Please Tell Us, Is Jesus The Messiah?

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John 10:22 – 30

22 It was now winter, and Jesus was in Jerusalem at the time of Hanukkah, the Festival of Dedication. 23 He was in the Temple, walking through the section known as Solomon’s Colonnade. 24 The people surrounded him and asked, “How long are you going to keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.”

25 Jesus replied, “I have already told you, and you don’t believe me. The proof is the work I do in my Father’s name. 26 But you don’t believe me because you are not my sheep. 27 My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one can snatch them away from me, 29 for my Father has given them to me, and he is more powerful than anyone else. No one can snatch them from the Father’s hand. 30 The Father and I are one.”

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There are twenty one chapters in the Gospel of John.  Our study today is in the middle of chapter ten.  By the law of averages, you might think that we are about half way done telling the story of the life and ministry of Jesus.  But that is not true.  Jesus was about 30 years old when he began his public ministry.  It lasted about 3 1/2  years long.  This festival that Jesus attended would have been about four months before he died.

We will see when we get to the start of chapter 12, that the majority of the second half of this book deals with the final week of Jesus’ life.  Those last ten chapters cover the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, the Last Supper, his arrest, trial and crucifixion, his burial and resurrection and his final appearances to the disciples.  Suddenly, a lot happened in a very short time.

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But notice what the people are saying to Jesus in verse 24 of our passage above.  For three years Jesus had gained quite a reputation with all of the miracles he had performed and the incredible teaching and preaching tours he had gone on throughout the provinces of Galilee, Samaria and Judea, and on the far side of the Jordan River.

You would wonder how the people could have asked this question, “If you are the Messiah, then tell us plainly.”  It is kind of like many people today I think that ask the question, “Is there really a God?”  One of my answers is, “Open your eyes and take a look all around you.  The vast beauty of the created Universe, the odds of life happening at all here on earth, and the intricate design of the human body calls out to me that there must be a Grand Designer behind it all.

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Listen then to how Jesus replied to their question: “I have already told you, and you don’t believe me. The proof is the work I do in my Father’s name.”  Now you may be thinking similarly to these Jewish people long ago, “What is this proof you are talking about?”  I believe that if we have been listening well to all that has happened and all that Jesus taught in the first ten chapters of John, we would know the answer.

In one of my commentary helps on John, called “The Translators Handbook,” it has this excellent summary that I would like to quote.  It says:

The Festival of Dedication is the last in the series of four important Jewish holy days mentioned in John’s Gospel, beginning in Chapter 5 (the Sabbath, Passover, Shelters, and Dedication). By healing the lame man on the Sabbath day, Jesus indicated his superiority over the Sabbath; by the teaching given in connection with the healing (5.17), he identified himself and his activity with God and with God’s work.

During the Passover Festival Jesus fed the multitude and so revealed that he was the life-giving bread that God had sent down from heaven. And at the Festival of Shelters, Jesus revealed himself as the life-giving water and the light for the world, thus fulfilling the meaning of the water and light ceremonies connected with that festival.

Now, at the Festival of Dedication, Jesus affirms that he is the one whom God has dedicated and sent into the world.

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To those who are really paying attention and are spiritually searching for the Truth, they will find it.  And they will recognize Jesus for who He really is.  And He in turn will recognize them as His people.  This leads us to one very ticklish doctrine that can trip up many people.  In verses 28–29, Jesus states that these people who do believe in Him cannot be snatched out of His hands, nor out of the Father’s hands.

This has led to a doctrinal idea of “eternal salvation”, the idea of “once saved, always saved”.  I really do not want to discuss this doctrinal idea as it has caused more arguments among Christians than it ever ought to have.  I do have one comment that may be helpful, which is based on the text as we have it.

We cannot comment on the will and action of the person who has put his life into the hands of Jesus and the Father, such as, will he/she remain faithful to God or not.  What this passage does say, is that there is no power greater than God Himself which can pull a devoted follower away from God.  My prayer is that all people might come to realize that Jesus is in fact the promised Messiah, and remain in that state of belief.  The promise is that no external force or person can steal that relationship with God away from the believer.  Praise God for that.

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Sunday School In The Jungle

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Transforming Lives In Papua New Guinea

[Editor’s Note:  The following story just arrived in my email Inbox a few days ago, and I wanted to pass it along to my readers right away.  Not only is it fascinating to see how God has used a good friend of mine over the years in a remote area of Papua New Guinea to bring the translated Word of God to the people there, but recently, Martha has been able to help bring Literacy to them as well.

As she has now been able to combine literacy with Scripture translation, via the avenue of the Sunday School program for local villages, slowly but surely a transformation of the people is happening, especially among the children.  Please pray for Martha and the people over there in PNG as you read this story.]

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“Just teach the little kids to pray like you teach your own kids to pray,” I quickly said in response to a question from the leader of another village. In response he said, “My kids don’t pray!  I pray!” His response left me at a bit of a loss and I looked at the couple from another village, who had also come for the Sunday School Teacher Training Course, but they also said, “Our kids don’t pray, we pray.”  

Internally I was thinking, “And these are the people who are supposed to be teaching the kids?” But, externally I said, “This is how we do it here.  I put my hand on the child’s head or shoulder to keep him quiet, and then I tell him to close his eyes and say the exact words that I say.  I say very short sentences like, ‘Big Father, we lift up your name [praise you]. Give us long ears [wisdom]. That is all of my little talk.'”

On Sunday evening when no one had shown up for the Sunday School Course, I had assumed it was cancelled.  No one came on Monday so I worked on translation preparation work and basically didn’t think anything more about the course. Courses normally “lose” people through the week so if you start with “zero”, there is no hope of a course running, but this week was different.”

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“The first leader had started hiking over on Monday, but rain stopped him.  He completed the 4 hour hike on Tuesday morning and said he was ready to start the course.  Teaching one person wasn’t much of an option so I walked to the school to see if two of the teenaged boys would want to attend the course.  

While up there waiting for a school break, the couple hiked in from another village. As they walked by me, the wife said, “My husband just got back yesterday from town, but I got him to come with me today.”  They had hiked over 2 hours to come to the course.  We started that afternoon when the two boys got out of school and then spent another 3 full days going over the material I had prepared.  

A woman from this village joined us on Wednesday and on Thursday, a lady from another distant village happened to come through the village, and decided to join us on Friday.  All of these adults have been Christian leaders in their villages for decades. On Friday morning, I had the teacher trainees explain to the new person each part of the Sunday School routine.  Having them do the “teaching” proved to be a good thing for them and allowed me to give some corrective teaching on parts they had not understood well.”

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“On Wednesday and Thursday we had periodically gathered kids from the village to allow the teachers to teach the lesson that they had just learned.  Then on Friday we “hid” away from the kids in my house and had some serious study time.  They chose a final lesson to teach, prepared their parts and then I went to collect the students.  

I wish I could have recorded the shouts of joy from all the kids when they heard that they were going to have another Sunday School lesson.  They came running from all directions and yelled to their friends to join them. At the end of a fun lesson, the older leader said to the other teachers, “Now don’t you expect it to be like that back in our own villages.  It won’t be. These kids have had years of Sunday School. It won’t go well for us.”  

My first thought was “What a negative thing to say,” but it probably was the truth.  I did, however, encourage them and said, “When we started things here, kids didn’t know anything about the Bible either, but look at them now.” Praise God for Sunday School and for kids who learn so quickly.”

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“Praise God for my sister-in-law, who years ago picked out the lessons to go with our translated material, bought the pictures and reproducible coloring pictures, organized them all and sent them over with all kinds of other helpful supplies such as crayons.  We have been using the materials here for years because I could teach without a written lesson plan, but this year, three more villages will be able to use the beautiful pictures that caught the interest of the adults as well as the kids.

I did have to laugh though when one of the teachers thought a camel was a donkey.  They don’t have those kinds of critters here.  Pray that I can write even better lesson plans for the lessons from Genesis and Exodus. Currently the teachers only have 13 lessons about Jesus’ birth and about his death and resurrection.

Teaching Literacy In East Africa – Pt. 2

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Primer Construction Workshop

[Editor’s Note: this portion of a newsletter below comes from a colleague of mine who serves with Pioneer Bible Translator and refers to a Literacy course that was jointly led by her and another lady from PBT back in 2010.  To read the thoughts and perspectives of the other woman, I encourage you to go back and read Part 1 of this two-part story.]

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“Boggle.  We have all played the game, and we all have that one family member who manages to find Shakespeare-worthy words with an impossible combination of letters.  In my family it is my Aunt Carol.  And that is exactly what would make her ideal for a Primer Construction team.  For the past few weeks the literacy team has hosted groups from 2 of our languages.  Our goal was to write and illustrate a textbook teaching adult illiterates to read in their mother tongue. 

“The first day of the workshop we had four letters.  2 vowels and 2 consonants and were issued the challenge to write good sentences or a story with only those 4 letters!  With each subsequent lesson we added on a letter and were able to use any previously introduced word.  It poses a particular challenge in the type of languages we work with.  Both of these languages are the type where you can express an entire English sentence in one word! 

“Typically the adjectives change their spelling in each sentence to match the type or “class” of noun it is used to describe.  I personally am very thankful I did not have to come up with their versions of Dick and Jane stories, we left that to the much more capable mother tongue speakers.”

“My specific role during the workshop came in the form of word control.  It was my responsibility to make sure no letter was used prior to its formal teaching and that there were only the specified number of new words in each lesson. When a contraband letter had slipped in or too many new words used I helped the team to rewrite the story or choose a word previously used to express a similar idea.

“It was quite a challenge to keep up with all the languages in the room.  The initial story was written in the mother tongue and then translated into Swahili or English by the team for me to enter into the computer database.  If it came to me in Swahili I would then translate it into English so our consultant could understand the meaning of the story.”

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“The first few lessons introduced 12 of the 36 letters in the language I helped facilitate.  In lesson 12 we had the keyword of Yesu (Jesus) and began writing simple sentences about our Lord.  By the end of the first week we had finished introducing the alphabet and were writing simplified Bible stories introducing the new reader to Biblical concepts, from creation to the cross to Philip and the Ethiopian Convert.  Again, all these stories were held to a strict standard of only a designated number of new words in each story. 

“The past few weeks, and months of preparation work, have been an immense blessing to me.  It was a wonderful time of fellowship with people motivated and willing to sacrifice their personal time to see their people group able to interact with Scripture.  Not only did I greatly increase my vocabulary and understanding of the language I helped facilitate but I gained experience in building a primer in a previously unwritten language that I pray will be useful with subsequent languages. 

“My husband and I came to East Africa for the joy of seeing God’s word accessible to every people group in their heart language.  It is the unique role of literacy evangelism to assist those without literacy skills or access to formal education to encounter God’s written word for themselves.  Pray with us that the primers and literacy classes that will result from the work done during this workshop will lead people to not just learn their abc’s but come face to face to the Living Word of God.”

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[Editor’s Note: I have shared some of the statistics of where we are at today in terms of getting God’s Word translated for every language group in the world that still needs it done.  Our science of linguistics and global mapping have helped us to identify that there are still just over 2,200 languages that have no portion of Scripture yet in their mother-tongue language.

Compared to some of the large world mission groups who are involved in doing Bible translation, PBT is quite small.  Currently we are working in 54 languages, which represents around 20 million people.  We are praying by faith that we will be working in 69 languages by the end of 2014, which would represent about 33 million people.  You can see that even our small portion is a huge one.

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But like I said in the last article, we must get literacy programs running at the same time that the translation work is being done.  The true success of a translation project is NOT when the translation is finished, but rather when people are reading the translated Scriptures and using them in their daily lives and in public, like in the local churches by the preachers.

The problem is the shortage of personnel.  We are having a hard enough time recruiting men and women to become translators to tackle some more of these 2,200 Bible-less people groups.  But for every three or four translators we have in PBT, there is only one person to help them get literacy programs running.  Please pray that God will raise up many more Literacy Specialists.]

Practical Training For New Missionaries

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Weird Wiring & Medical Mishaps

One thing that Pioneer Bible Translators (PBT) is keen on is providing good training for new missionaries so that they are ready when they get to the mission field.  Sometimes we know where we are going, and sometimes we don’t know where we will end up.  But even if we think we know what to expect, the one thing I have learned as a missionary is to “expect the unexpected”.

In my last article about PBT, I shared about the vision of PBT to reach the regions of the world that have the most “Extreme Spiritual Poverty”.  (Read that article here.)  Part of the training that I was involved with last week at our annual training and recruitment week was in the area of “Language Learning and Linguistics”.  But our new PBT missionaries do not just get linguistic training for the field, they also get a number of very practical hands-on training.

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Let me share with you all here some comments from a student who took these practical courses, and then some words from a couple who help to teach these classes.  First of all, one of our new women missionaries who took these courses back in 2010 had this to say:

One of the training classes I took was Primary Health Care which teaches you how to take care of yourself when medical care is not available.  This will come in handy in the villages of Africa.  I learned that if you smell like stale beer but have not been drinking you could have bubonic plague.  If you smell like fresh baked bread, you might have enteric fever.  Some of the other case studies I did diagnosed diseases like HIV/AIDS, yellow fever, cholera and even rabies.  

We learned how to deliver babies including a breech.  Although I learned how to suture a wound you should make a quick note to self that you really don’t want me to stitch you up.  Before that great class I had taken a few others including a Bush Mechanics class.  In that class I learned to wire from solar panels through batteries and a converter to electrical outlets and a light bulb that actually lit up!  These classes were great fun and will be very useful in the near future.

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As you can see, this young woman was really preparing herself for just about anything that might happen while she will be on the mission field, from doing medical care for herself and others, to doing major renovations and repairs to any house she will be living in.  Thankfully for us, Jill was a nurse (who also took an intensive “Medical Mission” crash course), and I had had some experiences in building projects when I worked for a summer mission ministry called “Teen Missions, Intl.”

Now that we have had a word from the student, let’s hear a word from two of our trainers, a married couple who have a passion to train new missionaries.  Steve has had lots of practical handyman jobs and so he helped with the “Bush Mechanics” workshop, and Becky, who is a registered nurse, helped to teach the “Medical Missionary Intensive” course.  This is what they said after the courses were finished in 2010:

I (Steve) enjoyed helping teach the Bush Mechanics class to 13 recruits. The Bush Mechanics Course is four days in length and many skills are taught such as electrical wiring, small engine repair, designing and maintaining solar systems, making a solar oven and then experimenting with cooking in the solar ovens, lantern operation and maintenance, plumbing, soldering, and designing a bush kitchen.

I (Becky) want to thank the other two RNs and the ARNP person, plus one more volunteer who for helping us with the 9 day Primary Health Care Course (PHC) June 29 – July 7th. We had a great group of 13 students. It was fun to observe them gain confidence as they learned to give injections, role play emergencies, suture, apply splints, and become so familiar with the Village Health Manual that they could take a list of symptoms, find the probable diagnosis, and then come up with a treatment plan.

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I think that perhaps the teachers are more confident in the students, than the students are confident in themselves.  But for the most part, all of us are confident that these budding new missionaries will do well once they get over to their field of service.  I’m sure they will find themselves in some awkward and difficult spots, but with at least this minimal training, plus some help from fellow missionaries, will help them to succeed well on their first term over there.

I know that I quickly had to learn to be a plumber (with pipes of slightly different diameters), and a carpenter (working in wood that bent nails), and an electrician (yes, I have a current when I touch the ends of the bare wires and I see sparks fly.)  J  And even though Jill had her Canadian nursing license, it was illegal for her to practice direct medicine, so we did some “back door” medicine and helped as we were able to.

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So some of us PBT people do have some of these basic skills, but they are mostly for potential emergencies.  And so like our woman missionary above who went to East Africa and told a teacher of 90 students who live away from home to be at school, but also who work to take care of their daily needs, with regards to helping out she told her, “the only thing I could do for them was to share the gospel.”  Then the head mistress of the school very sweetly smiled and gently touched my arm and said “don’t you understand?  That is all we really need.”  YES!  Jesus is the answer for the world today.

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God’s Faithfulness In This Ministry

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God Is Truly Blessing Our Mission

For 17 years, I have had the privilege to be a part of a mission group called Pioneer Bible Translators, whose goal is to bring the translated Word of God to all the Bible-less people groups of the world .  In 2007, the leadership of PBT believed that the only way to get the task of Bible translation done within this next generation was to also believe that God would provide the workers to join PBT and many other mission agencies doing this work.  Listen to what a colleague of mine shared in 2010, halfway through our 6-year goal to double the number of our career missionary members.

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Dear friends,

I just want to give you a snapshot of God’s faithfulness since our last prayer e-mail.  Please keep praying!  God is doing AMAZING things!!!!

– For over a year now, we have been asking God to provide teachers for our missionary families.  I am excited to tell you that God answered this prayer by providing 3 teachers in West Africa and another one for a family in North Eurasia.  We still have an urgent need in the southern part of North Eurasia and would like to have 2 more in Africa.  Please keep praying with persistence!

– In our last update, we asked you to pray that our interns would be a blessing to the missionaries and people God put before them.  One of our interns got to go on a survey trip to a people group of 100,000 speakers in West Africa (where there isn’t a single missionary working amongst this language group).  He walked up to a group of elderly men in the village and began to talk with them.  He asked them if they would like to have the Bible in their language.  Two of the old men (from a neighboring religion) began to well up with tears.  One of the elderly men said, “It would be good for you to come, but it would be even better if you left something that will remain.”  This intern told us that he feels led to become a Bible Translator.

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– We recently announced 9 more missionary recruits for PBT (which makes 25 for the year so far).  In the next 6 weeks, we anticipate another 16 people will be announced.  These are people God has brought to us through your prayers and support.  Wow!

– From the time I began to hear about Pioneer Bible Translators in 2004, I heard prayers asking for individuals to go to Southeast Asia. It has long been said that this could easily be our largest branch if God began to mobilize missionaries in this direction.  However, in my time with PBT I have never seen anyone make a commitment to go to this region.  This week, two families told me that they feel God leading them to join this project!

– I received an e-mail this week from a couple in South Asia who are currently working in a language group of 13,000 speakers where 100% of the people are Buddhist.  This family believes God is leading them to join PBT to do translation work.  As they explained their work and I talked with our president, we all came to the consensus “this is why PBT exists”.  God has brought us in this time in history to go to the Bible-less and church-less people.

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– Our interns made it home safely.  Over the last two weeks, we have had the joy of listening to their stories of what God taught them and the prayers they have for the future.  God used this summer to help confirm for some of them that this is where they should be.  God used the summer for others to give them more data about what they could do in the Kingdom.  We are praying for God to keep speaking and revealing Himself to them.

– I received an application from a gentleman who was on PBT’s first internship team…in 1990.  Over the last 20 years, God has prepared him and given him the training he needed to NOW become a missionary with PBT.  God’s timing is impeccable.

– Last but certainly not least, I had the joy of holding the newly printed Susu New Testament in my hand today.  This translation is the culmination of 20 years of blood, sweat and tears from one of our translators in West Africa.  Through God’s grace, this people can no longer be called Bible-less

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Thank you for praying, giving sacrificially and for believing that every child of God is worthy of hearing about Jesus in the language they understand best.

Until They All Have Heard.

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Last week I had the privilege to help teach a one-week intensive introductory course to Bible translation and the work of PBT.  There were sixteen students who attended this course, and already almost half the class has started the application process to become members of PBT. It is very likely that we will not only reach our goal of doubling the size of PBT, but will surpass the goal this year.

There is no doubt that God has His hand in this, and we praise Him for this.  I share this all with you so you too can rejoice in what God is doing in the world.  But also so that you can see that God answers these kinds of bold prayers.  My request to you is that you do not stop praying, for there is surely still much to do for God in the world.

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.

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