Head Hunting Days In PNG Are Over

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The Gospel Has Transformed PNG Culture

Making changes in the rough draft of a translation of Scripture can be a very slow, tedious process.  In the article written below by one of our PBT missionaries, she relates how difficult it was to check the translation of John in one language, and was only able to finish checking chapters 1-15 of John in a three week period.  Praise the Lord that she and the language team were able to identify rough spots that needed some corrections and these have now been entered into the computer.

Changing the hearts and minds of a people group can take much, much longer.  This is especially true here in Papua New Guinea, where tribal warfare, fear of evil spirits and all manner of animistic practices have reigned for millennia among the hundreds of distinct linguistic and cultural groups of this country.  But praise God even more, that we are seeing the fruit of countless missionaries and budding churches here as the lives of many Papuan people have been and are being transformed by the Gospel.

                                

“This isn’t right!  What is this ‘doing the head’ thing anyway?  We don’t talk like that!” said one man.  After several rounds of discussions about how to communicate “hate/treat someone as an enemy, ” the national translator finally said, “I have something that will work.”  After a few more minor corrections of pronouns, the first man and the other translation assistants were giving good back-translations and everyone agreed that the phrase was accurate. 

The literal back-translation of John 15:23 now says, “One man dislikes me and puts the head and sees me, he also will dislike my father and put the head and see him.”  In the NIV this reads as follows, “He who hates me hates my Father as well.”

Wanting to better understand this idiom for hate/treat as an enemy, I asked them to explain it a bit more.  One of the older men said, in the past our ancestors fought with various neighbouring language groups.  The leader of our village/clan would take a trophy – the head of an enemy and bring it back after a fight.  They would sometimes eat the edible parts, but sometimes they would just let it rot until it was just a skull and then they would paint it red and hang it up in the leader’s house. That is the way we showed that we were treating those people as enemies.” 

I asked if anyone living had participated in those kind of raids, and he assured me that when the first missionaries came, all of  that had ended.  He had just grown up hearing the stories about it all and various idioms from their head-hunting days (such as the one above) are still a part of their language.  He ended by saying that if it were still the head-hunting days, there would be no way that he could safely travel to Madang – he would have been killed.  Hearing the stories from probably 100 years or more ago, made me very thankful for the transforming power of missionaries on a country that had been controlled by tribal warfare.   

    

A few days before this discussion, we had been struggling with the concept of “peace”.  In the language of wider communication, “peace” is referred to as having a “stomach that is soft/slow/at rest” – bel isi.  The translation checkers, however, objected to the literal translation of this phrase into their own language and said, “What is this soft stomach stuff!”  I tried several scenarios to help them find the correct term. The one that worked best was when I asked, “After you have been fighting for a while with another village/language group, how do you resolve it?” 

They explained that after things were talked through and people all had “one thought” they planted a coconut as a symbol of the peace, the fact that they now had “one thought”.  I explained that John 14:27 was saying that when people end the fighting and have “one thought,” it only lasts for a while and eventually fighting will break out again about something. However, when Jesus does it and we have “one thought,” then that kind of “one thought”  will last forever.  “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” John 14.27 (NIV)

After three hard weeks, we ran out of time and thanked God that we had been able to complete the checking and revising of John 1-15.  It was a difficult checking session in which the rough draft was heavily revised.  Thank you for praying that we would find the problems.  God definitely answered those prayers.  Pray that the discussions we had about peace and many other important concepts will have an impact on the lives of all the participants in the checking session.  Please pray too that we will find a time to complete the checking of the Gospel of John in 2014.

    

Prayer:  “Lord God, we praise You that the truth of Your Word can be expressed in every language of the world.  We pray that You would help all of the missionaries and the national translators who work so diligently to find the best way to express Your truth into their local languages.  We praise You for the salvation that comes through Jesus Christ so that we are no longer Your enemies, and that You can grant to us Your eternal peace.  May this message of Love continue to transform the lives of the people here in Papua New Guinea and around the world.  Amen!”

Praise God

What It Takes To Check Translated Scriptures

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This week I am to start the consultant checking of Mborena Kam books of James and Jude.  These happen to be a couple of the hardest books in the New Testament to translate, as there are many places where we really do not know what exactly they are talking about.  That is where commentaries are so helpful.

These two books will be the last books of the NT to check for the Mborena Kam.  Praise God for that.  I think it should only take us about 3 days or so to check the 108 verses.  Then I want to work with the team to help them start to pick maps for the back of the Bible, such as Paul’s three missionary journeys, and a map of the Middle East during the time of Jesus.  Then I want them to choose Bible illustrations for culturally difficult passages.

    

Take Mark 1:6 as an example, where someone might ask “What is a camel?”  This is important, because John clothed himself in the “hairs of the camel” and so we put a picture of a camel in the text.  Then the team needs to choose a phrase in the Tok Ples (their village language) that helps to describe what the picture is all about.

Another task that I hope to do with the Mborena Kam in this two week period is to work with them on running all of the Scriptural “Checking Tools” which we have.  We are so fortunate to live in this day and age where we have so many powerful computer programs which can assist us in our work in tremendous ways.

I will ask the team to “Run the Basic Checks”.  These checks look at such things as “Are quotation marks being used consistently throughout the NT.”  Often they will find the errors where there is an opening quotation, but they cannot find a closed quotation marker.  And so the verse is marked with a “Missing Component” mark.  Other basic checks are the use of punctuation, Capitalization, paired words, etc.  You’d be amazed at how many times there was an extra space put between the last word of a sentence and the punctuation that closes the sentence.

    

In addition to spending many hours reading the book verse by verse, holding discussions as to whether something has been added in that should not have been, or something has been left out that needs to be put back in, we often need to do what is called  comprehension checking.  This is where the consultant (me for example) writes up hundreds of notes and questions to ask the team, and waits then to find out what kind of response they will get to the consultant’s question.

Some questions are usually simple ones, comprehension questions, like “Where did Jesus go, was it upstream or downstream.”  (This directional sense is very important in many language groups.)  Some questions simply deal with missing information.  It is not that difficult while one does translation work that your eyes get tired, and they can skip ahead in a verse and leave something out.  These errors are easy to find and fix.

    

There are other more complex issues to deal with, such as when some extra-biblical material has been added to the text.  Does this material get deleted, simply because we do not find that these words are not found in the original Greek documents.  What we have to realize though, is that these documents of the Bible were written by men from within one ancient cultural world and world view that many of the people to whom they were written, already shared the same culture and worldview.

That leaves the Scriptures to be wide open with misunderstanding for people today, since the understood, implicit information that  the 1st Century Jews and Christian would have, is not understood by us.  And so there are many places where we take this culturally understood implicit information and we bring it up to the surface and make it explicitly clear for any reader of any time or culture.

We also check for consistency among verses with similar wording, and we also look at how consistently the people are using special Key Terms, like priest, Sabbath, temple, prophet, etc.  In many cases, these key terms can be translated in identical ways.  But this will not be the case in many times, since context and work usage is so important.

When the word is used as a subject of the sentence, or the object of the sentence, or has some aspect of possession of another item, then many languages use special suffixes or prefixes to show how the work is being used grammatically.  We need to keep an eye on sentence syntax and grammar to know if the word is spelled right, and is fulfilling its purpose within the sentence.

    

There are just so many aspects involved in trying to produce the very best translation that is accurate to the original languages of the Bible (Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic), that has gone through translation principles to make it flow in natural village language style, and most importantly, that the message is clear to all those who hear it in their own mother-tongue language.

So please be praying for me and the Mborena Kam team as we finish the last official consultant checked books for their New Testament.  But we are not done yet.  Pray for us as we work through all of the other tools and checks to make sure no Scriptural errors have made it into the final form of their Bible.

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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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The Power Of Life Changing Scriptures

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Hebrews 4:12 says, “For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” (NIV)

[Editor’s Note: The Bible is powerful in touching and transforming lives. One example of this truth is found in the account given by William Butler, a longtime missionary with Pioneer Bible Translators in Papua New Guinea.]

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It had been a long week. Every day from early in the morning until late afternoon, and sometimes into the evenings, we’d been checking the translation of Mark’s Gospel into the Waran language. We wanted to see if the translation accurately and clearly transmitted God’s message.

One of the faithful members of the checking committee was Mindo. An older man and former village representative in the local government council, he was well-respected in the community. His knowledge of the language was immense and we welcomed him as a valuable part of the committee.

However, the week was difficult for Mindo. He wasn’t accustomed to sitting for such long periods of time. The constant mental strain of listening and evaluating every phrase was exhausting. Occasionally, Mindo nodded off in the heat of the afternoon. How much of the message of Christ’s words could be getting through to him?

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Then we came to Chapter 14 which details the arrest and subsequent mistreatment of Jesus. As the account of the arrest was read, Mindo perked up. As Jesus was led before the Council and liars came in to give testimony against Him, Mindo lowered his head and kept his eyes on the floor, a Waran posture which demonstrates embarrassment and shame.

When verse 65 was read, Mindo began to vocalize his feelings. Following each new humiliation heaped on Jesus, Mindo quietly responded with, “Oh, sorry, sorry.” With each report, his head sunk lower and his eyes bored more deeply into the floor.

The Council spit on Jesus and hit Him with their fists.
“Oh, sorry.”

The guards slapped Him.
“Oh, sorry, sorry.”

Peter denied Him.
“Oh, sorry.”

The crowd shouted, “Crucify him! Crucify him!”
“Oh, sorry, sorry.”

The soldiers slammed a crown of thorns on His head and mocked Him.
“Oh, sorry.”

They led Him away and crucified him.
“Oh, sorry, sorry.”

As the story was read in his heart language, Mindo had a deeply emotional and powerful experience vividly reliving the last hours of Christ’s life in his mind. He felt the shame and humiliation Jesus suffered. He felt his own personal shame because he realized that Jesus endured each of these things for him. He saw, as he had never seen before, Jesus, Son of God, Savior.

May everyone who reads or hears the Word as it goes forth in Waran be as personally and emotionally affected as Mindo. Then the Christ of history will become the Living Christ with power to challenge and change lives.

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Thank God for His powerful, life-changing Scripture.

Thank God for the impact Mark 14 had on Mindo as he heard it read in his language.

Pray that the Waran people will soon have the entire New Testament in their language and that it will penetrate and transform their lives as they worship Jesus and serve Him as their Savior and Lord.

Pray that God’s Word will have a life-changing impact on more and more people in the 58 language groups where Pioneer Bible Translators now serves.

Pray for a fresh hunger and thirst to daily feed your soul on God’s written message to you. Thank Him for those who have enabled you to have the Bible in your language.

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In just a few weeks, we will be celebrating Easter once again.  This is the time we rejoice that Jesus conquered death and was resurrected from the grave.  But let us never forget the terrible suffering that Jesus endured on our behalf.  To deal with the problem of sin which separated Mankind from God, Jesus had to die on the cross, carrying all of our sins with Him.  He was put to death to finally eliminate the cause of our spiritual death and separation from God.

When we slow down the details of Jesus’ trials and the suffering and pain He endured, even before He went on the cross, is really quite gruesome.  But that is a picture of what sin has done to all of us.  One by one, the sinful actions we had done would inflict another lash of Satan’s attack on our souls and reap the punishment of God’s holy wrath.

But Jesus took our place and took that punishment for sin that ought to have been ours.  When we realize the full impact of this, I believe that we too, just like Mindo, would hang our heads in shame at what our sinful actions had done to Jesus, the very Son of God.

But praise be to God, Jesus was able to bear our sins, nail them to the cross, and rise victorious over sin, Satan and death.  And for us who believe in Jesus, we too will exerience this same kind of resurrection to a new life with God forever.  Hallelujah!

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Pioneering New Mission Fields – Pt. 1

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[Editor’s Note: every few months, our mission puts out a magazine called “The Latest Word” which shares stories of what Pioneer Bible Translators is doing around the world. In the Fall 2012 issue, a special emphasis was put upon the idea of pioneering new fields of missionary endeavors.

In this article, I will share with you the opening comments of the magazine which will set the stage for five stories that tell us of how God is opening up new fields for mission work. Each of these five stories will be the basis of a new article which I will post here on “The Listing Post ”.]

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 “They Put Missionaries Where?”

I remember overhearing the shocked conversation of other missionaries who had just learned the location of our new home. Conventional wisdom would’ve placed us in a major town serving near well-established local churches. Instead, Pioneer Bible Translators had moved my family and me into a rural village to live among a Bible-less minority language community.

Only a handful of the people were Christians. The others followed another religion, one often antagonistic to Christianity. More than once someone challenged us with the question, “What were you thinking?”

When Jesus commanded us to teach people of all nations to follow Him, He challenged us to reach every culture and ethnicity on Earth with His message of grace, salvation, and justice. He instructed us to teach them to obey everything He commanded (Matthew 28:18-20).

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How can the people of every nation and language learn to obey all Jesus commands if we cannot understand the words He spoke? Jesus said that people cannot truly live without every word that proceeds from the mouth of God (Matthew 4:4).

The peoples of the world will learn to follow Jesus and obey the teachings of His kingdom only if we cross every remaining language barrier with:

–  Church                                              – Scripture                                           – Transformation

The next major benchmark I see on the pathway to obeying the Great Commission is this: churches with Scripture transforming every language community on Earth. I love Pioneer Bible Translators because we have committed to following the Spirit’s lead to fill the gaps in the Bible translation movement so that this benchmark can be reached by 2050.

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The greatest gap we see today is the 200 million people who speak one of the 900 languages remaining with no Scripture and no church. These are the world’s least-reached peoples.

Pioneering among these Bible-less, church-less language groups is one of Pioneer Bible Translators’ non—negotiable core values. I am committed to doing everything I can to help ensure that by the year 2050, their are churches with Scripture transforming every language community on Earth. How about you? What would God have you and your church do to achieve His mandate to teach people of all nations to follow Jesus?

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Pioneering Where Christ Is Not Known

“Libya? What in the world possessed you to go there?” Libya seemed like a strange place to launch a mission effort, especially in 1961. So why did we? My answer always goes back to – and in fact begins with – Paul’s statement, “It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known” (Romans 15:20.

That has always been my ambition, too. Pioneering. New fields. Pushing forward into areas without communities of faith – and usually without Scripture in the people’s heart language. Libya was that kind of place in 1961.

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Why not pioneer there? A door was open for us to enter the country. Furthermore, just as God told Paul that He had “many people in this city” (Acts 18:10), we could see that He was at work in Libya preparing the way through social, political, and economic upheaval. Ours was a call to join His efforts to bring to fruition what He has always been about: the salvation of unreached people.

One reason I now serve with Pioneer Bible Translators is their commitment to pioneering. That means new fields, new challenges, and the possibility of new victories with God’s gracious enabling. Pioneer Bible Translators is determined to make a difference among the world’s Bible-less, church-less peoples. To me, nothing is more exciting – or more central to what God would have His servants be about.

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Pioneering  NEW FIELDS

Pioneer Bible Translators is reaching into the last, vast areas of Bible-less, church-less people groups who still wait for God’s word in their language. In the last two years, we have begun sending multidisciplinary teams into four new fields that God has opened to us. He has also given us new strategies for reaching people groups that are currently closed to North American missionaries.

Each new field presents unique challenges to establishing our ministry, coupled with exciting opportunities for spreading the Gospel where Christ is not yet known. The following five stories [to be shared in the next five articles on this blog site] bear testimony to God’s faithfulness in growing His Kingdom here on Earth through the ministry of Pioneer Bible Translators.

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Used by permission from Pioneer Bible Translator’s monthly publications.  If you would like to receive this quarterly magazine, click on the box for “The Latest Word” and subscribe to it.

More About Cool Computer Programs & Bible Translation

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Technology & Bible Translation – Pt. 2

Last week I gave you some of the interesting background of how the advance of technology and the computer age we live in has helped the cause of Bible translation work.  Isn’t it incredible to think that only a few decades ago, translators had to write all of their language data on 3″ x 5″ recipe cards and file them in their appropriate shoebox.  Read about that here.

Now it is impossible to think that we can do language learning and translation work without the use of a computer.  Even by 1997, when I started learning the village language in that remote location in Papua New Guinea, we had brought along with us solar panels and deep cell batteries to run my computer in the village.  Thank goodness for the advance technology of laptops though, because that first IBM desktop was a real bear to get to and set up in our village.

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Back to the present now, I had started to tell you in the last article about a very cool program called “Paratext”.  Remember all those windows that were open in the one program?  I had Greek or Hebrew in two windows, English Bibles and commentary helps in a few more.  I would look at the Tok Pisin (PNG trade language) in another, and then a few more held the vernacular village language of the text I was going to do the consultant check on.  I’ll show you again what it looks like:

Paratext Windows (800x450)

So at any given time, I usually have about four languages going on inside all these windows.  It would take a lot of time (or sentences) to explain everything that I can do with this program.  But let me give you a peek into one corner, and show you what I do.  I will open up the Hebrew language corner where I am working on the Psalms.

The first thing I want to show you, even though you probably don’t know Hebrew, is what amazing things you can learn when you can read the Bible in the original language that it was written in.  (The Old Testament was written in Hebrew, and the New Testament was written in Greek.)  I will paste the blown up picture of the Hebrew-English Interlinear text.  It looks like this:

Psalm 121 in Paratext Hebrew (800x427)

Underneath the Hebrew text you get a grammatical breakdown of the words in green, and then an English word gloss for the Hebrew word in the light purple.  I highlighted one word in yellow.  One of the interesting things about Hebrew is that most of its vocabulary is based on a three consonantal root form.  This particular root (שׁמר) has the basic meaning of “to guard, to watch over, to protect” .

This passage is from Psalm 121 which starts with a statement and then a question in verse one, “I lift up my eyes to the mountains.  Where does my help come from?”  That was a good question back in the time of the Israelite kings, because there was a great deal of worshipping of idols and false gods going on back then.  And many of them had shrines up on top of the mountains.

Do you see the answer in the next line, which is the first purple line above?  (Remember to read Hebrew from right to left.)  The psalmist was very confident that his help would come from the LORD, the One who made the heavens and the earth.  He goes on to write further about his God, and he used this Hebrew root of (שׁמר) three times in verses 3, 4, and 5.  (Can you see them?)

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This verbal form is called a “participle”, which is often used to help describe someone or something.  The literal translation for this Hebrew root in the participle form would be “the One who protects”.  The psalmist was confident that YHWH was the One true God, above all other gods, who could protect him.  This is good, but it gets better.

It is one thing to believe that God is capable of protecting those who trust in Him.  It is another thing to state emphatically that He will indeed protect you in times of trouble.  And this is what the psalmist does in verses 7 and 8.  He again used the same Hebrew verbal root, but in these verses (and three times) he put it in a future tense, what is called the “Imperfect” form.

You can see this twice in the picture above in verse 7.  It looks like this:  יִשְׁמָר.  There is an extra consonant on front, and it can be translated as “He will protect/watch over”.  No longer is the LORD simply described as the One who is able to protect, but now with bold confidence, the psalmist tells his readers, Yes, in fact He WILL protect those who trust in Him.

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Isn’t that so cool what you can learn about God when you are able to read the Scriptures in its original language?  I’m glad that I do know a lot about basic biblical Hebrew.  But imagine if I didn’t know that much about it, but still had a program like Paratext that is able to analyze a lot of the language for me.  A whole world of meaning is opened up when we have great computer programs like these to help us to read and understand the Bible.

I wish that I could let all of you who read this to be able to have this program I use.  But a program like Paratext is given out primarily to those involved in active Bible translation projects.  If you are really interested in this though, you can do an internet search for Greek-English Interlinear or Hebrew-English Interlinear Bibles online and find lots of helps.

One good site is http://interlinearbible.org/ which will allow you to choose either the Hebrew Old Testament, or the Greek New Testament.  We are so very fortunate to have so much available to us electronically.  I will have more to say in the future.

Cool Computer Programs for Bible Translation

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Technology & Bible Translation

The first really cool peek for me into the emerging technology for Bible translators happened in 1994.  I had seen a little bit of the old program called “Shoebox” where linguists and translators would store their language data and enter their vernacular text which could then be interlinearized to have English gloss words under the vernacular text once you had a good amount of words entered into their dictionary file.

Let me pause here before going on and tell you why this linguistic computer program was called “Shoebox”.  Think back to the time before computers.  (If you can do that easily, you are my age or older, but if this is hard for you, then you are definitely part of the younger generation.)  😛  Now imagine that you have been doing language learning for a few years in a remote part of the world.

What would you do to help you keep your data all organized?  Even to divide words into basic verbs, nouns, adjectives and adverbs.  Well, the pioneers of Bible translation actually did use the old file card system and would put one word, and its description/definition, on to one card, and then “file” it in long shoeboxes to be retrieved later when needed.  (Some translators would have piles of shoeboxes in their houses full of words and linguistic notes in the early days.)

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Thank goodness for the advent of the computer.  Now we no longer need to put all of our research into old musty shoeboxes.  And we no longer need to fear that our work will all go up in smoke if the house burned down or would get all chewed up, by all the cockroaches in our village houses.  Though we do need to worry about hard drives crashing, and wondering where we put that information in the thousands of files on our hard drive.

But back to where I started.  “Shoebox” was very handy for us to organize our linguistic data and do basic translation work.  In 1994, when I was at a training week of orientation for Pioneer Bible Translators, I was introduced to the neatest, most cool and intuitive linguistic program at that time which was called “Lingua-links”.  It could add words, analyze words, interlinearize words, and so much more with just a click of a button.

When I was able to tell Jill later about this, I summed it up by saying, “That was SO AWESOME!”  Very professional, wouldn’t you say?  I think that is when I knew for sure that I wanted to be a Bible translator, because I would be allowed to buy the best model of computer out there, and make it perform some awesome linguistic feats, and be able to call it “work”.  I was in love!!  😀

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In the past decade, there continues to be great advances made in the area of marrying linguistics together with computer technology.  There were a number of versions of Lingua-links over the years, each being able to do more than the last version.  But the basic ideas remained the same.  And then came along a program called “Paratext”.

When I first heard about Paratext, I thought that it was just another program that was doing pretty much the same things I was already doing.  I was wrong.  It did still have much (and even more) of the computing power of the old programs.  One common feature with modern linguistic programs is the ability to open a large number of windows within the main window.  Here, let me show you what I mean:

Paratext Windows (800x450)

 Going from top left down and then middle top to bottom and right side top to bottom, I have these windows to work with just in this one program:
  1. My Hebrew text in which I can add notes.
  2. The Hebrew/English interlinear text.  I can add rows within this to give me the lemmas, the transliteration, and the parsing of the Hebrew words.  All of these are hyperlinked to one or more Hebrew Lexicon and Dictionary.
  3. A text comparison of a variety of English versions.
  4. A Key Term rendering window which will grab specialized biblical terms and show you the equivalent vernacular term which will add up over time to become your “Key Term List”
  5. A rendering tool based off of algorithms of the Greek and English text and looking into the vernacular text to produce a computer generated guessing and interlinearization of the vernacular to English.
  6. The “Back Translation” of the vernacular text.  We want a reverse translation from the translated local language back into a fairly literal English version of their text.  I use this the most to judge if something is missing, added or wrong in their translation.
  7. Peeking out at the top right is the Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew Lexicon.
  8. The NIV larger window box.
  9. Finally, the actual vernacular translation that I am checking.

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What was really exciting though about Paratext was that you did not just work on this project by yourself in your local village any more.  Of course you want to save to your local hard drive as you go along.  But Paratext is part of the global work of United Bible Societies and many other linguistic organizations who share their project information and their translations with others around the world.

So when you do an “Internet Server” back up of your work, it sends the data to the Paratext server on the other side of the world, and can be made accessible to anyone else who has been approved to work on the translation.  So we have literally gone from doing local translation projects to doing global translation projects.

There is so much more I’d like to tell you about this, but that will have to wait until the next article.  I hope that some of you who have read this have found this very interesting.  And who knows, maybe you’ll fall in love with what I am showing you, just like I did so many years ago with the joining of technology and linguistics.

Teaching Literacy In East Africa – Pt. 2

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Primer Construction Workshop

[Editor’s Note: this portion of a newsletter below comes from a colleague of mine who serves with Pioneer Bible Translator and refers to a Literacy course that was jointly led by her and another lady from PBT back in 2010.  To read the thoughts and perspectives of the other woman, I encourage you to go back and read Part 1 of this two-part story.]

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“Boggle.  We have all played the game, and we all have that one family member who manages to find Shakespeare-worthy words with an impossible combination of letters.  In my family it is my Aunt Carol.  And that is exactly what would make her ideal for a Primer Construction team.  For the past few weeks the literacy team has hosted groups from 2 of our languages.  Our goal was to write and illustrate a textbook teaching adult illiterates to read in their mother tongue. 

“The first day of the workshop we had four letters.  2 vowels and 2 consonants and were issued the challenge to write good sentences or a story with only those 4 letters!  With each subsequent lesson we added on a letter and were able to use any previously introduced word.  It poses a particular challenge in the type of languages we work with.  Both of these languages are the type where you can express an entire English sentence in one word! 

“Typically the adjectives change their spelling in each sentence to match the type or “class” of noun it is used to describe.  I personally am very thankful I did not have to come up with their versions of Dick and Jane stories, we left that to the much more capable mother tongue speakers.”

“My specific role during the workshop came in the form of word control.  It was my responsibility to make sure no letter was used prior to its formal teaching and that there were only the specified number of new words in each lesson. When a contraband letter had slipped in or too many new words used I helped the team to rewrite the story or choose a word previously used to express a similar idea.

“It was quite a challenge to keep up with all the languages in the room.  The initial story was written in the mother tongue and then translated into Swahili or English by the team for me to enter into the computer database.  If it came to me in Swahili I would then translate it into English so our consultant could understand the meaning of the story.”

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“The first few lessons introduced 12 of the 36 letters in the language I helped facilitate.  In lesson 12 we had the keyword of Yesu (Jesus) and began writing simple sentences about our Lord.  By the end of the first week we had finished introducing the alphabet and were writing simplified Bible stories introducing the new reader to Biblical concepts, from creation to the cross to Philip and the Ethiopian Convert.  Again, all these stories were held to a strict standard of only a designated number of new words in each story. 

“The past few weeks, and months of preparation work, have been an immense blessing to me.  It was a wonderful time of fellowship with people motivated and willing to sacrifice their personal time to see their people group able to interact with Scripture.  Not only did I greatly increase my vocabulary and understanding of the language I helped facilitate but I gained experience in building a primer in a previously unwritten language that I pray will be useful with subsequent languages. 

“My husband and I came to East Africa for the joy of seeing God’s word accessible to every people group in their heart language.  It is the unique role of literacy evangelism to assist those without literacy skills or access to formal education to encounter God’s written word for themselves.  Pray with us that the primers and literacy classes that will result from the work done during this workshop will lead people to not just learn their abc’s but come face to face to the Living Word of God.”

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[Editor’s Note: I have shared some of the statistics of where we are at today in terms of getting God’s Word translated for every language group in the world that still needs it done.  Our science of linguistics and global mapping have helped us to identify that there are still just over 2,200 languages that have no portion of Scripture yet in their mother-tongue language.

Compared to some of the large world mission groups who are involved in doing Bible translation, PBT is quite small.  Currently we are working in 54 languages, which represents around 20 million people.  We are praying by faith that we will be working in 69 languages by the end of 2014, which would represent about 33 million people.  You can see that even our small portion is a huge one.

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But like I said in the last article, we must get literacy programs running at the same time that the translation work is being done.  The true success of a translation project is NOT when the translation is finished, but rather when people are reading the translated Scriptures and using them in their daily lives and in public, like in the local churches by the preachers.

The problem is the shortage of personnel.  We are having a hard enough time recruiting men and women to become translators to tackle some more of these 2,200 Bible-less people groups.  But for every three or four translators we have in PBT, there is only one person to help them get literacy programs running.  Please pray that God will raise up many more Literacy Specialists.]

Teaching Literacy In East Africa – Pt. 1

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 Translation and Literacy Must Go Together

Translating the Bible into the minority languages of the world is the primary task of Pioneer Bible Translators.  It has been my privilege to serve with PBT for 17 years now, and I have transitioned from being a translator working on one language in a remote area of Papua New Guinea, to where I am now a translation consultant, helping to check the final draft of a translated book of Scripture for many language groups.

As important as Bible translation is, there is anther task that is just as critical as the task of translation.  I am referring to the task of Literacy.  We know from experience that there are some projects that do finish translating the New Testament, or even the entire Bible, but because the people were never taught to read their own language, the translated book sits on shelves and collects dust.

What a shame that is to have worked for decades to complete a translation, only to have it be shelved and not read by the people.  That is one reason why during my linguistic training in Dallas to become a translator that I took a course called, “Literacy For Translators”.  This course gave us an appreciation for literacy, and we put our hand to the task of trying to create and teach new alphabets to each other in the course.

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In this course, we learned the importance of starting out slowly, giving students one sound and symbol at a time.  Even if students are able to read in a trade language, we must not assume that it will be an easy and automatic skill for them to read in their own language, which up until the time of Bible translation, had never been written down before.

The final project for the course was to come up with a new alphabet for the English language, and to write lessons and a story in the revised alphabet.  This is much more difficult than you can imagine since we all were highly literate and fluent in our native tongue, English.  But consider what learning English is like for someone who is learning English as a foreign language.

For example, we can say the words “through”, “threw”, and “thru” which all sound the same, but are each spelled differently and also have different meanings.  A harder problem for many is when you see the same vowel set and find out that the vowel is pronounced quite differently in each word.  Take for example these words “though, trough, rough, bough, and through.  And many more examples can be found.

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What we try to do then as linguists is to find a symbol that represents one and only one sound, and that each sound has one and only one symbol to represent it.  In our village language, we were able to identify 6 significant vowels and 19 significant consonants.  Other sounds were heard, but they did not produce significant changes in word meanings and so they did not become part of the official alphabet.

It certainly is a lot of work to create these alphabets, but once established, especially if they have this one-to-one symbol to sound correspondence, then it is possible for new readers to begin to learn how to read fairly quickly.  In my official “Revised English” (Reeviyzd Ingglish), I determined that there were 25 significant consonant sounds and 15 significant vowels and diphthongs (a slide between two vowels.)

In the remaining space below, and in the next week’s article on “Teaching Literacy in East Africa”, I have taken a portion of two ladies’ newsletters.  These two women were teaching the concept of literacy for two language groups.  By the end of the two weeks, each language group had prepared a full “Primer” (pronounce with the “i” in “bit” not “bite”) to take back and teach other people in their language group the alphabet and the basics of reading.  Please pray that all of the projects where we are translating the Bible will also be able to get full literacy courses off of the ground so the people can read God’s Word.

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a, i, l, k, w

Can you rearrange these letters to make words?

Now use those words to create a short story.

This was the first of many challenges given to the 15 local writers at the primer construction workshop this month. For two weeks guest consultants guided teams from two language groups to write 72 lessons. These will help adults learn how to read in their own languages.

This was the short story created by one of the teams for the first primer lesson using the letters above:

Ali ikala. (This is charcoal.)

Alila kawa. (That is a cover.)

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The first story is very simple, but as the lessons continue the stories get longer and introduce many more letters and words for the new readers to learn. By lesson 12 the letter “Y” is introduced and also the word “Yesu” (Jesus). At least one of the stories for each subsequent lesson focuses on the life of Jesus and His teachings.

These reading primers will be one step toward helping people who cannot read at all to learn how to read the Bible on their own. And those who haven’t heard the gospel will have the opportunity to learn about Jesus while they’re learning to read.

Praying over the finished Primers before they were sent to the publishers.

Networking & Praying For God’s Word in Southeast Asia

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[Editor’s Note:  It is exciting for me to be able to share with you about a couple who are colleagues with me in Pioneer Bible Translators.  There are two reasons for this.  First of all, for many years they helped to impact a people group close to where my heart is, the Island of New Guinea.  Now God is using them to impact the lives of millions of people in a large region of Southeast Asia.  How exciting!

What makes this especially meaningful for me is that I have the privilege to work along side with this couple in their new work.  Once the Scriptures have been drafted and checked through a couple of times (for comprehension and exegetical accuracy), then the team sends me the language files electronically and I do the final consultant check on their Bible translation work.

In the past two years, I have had a hand in checking parts of or the whole of Ephesians, 2 Thessalonians, Matthew and just recently Philippians.  The work is progressing well and it is hoped that the New Testament will be published for this regional language in 2013.  Come along with me as we learn more of what this couple is doing to promote the advancement and distribution of God’s Word to Southeast Asia.]

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Phil and Gale came to Pioneer Bible Translators with 29 years experience with another Bible translation organization. They worked with a language group of 2,000 people in the rainforest of Papua, and didn’t need much in the way of networking skills. Work proceeded smoothly once a few government and church officials were aware they were translating the New Testament.

Now they are working in a vastly different situation, translating the Bible into a national language with a potential audience of over 200 million people. The work is no longer just faithfully translating each verse; it is about knowing the right people, and what partnerships can be set up with various Christian organizations.

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The people who make decisions are in the cities, but the people who need the translations are mostly in rural areas. Rural language groups won’t have a chance to hear God’s Word if we don’t succeed in advancing our projects in the cities. Phil travels often by taxi, giving out local translations of Scripture to every driver. He rode with 51 drivers on his last trip; only one was a Christian.

He visited the managers of a Christian radio network and discussed sending out our books as free gifts from their stations. He is scheduled to meet with a producer of a free satellite TV network that has viewers in cities and rural areas all over the area. He met with a Bible class that is part of a huge mega-church in the capital, and he will soon be visiting seminary students who will distribute our Gospel of John on their mission trips.

There are approximately 400 languages in South Asia that need a Bible translation. After Phil’s presentation at one seminary, 10 students made the commitment to pray about becoming Bible translators for 10 of these languages. It is amazing to see God work out the details! Pioneer Bible Translators has an enormous task ahead of us. We must complete our translation work and get God’s Word in the hands of these people.

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Prayer Requests

  • Pray local supporters would be found to publish local translations of the New Testament and find channels for distribution to rural areas.
  • Pray that Phil will successfully navigate unfamiliar cultural expectations as he speaks with important people.
  • Pray that God will provide a means whereby nationals can be trained and equipped to translate for many needs. There are many who would volunteer to become translators, but cannot see past practical reasons.
  • Please pray that churches in the area would feel called to support Bible translation, and that training centers would be established in the area.
  • John 4:23 – Pray that many from among the Bible-less peoples will become true worshipers who will worship the Father in spirit and in truth.

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[Editor’s Note: For almost two years I have been writing articles about my work and the larger work of Pioneer Bible Translators in the world.  I have asked my readers from time to time to pray about some important issues and current events.  This is the first time that I would like to suggest to my audience that they consider taking the next step after praying for Phil and Gale and their translation work and to consider the possibility of helping them with a financial gift to see this work accomplished.  I end this article with a quote from Phil, and a link to where you could become a financial partner.]

Southeast Asia Plain Translation
“This island nation in Southeast Asia has a Bible, but the translation is old and very hard to understand. Our team is creating an easy to understand translation that will be life-transforming for millions in this area. These books of the New Testament will offer Living Water to a thirsty land. Click to donate. Choose ‘Projects’ and ‘Southeast Asia Plain Translation’ from the drop-down menus.”

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