My Online Christian Magazine Interview – Pt. 3

Recently, I was interviewed by a Christian magazine regarding my life in Christ and the translation work that I have been involved with for over 17 years now. In this third article that includes portions of the questionnaire, I talk about the training that I have done to prepare me to do Bible translation, and what it was like when I went over to work in Papua New Guinea.  My prayer is that what I wrote will be a blessing to you, and be a testimony to the greatness of God who has empowered me to do His work.

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Q5: Could you summarize the linguistic trainings you went through before becoming a Bible translator? Your childhood episode indicates that mathematics is also important in translating Bible. How so, and what other subjects and experiences are relevant to become a good Bible translator in your opinion? How many languages can you currently read and write?

I have had two years of formal linguistic training.  This includes courses such as: General Linguistics, Phonetics, Phonology, Advanced Grammar, Semantics, Translation Principles, Research into Papuan Languages, Basic Literacy Programs, and Computer Assisted Field Language Research.

Linguistics alone will not make a person a good Bible translator.  I have benefitted greatly by having three Bible and Seminary degrees.  What a good translator should have, I believe, it at least one year minimum of Bible college education.  Then add to that a working knowledge of biblical Greek and Hebrew, as well as experience in Biblical Exegesis. 

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You want a translator to be both linguistically educated and biblically knowledgeable to have a balanced translation.  (The reason why I mentioned that being good at mathematics is helpful is that languages can be analyzed systematically and rules of symmetry and structure found in them just like math has consistent rules and structures to it.)

Over the years I have learned to speak (in addition to my native English) Spanish, Tok Pisin (the trade language of PNG), Nend (the village language of PNG where I worked), and basic Swahili (for the time I was in East Africa).  I can also read biblical Greek and Hebrew.

Q6: How did it feel when you were first sent abroad to the mission field of Papua New Guinea? Was the branch office already established in your destination or did you have to start from the very beginning, befriending the locals first? How did you warm up/ communicate with locals at first? Any case of misunderstanding or hostility? What kind of wisdom did you gain through your efforts to resolve and reconcile? Do you have any interesting episodes regarding such case?

Before coming to PNG in 1997, I had already done summer mission work in Brazil, Honduras, Dominican Republic and Mexico.  So when we arrived in PNG, I felt like I was very much at home here and that this was where I belonged.  Over the many years, I have actually felt more comfortable being in these overseas countries and cultures than being at home in my North American culture.

Thankfully, the PBT-PNG Branch was well established by the time we came here.  The first missionaries for PBT came to PNG in 1976.  When we arrived, there was a good size office functioning in Madang, and we had over 10 language projects running in the country.  What Jill and I decided to do, rather than go out to the rural areas to start a new language project, was to go to a village in the jungle where a project had already been started. 

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There was one where the missionaries had had to leave due to medical and personal reasons.  The Nend project was started in 1985 and the mission couple did the ground work there (building a grass airstrip and house, and publishing a Grammar Paper plus start a dictionary and part of the translation of Mark).  So when we went to our village, there was already a house and preliminary linguistics done.  This let me get a jump start on language learning, and after five years we had the Gospel of Mark translated and nearly ready to be published.

Because I took over an existing project, I “inherited” some friends and national co-translators.  But we all became good friends, and I made some new good friends of my own who have become excellent co-translators.  There are two major incidents that were very eye-opening and could have been quite dangerous during our time in the village. 

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The first incident I am thinking of is when a young boy died of cerebral malaria.  The father of the boy accused an old man of being a sorcerer and was going to go kill the old man with his axe. You can read the full story in “And The Angels Rejoiced” (Aug. 18, 2011).  Praise God that the situation was resolved peacefully with the two parties were reconciled to each other.  I am very thankful that God used me in this situation to bring about the reconciliation.

The second incident was much more serious and involved the entire language group of more than 2,000 people.  I mentioned this incident in an article I just posted “Satan Is The True Enemy – Pt. 2”.  When the former missionary came back after many years to visit us in the village, rumors based off of PNG legends began to circulate that he was coming back to distribute the wealth of Heaven in terms of material goods.

When this did not happen, the people became very upset and animosities and accusations went around that threatened to break out into a tribal war.  God used me in this situation to hold an all-night Bible preaching and teaching time to help correct the misguided thoughts and desires that believed Christianity and attachment to western missionaries would bring about material wealth in this life.

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