Archive for the ‘Culture’ Category

Starting translation

Monday, August 11th, 2014

This is the second part of a series of posts about the translation, launch and impact of the Scriptures in the Mankanya language of Senegal. The story is told by Maggie Gaved, a translation advisor for the project.

A monk of devotion: Father Ange-Marie Niuky

In 1995, Father Niuky – a Mankanya speaker who at that time was a monk in a monastery near Dakar – started working on translating the Gospels into Mankanya, working with the help of a cousin. He spent most of every night for five years translating even though he had no training in translation and there was no agreed way of writing Mankanya down.

After a year, another Mankanya man visited the monk’s monastery. While the two men talked, it emerged that this man’s son was studying languages at university and was currently trying to create an alphabet for the Mankanya language. He and a friend had thought that if English and French and Portuguese and Spanish could be written down, couldn’t their language be written down too?

The monk convinced the two graduates that the most important thing they could do was to translate the Bible into their language, and so they started working with him, particularly helping the monk to write it in a more scientific way.

SIL involvement and the official alphabet

Father Nuiky and the director of SIL Senegal

Father Nuiky and the director of SIL Senegal

More Mankanya people based in Dakar became interested in being part of the translation. Fifteen or so started working together with the monk and formed an association to translate the Bible into their own language.

Between 1995 and 2000, the translators came into contact with SIL Senegal, an organisation specialising in linguistics and translation. Gustave Campal and Georges Kampal, the two graduates, came on a couple of basic linguistic training courses SIL ran and started asking SIL for help with the translation work. In early 2000, just after my husband and I arrived in Senegal, we were asked to help them as they worked on their language.

By then, Gustave and Georges had worked out a basic alphabet so that the Mankanya cultural association, Pkumel, could request that the Senegalese government officially recognise their language. (This is a different association to the translation one, but many people are members of both.) Along with a linguistics consultant from Wycliffe’s partner SIL, we worked with them on improving the alphabet they had developed and helped them submit the necessary documents to the government. In 2001, the written form of the Mankanya language was officially recognised by the government and gained the status of a national language.

My husband continued working more with the cultural association in linguistics and on producing the first literacy books so that people could learn to read and write in Mankanya. I worked on the translation, initially with Gustave and Georges. Georges left to study in Portugal, but Gustave remained working on the translation for the whole time along with a series of other people.

Father Niuky leaves the team (formally)

At the same time that we were asked to work with the team, Ange-Marie Niuky became the abbot of his monastery. He felt that, because his first responsibility had to be to his monastery, he couldn’t keep spending all night working on the translation. He stayed very committed to the translation though, praying for it and encouraging the team, particularly Gustave. The abbot, as he became then, saw the arrival of my husband and me as God’s timing for the project.

The story continues next week, when Maggie discusses how the project came up against some of the frequently asked questions about Bible translation.

Read the previous post in this series: Meet the Mankanya people

My language is very sweet

Wednesday, August 6th, 2014

Often the first encounter of God’s word comes by hearing, not reading it.  The Kamano-Kafe language community of Papua New Guinea are getting their first delicious taste of God’s word as audio players called Audibibles are used:

“The Audibible goes where we cannot,” explained SIL translation advisor Rich Mattocks, speaking of the hand-held, solar powered audio player. “These are excellent in Papua New Guinea where many areas do not have electricity.”

Audibible in use

One day one of the translators, James, received a message that his elderly Aunt Beniftio had died and he asked to be excused from the translation work to visit his extended family during the days of mourning.

Months before her death, his aunt bought an Audibible. Bedridden, Benifitio asked others to take the Audibible outside each day to be charged in the sun, but she warned them not to carry it away from her house. As friends and family stopped by to visit her in the evenings, Benifitio’s Audibible was playing. When her younger brother Marco* came and listened to the Scriptures, he accepted Christ and his life was changed. Many others also heard the Word of God spoken in their heart language on Benifitio’s Audibible.

When James arrived for the days of mourning, the family welcomed him and asked, “What have you been doing?” When he answered, “I’ve been translating the Kamano-Kafe scriptures,” Marco’s face brightened and he said to James, “Thank you for turning God’s talk into our language. The Kamano-Kafe language is very sweet and I understand it. I quit going to church because the message didn’t make sense to me in the trade language or when pastors used English. But when I heard God’s talk being spoken in our own language on the Audibible I understood it and now I believe in Jesus.” (full post from the PNG Experience)

The ultimate aim of any translation project is to see lives changed as the Scriptures are understood and applied. Through a wide variety of work, using audio or video Scriptures, drama or song, the message is shared in relevant ways suitable to each community’s culture and traditions.  Find out why the use of media is so important in the Bible translation movement.

Meet the Mankanya people

Monday, August 4th, 2014

This is the first part of a series of posts about the translation, launch and impact of the Scriptures in the Mankanya language of Senegal. The story is told by Maggie Gaved, a translation advisor for the project.

Abbot Ange-Marie Niuky

Abbot Ange-Marie Niuky

Father Ange-Marie Niuky is the abbot of a Catholic monastery near Dakar and is himself Mankanya. About 20 years ago, before he was appointed the abbot of the monastery, he became very concerned when he saw how many of his people were still following their traditional religion while professing to be Christians. He thought that the reason they continued doing these things was that they hadn’t ever really understood the gospel. Why not? It wasn’t in their language. So, although he didn’t know how to translate the Bible, he felt that God was telling him to do something about it.

The Mankanya people are originally from Guinea-Bissau, in West Africa, but now about half of them live in Senegal. There are about 75,000 of them in total, most of whom are Catholic.

However, their Catholic faith is often mixed with their traditional beliefs, including a belief in the power of the spirits. Many Mankanya people would like not to have to follow all the sacrifices. It’s so expensive and they feel weighed down by it.

But many are too scared to stop doing sacrifices. They know that they will be attacked by the spirits and become ill, and people may even die as a result.

It’s something that happens. I’ve heard of several Mankanya believers who say that when they decided to commit their lives to Jesus, their sleep over the next few weeks or months was broken; they woke at night because of physical attacks from the spirits. They felt pain; one man said it felt like his arm was being pinned behind him and twisted.

There are times when people are possessed by the spirits. At a funeral I heard of, a spirit spoke through a woman, threatening the daughter-in-law of the dead man and her son. She told them the spirit would kill them because her husband was refusing to do the ritual sacrifices done after the death of a family member. The daughter-in-law was terrified. She’s not Mankanya and it was her first encounter with the Mankanya spirits. They have a reputation in the area for being very powerful.

It’s only if the Mankanya people understand that Jesus is more powerful than the spirits that they will have the strength to stop fearing them.

What happens next? Read the blog next week, when Maggie will introduce us to the members of the Mankanya translation team.

God loves you with all his bowels

Thursday, July 31st, 2014

Jeremiah 31 tells us that God’s heart longs for his people. Or, at least, most English translations do. Many also have a little footnote that tells us the Hebrew says that God longs from his bowels.

If the translators had opted for ‘bowels’, this message may not have been good news to many English speakers.  Communicating good news requires some knowledge of the culture.

Photo via Wycliffe Global Alliance

Timothy* works in South East Asia, where there is a large Buddhist population. He says that John 3:16 (‘whoever believes in him… shall have eternal life‘) is a verse that communicates the gospel most clearly to many English speakers -  but it doesn’t communicate good news to Buddhists.

“Buddhists believe that we are all trapped in a cycle of reincarnation — one life after another, each full of suffering. Thus, Buddhists feel like they already have eternal life, and their big goal is to escape the eternal life and all the suffering that goes along with it.”

Richard Gretsky explains…

Because of that, a verse that has meant so much to so many people is a potentially dreadful proposition to people coming from a Buddhist worldview. This, of course, doesn’t mean that John 3:16 shouldn’t be translated for Buddhists. They, like all of us, need to understand that eternal life is good and that life can exist without suffering. But it does highlight that we should know which verses speak the best to people of different cultures.

With that in mind, there is another verse, also in the book of John, which does speak deeply to Buddhists…

Read on to find out what verse Timothy picks as a clear, good news verse for Buddhists.

Wycliffe believes that the Bible – God’s message to humanity – has something life-changing to say to everyone, and want everyone to have access to God’s word in a language they understand. If you do too, there are lots of ways you can be involved in Bible translation.

* name changed to protect identity

* Names have been changed to protect identities

Stronger than the spirits?

Monday, July 14th, 2014

When the Årsjö’s first arrived to work with the Ama people, there were no Christians. That fact didn’t change for the first six years they worked there. In the seventh, the first person – one of the men working with them on the translation – chose to believe in Jesus.

The Ninigo Islands, Papua New Guinea

The Ninigo Islands, Papua New Guinea

As the message spread and more people started to follow Jesus, there was one big issue that needed addressing: spirits.

Sören and Britten Årsjö looked in amazement at the young woman lying on their porch, as Albert, one of Ama translators, pleaded with them. “Please, you must do something!”

In traditional Papua New Guinean beliefs, the practice of sorcery and fear of the spirits govern daily life. In Ama, the word, popuwa, meant “evil spirit;” there was no such thing as a “good spirit.” A cursed person was doomed to die within three days—and if he or she told anyone, death would be immediate.

So, when Albert’s cousin courageously told him she’d been cursed, he acted immediately. They all gathered around the girl and began praying fervently, as well as administered antibiotics to help counteract any potential infection caused by the custom of inserting bone fragments into the sorcery victim’s body. They waited and prayed and waited, the whole village watching. Would she die? Or would this God be more powerful than sorcery and spirits?

Find out what happened to the girl and to the Ama community on Catherine’s blog.

We believe God can transform lives and communities, and sharing his word is a fantastic way to introduce people to him. Agree? We’re looking for people to support Bible translation through prayer, giving, advocating in churches and going to serve.

Not by bread alone

Thursday, July 3rd, 2014

The region of South Sudan where the Murle people live is one where many people have been displaced by the internal violence. Murle cattle herders, though, have continued to move their herds from place to place, finding sustenance. It’s not only the cows that need to be fed, though…

blog-cowThis post first appeared on Wycliffe USA’s blog. Read the original here.

Recently a group of SIL* literacy workers went to the Murle area to train teachers to conduct literacy classes in cattle camps. The new teachers lived and moved with the group, conducting classes when people had fewer chores or activities.

Two SIL workers and a man who had been on the Murle New Testament translation team conducted teacher training sessions for thirteen Murle men. Many of the attendees had their New Testament copies, which they used and read fluently during morning devotions. They also shared songs and sang prayers in their own musical style. In addition to teaching literacy, some of the Murle men wanted to share the Gospel in the cattle camps. The staff demonstrated and practiced different teaching methods with the men and had them write short stories.

One morning during devotions, a Murle man named Marko glanced longingly at the Murle New Testament that lay on a table. He asked the staff where he could get a copy. “They are out of print,” one of the literacy workers replied. “Do you not have one?”

“I had one,” Marko answered. “But I lost it when we were running from the fighting.”

The literacy team gave Marko their resource copy and marveled at how much this book was like sustenance to him, perhaps even more so than the physical food he needed to live.

*SIL International is one of Wycliffe’s primary partners

The Murle New Testament is going to be reprinted soon. There’s even talk of an Old Testament translation. If you want to share about the need for the Bible to be translated in people’s mother languages, you can get involved with the work Wycliffe does in lots of ways. Explore some here.

What makes me me? These answers might surprise you

Monday, June 30th, 2014

What makes me who I am? The answer to that question is bound up in where I live, what I do, what I wear, what I eat and, yes, what language I speak. It even affects how I feel about myself.

Wycliffe member Matt has been asking this question too. He tells us how people answered this question at a discussion he was at, and what that has to do with working with minority communities:

At one of our community of practice events last year we asked participants that very question: What makes you part of your ethnolinguistic group? These were some of the responses:

And so what? Why does this matter? Well, what would happen if those factors were suddenly no longer around? What if you couldn’t live in a certain place, eat a certain food, wear certain clothes, speak a certain language? Would you still feel connected to others who have similar features? Would you still be you?

These are the kinds of questions many marginalised communities around the world are having to face right now. Key elements that make up who they are, are being challenged, looked down upon, outlawed and even destroyed. Their traditional ways of celebrating, their traditional foods, the language they speak, and often the very land they live on is changing and they must decide how to respond.

At its heart, this is what we are working to support. To help communities who have been looked down upon and devalued, to define their own identity and to be proud of it.

Go to Matt and Liz’s blog to read the whole post. If you’re passionate about what they are doing, you can join this work by supporting them.

Find out more about how Wycliffe works with marginalised communities.

10 ways you know you’re a missionary kid

Saturday, June 21st, 2014

“God is a missionary God, Jesus is a missionary Messiah, and the Spirit is a missionary Spirit. Missions is the family business.” (Leonard Sweet)

Jeannette Gerth and the four Gerth children

It’s common that when a couple are called to mission work overseas, they take their children with them. So common, in fact, that there is even a term for these children: ‘Missionary Kids’. It leads to an unusual upbringing, on that the Gerths (serving in Tanzania) have seen with their own children:

Here are the top 10 ways you know you’re a missionary kid (or at least a Gerth missionary kid living in Tanzania)…

  1. You can greet people in at least three languages
  2. At your friend’s birthday party you’re the only person from your home country
  3. You don’t feel safe sleeping at night unless you’re under a mosquito net
  4. Every time you get sick you assume you have malaria
  5. You lost your baby teeth on two continents

Read on on the Gerth’s blog for the other five key features of missionary kids, in their experience.

Serving God overseas is an obedient response for a whole family, not just for individuals. If you’re passionate about seeing God’s word reach everyone, have a look at how you and your family could join the family business.

What language did Jesus speak?

Thursday, June 19th, 2014

Many of the challenges of Bible translation, in English and in other languages, come down to the fact that it’s not just languages that are different. Cultures are too. Wycliffe’s UK director Eddie has been pondering this lately, after being asked about Jesus and languages.

It isn’t often that I get called in to referee an argument between the Pope and the Israeli Prime Minister, but last week, I was interviewed by our local radio station about what language Jesus spoke. In what was a pleasant chat, I gave the generally accepted answer, that he probably spoke a number of languages; Aramaic in every day situations, Hebrew in religious contexts and perhaps some Greek or Latin.

However, what I really wanted to say was that Jesus did not speak English!

Whatever those Sunday school posters might indicate, Jesus was not a blue-eyed, Englishman. He was a first century Jew and his life and teachings are rooted in the history of his nation. Right down to which languages he spoke in particular situations. If we try to take Jesus out of his historical, linguistic and cultural setting we will fail to fully understand his teaching or the significance of his life, death and resurrection.

But – and this is amazing – Jesus does speak English!

Because the Gospels have been translated, we can read and hear Jesus’ words in contemporary English. This is so much a part of our lives that we don’t fully appreciate the strange wonder of it. The two-thousand year old story, rooted in Jewish life and culture, can be read and understood in modern English and in thousands of other languages for that matter. Though Jesus was a Rabbi, who lived in a particular context, his message is for all peoples in all times. It’s a simple fact, but a wonderful one.

Through Bible translation, Wycliffe and partners are trying to share that message with all peoples around the world. You can be involved by giving, praying, considering an job with Wycliffe or sharing the need with your community.

This post has been edited. The original appeared on Eddie’s blog; read it here.

When sorrows like sea billows roll

Monday, June 16th, 2014

If you regularly sing with other Christians, you probably have a favourite hymn or song. You’ll know it because its the one song that you always sing with audible abandon, which brings you to your knees or leaves you in floods of tears. Mine (confession time!) is ‘It is well with my soul’. If you didn’t love it before, I think that this story of a Papua New Guinean community singing it in celebration will bring it close to your heart.

Emotions ran strong as the choir sang “Masina, Masina…” at the Mussau hymnal dedication. Masina means “Thank you,” “that’s great” and is even used as a greeting in the Mussau language. But as the choir sang, it meant only one thing: “It is well, it is well, it is well with my soul.”

On this day, these precious words had special meaning to the Mussau people. In February, John and Marjo Brownie were travelling from Mussau to Emirau Island with Leslie their co-translator and three others when the boat hit an unusually rough wave, immediately capsizing their small craft. The boat sank in seconds, setting all six adrift. John and Leslie became separated from Marjo, the boat captain and the other two men. They all drifted with the current but miraculously came ashore on Emirau’s western shore, John and Leslie arriving just before dark. If they had missed the island, the next land would have been Nauru, over 600 miles away. When the boat capsized, John’s computer and all the recent translation work went overboard.

The day before the hymnbook dedication, John and Marjo visited Emirau Island for the first time since the boating accident. They were tearfully greeted by the Emirau people who presented the Brownies with some of their belongings that had washed ashore, several days after the accident. When John opened a case that contained the computer with all the recent translation work, everyone cheered! Many people around the world had been praying that this work would be recovered.

Hundreds of people came the next day to the hymnbook dedication… As they listened to the choir sing Masina, it was hard not be filled with grateful emotions. Many amazing things had happened that not only preserved everyone’s lives but also saved the Words of Life that had been lost at sea. Now these wonderful words were being sung in the heart language of the people.

Those tears of joy when we sing to God come because we can sing from our hearts to God’s heart in our own language. But millions still sing to God in someone else’s language, because church isn’t done in theirs. It’s one of the many beautiful changes that Bible translation can bring. Support Bible translation.

The story and the photograph are from Tim Scott, posting about Bible translation in Papua New Guinea at thepngexperience.wordpress.com. Read the full story.