as, “the most consistent and steady person” in their translation team. He worked on the book of Acts and Romans by himself while the Whiteheads went on furlough, using the Tok Pisin Buk Baibel as his only aid. Once he completed a task, he was always looking for the next project, going on to produce draft translations of numerous books of the Old Testament.

Today, Patiqu, approximately 70 years old, continues to participate in the read-throughs of the New Testament. The younger members of the team, one of whom is his eldest son, recognize Patiqu as the Papa of the translation. He was there at its birth and continues working for the Lord in his autumn years. May his hard work and endurance for God be a spark in the lives of us all.