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.

Overcoming Extreme Spiritual Poverty

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Training New Missionaries To Reach “The Lost”

For many years, Christians have talked about “Reaching the Lost”.  For some people, that expression has made sense, but I think that many people today would not really know what this means.  What exactly does the word “Lost” refer to?  In religious terms, it means to be “spiritually lost”, to not know Jesus as the One who rescues us from sin and the punishment of eternal death in Hell.  In simple black and white terms, we could talk about those who have accepted Jesus and are “Saved”, and those who have not accepted Jesus and are “Lost”.

The reality of “spiritual lostness” in this world is more complex than this though.  There is in fact a direct relationship between those who have accepted Christ as Saviour and Lord of their lives and the accessibility to the knowledge of Jesus as presented to us in the Bible.  It makes sense that where the Bible has been made available to people in a language that they understand, and where there is a network of churches which use and promote the message of the Bible that there will be people who have had their lives transformed by that message and have a strong faith in Christ.

This leads us to the next obvious conclusion.  Where there are few or no churches within a distinct language and cultural group, and where there are no portions of the Bible in that language, there will also be very few or no Christians at all in that group.  It is this reality that has led our leaders of our mission, Pioneer Bible Translators, to coin the term “Extreme Spiritual Poverty”.  In a sense, there is a degree of “lostness” among the people groups of the world, and it has become the mandate of our mission to try to bring relief and the message of the Gospel to these “least reached” people of the world.

    

To get a better understanding of what is involved in impacting the most spiritually needy areas of the world, it is helpful to break it down into three categories of people groups as identified by their languages.  According to most of the official counts, there are almost 7,000 language groups in the world.  This does not include dialects.  These are all considered distinct languages.  Of this number, we know that there are just over 2,250 languages that definitely have the need to begin a Bible translation project in that language.  This represents over 350 million people who do not have even one verse of the Bible published for them in their language.

That is a lot of people who can’t read about Jesus in their own language.  Thankfully there are some of these language groups that do have churches established within them, but they are relying on Scripture that is not in the mother tongue of the people.  But of these 2,250 language groups, there are at least 900 groups that do not have a church of any portion of the Bible in their language.  This represents over 200 million people.  It is these church-less and Bible-less language groups of people that PBT is very concerned about reaching with the Gospel message of Christ and whom we consider to be the most extreme spiritually poor people in the world.

Now that we know what the need is, what is PBT doing about it?  For a number of years now we have been recruiting and sending new missionaries over to these parts of the world which so desperately need churches that use translated Scriptures to transform the people of their language group.  God has truly been blessing our mission as we have grown from 185 members to 353 members in just 5 1/2 years.  By the end of this year, we expect that we will have doubled in size for the number of career missionaries.  Our prayerful goal is to double the number of our personnel again in the next six years.  There is so much work left to be done in the world in the area of Bible translation that recruiting new people to be missionaries is crucial to getting the work done.

    

And that was exactly what we were doing this last week.  We just held our annual recruitment and training week here in Dallas, which is known as “Pioneer Mission Institute“.   For 36 years now we have been training and introducing the work of PBT to people who have an interest in mission work and specifically Bible translation work.  This year, we had over 70 students, with just about half that number in each of the two levels, the first level being the “Discovery Track” and the second level doing specialized seminars on practices and procedures for cross-cultural missionaries.

I had the privilege to once again teach the introductory linguistics class to the Discovery Track students.  I introduced them to such topics as Phonetics, Phonology, Morphology, Semantics, Sociolinguistics, Language Learning and a few other topics.  It is always exciting to me when I see other people catch the vision for getting God’s Word translated and available to the minority languages of the world.  But more importantly, they caught the vision that there are still a great number of people who are living without the transforming message of the Bible.  For it is not just translation work and linguistics that matter, but the lives of people who live on this edge of extreme spiritual poverty that we need to reach.

I ask you to be in prayer alond with us that we would find the right people to be added to our mission group that could work together to help bring the Gospel to these last pockets of people in the world who don’t know Jesus, and without a church presence and the translated Word of God, will probably never have the chance to know Jesus.  By faith though, we are believing that by 2050 or so, we will have provided a translated New Testament to all these groups and overcome extreme spiritual poverty in the world.

Transforming The World Through Bible Translation

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Reaching The Ends Of The Earth With God’s Word

In Matthew 24:14, Jesus says that the good news about the Kingdom of God would go out to all the nations, and then the end would come.  The word “nations” here comes from the Greek word “ethnos” and so means that God’s Word will go out to “every ethnic group” in the world.  But there are still over 2,000 languages which do not have Scripture in their mother tongue.  And there are some languages which have the Scriptures, but for some reason are not utilizing them in their church and daily life.

As one of the global partners in Bible translation ministry, Pioneer Bible Translators has taken many steps to identify those language groups that do not have the Scriptures and need a translation.  And we have also worked on identifying those groups where greater Scripture Impact work needs to be done.

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Below is part of a positional paper that was recently released from the President’s Office of PBT which will help us identify the areas that need to be targeted:

In the future, Pioneer Bible Translators will follow the Spirit’s lead to fill the gaps in the Bible Translation movement so that we and our partners will see churches with Scripture transforming every language group on earth by 2050. There are three major gaps in the Bible Translation movement standing between us and this major milestone of the Great Commission:

      1. Scripture-less language groups with little or no church which requires a specialized strategy.
      2. Areas of extreme linguistic diversity where the number of languages requires more translation resources than our partners have available,
      3. Languages worldwide with “finished” translation projects that were never used by the people.

We estimate that if our small team were to grow rapidly and become capable of starting and finishing around 10 percent of the remaining translation projects in the world, our larger partners would have enough momentum to handle the other 90 percent of the needs.

First Gap: Language Contexts Lacking Church, Scripture, and Transformation

First, to accomplish the task we need to fill the gap among the Church-less, Scripture-less language communities. Bible Translation agencies naturally prioritize language groups with churches so that their Scriptures will be used. Church planting agencies tend to prioritize the majority language contexts in the urban centers of the world. This leaves around 900 minority languages–200 million Scripture-less, Church-less people–in a strategic gap.

We believe Jesus is moved with great compassion for these suffering the most extreme spiritual poverty in the world–who also typically are among the most physically impoverished peoples of the world. What greater need could attract the compassion of God than marginalized people far from knowing him without a church to show his love and without Scripture to reveal the path to hope?

There are many church planting agencies that do some Bible Translation work on the side, but PBT is one of the only Bible Translation agencies that also has church planting as one of its original purposes. This makes PBT uniquely suited to translate the Bible for language groups that have neither church nor Scripture.

Second Gap: Language Contexts Lacking Scripture

Second, to accomplish the task we also need to fill the gap among the areas of the world with the greatest linguistic diversity. In most places around the world our partners are set to start all the projects needed over the next 20 years. They will be in position to translate most all of the New Testaments needed by 2050.

However, pockets of extreme linguistic diversity are scattered over the earth that defy the current resources of the Bible Translation movement. We need to rise to the challenge and focus 50 of our proposed 250 new projects on supplementing the efforts of our partners in places where the church is already present, but the Scriptures are needed to disciple the people as Jesus commanded.

Third Gap: Languages Lacking Vernacular Scripture-Based Transformation

Third, to accomplish the task we also need to fill the global gap of a lack of Scripture impact in scattered language communities that have received a translation in their language, but for some reason churches have never begun to use the Scripture. No one in the Bible Translation movement knows how many translations in the world have not begun to be used. We will find out.

We know from our experience that the problem is considerable. On a recent trip to South Asia I found church planting efforts everywhere using second or third language Scriptures to advance the gospel when first language translations were available. How much would the growth of the Church accelerate if more of these movements used Scripture in the local language? Often we find people who have simply never heard the suggestion or don’t know that the Scriptures already exist or where to find them.

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Sometimes they need an audio format or some kind of oral storying to stimulate interest in Scripture. In other cases, the translation was completed, but there are no churches to use the Scripture. We will recruit and train Scripture Impact personnel that will research the scope of this problem and trouble-shoot regionally by innovating ways to promote the use of the vernacular Scriptures among the churches and church planting agencies active in each region of the world.

In cases where there are no churches in the language community, it will be necessary to put together church planting teams without the normal translation element and/or to mobilize some of our church planting partners to meet the need. By 2050 these workers will ensure that there are networks of churches using Scripture to grow and multiply in every language community with enough language vitality to need their own Scripture.

 We’ll see with time if all of our brain-storming ideas will come to fruition and we will see the gaps getting smaller and smaller as we find effective means to target and work in these Bible-less groups.

* If this article has been helpful to you and a blessing, please invite your friends to come visit this devotional blog site.

Thanking God For Language Tutors

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Language Tutors Teach Us More Than Just Language

One of the first things that missionaries will need to do once they arrive on the mission field is to do language learning.  It is rather obvious that if one is going to hope to minister to people of a different culture that learning the language of those people is necessary to be able to communicate with them and so be able to minister to them.

There are a number of ways in which a person can go about learning another language.  In our western culture, it is quite common for us to attend lectures and have a professor teach a large class of students who are all learning this new language.  On the other hand, some people prefer to learn the language on their own at home and listen to audio lessons and study a book.

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On the mission field though, it is much more common to have a native speaker work closely with one person, or perhaps as many as five people.  The students/missionaries will need to memorize new vocabulary and important grammar rules, just like in our classroom model, but much more time is usually spent on practical language production.

We have found over the years that this tutor/learner model has helped greatly to equip missionaries to become actively engaged in the new language faster than the traditional classroom teacher/student model.  And as a side benefit, the missionaries have also often become good friends with their tutors.  Listen to the story of one missionary as he tells us about his language learning experience.

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Jeffrey…He was the meek and ever smiling teacher/tutor.  He was so kind and patient with us in our drills.  Patient to try to answer our questions and patient to wait for us to catch up on our lessons after being out with sick children.  His favorite saying was “Bwana anaweza” (God is able).  He said it and meant it. 

As we got to know Jeffrey, he began to share more about his life.  His dad died when he was young so he was raised by his older brothers who were very harsh with him.  He had worked hard to be educated through form 4 (equivalent of about high school sophomores) and was desiring to go back for more school to become a teacher. 

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Jeffrey seemed to reflect the light and love of Jesus.  He invited us to his church.  He felt a little ashamed because they didn’t have a building.  When we went, we found a building made of sticks for walls but a full tin roof.  The words of the sermon and songs were Swahili, but the passion for the word and praising God reached beyond Swahili.  Jeffrey led most of the songs from his seat and he sang amazingly well.

Jeffrey was blessed to have a bicycle.  He lived a couple of miles from campus.  Every day the students had a 2 and a half hour break for lunch but our teachers had preparation sessions during that time.  So many days he didn’t have the time to go home for food or the money to get something on campus so he would just wait until afternoon tea break and eat as much as possible then.  He didn’t complain, he was just thankful for the snack. 

Jeffrey did a great job of teaching us the language.  But we believe that the most important lesson that he taught us was this, “Bwana anaweza.”  God is able to do more than we could ask or think.  He is able to take us frail humans and take care of us and use us for His glory.  He does it every day with Jeffrey. 

In this young man, of about 20 years, God exhibits that He is able to salvage the life of a boy raised in poverty within a hateful environment, in a country that is not the “land of opportunity”.  Yet each day Jeffrey shares the love of Jesus with others through his patience, kindness, smiles, songs and words about the Lord.  We pray that God will continue to bless Jeffrey with hope and someday the education and career that he desires.

                                

This story brings back many memories for me of the early years that our family spent in our village in Papua New Guinea.  There were a few men living there who were truly gifted in their language, not only just as native speakers, but as someone who had a natural gift to be able to help us to learn to speak their language.

We did not have any textbooks as we learned the village language, since their language had never been written down before.  Instead, we would carefully write down on paper the words that we heard, and then we would practice over and over again with our language helper until we would get it right.

Our language tutors were also so loving and patient with us.  And many of them became our best friends in the village during the time that we lived there.  They knew that we had come to learn their language in order to translate the Bible into their language.  And they so wanted this to happen, that they patiently helped us so that we could communicate with them, but not just our words, God’s Words.  What a joy to live among and to serve these wonderful people.

My Life Testimony – Pt. 3

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My Online Christian Magazine Interview – Pt. 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Language Learning For Missionaries

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Ready For The Mission Field…Almost!

Next week, our students of the SLACA course will give their presentation.  SLACA stands for “Second Language and Culture Acquisition”, which is quite a mouthful to say and is the reason why we use an acronym for it.  This course builds on to the “Introduction to Linguistics” course that I taught from August to September.  It was a very academic and technical course, and you can read about the fun we had with that class by clicking here.

In contrast, the SLACA course is meant to be a very practical, hands-on course to help the students to try to actually learn part of a foreign language.  And whenever you learn a language, you also start to learn about the culture that goes along with the language and the speaker of that language.  It has been clearly demonstrated over the years that language and culture are intricately joined to one another and support the other.

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So what we did for our nine students was to teach theory on one class day each week, and for most of the time the second class period for the week they would meet with a delightful woman from Indonesia who would help them to learn some of her language.  For two months, the students had been in my Introductory class and heard about phonetics, phonology, morphology and much more.  But in this class, they were actually going to put this knowledge into practice.

Each week then, they were to come up with a “Lesson Plan” on what they would do during the language sessions.  They began with simple things, like pointing to objects, or to items in pictures, and they would learn some simple nouns.  They found words for different colors, and learned how to count.  They discovered that there are some formal ways to greet a person in Indonesian, and there are less formal ways.  Then they tried actions, like “I am sitting”, “I am standing,”, etc.  They also had fun giving commands to each other, “You sit!” and “You stand!”

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What made it quite interesting (or should I say challenging) for most of the students, was that with everything they heard they had to write it down on paper using phonetic symbols.  In the previous course, I had taught them the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA), which has about 120 symbols which represent all the possible speech sounds that any human can produce.  (I think this drove a few of the students crazy in the first couple sessions, but it was amazing even to them as to how quickly they adapted to be able to do this in future sessions.)

What we wanted the students to learn was how to listen well to a speaker of a different language and how to write consistently all the sounds that they heard the speaker say.  The reason for this is that our mission, Pioneer Bible Translators, works among some of the most remote language groups in the world, most of which do not even possess an alphabet yet for their language.  And that has to be the first step we take, developing a written alphabet, so that in time, after the language can be written down, then we can begin to translate the Bible into that language.

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By next week then, our students will have had six 90 minute sessions with the woman, their Language  Consultant.  Each student will do a write-up on what they have learned over the eight-week course.  They will have a long list of words (spelled phonetically), from which they will do word sound comparisons to try to determine which sounds in the language produce meaningful changes in the words.  That is, they will discover the underlying true sounds and from that produce a tentative alphabet.

Then they will go up from the sound level to the word and sentence level and give us their best analysis they can for how words are put together, in which order, and what their functions are within the language.  For some students, they will feel like they have not progressed very far.  But in fact, they will have enough vocabulary, and enough sentence structures worked out, that we are going to have them do a role play in a Market Scene where they will pretend to greet the seller and speak with them to buy some of their products.

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 I think everyone will do well next week, both on their written analysis of the language, as well as in their little 5 or 10 minute role play of the Market Scene.  What is really amazing is that if you put all the time together of the six language sessions, it would only total 9 hours with a language helper.  That is only two or three days in a formal language school program.

And why would we do all this you might ask?  Because we want our new missionaries to be as equipped as possible in as short a time as possible to have them ready to jump into a language and culture overseas and start their mission ministry among their chosen people group to bring God’s Word to them in their own language.  Whew!  That’s a long sentence.  But the hard work that we do here in getting them prepared for over there is always worth the effort we put into it.

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I have been so privileged to come down here to Dallas and help teach our new missionary recruits for PBT over these past few months.  It has been hard for me to be away from my family for so long.  Mostly I came here to this hotter climate to help me function better with my muscle disease.  But seeing these young people get equipped and ready to serve Jesus overseas has been a double blessing for me.  And for that I thank God.

Missionaries & Language Learning

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How To Learn a Language in 6 Easy Lessons

Tomorrow should be an interesting day.  I’m thinking about the students that I have been working with for the past two months.  From the middle of August until the middle of October, I taught seven students a course called “Introduction to Linguistics”. These students are some of the new recruits we have in our mission, Pioneer Bible Translators.  They are preparing themselves to serve in support roles in different field branches or projects that PBT has around the world.

The introductory linguistic course covered quite a wide array of topics such as: grammar, phonetics, phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics and pragmatics. All of these topics are so important to the ministry of Bible translation that each one of them is a full course by itself when a person pursues advanced linguistics. But in this introduction class, we would just scratch the surface of each topic, just enough to expose these students to the main concepts. (I did feel bad at times for the students as they would just start to understand the topic, and then I would teach the next topic, and throw their minds back into the fog.

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What is significant here is that for most of these students, they would be involved in some support role on the mission field, not a primary linguistic role like in Bible Translation, Literacy Work or in Scripture Impact. This is not to say that what they will do is unimportant or second-class.  On the contrary, some of them will do Church Planting, Branch Administration, Missionary Care, etc. Some women may focus their energies on raising the family, doing home schooling and supporting their husbands who are the linguists.

The truth of the matter is that every missionary is just as important as any other missionary, because every person is a member of the team and vital to doing their part to see that the Scriptures are being translated, churches are planted and lives are being transformed.  Therefore, as a veteran missionary and a staff member of our international office in Dallas, it is my desire and my goal to help equip all of our new missionaries the best that I can so that they will succeed well when they eventually go to live in their field of assignment overseas.

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The first course is finished now and I am proud of all the students who worked hard and did well learning the principles of linguistics.  What they need to do now is to apply these principles to real language learning experiences, which will be the focus of the next course.  What is real fascinating, and encouraging to the students, is that by learning these basic principles, they should be ready to learn any language spoken in the world.  In fact, I did a demonstration for them on the last day to show them how true this is.

The demonstration I did is called a “Monolingual Approach” to language learning. Imagine for a moment that I found myself in a linguistic/cultural setting where I could not speak any of the peoples’ language, and they could not speak any of my language. Also, let us assume that the language of this other person is not written down, and so there are no grammar books or any other instructional books available to help me learn this language. How would I even begin to communicate with this person?

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This was the scenario I painted for the students at the beginning of my demonstration. I told them that I would only speak the village language that I learned while we lived in Papua New Guinea, and the person helping me with the demonstration would only speak Russian. Through the use of gestures, repetition, and physical objects, I would prompt my helper to speak and then I would write down whatever I heard her say on my flip chart.  In a matter of 45 minutes, I had many sheets of paper filled with all of the expressions that I had elicited from her.

The next task was to analyze what I had written down, and by comparing the various phrases and sentences that I had gathered, I was able to “understand” some basic concepts about Russian.  I had discovered that Russian is like English in their general word order. Namely, the subject of a sentence goes first, the verb comes in the middle, and objects of the verb go last.  I had found a number of different pronouns, a handful of concrete nouns, and a few verbs.  I also had elicited a large number of different sounds from all the words and could then begin making the initial orthography, or alphabet of the language.

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The students were fascinated and impressed by this demonstration.  But more importantly, they all saw how it really was possible to take the principles of linguistics which I had taught them to be able to learn a foreign language.  Thankfully, there are very few places in the world today where this kind of scenario will happen.  There will almost always be some speakers of the target language who will be bilingual in the official world language that the country uses, like English, French, Arabic, etc. Or at least they will know the regional trade language of the area.

Before closing off this article, I must answer the question that I’m sure someone must be thinking.  Why would we go to all this trouble of learning these minority languages of the world?  Actually, the purpose is clear: we want to be able to translate God’s Word into their language.  So the answer is also simple: all people understand and communicate best in their mother tongue, the language they first leaned while growing up. And so Bible translators, and good support staff, must be linguists first if they want to be successful missionaries.

God Restores My Passion For Missions

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Who Am I?  Part 17

It was during those months of cleaning floors and stairwells on my knees, while I asked God to show me what He wanted me to do with my life, that He used a friend of mine to redirect me.  There had been three significant people in my teens years that had planted and germinated the idea of me becoming a Bible translator.  But it was a college friend of mine who asked me at age 32, “Didn’t you want to be a missionary?” that began the process of me finding my true path and calling in life.  (Read that story here.)

What my friend helped to do was to stir up the embers in my heart of wanting to serve God, and specifically to do so in a cross-cultural way.  It was another college friend who also was living in Prince Edward Island at the time that wondered if I was going to do something about my love and ability to handle languages, and especially the original languages of the Bible, Greek and Hebrew.

In further discussion with my friend, he suggested that I look into Lincoln Christian Seminary (now called Lincoln Christian University).  He knew that there were excellent teachers of Greek and Hebrew there, and he had heard that they sometimes hired language assistants, and suggested that I look into that.  So after a few phone calls, suddenly things were looking up as I began to enroll in LCS, and there was a tentative offer to let me be a Teaching Assistant in the undergraduate Greek class.

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So once again, Jill and I loaded up the kids (now age 2 and 4) and all of our stuff into a U-Haul and headed down to Illinois.  We had fun tenting with our boys as we made our way through the northeastern States.  And Jill passed a nursing exam while we passed through Vermont which would open the door for her to do nursing while we were in Illinois.

We arrived in the middle of summer and got situated in the married student housing complex.  It was less than a 10 minute walk to get to the Seminary.   The difference between getting there in six minutes versus ten minutes was the choice of whether to go through or around the cornfield.  It certainly was interesting to walk through corn stalks that were taller than you were.  By late Fall though, the harvest was in and you could run straight across the dirt field.

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Within days of arriving in Lincoln, I had made contact with the professors of Greek and Hebrew.  I was very disappointed at first to learn that they had already filled the spot of TA’s for the undergraduate Greek class.  But then they asked if I would be interested to help be a TA in the first year Greek class for the Seminary.  Wow!  I couldn’t believe they would give me that opportunity.  Of course I said yes, and I loved being a tutor for my fellow seminarians.

Then I inquired about the Hebrew courses.  It had been 7 years since I’d taken Beginning Hebrew, so I assumed that I would have to repeat the course.  Well, the professor suggested that I take the three weeks or so that I had before classes started and review my Hebrew and try to pass a proficiency test.  So…rather than playing in the park with my boys, or sun tanning with Jill, I dug into some Hebrew text books.

A few weeks later, I took the proficiency test, and to my amazement, I scored very well and was recommended to take a 2nd year-level Hebrew course.  My fascination with the language grew.  I took the Hebrew Readings course in the Fall, and I was ready for more in the Winter.  But they had no 3rd year-level Hebrew.  So I asked to do a one-on-one study with the professor and we met weekly to go through a giant Hebrew grammar.  (Am I a glutton for punishment, or what?)

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Getting back into biblical languages was not the best thing that happened to me while in seminary in Illinois.  Something else even more life changing happened.  Shortly after we started the Fall courses, I had been talking to some other people on campus about my love for the biblical languages and my passion that I had always had to become a career missionary.

Well one person suggested that I needed to meet a certain faculty member, because this man was known to be a Board member of a mission group that specialized in Bible translation.  And so I did go over and meet this man and he told me that he was part of a group called Pioneer Bible Translators.  He told me how it did much of the same work as Wycliffe Bible Translators, but was associated primarily with the church background I had come from.

He then told me that he would be driving down to Texas in November to sit in on the semi-annual Board meeting and asked if I wanted to come for the drive and meet these people.  Jill and I thought this was a great idea.  I had a wonderful time in Dallas at the international office of PBT, and was so impressed with what I saw and heard.  And when I got back to Jill in Illinois (who had been praying and wondering the whole time I was gone), she asked me, “So….what did you think?”  And my answer was, “Start packing!”

God’s Great Plan For The Nations

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Bible Translation Steams Ahead

Bible translation is not a new endeavor.  The Old Testament Hebrew Text was translated into Greek in its final form more than 150 years before Christ died, and before the Greek New Testament began to take shape.  The New Testament was translated into some Middle Eastern and North African languages like the Coptic text, the Syriac text and the Ethiopian text starting as early as the second century A.D.

The most famous of the early translations was the Latin Vulgate written by Jerome who was commissioned by Pope Damascus I in 382.  This translation became the standard for the Early and Medieval Church that was to last a millennium.  In fact, it was exactly 1,000 years later that John Wycliffe translated the Bible into vernacular English.  His based his translation though off of the Latin Vulgate.

The supremacy of the Latin Bible was slowly eroding at the end of the 15th century as the fledgling Protestant Reformation began to grow in Europe.  Finally, vernacular translations gained a solid foothold when Martin Luther produced a German translation of the New Testament in 1522, and William Tyndale translated large portions of the Bible into common English.  Both men bypassed the Latin Vulgate and based their translations directly off of the Hebrew Old Testament and the Greek New Testament.  In 1611, King James I commissioned the “official” English Bible, or the King James Version, which is still in use today.

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It has been 2,000 years since Jesus lived, and 400 years now since the King James Bible was translated.  I’m sure there are other great men who contributed in some way in making the Bible available to the average person during those 1,600 years.  And there was some progress made in the next 200 years.  But in many ways, Bible translation did not take any huge leap forward until a 32 year-old man named William Carey stepped foot as a missionary from England on the shores of India.

Carey spent most of the next 40 years in India, and not only did he learn the local Indian language of Bengali, but also the prestigious language of Sanskrit and a number of other languages.  From the beginning of his pastoral ministry there in India, Carey saw the value of translating Scriptures into the vernacular languages of the people.  He truly was a giant among those pioneering missionaries of the early 1800’s.  Consider this quote about his life:

“Despite personal and domestic handicaps of health, he was able, in addition to his usual pastoral and preaching duties, to translate the Scriptures in whole or in part into 37 different languages.  Alone he produced a complete Bible in Sanskrit, Bengali, and Marathi.  In addition to his work as a church planter, he foundedSeramporeCollegefor the training of an indigenous Indian ministry.  He founded the botanical gardens nearCalcutta, which evoked the praise of allAsia.

Carey also wrote Bengali colloquies, which authorities have acknowledged as constituting the basis for modern Bengali prose.  He distinguished himself both as a scholar and as a reformer.  He became professor of Sanskrit and Bengali and played a significant leadership role in the abolition of Suttee, the practice of burning alive Hindu widows upon the pyres of their husbands.”

 (pp 22-24 of Classics of Christian Missions by DuBose)

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All of what I have written so far may be interesting history for us.  And we may feel like these great moments of history in the story of Bible translation are long gone and done.  But that is not true!  We live in truly historic days today.  With the advance of technology and the increase in the information flow, plus some hard on-the-ground field work, we have been able to get a fairly accurate picture of where we stand today in regards to who has and who has not received God’s Word in their own language.

When I ask people the question, “How many languages do you think there are in the world today?” often I get the response of a few hundred to maybe as much as one thousand.  Believe it or not, there are almost 7,000 languages still spoken in the world right now.  That’s a huge number.  Then I would ask people if they had any guesses as to how many of those languages have any Scripture at all in their language.  And again, people are stunned to hear the statistics.

Here is the latest information that we have:

  • Complete Bible  =  457 languages
  • Complete New Testaments  = 1211 languages
  • Portions of the Bible  = 897 languages

That means that 2,565 languages have at least a piece of the Bible in their language.  Of the remaining 4,295 language of the known 6,860 existing languages, there are almost half of these that have some work begun in them.  But according to the 2010 world language statistics, it has been estimated that “340 million people speaking 2078 languages may have a need for Bible translation to begin.”

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Now that is definitely a huge number and still a huge challenge.  But do you know why we live in such a historic time?  The major Bible translation agencies in the world (Wycliffe Bible Translators, Pioneer Bible Translators, Lutheran Bible Translators, New Tribes Mission, United Bible Societies, to name just a few), they have determined that we have within our grasp the potential resources of finances and personnel to get the job done within this or the next generation.

In 1999, Wycliffe Bible Translators adopted a strategy called “Vision 2025“, indicating that they would do all that they could do to see every language group in the world that needs a Bible translation project started to actually see them get started by the year 2025.  Pioneer Bible Translators has also just released its commitment to see our areas of language responsibilities begun by 2030, and Lord willing to have at least a New Testament available by 2050 if possible, but no later than 2060.

These are truly exciting days as we see the possibility of the Good News going out literally to “all the nations” within this next generation.  I am thrilled to be a part of this  grand plan of God.  And no doubt, I will have many more articles to come which expand on all of this.  So stay tuned.

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“Come Lord Jesus!”

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The following devotion comes from my email subscription to

Connection! Devotions for Every Day Life“.

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A Passion For His Glory

Posted: 11 Jun 2011 12:00 AM PDT

He who testifies to these things says, ‘Yes, I am coming soon.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus” (Revelation 22:20).

All the prayers of all God’s people for all the ages can be boiled down to one word. That word is “Come.” What is that prayer asking to happen? When John says, “Come” at the end of the Book of Revelation, having seen the consummation of all history, having seen the kingdoms of this world become the kingdom of our Lord and of the anointed King upon His throne, John is saying, “Come, Lord Jesus! I want to see You reveal Your supremacy to that degree and no less, so there will be an awakening to You that saturates this entire universe, that scatters all the darkness, destroys all the enemy and quickens all the saints forever!” That’s how the Bible ends – with a one-word prayer for a Christ awakening! Should not such a passion for His glory possess the modern-day prayer movement, and all of us who seek God for genuine revival among the nations?

–Taken from A Christ Awakening and the Movement of Prayer by David Bryant (Click on the blue title to read the entire article)

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The verse in Revelation and the devotional thought given above are truly words to get excited about.  The thought of Jesus returning in all His glory to come and be with us forever, and allowing us to share in the glory of His Kingdom forever is such a huge idea, that it simply overwhelms me.  It would be so marvelous if this were to happen in my lifetime.

But I think there is still something that needs to be done before Jesus’ return will occur.  Consider the words written in Matthew 24:14, “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.”  We need to ask the question of whether the Gospel has truly been “preached…to all the nations.”

This is where a little knowledge of Greek is helpful.   The first phrase ” in the whole world” refers to the entire inhabited world, i.e. “every human populated area”.  But the second phrase “to all the nations” speaks of every ethnic group of the world.  This second word in fact is “ethnos” from which we do get the word “ethnic”.  And the process of reaching every ethnic group in the world with the Gospel is still underway.

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Looking at the world in terms of languages, which is an important part of identifying separate ethnic groups, there are just about 7,000 languages spoken in the world today. Of those, there are still over 2,200 languages that do not have even one verse of Scripture translated into their language.  And that is what our mission, Pioneer Bible Translators (PBT), is all about.

For 35 years now, PBT has been recruiting and sending missionaries to various countries of the world to advance the Kingdom of God by bringing the translated Word of God to the Bibleless peoples of the world.  It is truly amazing in this day and age to find out that there are still ethnic groups, some numbering in the millions but many numbering only in the few thousands, that do not have any portion of the Bible in their own mother tongue language.

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We as a mission group are committed to doing something about this.  And last week is a good example of what God is currently doing in and through our mission.  Each year, we gather the PBT staff and available missionaries who are back in North America for our annual recruitment and training week.  Students that come to our Pioneer Mission Institute (PMI) get exposed to linguistic principles, missionary building strategies, and the need for translation work around the world.

Our mission has grown a lot in the last few years.  There were about 185 full-time missionary adults working with PBT in 2006.  The president and the Board of PBT decided to be bold before the Lord, believing that this task of reaching “all the nations” needed to be done within the next generation, and prayed to find 200 more people to become missionaries with PBT and work at fulfilling this global task.

PBT now has somewhere around 325 missionaries and is still growing.  God is answering our prayers.  And now we are believing and praying for another major milestone to be accomplished.  PBT, along with our partnering agencies, are believing that every one of these 2,200 language groups that need Bible translation will have a project started by the year 2030.  And we pray that by 2050, all ethnic groups of the world will have at least a New Testament published in their own language.

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A final note here about PMI.  For the past few years, we have had about 60 – 65 students come to investigate PBT or go on for more training with the idea of becoming a PBT missionary.  The first group is called the “Discovery” group, and the second is called the “Orientation” group.  Usually there are twice as many in the first group as in the second.

But this year, there were 97 students and just more than half of them were “Orientation” students.  Truly, God is answering our prayers for a new generation of missionaries to help this Bible translation movement.  Wouldn’t that be wonderful if we could reach every ethnic group with God’s Word in this next generation, and perhaps that is when Christ will be sent to usher in His Kingdom.

Even so, Lord Jesus, Come!

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