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.

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Breaking Down Barriers

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Breaking Down The Barriers

Read Ephesians 2:11-22

Throughout the New Testament, whether in the narrative stories of the four gospels and the book of Acts, or in the teaching letters that make up the rest of the New Testament, we read about the great love that God has for all of mankind.  He demonstrated this by sending His Son, Jesus, to live among people to teach them about the Kingdom of Heaven and then to die on a cross to make the payment for all of our sins.  This is called Grace!  And for many people, this is considered a great mystery.  And in the Bible it says that “many prophets and righteous men longed to see…and hear…” the things that the disciples of Jesus saw and heard. (Matthew 13:17)  Even the angels look on at God’s wonderful acts of grace and are amazed. (1 Peter 1:12)

But there is more to this mystery than just man being reconciled with God, although this is in and of itself an amazing truth.  What may be even more amazing for some people is that Jesus’ sacrifice has paved the way for people to be reconciled to other people.  Considering how many wars there have been over time, and continue to be between people, it is almost beyond belief that warring parties could ever put down their weapons, put away their hostility, and forgive each other, even to the point of calling each other “brother”.

This is what Paul teaches us in Ephesians 2:19.  From the time of Abraham up until our present day, there has been hostility between the twelve tribes of Israel, which eventually became known as the Jewish people, and all other people groups of the world, whom they called “Gentiles”.  But Paul teaches us that those who are joined with Christ become “one people”.  Jesus tore down the “dividing wall of hostility” and made one people out of two.

This expression used here, “the dividing wall of hostility”, is thought of by many commentators to be an allusion to the wall found within the Temple at Jerusalem that separated the Jews from non-Jews, prohibiting the latter from entering in further into the Temple.  It was a constant reminder to the Gentiles that they did not have direct access to the God of the Jews, who is in fact really the God of all mankind.  But Jesus broke down that barrier and has allowed both Jew and Gentile to be able to come directly into God’s presence.  And in the process, he eliminated the hostility that had existed between them.

I can’t help but think of a fascinating experience that we had while we lived in a village in Papua New Guinea.  Having lived in PNG for a few years, I was well aware of the fact that hostilities run deep in the culture there, and fights can break out at any time.  One of the reasons why most villages are small in PNG, often less than a hundred people, is because of these constant rivalries, feuds, disputes, and hostilities that break out.

This led to a distinct problem in that country over the centuries, namely how to get wives for the men of the village.  Until recently, one of the ways the people solved this was to go out on raiding parties and storm another village, taking some of the young women for their men.  If the village about to be raided had enough warning, they would construct a solid bamboo wall to block the raiders from gaining entry into the village.  For millennia, there have literally been walls of hostility built up between the people groups of PNG.

So it was of great interest to me and my family when we heard that a man from our village was going to “claim” his wife-to-be from a neighbouring village.  We watched the men of our village as they put on their war paint and get ready to raid the other village.  We followed them down the trail to the other village.  And as expected, there was a massive bamboo and foliage barrier blocking our path.

That’s when things really got interesting.  Men on both sides of the barrier yelled and hooted and hollered as loud as they could.  Some men with bow and arrows jumped around looking for a target.  Others who had long spears or machetes banged them together and made threatening advances against the barricade.  All around me was noise and confusion, until suddenly, the barricade fell inwards and in one big rush we swarmed into the village.

All the men of this village were corralled into one side of the open square, and all the women were gathered together on the other side.  Meanwhile, our men searched the entire village until finally the wife-to-be was found and brought to the open square and presented to the hunting husband.  And do you know what happened next? ….. Suddenly, all the people from both villages clapped, and cheered, and laughed at the great entertainment they had that day.  It turned out that everyone was play-acting, while still remembering their tribal culture of days gone by.

So what changed these tribal people so that they could embrace their neighbouring villages, instead of going to war with them?  I’m sure there are many factors that are involved with this change in PNG.  But I am convinced that the entry of Christianity over the past 100 years into these primitive areas of the world has had a profound effect on the people.  Where there had been dividing walls of hostility before, now I am seeing more and more that the people of PNG are embracing each other as brothers and sisters in the Lord.  This is what Christ came to do, to reconcile mankind with God, and also to reconcile men and women with each other.

Thank you Jesus, that You are the Lord of all!