The Eternal Value Of Bible Translation Work

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Consultant checking of translated Scriptures can be tedious work and very exhausting as we look at every word, every phrase and every sentence of every verse, to make sure that it accurately communicates what was written down by the first biblical authors.  For the past three months, I have been checking various books of the Bible for different language groups.  It is exhausting, but also very rewarding.

There are also times when we laugh and when we cry as the message does not communicate, but something else that we did not intend to happen does happen.  A colleague of mine has also just finished a long period of checking a number of New Testament books for her language group.  I hope you enjoy reading the following story.

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“Is he crying?”  I thought to myself as I looked up from writing corrections on our draft of the Gospel of Mark. I confirmed that the man was indeed crying and then the man beside him began crying and wiping his eyes and several of the other guys began wiping their eyes.  By that time, the first man was in the loud crying stage. He came to me, shook hands for a long time and kept saying over and over, “It’s true! It’s true!”

I was so stunned by his response that it took me a few seconds to realize that the verse that had hit him so hard was Mark 13:31, which in Apal translation says, “‘The ground and sky will disappear,’ he said. ‘Given that [but],’ he said. ‘My talk will not disappear,’ he said.”  I assured him that we were working on something of eternal value.  Everything else won’t last, but God’s Word will never disappear. 

Looking at his response, my guess is that he “got it” much better than I did.  This world will end, but God’s Word will never end.  Seeing his positive response to God’s Word in his own language gave me hope and the motivation needed to keep pressing on through the checking of the Gospel of John.  Sometimes I despaired of the translation ever being accurate enough and communicating clearly enough to make it worth printing.

Even after correcting it with a consultant, we were reading through John and I realized that John 11:25 just wouldn’t work because it sounded like the believers who died would stay happily dead forever.  To live eternally is translated as “being good only like that and only like that” and when that was combined with being dead – they were just “good and dead,” i.e., really dead.  Thankfully, that error was relatively easy to correct by adding in that they would rise again and then live eternally.   

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In addition to numerous other bloopers, two of my blooper “albatrosses” resurfaced again after the consultant had already checked and approved the verses.  We had been checking the placement of the sign above Jesus’ head on the cross and I had been a bit dubious when they  had the piece of paper sitting on top of “Jesus” head for a few seconds.  But they had quickly corrected it when I reread the passage. They knew it wasn’t right to put it on top of Jesus’ head. 

I sighed with relief, but something still kept bugging me about it so after the consultant left, I read them the translation of the parallel verse in Mark and one man said, “That is the way it should be in John.  We are missing the piece of wood sticking up behind Jesus’ head in the John translation.  Make it like that!”  So, we revised it and then I asked them one last time about where the angels had sat in the empty tomb.  I knew that we had corrected it so that the angels were no longer sitting on Jesus’ dead body, but there was still something about it that didn’t seem quite right, but I didn’t know what it was.

Finally, one of the guys said, “Well, this says that they sat on the empty spot where Jesus himself had put his own head and the empty spot where Jesus himself had put his own feet.  Did Jesus lie down there on his own after he was dead?”  I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.  The miracle of the resurrection is one thing, but did we really want the miracle of a dead man putting himself in place in his own tomb?  So, that was quickly revised by simply changing a few endings and then putting third person plural endings on the verbs.    

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Then there is Mark 10:27 in Apal which says, “They did it and Jesus was seeing them and said. ‘Men see and whatever whatever [all kinds of things] are habitually being like a mountain,’ he said. ‘Given that [but], God sees and whatever whatever [all kinds of things] are not habitually being like a mountain,’ he said. That verse has been the one keeping us going.  The checking that needed to be done seemed like a mountain, but now the mountain is gone. 

Thank you for praying with us through the longs months of checking.  As a result, we were able to check 35% of the NT and now 80% of the Apal NT has been consultant checked. Praise God with me.    

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Overcoming Discouragement By Our Faith – Pt. 5

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In the article two weeks ago, I mentioned that I struggled quite a bit during my first long-term period of being a missionary.  That was when I was serving with Teen Missions and my summer experience turned out to be 18 months in length as I kept extending my time with the mission group.  There were so many new issues to deal with, both cross-culturally and in the relationships I had with my fellow missionaries.

It is now coming up to 35 years for me of being involved in mission experiences, so I guess you could say that I am a “veteran” missionary.  I think I can say that I have grown quite a bit over the years and am able to handle the hard issues that a missionary faces on a regular basis.  And yet at the same time, there are some things that don’t change.  Life is still challenging on the mission field, the Enemy does not let up on his assault, and people can still be difficult to work with.

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I just recently shared with some of my colleagues that there are times when it is good to have a focused time of prayer and fasting.  This would be true when we seem to be facing difficulties that are physically and emotionally challenging, but also when we sense that there is spiritual opposition and/or oppression that is coming against us.

I reminded the group that fasting was a spiritual discipline that was regularly practiced by God’s people throughout the Old Testament period and has continued up until today.  As you might already know, Jesus Himself did not say, “If you fast…” but rather “When you fast….”  One of my translator resources said that “the three primary expressions of piety [for Jews] were charity, prayer and fasting.” (Translator’s Handbook on Matthew for Mt. 6:16-18)

Fasting is normally considered to be a voluntary abstinence from food for the purpose of dedicating one’s self to a time of prayer and drawing close to God.  I certainly recommend this practice as a way to face the difficulties of life and the attacks of the enemy.  James 4:7-8 aptly ties two important spiritual truths together: when we resist the Devil, he will flee from us, and when we draw close to God, He will draw close to us.

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We are encouraged in Scripture to have faith in God, to worship Him and be a praying people when we face difficult times.  James 5:13-15 mentions all of these things as a means to deal with sicknesses that can hit us and sins that we may have committed.  We are also encouraged in Scripture to do battle with our spiritual enemy, the Devil.  Read Ephesians 6:10-18 to understand that many battles we face in life may be spiritual in nature and must be dealt with spiritually.

There are so many more verses that could be mentioned in this whole topic of learning how to stand strong and do battle against the forces that hit us and wear us down.  We must always be ready in our prayers to fight against sickness that disables us, sin that entangles us, and Satan who want to destroy us and our faith in God.

All of this is true, but we must not keep our attention focused solely on the negative side of this great battle that we are in.  If we were to only think about the challenges and difficulties that we face when sickness, sin or Satan come at us, then we probably would end up feeling spiritually fatigued all the time.  I believe that we must also have our focus centered in on the positive side of the victory that is provided for us in Christ.

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When we face great difficulties (whether physically, spiritually or emotionally), we need to pray like Elisha did for his servant when the vast armies of Aram were totally surrounding the city they were in.  Elisha asked God to open the eyes of his servant to see the “REAL” reality of the battle.  God heard that prayer and suddenly the servant saw the vast army of God’s angels who would win the battle for them.

We also need to have our minds opened and attuned to God’s way of thinking.  Romans 12:2 says that we must no longer be conformed to the pattern of this world.  That means that when it is natural to worry, to be afraid, to seek for power, wealth or fame, we are acting in a worldly way.  Instead, the verse says that we can be transformed people when we have our minds renewed by God, and then we will see and understand how good God’s will and God’s ways are and we will be able to follow in that path.

The third part of our selves that we need to focus in on to have a victorious life is to open up our hearts to the full measure of the love of God.  Read Ephesians 3:16-19.  Paul is praying that we all might come to understand just how broad, deep and wide the love of God is for us.  And when we do immerse ourselves into His love, accepting all that the Father has done for us and will do for us out of that love, then Scripture says that our inner being, our heart and soul, will be strengthen by the power of the Holy Spirit.

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So what am I saying in all of this?  I do understand that all of us will face difficult periods in our lives due to the effects of sickness, sin in the world, and the attacks of Satan against us.  But we must not keep our attention focused in on just these problems.  We need to open up our eyes, our mind and our hearts, not physically, but spiritually, to see the victory that God through Christ has obtained for us.  And then we need to walk in the power of that victory as a transformed person, able to overcome these discouragements by our faith.

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God’s Word Comes To The Yalunka People

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Praise God for a Completed Translation of the Entire Bible

[Editor’s Note: Pioneer Bible Translators recently celebrated a significant milestone in our mission history.  PBT sent its first two missionary family over to Papua New Guinea back in 1976.  Thirty seven years later, the first completely translated Bible into the local people’s language occurred in West Africa among the Yalunka people group.  The story below comes from a woman who was there and made incredible observations throughout the Day of Dedication.  I know you will enjoy this story.]

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I was there as an observer. Up until this point, my closest tie to the Yalunka people was the many prayers I offered on their behalf and the numerous stories I heard about them from our president, Greg Pruett. Now I was privileged beyond words to witness these stories take on flesh before my very eyes as the Word of God came to life among them.

My eyes scanned the crowd of Yalunka men and women, hoping to absorb every snapshot of this historic moment – the dedication of the complete Bible in their language. It was actually the little things that stood out to me.

First there was the man who accepted the gift of a Bible with unbridled joy on his face. He didn’t glance up from the Word for the next 15 minutes or so, opening the book and immediately beginning to read. He then struck up conversations with those around him, pointing to the text and smiling. Although I couldn’t hear or understand his words, my heart sung with the realization, “He is Bible-less no more!”

Then there were the children, so curious about the many westerners who showed up for this momentous day. They were eager to hold my hands, have their picture taken and catch my attention with a smile. They are the first generation of Yalunka children to grow up with access to God’s Word in their language. As their parents become acquainted with and transformed by Scripture, so too, will they.

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I watched the Yalunka church leaders unload the boxes of Bibles in front of the crowd and set them down reverently on the table. They methodically passed them out to each group of visitors according to the size of the church in their area. Some men received one or two; others were given entire boxes of Bibles to take home with them.

At the conclusion of the ceremony, I choked up as these same men lifted the boxes to their shoulders and carried them off from the meeting place. I imagined the rejoicing of the saints waiting at home as the Bibles were delivered and could almost hear the sound of pages turning in church on Sunday as the pastor preached from the Yalunka Bible instead of the French.

I then observed one of our veteran missionaries open the Book, awe etched on the canvas of her face. I almost felt like an intruder on her private expression of praise for this long awaited day. She served for years as a literacy specialist among the Yalunka people, daily laboring to teach them to read so they could take ownership of the Scriptures once they were available. She placed her hand palm down on the pages of this Holy Book, closed her eyes and raised her head heavenward. The reverence in her countenance sang with mine, “They are Bible-less no more!”

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Finally, my eyes caught sight of a woman standing in the back of the crowd, pulling her ear and looking intently at the ground below. As she dropped down on all fours to look for her earring, I saw Scripture played out before me – the vision of another woman sweeping her entire house in search of a lost coin (Luke 15:8). In that moment, I heard the whispers of the Father, “I am searching for every lost Yalunka soul – every…single…one.”

As songs were sung in praise to God, as introductions of visitors from far away were made, as sermons were delivered and prayers prayed, my love and appreciation grew for the worldwide team who enabled this ministry among these beautiful people. We always describe the ministry of Pioneer Bible Translators as a team ministry, but the reality of this was never clearer to me than at that moment. God accomplished this work – our first completed Bible – through a team of missionaries, support personnel, donors and prayer warriors who each made sacrifices to see God’s Kingdom expand.

Together we look forward to the day when a great multitude from every nation, tribe, people and language will stand before the throne and before the Lamb (Rev. 7:9-10). On that day, none present will be mere observers, but full participants in the coming of His glory.

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Prayer Requests

  • The Yalunka people now have the complete Bible in their mother tongue. Pray that these recently dedicated Bibles will be widely used. Pray that lives will be transformed.
  • We serve among 11 other people groups in this region whose Bible translations are in various stages of completion. Pray that the continuing work of our missionaries and national translators will be fruitful.
  • 
Our West Africa team has a critical shortage of administrative personnel. Pray that the Lord of the harvest will send the right administrators and managers to serve here.

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Fear Leads To Spiritual Darkness

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John 12: 37 – 43

37 Even after Jesus had done all these miraculous signs in their presence, they still would not believe in him. 38 This was to fulfill the word of Isaiah the prophet:

 “Lord, who has believed our message
and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?”

 39 For this reason they could not believe, because, as Isaiah says elsewhere:

 40 “He has blinded their eyes
and deadened their hearts,
so they can neither see with their eyes,
nor understand with their hearts,
nor turn–and I would heal them.”

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41 Isaiah said this because he saw Jesus’ glory and spoke about him.

42 Yet at the same time many even among the leaders believed in him. But because of the Pharisees they would not confess their faith for fear they would be put out of the synagogue; 43 for they loved praise from men more than praise from God.

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The passage in John given above is extremely difficult to understand, especially if we are not familiar with the book of Isaiah and the history of the Jews.  John quotes from two passages in Isaiah, and he was very familiar with the history of his people, and how it was necessary for God to punish, or discipline them for their overt disobedience.

Let us look first at what John is saying in verse 37 and 38.  At this point in John’s Gospel, Jesus had been ministering throughout Galilee and Judea for about 3 1/2 years, teaching about the Kingdom of God, and showing the power of God through the mighty miracles He had been performing.  And yet despite how obvious it was that Jesus had come from God and spoke for God, many of the people, especially the religious leaders were unwilling to put their faith in Him.  Out of jealousy and fear of Roman retaliation, they would rather kill Jesus, than believe in Him.

The quotation from verse 38 comes from the first verse of Isaiah chapter 53, which happens to be one of the clearest Old Testament prophecies concerning the coming Messiah and how this Saviour would be rejected and brutally mistreated and finally killed.  This “Suffering Servant” would die in order to free us from our sin and guilt before God and heal our spiritual wounds.  Just as many Jews would not listen to the words of the prophet Isaiah concerning the Messiah to come, so many Jews would not listen to Jesus, who was the Messiah that had finally come for His people.

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This brings us to the next prophecy of Isaiah.  Verse 40 above comes from verse 10 of Isaiah 6, which is considered to be the first vision that Isaiah had from the Lord.  In this vision, the Lord God Almighty, who is all powerful and glorious to behold and completely holy, meaning that there is no sin whatsoever to be found within the nature of God.  And this Holy God called out to Isaiah to prophesy against the nation of Israel which had been very unfaithful and disobedient towards Him, as they had worshipped and trusted in all the false gods of the land.  Instead of being a holy people, they had been a blatantly idolatrous people.

So God could no longer endure such God-less people, and told Isaiah to say in Isaiah 6:9, “You will listen and listen, but never understand.  You will look and look, but never see.”  Then Isaiah went on to say what we have quoted above in John 12:40.  Taken out of context, this verse can almost seem that the spiritual darkness of people is the result of what God has purposefully done to them, as if it is His fault that they are sinners and will be spiritually lost forever.

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I want to challenge this thought this way.  All people have been given free will, and so the choice to follow after God or to sin and reject God is really the decision of the individual.  When God pronounces judgment upon a sinner, it is really God declaring the natural outcome that the person had chosen for themselves.

Jesus gave a powerful parable about a farmer who sowed seed on four different kinds of soil.  You can read this parable in Matthew 13, Mark 4 and Luke 8.  There are many applications to this parable.  What I need to point out here is that there are four kinds of soil, each one representing a different kind of person.  The hard soil is the person under the control of Satan; the soil with shallow ground is the person who may appear to have faith in God, but under pressure will give up their faith.  The soil among the thorns is the one who believes in God but lets the things of life drag them down; the good soil is the person who has an open heart to receive the truths of God.

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This article is being posted on the Internet just a few days after Good Friday and Easter Sunday.  These are the most significant days in a year (after Christmas Day).  People long ago rejected Jesus and killed Him, but three days later He rose from the grave.  Some of the people back then refused to believe in Jesus, while some believed but were afraid to declare this out of fear of what the leaders would do to them.

What about you?  Do you let your fears of what others think hold you back from receiving Jesus into your heart and free you from spiritual darkness and the guilt of sin?  Do you have faith in Jesus, but are still afraid of what others might say or do to you?  Remember this: the power that raised Jesus from the grave is the same power that resides within us who believe in Him.  In Christ, you will always be able to overcome the forces of spiritual darkness.  We are children of the King, and children of Light.  Amen!

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Overcoming Discouragement By Our Faith – Pt. 4

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Previously, I mentioned that from an early age I felt a strong sense that I would be involved in mission work.  (Read it here.)  At the beginning of this series, someone asked me how I dealt with discouragement, realizing that it took me 20 years until I became a Bible translator in PNG.  Putting it that way, it does sound rather discouraging.

And yet I believe that God was working within me to prepare me for all that I would do for Him in the future.  Even bad choice I believe can come around to be important building blocks in our life-long goal of becoming godly.  But you must believe that God is with you, and will not abandon you as you search for the path of life that is best suited for you.

In Deuteronomy 31:6, as Moses was approaching his death, he gave instructions to Joshua who would lead the Israelites into the Promised Land.  Despite the obstacles, the fortified cities and fierce armies to fight, Moses said, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.”

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Let me now reflect on a few decisions that I made when I was 18 and 19.  I had finished one year of studies at University, and even though I pursued some courses which could lead me towards Bible translation work, I was quite discouraged by the extreme humanism that was being taught.  Even though I had won four different scholarships that would have paid for my four years of University, I didn’t have the heart or passion to continue those courses.

Instead, I went after an idea I’d heard in the previous summer.  There is a mission group called “Teen Missions, Int’l” and they accepted youth from 13 to 21 years old, to go to their Florida “Boot Camp” training to learn how to be a teen missionary.  Now that sounded exactly like what I was interested in.

So I applied to go on the team that would help build block houses for a mission down in Brazil, just off of the Amazon River.  WOW!!  What a fabulous experience that was for me.  And when I got back to Florida at the end of the summer, I decided to stay with the mission for four more months to join a young adult “Travel Team” that would visit churches and Bible schools all over the country to promote the mission.

Teen Missions

That summer and fall of 1979, I felt like I was in Heaven on earth.  I got to follow my dream of doing overseas mission work.  I realized that I had just thrown away three years of free tuition at University.  But I decided that following after God and the passion of my heart over-ruled a possibly wise choice to finish a university degree.

At the end of my six-month mission experience the mission leaders approached me and asked if I would be willing to join on staff with them as part of a year-long “Staff Travel Team”.  I immediately jumped at that chance.  There were six others who also accepted this invitation, and after a brief orientation, we toured through much of the United States.  We became Assistant Leaders to teams the next year, and I went to help lead a team of teens to build a mission hospital wing in the interior of Honduras.

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Now all this sounds wonderful, doesn’t it?  But let me share the difficult side of this experience.  It surprised me that I found I was missing home and my family.  I had been going on “adventures” and doing travel around North America on my own for some time already.  But being away from home for another year, and going all the way to Honduras in July/August, and then to Scotland in November, made me feel the distance from home.

What compounded this was the fact that our Travel Team of seven young adults (from age 18 to 24) had a tremendously hard time getting along with each other.  We seemed to argue about things all the time.  I had never dealt well with tense relationships, so I felt even lonelier and cut off from my family and people back home.  I remember crying on the phone and saying I wanted to come home.

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It was at my lowest moments that God reminded me of the things that were most important.  First, He showed me in a variety of ways that He truly loved me and would be with me through this experience, just like He had been with Joshua.  Secondly, He reminded me that what I was doing was very important work for Him, which included what was going on inside of me.  I turned to God more in prayer, and I was building character through a tough time.

God also would remind me of how incredible it was that I was on this Staff Travel Team.  As a Canadian, I had to enter back into America and be allowed by U.S. Customs to stay for six months to be with this team.  But at the airport in Calgary, I was detained for almost an hour and a half answering all kinds of questions to try to prove that I was not coming into the country illegally, or that I would work at a job while there.

One Supervisor, “I wouldn’t let this guy through, but that is up to you.”  The man I talked to flipped through two six-inch Immigration Rules and Policies books to find all the reasons why I shouldn’t go through.  But suddenly an odd expression came over the man’s face, he closed those big books, and then said, “Oh go on, get out of here.”  I literally ran all the way to the airplane and got on just as they were closing the door.  So why was I on that Travel Team?  Because God wanted me there.

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