What It Takes To Check Translated Scriptures

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This week I am to start the consultant checking of Mborena Kam books of James and Jude.  These happen to be a couple of the hardest books in the New Testament to translate, as there are many places where we really do not know what exactly they are talking about.  That is where commentaries are so helpful.

These two books will be the last books of the NT to check for the Mborena Kam.  Praise God for that.  I think it should only take us about 3 days or so to check the 108 verses.  Then I want to work with the team to help them start to pick maps for the back of the Bible, such as Paul’s three missionary journeys, and a map of the Middle East during the time of Jesus.  Then I want them to choose Bible illustrations for culturally difficult passages.

    

Take Mark 1:6 as an example, where someone might ask “What is a camel?”  This is important, because John clothed himself in the “hairs of the camel” and so we put a picture of a camel in the text.  Then the team needs to choose a phrase in the Tok Ples (their village language) that helps to describe what the picture is all about.

Another task that I hope to do with the Mborena Kam in this two week period is to work with them on running all of the Scriptural “Checking Tools” which we have.  We are so fortunate to live in this day and age where we have so many powerful computer programs which can assist us in our work in tremendous ways.

I will ask the team to “Run the Basic Checks”.  These checks look at such things as “Are quotation marks being used consistently throughout the NT.”  Often they will find the errors where there is an opening quotation, but they cannot find a closed quotation marker.  And so the verse is marked with a “Missing Component” mark.  Other basic checks are the use of punctuation, Capitalization, paired words, etc.  You’d be amazed at how many times there was an extra space put between the last word of a sentence and the punctuation that closes the sentence.

    

In addition to spending many hours reading the book verse by verse, holding discussions as to whether something has been added in that should not have been, or something has been left out that needs to be put back in, we often need to do what is called  comprehension checking.  This is where the consultant (me for example) writes up hundreds of notes and questions to ask the team, and waits then to find out what kind of response they will get to the consultant’s question.

Some questions are usually simple ones, comprehension questions, like “Where did Jesus go, was it upstream or downstream.”  (This directional sense is very important in many language groups.)  Some questions simply deal with missing information.  It is not that difficult while one does translation work that your eyes get tired, and they can skip ahead in a verse and leave something out.  These errors are easy to find and fix.

    

There are other more complex issues to deal with, such as when some extra-biblical material has been added to the text.  Does this material get deleted, simply because we do not find that these words are not found in the original Greek documents.  What we have to realize though, is that these documents of the Bible were written by men from within one ancient cultural world and world view that many of the people to whom they were written, already shared the same culture and worldview.

That leaves the Scriptures to be wide open with misunderstanding for people today, since the understood, implicit information that  the 1st Century Jews and Christian would have, is not understood by us.  And so there are many places where we take this culturally understood implicit information and we bring it up to the surface and make it explicitly clear for any reader of any time or culture.

We also check for consistency among verses with similar wording, and we also look at how consistently the people are using special Key Terms, like priest, Sabbath, temple, prophet, etc.  In many cases, these key terms can be translated in identical ways.  But this will not be the case in many times, since context and work usage is so important.

When the word is used as a subject of the sentence, or the object of the sentence, or has some aspect of possession of another item, then many languages use special suffixes or prefixes to show how the work is being used grammatically.  We need to keep an eye on sentence syntax and grammar to know if the word is spelled right, and is fulfilling its purpose within the sentence.

    

There are just so many aspects involved in trying to produce the very best translation that is accurate to the original languages of the Bible (Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic), that has gone through translation principles to make it flow in natural village language style, and most importantly, that the message is clear to all those who hear it in their own mother-tongue language.

So please be praying for me and the Mborena Kam team as we finish the last official consultant checked books for their New Testament.  But we are not done yet.  Pray for us as we work through all of the other tools and checks to make sure no Scriptural errors have made it into the final form of their Bible.

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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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Serving The Lord In 2012

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Our Work For The Lord

To sum up what I did from January to April of last year, you could say I checked, checked and checked some more.  I had the privilege to work a friend of mine from our sister organization (SIL) on half of their Gospel of John in a Gulf Province language.  The preparation I did for their project came in handy as I then did the Advisor checking of John for the Akukem team in Madang.

To say that there were a number of challenges when we worked on the book of John for this second group would be quite an understatement.  Incomplete back translations, a late start date, uncertainty on who will arrive and work on which team, a potentially serious inter-clan conflict, and a dead hard drive are just a few of the exciting things we had to deal with.  As many would say, “Welcome to PNG.”

The men were very good to work with though once we got down to the business of checking the Scriptures, verse-by-verse-by-verse-by-verse.  You get the idea.  Including a brief break in the middle while I did more clean up work, it took us six long weeks to go through the entire book.  Our minds and bodies were worn out for sure, but our spirits rejoiced when we could say, “It is finished.”  We could pass the book along in pretty good shape for the final consultant check.

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The last consultant project I worked on in April was the book of Daniel for a third language group.  Believe it or not, it felt like a breeze after the long grueling sessions on John.  In fact, we checked all of Daniel in just a week and a half.  There were a number of “ahhhs” and “ohhhs” and widened eyes as we worked through the apocalyptic material, but the translation was good, and we all got a greater appreciation for the power and majesty of God who rules over nations and kingdoms.

Whenever I was doing consultant checking, Jill helped in the office and the publishing department.  She was able to help prepare questions for the E-1 curriculum which will help teachers to prepare lessons for their own vernacular preschool and Grades 1-2 education program.  She also helped with some Paratext coding for one of our completed New Testament projects, and then assisted me when I became fatigued or needed help with daily tasks around the house where we stayed.

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Then it was time to go back home to Canada.  I made the assumption that “home” would be warm when I got back to Calgary at the beginning of May.  Wrong!!  Oh well, it is Canada after all.  Jill and I celebrated our 28th anniversary on May 11th, and we decided that it would be nice to take a car ride out to the mountains, which are just an hour west of Calgary.  We had barely left the city limits when we both exclaimed, “It’s Spring!”  How did we know?  The orange construction pylons were dotted along the highway.

It was so nice to spend the Spring and Summer in Canada, with family and friends.  I stayed pretty close to home in Calgary and decided to pick up a hobby for the summer.  What did I do?  I retaught myself Hebrew after not using it for 19 years.  (There must be something wrong with me don’t you think, as I actually enjoyed reading backwards again in that strange Semitic font.)

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The other main summer activity for both Jill and I was to visit three churches in the Maritimes (two on PEI and one in Halifax) and then one in Calgary.  I would preach at the service hour, with Jill running the Power Point projection.  We would then talk with people after the services and meet in some homes to tell more about the work that we do for PBT-Canada.

At the end of October, I traveled to Dallas where it is warmer and more conducive to doing my translation checking preparation for my 2013 trip to PNG.  During November and December, I finished preparing my questions for Exodus chs. 1-24 as well as Psalms 120-150 for one group who have finished translating the New Testament.

In the middle of my time in Dallas, I was able to take a trip up to Illinois where I visited a number of our supporting churches.  I spoke in three churches and in three small group meetings over a ten day period.  They are all excited to see what God is doing in me (physically) and through us in the work of Bible translation.

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The big achievement for Jill last year was getting the acceptance letter from the Nursing Council in PNG and the Work Permit which provisionally allows her to do some nursing experience in PNG.  We do wonder if this is the beginning of us making a move towards living and working full-time here in PNG, or if we are meant to continue coming over each year for so many months out of each year.  This next trip will show us where this might lead.

I must mention an amazing thing that is occurring for me physically.  Ever since the churches in the Maritimes, and also Oak Park church in Calgary, prayed for me and Jill and for my healing, I have been doing better and better.  I am rarely using my arm crutches now.  I can walk around inside buildings without any assistance, and I am also starting to take short walks outside with only my pole or not even that.  I believe that God is incrementally healing me, and I am very grateful for that.  I believe He is preparing me for what lies ahead in PNG.

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2012 Review In Pictures

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Looking Back At 2012

So much has happened for us in this past year.  There just are not enough words to tell all the stories and to convey our joy over what God has been doing in our lives as a family and through our lives in this work of Bible translation.  Let me share a few pictures with you then to try to capture the highlights of 2012.

Translation Checking in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea

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Working with a team of national men from Papua New Guinea in January along with their missionary translator, a good friend of ours who is also a Canadian.

Glen Graduating From Basic Training With Canadian Army

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After four months of Army Boot Camp, Glen graduated in February 2012.  He was one of three recruits chosen to march in the flags, and he had the honor of carrying in the Canadian flag.

Translation Checking in the Lowlands of Papua New Guinea

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Most of March and April, Norm worked in Madang where our field office is for Pioneer Bible Translators.  He worked with national men from two language groups and checked the books of the Gospel of John and the book of Daniel.

Home in Calgary Enjoying a Canadian Summer

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In June, our family celebrated Jill’s birthday (with Glen’s picture in the background); Norm enjoying freedom on his electric scooter; and visiting the Calgary Stampede in July.

Visiting and Preaching in Prince Edward Island

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After being away for three years, we visited three churches in PEI and Nova Scotia to tell about the great things God is doing through the work of Bible translation.  On an off day, we would go spend a day together on the red sandy beaches and cold Atlantic waters.

Together Again

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We were thrilled when Glen was able to come home for two weeks in September.  We had our family together, including a special meal time with my mother, and my brother and his wife.

Time in Dallas and Illinois

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For the benefit of my health, and to work on translation projects, I was going to be in Dallas for two months away from Jill.  We were able to have a short holiday of fun before I headed south to work at the center where our International office is for PBT.  In the middle of this, a trip came together to visit four of our supporting churches in Illinois.

Home For Christmas

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Christmas with family.

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Happy Birthday Jesus!

Taking A Look At Bible Translation

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Special Bible Translation Videos

In many of my articles over the past two years, I have tried to explain what is involved in doing Bible translation work.  Explaining the process of translation, starting with a rough draft and then the numerous checking stages after that, can be done in words.  But as they say, a picture is worth a thousand words.  And so that is what I will do for this article, provide you with some links to see some video clips that demonstrate and explain the ministry of Bible translation.

Last week, and on the very same day, two short videos were released online.  The first one, produced by Wycliffe Bible Translators, does an excellent job illustrating the stages and the challenges of Bible translation work.  Take a look at this video clip using a fictional language from Asia:

The Bible Translation Process

Now that you have a little taste of what it takes to translate the Bible into another language and culture of the world, you will want to take a look at this next video.  This video clip was just produced by our mission group, Pioneer Bible Translators, and it helps us to see the bigger global picture of Bible translation.  We know that God sent His Son, Jesus, to be the Savior of the whole world.  But there are still over 2,200 languages in the world that do not have even one verse of Scripture in their language.

Watch this next video clip and try to gain a new perspective on what needs to be done in world missions:

Answer The Call

Now that you have seen these two quick video clips, I want to invite you to view a message that I preached to some churches in eastern Canada a few weeks ago.  I was invited to share about the ministry of Bible translation, which I am always happy to do.  In my message, I outline “The Task”, “The Challenges” and “The Vision” of Bible translation.  The message is about 40 minutes long, so I would like to invite you to sit back now (or at a later time) and catch the vision of what God is doing in the world.

Here is the link to the video message I delivered:

Catch The Vision

I hope you have enjoyed watching these videos as much as I have enjoyed preparing this article and spreading the word of what God is doing through ordinary people like you and me to take God’s Word to the ends of the earth.

Our 2012 Work With Pioneer Bible Translators

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What  We  Did  During This Past Winter

As Jill and I reflect over the past few months of activity, it is hard to believe that we travelled over 22,000 miles from Calgary, Alberta to Madang, Papua New Guinea and back.  That is almost the same as travelling once all the way around the world.  We have been doing this once or twice a year now over the past four years, and as far as we can tell, we believe that God is calling us to do this on a regular basis for many more years to come.

This past trip has been the longest one for us since our assignment in East Africa in 2006-2007.  Norm went over first to PNG in mid-January and came back home at the end of April, 3 ½ months in all, and Jill was able to join him for six weeks in the middle.  Part of the reason for Norm being over there so long was to help him get out of the cold Canadian winter weather which causes him to be in so much pain in all of his muscles.

While there, Norm was able to complete the consultant check of the second half of John in one language.  Then he did the Advisor Checking of John in the Akukem language which took two months.  The third project was to do the consultant check on Daniel for the Aruamu who are now working on the Old Testament.  Jill was able to help with some curriculum revision work and also assist with some administrative tasks in the office.

A  Closer  Look  At  The  Work  Of Bible Translation

So what does a Translation Consultant or Advisor do when checking a translation of a book of the Bible?  It is hard to summarize in just a few words, but basically we go through a translation verse-by-verse, checking to see if the text accurately reflects the message of the New Testament Greek, or Old Testament Hebrew.  We also make sure that the translation sounds natural in the language of the people and communicates well.

Sometimes we wrestle with special terms such as “The Passover”.  We usually use a descriptive phrase.  So is it “the Big-Day-to-remember-when-God-passed-over-the-people-and-now-they-remain-good” or is it “the Big-Day-when-God-freed-His-people-and-they-are-good”?  But now some groups know the OT background of the Exodus story and they are starting to use the pidginized English word “Pasova”.  Choices can be difficult.

Of course there are some funny bloopers that can happen in translation work.  Like when the one group tried to use “the big head men” as a term for “Jewish authorities.  But one man said that sounded like “big pumpkin-headed people”.  So we decided to call them the “the head men” which means the “chief leaders”.

It may take weeks or even months to check every verse, but the goal is to present the “clear Word of God”.

 All  The  Blessings  And  People We  Are  Thankful  For

It is very clear to us that God had His hand upon us and the work we were doing over in PNG.  Many people had asked us before the trip if we thought Norm would do well for so long on this trip.  Other than dealing with the usual fatigue and pain that he has, Norm did not get sick throughout the entire time, and only missed two half days of work in the three month period.

We are so grateful for the hospitality of Carl & Pat Whitehead who let Norm stay with them and moved his recliner chair into their living room so that he could do the checking work for them and their language team.  In two weeks time, their book of John was checked and is now ready for publishing.

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On Valentine’s Day, Norm flew down from the highlands to Madang where our PBT office is, and then greeted Jill who had just come into the country to be with him and to help in the PBT office. What a blessing it was to be together for those next six weeks.

And we are so very thankful for all the people who kept us in their prayers and who faithfully gave donations to make it possible for us to go to PNG and do this ministry work.  Without such faithful support for us and this work, it would be so much more difficult to do all this.  Together, we are all one great big team of God’s people who are working to get the translated Word of God into the hands of the local people of Papua New Guinea.

Where  Do  We  Go  From  Here

We now know that God has indeed opened up the door for Norm to continue serving as a translation consultant and we just got the news that Jill has been granted her Working Permit for PNG.  She should be granted her long-term Entry Visa in the next few weeks.

We’re not quite sure what this will mean for Jill, but it does open up the door to do more than volunteer help when Jill comes over with Norm on these trips.  We do ask that you pray with us for wisdom for this.

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During the next 4-5 months we will both be in Calgary as Jill continues her work as a nurse at the hospital here and Norm will work at home on a variety of translation projects.  Thank goodness for the Internet, right?

In the Fall, we will probably look at Norm spending about six weeks at least in Dallas where our Int’l headquarters are for PBT.  He cannot function well physically in colder weather, so we are thankful that he has the option to work at projects while in Dallas.

For us to be able to keep going ahead with all that we see God laying before us, we will need more people to consider becoming financial partners with us in this ministry work.  We have done well so far in the first half of 2012, but in part that has been because of some special donation gifts.  Realistically, we are operating right now at about 75% of our ideal budget.  We ask all who read this newsletter to consider responding to the address below to become partners with us in this work.

* You can write to us at norm.weatherhead@gmail.com if you would like to know how to become a financial partner with us in this ministry work of bringing God’s Word to the people of Papua New Guinea.

Long Distance Bible Translation Checking

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Working Through Matthew While on Furlough

Very recently, one of my colleagues from Pioneer Bible Translators has taken a furlough leave from Papua New Guinea to come back to the States to visit with family and friends and her supporting churches.  As she mentions below, often when a missionary leaves the field for an extended period of time, the work of translation being done by the national people can come to a grinding halt.

This furlough break has been different this time as we have found an effective way for others to help with the project who then send electronic updates of the changes, and there is a means by which Comments, Notes and Questions can be sent back and forth by Internet connection.  It isn’t quite a “real time” event, but close to it.  Thank goodness for the electronic age in which we live.

Below is a little snapshot of what can come up during a Bible translation checking session.  What you will note as you read her story about the checking of the translation is that there are often many little changes that are made to help a story flow along more smoothly and to make logically coherent and understandable.  But there are still those few times when significant changes are also needed to be made.  Enjoy her story.

                                

“Why did they do that?  Was that change really necessary?”  I thought to myself as I looked at the revised text of Matthew 3:4.  The more I looked, the more I began to see the possibilities and soon I was chuckling at the image of John the Baptist in the rough draft.  The poor guy was eating one grasshopper and one bee egg [the cultural equivalent of honey in our language] – or at least the text didn’t specifically say that he was filling up on grasshoppers and bee eggs. 

The national translators had noticed this and decided that John probably would have eaten lots of grasshoppers and bee eggs to keep from starving and so they added little words that indicate that the items were both plural.  A minor change, but a good one since John’s diet was strange enough without being limited to one of each item.

    

In Mat 3:12, the poor thresher of lots of grain was left putting only one seed into the house for storing grain.  The national translators could not imagine someone doing all that work for one seed, so they changed it to putting seeds (plural) into the house for storing grain – again a wise choice.  

In a similar way, in Mat 6:30, the national translators caught the fact that Jesus was telling the people not to think about one set of clothing – that would have definitely been a bad scene with everyone fighting to get one thing.  Instead he was telling all of them not to think about all kinds of clothing – definitely better when a plural marker is used on the object. 

In Mat 7:17, however, they had changed a plural verb form to a singular and I wanted to say, “Why did they do that?” but I knew that I would find a logical reason – Jesus was just using one tree as the example and not talking about all kinds of trees.

    

I was relieved to see that there was finally a real content change in Mat 7:15 (changing “hair” to “skin”) rather than changing a singular to a plural or a plural to a singular.  The change from “pig sheep hair (singular)” to “pig sheep skin (singular)”, however, made me want to ask, “Why did you do that?”  

After further analysis (trying to envision what it would look like), however, I quickly decided that a wolf would be much better disguised by putting on the full skin of a sheep than by putting on one hair of a sheep or even a handful of wool and trying to disguise himself with it – picture a wolf in a little tutu of wool. 

After trying to envision things from their perspective, I decided to accept that change and many other changes they had made.  I did, though, reject some of the revisions as inaccurate and sent them back to the drawing board to “try, try again” on those passages.

    

Normally when I am back here in the USA, all translation and literacy work comes to a grinding halt, but this time has been different.  One of our other PBT translators just completed a 3 week work session with the our  translation team in which we shared the data regularly via a computer program that allows us to send and receive changes easily.  

I would write questions to her and she would write answers and more questions to me that I would then try to answer.  It generally worked well because while they were working, I was sleeping and vice-versa.  It still feels like “magic” to me because I remember the days of typewriters and carbon paper.  Praise God with me for technology that allows us to interact with work sessions on the other side of the world.

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

Jesus Cleans Us From Our Sin

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Celebrating the “Rescuer”

A few days ago I received the monthly newsletter from one of the churches that we stay in touch with.  Each month, the pastor writes an interesting article that touches upon some life experiences, and then he brings home an important spiritual truth from Scripture.  I hope you enjoy this article, and that you get the point that he brings out at the end.

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“This may appeal more to dog lovers than anyone else, but I think you will see the significance in the end. Occasionally we catch a story in the paper or on the news about a fire-fighter saving a pet’s life. The image is moving for most as the animal receives oxygen and in some cases mouth to snout resuscitation. No victim is too small or unimportant in eyes of some rescuers.

During my days on the ambulance, I was dispatched to standby at a house fire. When we arrived, we found the fire-fighters “putting the wet stuff on the red stuff.” Thankfully no one was home so there were no victims (or so we thought), but we noticed the fire-fighters carry several small items from the burning house.

The homeowner arrived and was in tears as she watched the rescuers carry out her three pure-bred, show dogs. They were small dogs, but held a big place in the owner’s heart. She immediately called her veterinarian who arrived minutes later. What happened next was amazing to watch.

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The animals were wet, black with soot, and barely moving or breathing. The vet took one in his hands and began to rub it vigorously. Next, he cradled its head in one hand, held the body in the other, and began jerking its head downward forcefully. Its world was tossed upside down, but soot stained fluid began to run from the dog’s mouth.

The vet deep suctioned the animal and moved to the others. After the flipping and deep suctioning, he gave each one a fluid bolus and a shot to stimulate the heart. Within minutes these nearly dead, lethargic dogs began to whimper, shake, and walk. They were brought back from near death.

Maybe you identify with this story because you have lost a dog, experienced a house fire, love dogs, or are interested in medicine. I hope you identify with this story because in many ways it describes each of us. Sin smothers us and chokes the life out of us. Each sin fills our body with death and decay, and pushes righteousness out.

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Sometimes we become so filled with sin that we become lethargic lumps of spiritual mess. Sometimes God turns our world upside down, whirls around, and knocks the wind out of us to get our attention. Even the most difficult times we endure are opportunities to draw closer to the Resurrection and the Life, the King of kings, the Lord of lords, our Rescuer, Jesus.

This Resurrection season, commonly referred to as Easter, is a reminder that Jesus gave his life to pay our penalty. His world was turned upside down when his disciples scattered, he was tormented and brutalized, and then finally killed on a cross. But what we celebrate is that the story does not end there.

He was dead. He was buried. He was mourned over. He was raised. He is at the right hand of God full of life, and freely giving life to those who respond to his rescue attempts. Jesus said, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?’ (John 11:25-26). Do you?” *

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I thought it was appropriate to post this article now for two reasons.  This coming weekend is Easter Weekend, and it is always good to think reflectively upon what Jesus did for all of us so long ago when He died on the cross for us.  And secondly, I have just finished doing a verse-by-verse checking session on the Gospel of John with some national translators here in Papua New Guinea.

It has taken us six weeks to do this Advisor Check, where I go over the text with the national men and look for ways to improve the translation.  There may be errors or misunderstandings in their text, or there might be something important missing that needs to be put back into the translation.

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During the course of these six weeks, it is easy at times to forget the bigger picture of why we are going to such lengths to improve this translation.  We need to always remember that the single most important message of Scripture and the reason for what we do, is the message of God’s love for people expressed through the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross.

So during the checking sessions, I try to make sure we summarize what we are translating.  I want to make sure The Message does not get lost in the process of translation.  So I will now end this posting in the same way that I started it.  I hope you enjoyed the story about the fire-fighters rescuing the dogs.  But more importantly, I hope that you understand that all of us are in need of a “Rescuer”, namely Jesus.

* Used by permission.

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.

God Loves The People

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“God Loves Them More Than We Ever Could!”

There are at least 850 language groups in Papua New Guinea. It could be a lot higher than this, depending on how the term “language” is defined. The reason I keep coming back to PNG is to help the people of these various language groups get the Bible translated into their languages. I don’t know the story about most of these groups, but I do know the stories surrounding a few of them.

The general approach for running a translation project of our mission, Pioneer Bible Translators, has been to allocate a trained Western missionary to go and live among the people and to learn their language and culture. Once the missionary has achieved a high enough level of proficiency in knowing both the language and culture, then he or she is granted permission to go ahead and begin doing the actual translation of Scriptures.

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This is the place at which I found myself in 1998. I had learned enough of the local village language by then that I could move forward to be doing translation. It wasn’t long before I was digging into Mark and translating it, and by the end of January of 1999, we had a rough draft translation of Mark. But there were still a number of important checking sessions that we would need to do.

We would need to do the Village-level community check, Exegetical check, Advisor check, Spell check, etc. before we could do the final Consultant and Comprehension check of a translated book of Scripture. All of these are critical checks we have and need to use to help assure us that this translation is: 1) Natural to native speakers; 2) Accurate to the original Greek or Hebrew text; and then 3) the translation is clear and carries a high degree of understandability or comprehensibility.

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Let me tell you what happened next for us, our family and our project. We thought we would be working in our project for the next 15 – 20 years. So on our first furlough back to Canada, I built an 8’ by 8’ by 4’ wooden crate to send back to PNG with all of our most important possessions in it. We were able to retrieve the crate through customs here, and set up our things within our village house. But 18 months later, we found ourselves heading to Australia, and then back to Canada, seeing as our son, Eric, was diagnosed with leukemia.

Undoubtedly, what happened with Eric was one of the most difficult events that we had ever had to experience. We ended up walking away from our house (abandoning almost all of our possessions), we lived with the anxiety of not knowing what would happen to our son, and we felt the pain of having to desert the people.

It has been on my heart many times to ask God for us to return to serve among the people group with whom we lived and served. But God seems to have had different plans for them. What was most difficult for me to handle, was the fact that we were 3 weeks away from doing the final Consultant Check on Mark. After revisions, the book would be ready to be published.

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What confused me in my faith at that time is why God helped us make such good progress on the book of Mark, only to stall the publication of the book about two years. We were so close to finishing and publishing Mark. But from this perspective now, 10 years later, it seems to me that the people were not ready to receive the book, and the message of the Gospel. But I think they are ready now.

Just like Jesus told the disciples that the “field was white unto harvest”, so too, I see how there has been more preparation time, and maturing of these peoples in being open to God and being ready to hear and obey God. We wish that translation work would proceed forward without any problems or delays. But we have to believe that God in control of all things (including language Projects).

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It was someone else then who went in to do the final consultant check on the book of Mark. It’s only natural that I would have liked to have been that person who carried the published book across the finish line. But that is my human flesh speaking. What we have to remember is that God loves these people more than we ever could. And so He will make sure that they get His Holy Word, whether that is through us, or through someone else.

Even now, I know of two projects where the primary missionary is not able to be the one-on-one advisor to the language group that God has so laid upon their heart. One man agreed last year to be the “Acting Director” for the Branch to take care of important administrative decisions. And the other man has put his full-time attention towards being the Finance Administrator for the Branch. These are huge sacrifices, and I believe God will bless them for the decisions they have made.

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But let me share in closing what one of these colleagues said when we thought it was a shame that he was not able to work on the language project: “I know that God loves the people in this one project, but He also loves all the people of these various projects. And when I do my work in the main office, as much as I would love to go back to doing translation with this one team, the work I do now has significant impact on 12 teams.” How true, that God’s loves is always greater than we can ever picture or imagine.

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