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.

Celebrating Completed Scriptures

 

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In recognition of the International Day of the Bible, translators and support workers gathered to celebrate language groups receiving God’s Word in this country.  In the past twelve months, Papua New Guineans received completed New Testaments in five languages, printed Scripture portions in 14 languages, and audio and video Scriptures in 13 languages. The room was filled with rejoicing as men and women walked, skipped, and even danced to the front of the church carrying copies of these newly published Scriptures.

Even as they celebrated what has been done, the group prayed for those who are still laboring to bring God’s Word to others. They know that getting the Scriptures in the hands of the people doesn’t come easily or without cost. With the Scriptures dedicated this year, the teams faced challenges right to the end. When the Uram translator arrived for the dedication, there was tribal fighting and the helicopter could not land. When the Alotau teams planned to send the mini-bibles to language groups on the islands, the boat they had reserved was not available. Travel in other places was postponed by rain and mudslides. However, through it all God’s people persevered and saw God provide alternative means of transportation.

A highlight of the morning of Scripture celebration was hearing a testimony about one of the groups who received printed Scriptures this year, the Dedua people. They are so eager for God’s Word that in a recent Bible teaching course people walked for hours over mountain paths to study the Scriptures. When they arrived and the church was already filled to capacity, they listened through the open windows.

Like the Dedua people, many people in PNG receive the Scriptures with great joy. Sadly, in other places people have had the New Testament in their mother tongue for several years but show little interest in reading it. Please pray that the language groups who received the Scriptures this year would cherish God’s word and allow it to transform their lives and communities.

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Behind the Scenes

 

 

 

behind_the_scenes_kodiakwork1Story by Karen Weaver; Photo by Stephen Parker

Papua New Guinea has people groups that speak more than 800 distinct languages. Many of those are inaccessible to land travel, being located in high mountain ranges or on remote islands. Kodiak airplanes with their short take off and landing capabilities are essential in reaching these destinations. But sometimes no piece of land is available that is long enough to build an airstrip. In those cases, language and literacy workers arrive and depart by helicopter.

These aircraft are intricate machines which must be tuned to precision to make safe passage to distant places where there are no alternative landing strips are available. Pilots and their passengers must arrive at their destinations safely. Working quietly behind the scenes to make this happen are the mechanics of the aviation department.

The first Kodiak arrived in PNG in 2010 and since its engine recently reached its lifetime limit of 4000 hours of flying, it rolled into the hanger for servicing. Expert mechanics took it apart, removed the well-used engine, and installed a new overhauled one in its place.

Since they have operated this aircraft for six years in a fairly harsh environment, the aviation team continued their probe by looking deeper into the airframe than they normally would during a routine 100 hour inspection. This evaluation of the Kodiak involved removing the landing gear and all the flight controls for detailed inspections. Several significant issues were discovered and corrected during the process so it was time well spent.

Soon this Kodiak will rejoin the other three airplanes and two helicopters, flying the skies of Papua New Guinea, carrying translators and literacy workers to all parts of the country. As translations are completed, these planes transport the Scriptures in print and audio form, bringing God’s life-changing message of hope to every language, and people group, and hamlet.

Discover Your Language

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Throughout Papua New Guinea, men and women are translating the Scriptures for their own people.  Seventeen of these translators met together for four weeks to study the grammar of their individual languages. They discovered that their languages are distinct, not only in their vocabulary, but often in their structure as well.

Most translating is done from English. When the participants compared this source language to their own, they were able to identify many differences in the structure. Being aware of these differences helps them write in such a way that the words flow smoothly in their heart language, rather than sounding like a rendition of English grammar. One of the instructors, Ray Stegeman, said, “It is our goal to see that these mother tongue translators are trained to be the best translators they can be. Understanding the grammar of their language is one step in creating a natural translation for their own people.”

Each person made significant discoveries about his language. One man learned how verbs in his language fit together in a series to give a new meaning. Others discovered how prefixes and suffixes change the meaning of verbs. All of them analyzed numbers, transition words, and word order.  Understanding these things will give them more confidence in their work and give them a strong foundation for tackling the translation of any sentence.

As they analyzed their language, they compiled a grammar paper to take home with them. This initial description of their language will serve as a reference tool for them, as well as a way for them to show others in their language group the unique and beautiful way that their language is formed.

Student Oscar Timan expressed his appreciation for the instruction he received. He testified, “I have been doing translation for nine years. Before I took this course, translation checkers would ask me why I wrote a passage a certain way. I would say, ‘I just put it down like that. It’s right. I know my language.’ After taking this course and learning how my grammar works, now I can tell them why!”

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