New Territory For God’s Word In South Asia

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In this article, I want to share with you a story about a missionary who conducted a linguistic and anthropological survey through a region of South Asia where the “Bimble” people live.  Come along and experience what it is like to reach into new territory for God and learn, as this author said, “The whole trip was an experience in Almighty God’s ability to overcome all the problems that come our way. It started out as any trip to South Asia usually does, long hours in the air, stomach troubles, and the blazing heat. But then things got interesting with map, phone, and personnel issues.”

                                

“Maps of the area where the Bimble live are not exactly the best. In fact you can call them abysmal and not be wrong. Road and villages are not shown unless they happen to be right on or connected to the “national highway” (I use that term in the most liberal sense). So David had to figure out a way to create a map of his trip.

He found a great program that would work on a cell phone and created roads on Google maps, tracked the locations he visited, and roads he travelled. With this and the help of a local doctor friend, he was able to find villages where he could do his survey. Unfortunately, the phone David had would not work on his Mac so he had to travel several hours to get a phone that would work.

Once he had the phone, it did worked well and was even used in the survey to play some sound clips for the participants. We hope that we can use the map to help other workers in the area to find the villages that David visited. “

    

“Regrettably, David had some trouble finding surveyors to work with him. It should not have been a problem except that the people that were supposed to help him cancelled just before he arrived and he had to find new people (one just got married and the other was in charge of testing that week). The first replacement he found seemed perfect, until they had to suddenly leave to the capital.

With only days to go David now had no team and he needed to find four new people. The lady that was leaving to the capital found three replacements. Then our friend in the Jowai Jacen D’Cannith (a fellow linguist, whom we could not have done this survey without) found us one more local person and he was training her.

The wonderful thing was that in the end the four (later five) replacements were excellent choices since they even had family and friends among the Bimble that were able to help David in the survey. Just shows you that as always the Lord Almighty knew what He was doing.”

    

“While training the new team, David learned a bit about how things work in South Asia. For example, time works differently there. If you tell someone to come at 0900 sharp, you can expect them at anytime from 9ish to noon. And that South Asians learn a bit differently then people in the West. Not worse or better just different. Though frustrating, this allowed him to understand the people far better and prepared not only the surveyors but him as well for the next few weeks.

In Jowai, they started their work on a local festival day and were able to use this as a way to meet people and get some surveys done. The local surveyor’s family and friends were enough to get the rest. The festival was interesting; it was like a massive game of football (the kicking kind not the American throwing version) with a ton of people.

Two neighbourhoods’ teams competed and the stakes were high. According to local beliefs, the side that scored the most got the blessings of the gods for the year. It was quite a sight, people hanging off walls and roofs to watch the game below being played in the slick muddy street by barefoot people falling all over themselves. Great fun!”

    

“Other villages were just as interesting but in different ways. In one they were welcomed by the headman but told they only had an hour to do the interviews since school needed to start in the building they were using. After David explained they would not be able to do it that quickly because they needed to interview about 20 people, the headman helped them move over to the market place he was constructing.

He later helped them go to the other side of the village where they were all followers of the Lord Almighty. It seems that in his village the two groups are split and each has their own headman. But they seem to get along so it was not a problem (David learned that was far more common than we had known before).

Later that week one of best surveyors started loosing her voice so David trained the driver of the Jeep to do the survey. It was a good thing he did that since she totally lost her voice the next day and could not come with them. The driver did a great job. In the end, things went well and David got the data he needed.

However, the most striking thing about this survey trip for David and his team as they travelled through villages and met people was that the people there had never heard about God in their own language. They had always been told that to learn things you have to know Rustar not Bimble. The only book in Bimble is a treatise on the local animist religion and it is hugely popular. Think what an impact The Lord Almighty’s Words in Bimble could have in this area.”

Bible

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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.

Training To Be A Bible Translator

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Who Am I?  Part 18

At last! After many years of thinking, dreaming, and praying about the idea of me becoming a Bible translator, the time was now at hand. At least, it was the beginning of the beginning. We had just finished living in Lincoln, Illinois for a year, and then we made the move down to Dallas, Texas. This was where I was going to do the linguistic studies that I would need to be able to become an effective Bible translator.

It was in 1976, that I saw firsthand what Bible translation was all about, when I visited the missionary couple who were living in the mountains of Peru. I was fascinated with the idea that you could learn the local language used by the people and then translate the Bible into that language. Now, 17 years later, I was finally going to start to pursue this dream of becoming a translator myself.

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My life became very busy that fall of ’94 and winter of ’95 as I dug into courses like Phonetics, Phonology, Grammar, Language Acquisition, Culture and Society, Field Works ( where we learn to use computer programs to help us analyze language data), and many others. And life was certainly hectic for Jill too as she also took some of the foundational linguistic courses, helped to take care of the boys, and also worked at a nearby hospital.

While we were there, our family lived in a dormitory building where many other linguistics students were staying as well as a few families. In many ways we shared our lives together as we studied together, lived in the dorm together, and also ate meals together in the cafeteria up the hill. It was an exciting time as most of us were here training to become missionaries and be involved in some capacity in actual translation projects, or in support roles to help those who are doing translation.

Besides concentrating on the studies, one of the most important questions that we needed to answer for ourselves was where we wanted to go in the world. At that time, Pioneer Bible Translators was working primarily in three countries or regions of the world. They had a Branch in West Africa, East Africa and Papua New Guinea. They also had a small project starting in the Ukraine.

In a funny kind of way, the choice was very simple for me. In the ’80s, there was a popular Christian song sung by Scott Wesley Brown called, “Please Don’t Send Me To Africa”. It’s a song that pokes fun at Christians who are afraid that God will call them to be a missionary and the idea is that people will say, “Please Lord, I will do anything, but please, please do not send me to Africa.”

You will find out later that our family actually did go to Africa, but in the ’80s and ’90s, I had a strong pull of wanting to go to the Pacific Islands region of the world. I also felt old, considering that most of the students were in their 20s and I was now in my mid 30s, so I wanted to go to a well established Branch, and it also appealed to me to consider working in a project that had already been started.

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I believe that it was God’s providential guidance that Jill and I were able to become acquainted with a couple from PBT that had worked in a translation project in PNG, but for health reasons were back in America. We visited and e-mailed each other many times over the two-year period before we actually got to PNG. Even more amazing, was that this man had produced a grammar of the people group that he had worked with and I was able to use that as part of a research project in one of my graduate study courses.

After taking the fall and winter courses of linguistics in Dallas, our family traveled to North Dakota where some summer linguistic courses were offered. That was very intense since these advanced courses, which were usually taught over 14 weeks in Dallas, were taught in only eight weeks. We spent the Fall in Calgary before returning to Dallas, to finish my last semester of my linguistic training.

So finally, after a year and a half of studies, our family was prepared to leave North America and travel to PNG to live among the people of a remote area and learn their language and translate the Bible into that language. There was just one little detail that needed to be taken care of though. We would need to raise missionary support for us to be able to live and work over there in PNG.

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In some ways, this was much more challenging to us emotionally and spiritually as we realized that we would need to depend on God and God’s people to raise up the monies that we would need. As much as we were able to, during ’94 and ’95, we visited or wrote to many Canadian churches and we were excited every time one of these churches responded back positively to say they would support us as best they were able to at that time.

Then, God opened the door for us to return to Illinois. Jill was able to work at the hospital, and through prayer and the leading of God’s Spirit, we were able to visit about 28 churches throughout Illinois to tell them of our plans to be missionaries in PNG. How God led us to be able to speak in all these churches is another story in and of itself, but we were truly humbled and amazed to see so many places open their doors to receive us and to listen to our plans to serve God.

By the end of 1996, everything was pretty much in place. The training was done, partnerships with churches and individuals had been established, and we were ready to go. All we had to do now, was get the entry visas stamped in our passports and we would be on our way to PNG. But that little story, will be the beginning of the next article.

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