Helping Children of Papua New Guinea Learn to Read

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How Many Legs Does A Rat Have in Papua New Guinea

[Editor’s Note: this is a thank you letter which was recently sent out from one missionary who works here in PNG to a church back in America who has supported this literacy efforts among a people group called Mborena Kam.]

For years the Mborena Kam schools have been trying to teach their children to read their own language without the benefit of books. The books that were developed over 20 years ago had worn out and the government had shifted away from the vernacular pre-school approach to a full Elementary Prep curriculum. Your generous gifts have allowed the Mborena Kam to prepare over 80 books in their own language including an alphabet book,  and books with vernacular songs, finger plays, and games. In addition, your gifts are paying for  kits of Elementary Prep materials that will be used in 4 schools in the school year that starts at the end of January 2014.

In this next year we hope to help the Mborena Kam develop a full set of curriculum for the Elementary 1 school year. The Papua New Guinea government allows religious instruction as a part of the curriculum, so two times each week, the children will read and talk about a Bible story and sing Christian songs in their language.  When we were looking ahead at 2014, it looked as if it would be impossible to produce the materials due to lack of PBT personnel for all the data entry work, but God was a step ahead of us and he is raising up volunteers to help with the production of Elementary 1 curriculum in their language.  Please pray that these volunteers can help the Mborena Kam and others to produce materials for their Elementary 1 curriculum quickly.

    

Last July I had the pleasure of working with the Mborena Kam teachers as they learned to use the new Elementary Prep Curriculum that teaches children how to read in their own language. Thank you for providing the funding that enabled us to train a group of Mborena Kam teachers.

Below are a few stories from the Teacher Training Course:

“That sounds like a rap song. You were just talking. You weren’t singing,” said Gregory. I was sort of shocked by his analysis of my singing especially since I was using a simple tune that we sang hundreds of time in the car when I was a child in the 1960’s – hardly a time when rap music was around.  So, I decided that that American tune would not transfer cross-culturally to this group of Elementary Prep teachers.   I then asked what tune we should use and they said, “The Five Little Piggies tune” – a tune that is obviously used in all schools in the area.  As I think about their critique of my singing, I am still chuckling at being identified as a “rap” music person!

    

Later in the week, I asked all of the groups to look at their translation of the book “Looking for Legs” – a math counting book that talks about how many “legs” various creatures have.  The pictures start with snakes, which have no legs, and finish with millipedes, which have lots of legs.  It is a fun book that children enjoy, but there was one problem. I had them look at the rat picture and asked them, “How many legs does a rat have and they all said, “Two legs.”  Then they all looked at their translations and all had followed the English/Tok Pisin in which the rats had 4 legs.

In PNG cultures, however, rats have two legs and two hands.  Then we checked the other creatures. Ants and spiders had hands and legs in all 4 languages.  Centipedes had either hands only or legs only depending on the language. Millipedes showed even more variety.  Two  languages had all legs, one had all hands, and one both hands and legs.  In addition to this issue of hands and legs, when all 4 languages talked about hands and legs, they talked about legs and hands – legs always are mentioned first. After that discussion, each group revised their book. While they were revising, I assured them that it was OK for them to use their cultural way of counting legs and hands.  God loves variety and that variety was very obvious in this simple book.

    

The 3 week course in July was full to overflowing with games, songs, finger plays and helping the teachers to try to read and follow instructions in the new Elementary Prep curriculum.  Time after time I was reminded of the fact that they come from oral cultures in which they need to see and do things in order to learn.  Thankfully, the teachers all enjoyed role plays and some of them were quite ornery students, especially when the teacher threw in an English word that the children wouldn’t have known.

My favorite was, “Teacher, what is ‘sep’?  Are you talking about a man shaving?” The teacher said, “No. A ‘sep’ [shape] is something like a circle or a square or a triangle (more words that children wouldn’t know).”

Praise God with me for the teachers and for the large group of missionaries and interns who worked furiously at the office producing new books as they were written.  Because of all of their hard work, four language groups now have complete kits of materials for Elementary Prep with well over 80 books for each language group.

Thank you for helping the children of Papua New Guinea learn to read God’s Word.  [Amen!!]

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Church Leaders United Together in Papua New Guinea

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The 2013 Madang, PNG “Power In The Word” Conference of Church Leaders

“We (the churches) need to work together. The days of having our own independent ministries and not joining together in ministry are over.” — Madang Pastor

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One hundred twenty-six church pastors and leaders from seventeen church denominations came from all over Madang province to attend the “Power in the Word” conference hosted by the Crossroad Baptist Church. The conference was organised by the Madang Pastors Fraternal with help from PNG Bible Translation Association (BTA), Pioneer Bible Translators and SIL-PNG.

The conference began with a focus on repentance and a time of prayer for the churches, communities and the nation. The next three days were filled with sessions that encouraged and strengthened the leaders. These sessions helped the leaders to see new ways of using the Scriptures in their churches. Topics such as “Power of the Word”, “Using the Vernacular Scriptures”, “Oral Bible Storytelling” and “Preaching and Praying in Tokples” proved invaluable to the pastors.

Other sessions focused on overcoming trials facing the churches. Presentations on “Hindrances to Using the Word”, “Melanesian Spiritism”, “Disunity” and “Western Humanism and Secularism” challenged the leaders to face the issues in their churches with the power of the Word. There were also practical sessions led by representatives from Christian Book Melanesia, Christian Radio Missionary Fellowship, SIL-PNG, Faith Comes by Hearing and Youth with a Mission.

    

Participants were highly interested in the presentation about Scripture Application and Leadership Training (SALT), a program that equips national pastors and leaders in PNG to effectively use translated Scriptures in church ministries. Church leaders in Madang town want to take the training so that they can share it in the rural areas surrounding Madang.

The conference generated a feeling of unity among the pastors and leaders as they saw the need to work together. The “Word” was seen as the common denominator for all churches and denominations—and the translated Word was seen as the best way to express God’s truth to the hearts of those in their congregations.

“There was a great respect for the vernacular and it was often stated that the power of God’s Word is most accurately expr aessed in the vernacular.” — Jim Tomlinson

                                

This church conference of pastors and leaders all coming together to praise the Lord and profess their need for more unity and cooperation among national Papuan churches is most exciting to us.  This is an answer to our prayers of many years, to see the national churches come alive and not just see the magnitude of the task of evangelizing their own people group and others, but also to really start taking on this task, and doing it arm-in-arm with leaders of other denominations.

Even more incredible is that fact that many of them are now clearly seeing that evangelization of their people will be much more fruitful if they use translated Scriptures in their own language.  Putting it another way, Bible translation is now being seen as essential for pastors and leaders to more effectively do evangelism among their own people.  And the spirit of unity which swept through the group was certainly an awesome thing to experience.  Almost makes you think of what it was like in those early days when the Holy Spirit broke forth during the Day of Penetost and the church exploded in very incredible ways.

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As I now begin my long journey from North America back to Papua New Guinea, I am excited to think of the groundwork with has already been laid down by all these faithful Papuan pastors and leaders.  It is very obvious that God is moving among them, no matter what their denominational flavor they may be, to bring them all to their knees in repentant spirits and to hold one another’s hand in the sign of Christian unity over there.

This will definitely be a real boost to the work which I do in PNG.  I have a burning passion to train nationals to learn the “Principles of Bible Translation“, guide them in other skills and knowledge they will need, and then send them back out to their villages to do Bible translation among their own people.  There are so many stories that tell how the task of Bible translation so very often ends up with the result that the translated Word of God grabs hold of their own hearts and we see the lives of the translators become transformed for Christ right before our eyes.

So as I said above, I am very eager to get back to PNG and to see what great and awesome things God has done during these four months that I have been away.  And I am excited about the fact that a real passion for Bible translation has now begun among these churches.  Christ himself said that the gates of hell could not prevail against the church.  Now think how powerful and effective the changing of lives will be when we see more and more church support being put into the Bible translation movement that is representative of what our mission does, Pioneer Bible Translators.

Overcoming Discouragement By Our Faith – Pt. 3

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I ended the last article by saying, “It comes back to whether we really are trusting God to have the full control over our lives or not.”  This is perhaps the most difficult aspect of the Christian way of life for many believers today.  Our western culture has taught us how to be “independent”, “self-sufficient” and “successful”, which has at its core the fundamental belief that we can accomplish anything we want to in our own strength if we will put our minds to it.

The problem with this is that we usually leave God out of the situation, until something goes terribly wrong and then we look to God to “fix it”.  No wonder people today are over-worked, stressed out and living with high levels of anxiety, and/or guilt.  Mankind has never been able to control the world around him.  That was certainly true in past centuries, but even in our modern day we can never be fully prepared for the sudden loss of a loved one through death, an abrupt change in our economy, a fractured relationship with someone else we care about, or a myriad of other crises that can hit us at any time.

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It’s at this very point that we ought to be turning to God.  But this doesn’t mean that we are to look to God like He is a giant ‘band-aid” who treats our “owwies” when we feel hurt, or a genie in a bottle that will do anything we ask of him when we rub His magic lamp.  No, we are to come to God and trust that He really is the Author of all we can see, and that just as He takes good care to hold the Universe together, we trust that we can put our lives in His hands, and He will watch over our lives as well.

So when I feel discouraged in life and wonder what it is that I am doing now and what it is that I’m supposed to be doing, I remember the words of Psalm 119:105, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.”  Many Christians know this verse and understand that it is as we read the Bible and come to be more familiar with God’s Word that God will help to direct us in our daily lives.  That is exactly right, but there is so much more in this verse.

I’ve had the privilege to work for five years in a remote jungle area of Papua New Guinea.  It was during these years that I really truly understood the words of Psalm 119:05.  There were a number of times that I had to walk down a jungle trail after sunset and only had a small kerosene  oil lamp or a weak flashlight to light the path in front of me.  I literally could only see a few feet ahead of me, and even less could I see behind me.

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Try to imagine what that is like for a minute.  You are absolutely and totally surrounded by pitch black darkness.  If we put our lights or lamps out, I could not see my own hand even if I put it in front of my face.  So that small amount of light from my oil lamp or my mostly dead battery flashlight was my only hope for finding the path forward to take me back to my home village.

Now I could have let my fear of the dark, that fear of the unknown beyond my little cone of light, immobilize me there and stop me dead in my tracks.  All I really knew was that it was safe for about three feet in front of me.  I believed though, that there was a safe passage out there in that darkness ahead, even though I could not see it.  So what did I do?  I took one step forward.

And guess what I saw?  As I took a step forward, I was able to see a couple more feet in front of me.  It wasn’t much, but it was just enough to keep me safe from making a step in the wrong direction.  And every time I kept taking one step forward, I saw more of the path in front of me and the closer I knew I would be to my destination.

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That I believe is how we are to manage the decisions in our lives.  We are not God, and will never be able to see the “whole picture”.  But we almost always know and can see just enough ahead, that we can dare to take a step forward in one direction.  Psalm 119:105 tells us that it is God’s Word that will help reveal to us what steps and what direction to take.

Therefore, it is an act of faith for us to put our lives into God’s hands, trusting that He will guide us step-by-step that will help us to overcome the obstacles of life and to find the direction we need as we make our choices in life.  But remember too, that it is as we read and study God’s Word that we can best get our bearings in life and be steered clearly in making good and wise choices.

In further articles, I would like to share with you some of the decisions and cross-roads that I encountered as I grew up.  I can’t say that I always made the best decision.  But no decision can sometimes be worse than a bad decision.  At least we can try to learn something after making a bad decision.  Keep reading these articles then and see how my faith in God and my life decisions all turned out.  See you in the next article of this series.

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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. 3

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[Editor’s Note: The third article of this series was written by a missionary who serves with Pioneer Bible Translators and works in the Caucasus region of Eastern Europe. ]

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Of Shepherds And Stories

“Our friend is a shepherd. He tends a flock of 200 “sheep” who form the network of house churches that he and his wife have helped plant in the Caucasus region. The members meet regularly around meals in each other’s homes. They sing songs, encourage one another, and tell stories they have learned from the Scriptures. Many of them had become disciples because someone shared a Bible story with them and they thirsted for more.

The shepherd’s wife explained, ‘During meetings we don’t have preaching, since no one is trained to preach. Instead, we learn and share stories from the Bible with each other. Even the children learn stories and some are sharing them with their classmates in school.’”

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“Storytelling is a celebrated tradition throughout this region. Relying on this tradition as a way to share their faith has allowed these believers to enjoy relatively good favor and to remain in their own communities, even though these communities practice a religion that is hostile to followers of Jesus. In fact, some leaders of the traditional religion are now sharing with their own followers stories about Jesus that they heard from the believers.

The members of this flock have found that sharing personal testimonies and Scripture stories at specific times is effective. One believer testified, ‘Sometimes I tell a story from the Bible that speaks to a problem someone is facing. People really appreciate this, and it communicates that I love them and care about them.’

This should not surprise us. Much of what God tells us of Himself is revealed in the narratives–the stories–that we read in the Old Testament. Jesus taught in parables, using stories to explain Kingdom truths and to call people to follow Him. The spoken word that went straight to the heart with power to transform lives during Jesus’ ministry can do the same today.”

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“We ourselves can testify to this. We have been deeply impacted as we have begun practicing the craft of oral Bible storytelling. It is not possible to tell a Scripture story well without first having internalized and digested it, and no one digests the living and active Word of God without being changed in the process.

The shepherd’s house church network and others like it are using a culturally appropriate, reproducible, and sustainable method of church planting and discipleship. The transforming Word of God, written on the hearts of these believers, becomes a testimony to everyone with whom they come into contact.

As people respond to the stories they hear, and as new house churches are formed, new believers want to know more. Our team can partner with those who desire to craft additional Scriptures into oral story form. Our role includes helping ensure accuracy in the translation and telling of each story. We also make recordings of each story that can be used as a reference. ”

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“One beauty of oral Bible storytelling as a translation strategy for reaching Bible-less, church-less people groups is that church planting and discipleship do not have to wait until people learn to read or until the Bible is printed. The church that forms around the sharing of translated Scripture stories will eventually desire a printed translation. When that happens, they will already have the beginnings of a print translation team in place.

Our teams desire is to partner with leaders like the shepherd by continuing to help them accurately craft Bible stories into oral form. We want to mobilize local believers who take these powerful stories and tell them in the heart languages of all the peoples of this region. It is our hope that through the transforming power of the stories they will learn to know the Good Shepherd as a friend.”

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[Editor’s Note: Bible translation work had been almost solely done by means of the “printed Scriptures” up until just a few years ago.  In 2005, I went to the first “World Wide Scripture Use Symposium” in England.  I was fascinated at that time when I first heard about “storying” or “dramatic oral presentations” of the Gospel.  But considering the high level of illiterate people in these minority people groups that we work in, it makes a whole lot of sense to bring the Gospel to the people in an oral form.  Pray that we will continue to find excellent avenues to pursue this aspect of bringing God’s Word to the nations.]

Population in this region: 14.4 million people

Languages in this region: 33

Languages without Bibles: 30

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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 link here for “The Latest Word ” and subscribe to it.

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.

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.”

Scripture Impact On National Translators

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Bible Translation Ministers to the Lives of Those Who Do The Translation

One of the things that I have noticed over the years as I have been involved in doing Bible translation, and now as I check the translations that others do, is that sometimes we get so focused in on the task of doing translation that we forget to watch for and expect the translation to have a real impact on the lives of those who are doing and checking the translation.

It is very easy as they say, “to lose sight of the forest for the trees”.  In other words, we can be so caught up in making sure each sentence of the translation clearly and accurately expresses the same meaning as the original Greek or Hebrew sentences of the Bible that we can fail to stop or even slow down to let that meaning speak to our hearts and deepen our relationship with God.

    

It’s like the Martha/Mary story we learn from Luke 10:38-42.  When Jesus came to the house of these two sisters, Martha was intently focused on getting all the preparations ready and just right to host Jesus at their supper table and actually got upset that Mary was quite content to sit at Jesus’ feet and listen to His teachings.  When Martha complained, Jesus said, “Martha, dear Martha, you’re fussing far too much and getting yourself worked up over nothing. One thing only is essential, and Mary has chosen it.”  (The Message)

I was reminded of the importance of keeping our spiritual eyes open to see what God is doing in us and in the lives of those with whom we work on these Bible translation projects when I read the excerpt below written by a good friend of ours who has been doing translation work for over 15 years in the Solomon Islands.  I pray you will also be encouraged and challenged by the powerful workings of God’s Word in the lives of people as you read his story.

                                

In our last letter, I mentioned some ‘bumps in the road’ that we were experiencing. It has been good to see how God has worked in these situations over the last few months.

I wrote that Jiro, the man doing the computer work for the translation, had recently lost his 19 year old son due to an illness. So when I arrived in the Solomon Islands in early March it was great to see that he was already there and he made it clear that he is still committed to working on the translation.

I was surprised to see how well he was doing and I found it quite humbling to hear him say how he accepted the loss of his son as something that God allowed to happen. I was also grateful that Jofi, who had injured his leg in the middle of last year, was well enough to come so that we had our full team as we worked together for two weeks reviewing the gospel of Mark.

    

We spent a good deal of our time discussing the meanings of different words. There are two main dialects in the language and it is important to choose words for the translation that will be understood by everyone. After listening to some sections being read out loud it was great to hear the men comment about how satisfying it was to hear the Scriptures in their own language.

They said it will make it easy for preachers because after people hear the Scriptures in their mother-tongue language they will understand and won’t need to have it all explained like they do when English versions are used in churches. When we finished reviewing Mark, we printed out fifty trial editions.

The men have taken those back to their communities and will read them to people and hopefully get feedback that we can use in further revisions. Jiro is currently working on Luke and Matthew and we hope to check these when I make my next trip in late August.

    

 Just before I was heading to bed one evening, I saw Somaka, a member of the translation team for the other language group which is closely related to the one we are working in, sitting at a table in the lounge area writing in a notebook. I remembered that I had a message I needed to give him so I went over to talk to him.

As I was leaving, he called me back and said, “I have been sitting here writing down all the things I’m thankful to God for. Can I tell you about them?” So I sat down and Somaka explained to me that in the few years that he has been involved in translation work, he has been learning what it really means to be a Christian.

    

He told me how he had come to realize that all people sin, but because of Jesus’ love for us, no sin was too bad for Him to forgive. He also explained that he had come to understand that he didn’t have to try and do things so that God would accept him. As he talked, it struck me that even though Somaka has attended church for most of his life, it is only now that he is interacting with God’s Word in his own language that he is understanding the basics of the Christian life.

I am always thankful for these reminders that God uses translations in people’s heart language to bring them closer to Him.

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