Glimpses Of God In Papua New Guinea

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Pioneer Bible Translators’ missionaries have lived and served among the Aruamu since the mid-1980s. The people now have the New Testament in their language and the missionary translator who helped to see that happen is now working on the Old Testament with several national men whom she has trained to help insure the translation clearly communicates the meaning of the original Hebrew in a way the people would say it.

Last August, Pioneer Bible Translators’ Church Relations Director, Wendy Beerbower, went to help the missionary for a month doing whatever she and the national co-translators needed her to do so they could spend more time focused on the holy task of Bible translation. Below are some excerpts from the report Wendy wrote after returning home: She entitled it, “Glimpses of God.

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Through Prayer
He works at the Christian Bookstore next to the Pioneer Bible Translators’ office in Madang.  He’s young, short, slim, quiet, has a big smile and expressive eyes.  When he opened the meeting with prayer, I was blown away.  This man knew how to worship God!  “Alpha, Omega, one who sits on the throne,” he began in a soft voice.  “Exalted Father, Holy One, Creator of heaven and earth,” he continued, more strongly.  “The one who provides for us…”  He went on and on for several minutes, worshiping God, speaking more enthusiastically and loudly as he continued.  He moved on to confession, more quietly now:  “We humble ourselves before you Exalted Father, we are unworthy…forgive us…”  He eventually ended his time with the Lord.

I NEVER would have expected that prayer from this young Papua New Guinean man.  I had never before been taken before God’s throne in such an amazing way.  It’s wonderful to worship with brothers and sisters from different cultures.  How much I have to learn from them.

Through Worship
As one of the national translators led the translation team in worship this morning, I thought, “There will be many people from this language group worshipping around the throne in heaven!  They will be there!”  Revelation 7:9 is being fulfilled already for them as they worship God now.  “After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb.”

Through Work
Who could have known that after one week I would feel this way?  I had just sat in on a translation “checking session.”  Eighteen translators and checkers are going over the Psalms they have just translated into their language.  This check is to verify that the national translators’ rough draft accurately portrays what the Scriptures say.  The man who had translated this particular Psalm read his draft out loud. 

Then the translation consultant who had come to check it, and who had Bibles in three languages on his lap, asked the checkers (those new to the text) some questions to ensure that the passage was understood correctly.  The checkers answered his questions and were all intently discussing, answering, writing down notes or changes on their copies.  It was a beautiful thing to see–they were so intent on getting it right, just right. 

I barely know these guys and yet I love them!  I love them because they love God’s Word and they want to see the Old Testament completed in their language.  I love them because they are serious about the work.  I love them because they are my brothers in Christ.  It brought tears to my eyes to see such a committed team.  They want the translation to say what God wants it to say–nothing more, nothing less.

Through Commitment
It hadn’t rained in two months.  The gardens were extremely dry, but today, it poured for a number of hours.  It was a good soaking rain, the kind that would allow the men to turn their gardens tomorrow.

Understand that these aren’t just any gardens.  These are subsistence farmers – they live off the land.  If they don’t plant gardens, they don’t eat.  Once a garden is planted, they must care for it until harvest.  In the meantime, they slash and burn off another plot of land to prepare another garden, so that they can continue to grow and harvest food all year for their families.  This is their livelihood.

But the next day, instead of going to work in their gardens, eighteen men showed up to continue with the Psalms checking sessions in which they’d been participating all week.  Their commitment level was amazing.  Instead of going to their gardens to plant future food for their own families, they were here translating and checking God’s Word, preparing eternal food for their whole language group of 10,000.  Truly, man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God (Matt. 4:4).

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[Editor’s Note: It will be my privilege to work with these same men next month (March 4-15) to check their book of Exodus, chapters 1-24.  And then I will work with them again from April 22-May 17 to help check their work on Psalms 119-150.  It is exciting to work with a group that now has the New Testament in their heart language and now is working on trying to complete the entire Bible in that language.  Pray that God’s Word will continue to work at transforming this people group here in PNG.]

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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.

Bible Translation Bloopers

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Head Hunting & Pumpkin Heads

There are quite a few steps involved in getting the Bible translated into another language. In between making a rough draft translation and the publication of Scripture are quite a few levels of checking and revising that are needed to be done. As we work with the people who are native speakers of the language, misunderstandings and mistakes can be made.

For this very reason, we must sit down with the national translators and go over the text verse-by-verse. In this checking process, some rather strange and funny translation stories can emerge. Below is one account by one of my colleagues in Papua New Guinea. She was working through the story of the beheading of John the Baptist in the book of Matthew.

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“This is just a general term for cutting. Can we use the special term that we have for cutting around the base of the skull to remove the head?” asked the national translator of the project. I thought about it for a second and didn’t see any major problem with using their special term for the decapitation of John the Baptist – it would definitely make it more vivid.

After I gave a slightly hesitant “yes” answer, he went on to explain that their ancestors along with the folks from a neighboring language group used to go up the Ramu River on regular raids taking captives and collecting heads. I had heard about the reputation of this group from another source, but I didn’t realize that the raiding included head-hunting. I think the national translator was a bit tickled by my obvious discomfort.

When I questioned them some more, they assured me that the head-hunting had all ended before World War II. They had just grown up hearing all of the stories and enjoying the notoriety that this had given to their language group. For over four weeks, the translation team and I were cloistered away in the conference room during the work week as we worked our way verse by verse through the book of Matthew.

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On the days in which we ran into major problems and only completed 20 verses, I despaired of ever getting done, but then there were days when we were able to complete 2 chapters. In the process we found lots of “bloopers” both big and small. Here is one of my favorite ones.

When we reached Mat 5.29 — “If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also,” — I asked the checkers to demonstrate the verse and they got it right, but they really struggled and kept saying that something was wrong with the translation. Finally, one of the checkers was able to identify the “turn” verb as the source of the problem and the national translator started laughing when he understood the problem.

He then demonstrated by doing a pirouette and said that the person was hit on one side of his face and then did a pirouette and was hit on the other side. Somehow I don’t think the pirouette was part of the original story, though I could imagine Jesus laughing at this version of the story.

Praise God with me that this translation project is now one book closer to having the entire NT checked.

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This past month, I have had the privilege to do the Advisor Check with a different group of national translators on their translation of the book of John. We too spent hour after hour for four weeks looking at the text. We would start at the verse level, then go to the sentence level and phrase level, and then even look intently at individual words and terms.

Things were moving along in our checking, and then something really funny happened. We had already dealt many times with the special term “the Jews”. In John’s Gospel, about half the time this term does refer to the people of the nation, and so we would translate it as “the Juda people”. But the other half of the time, John uses the term to refer to the Jewish authorities.

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To handle this in the pidgin trade language, I had said that this could be translated as “the big men of Juda” or the “head men of Juda”. Well, at one point the team had thought I had doubled this up and had said, “the big head men of Juda”. They hadn’t said anything for a few days, but on one day, one of the men thought about this term and burst out laughing.

This man shared his funny thought with the other men in his village language and then they all burst out laughing. It took them quite a few minutes to stop laughing and finally the one man was able to get control of himself and tell me the joke. This is what he said:

“If we translate this term the way you have described it, when the people hear this, they will wonder, ‘What kind of strange men are these?’ They have never seen people that have really, really big heads!”

When he said that, he put his hands about two feet apart, and then the humour of the joke hit me. If we doubled up the expression with both “big” and “head”, then they would be “big-headed men” and it would conjure up the idea of men walking around with heads the size of large pumpkins.

Needless to say, we changed the translation to say, “the head men of Juda”. Even though the Jewish authorities were the enemies of Jesus, we did not want people to think that they were stranger than they already were. And thankfully the national translator caught this one. That’s why we do all the checking that we do.

National Translators Doing the Work of God

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My Heart Is In Papua New Guinea

God has blessed me to be able to be involved in mission work across the world.  But there is no question that the greatest joy I have had were the five years of ministry that I and my family experienced while living in a remote village of Papua New Guinea.  It is a great blessing that God continues to allow me to go back to PNG each year to do consultant checking work on the translation of God’s Word into the vernacular languages of PNG.

One of the greatest challenges there has been the fact that it takes so many years for an outside missionary to learn the language and the culture of the people group that he/she is working with.  The best solution is to work with the national men and women to empower them to do the work.  They already know the language and the culture.  All they need is some training and the resources to do the job of Bible translation.

Once the nationals have the training and the resources, then I believe we will see amazing amounts of both quantity and quality of translated Scripture portions and New Testaments.  Below are two stories of what has been happening recently in PNG as members of our mission, Pioneer Bible Translators, partner together with nationals to get this work done.  Please keep the people of PNG in your prayers.

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Teachable Moments

As my husband Mike and two national translators combed through a consultant’s notes on their draft of Matthew’s Gospel, he noticed that in several places the Biblical term “miracle” was translated into a word that he thought meant “sorcery.” Wanting to be certain, he asked the translators to explain the term. The discussion that ensued was a stark reminder of the world in which they live, a world dominated by spiritual forces and the people’s attempts to harness and control them. In such a world it is easy to see Jesus as nothing more than a powerful sorcerer who used His power primarily for good purposes.

That night we prayed for a way to talk about this delicate subject. The next day, Mike gently, yet clearly, explained to our friends that in Scripture “miracles” and “sorcery” are different. He specifically showed them a number of places in the book of Acts – one of two books they already have in their own language – where miracles and sorcery were shown to be very different.

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He also showed them that God actually forbids His people to practice sorcery. He is a jealous God, and sorcery is a pursuit of other gods. We continued to pray, and in the days that followed it was apparent that they had grasped not only the truth that Mike shared from God’s Word, but also the implications in their own lives and the necessity of choosing whom they will serve in the future.

Bible translators pray for teachable moments like this – for those conversations when God’s Word clearly and unmistakably confronts core cultural beliefs and practices that are in opposition to God’s will. The goal of Pioneer Bible Translators is “transformed lives through God’s Word in every language.” These transformations often begin in the lives of the men and women who encounter the Word intimately as they grapple with how best to translate it into their own language.

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A Work in Progress

“Can I come back to town in a month and finish up my computer work on Acts?” asked a Papua New Guinean who is translating God’s Word into his own language. I looked at the calendar of current bookings, shook my head and said, “No, there won’t be any space for about four months. I’m sorry.”

This man, and several dozen other men like him, are key partners in our work of translating God’s Word for people groups here in Papua New Guinea. Without them, the work God has given us to do will never be finished. Yet multiple times I have had to tell them that though they are eager to work, they cannot, because there just is “no room in the inn” here in Madang.

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For years, it has been the dream of Pioneer Bible Translators in Papua New Guinea to build suitable housing and additional work space for our national co‐workers when they come in to Madang. The work that they do in town cannot be done in their village homes, where they have no access to computers, electricity, advisors, and other resources.

Additionally, as a translation team begins the last few years of checking and revising a New Testament to make certain it is ready to be published, the men often need to spend extended blocks of time in town –long enough that we would like them to be able to have their wives with them.

Our team here has recently devoted time to prayerfully seeking the Lord’s direction about moving forward with long‐standing plans to construct a building that will address current needs and accommodate a new wave of growth in PBT’s ministry. The planned two‐story building provides:

  • 10 sleeping rooms, each accommodating two people
  • 2 efficiency apartments to accommodate couples
  • Kitchen
  • Dining hall that will also serve as a work room and classroom

Through prayer, God led us to step out in faith and we began construction in May, 2011. We are asking God to provide the total amount of $276,300 to complete the building, and we are asking people to prayerfully consider being a part of that provision.

(Thank you for reading this article and for your interest in what Pioneer Bible Translators is doing in ministry for the Bible-less people groups in PNG. If after reading this article and having prayerfully considered how you might respond to this need, if you want to get involved financially, reply with a Comment which no one will read except myself as the editor of this site.)

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