Archive for the ‘Culture’ Category

For unto you a multilingual son is born

Monday, December 8th, 2014

It’s the time of year when we celebrate the birth of Jesus, however, unless you have an insatiable passion for linguistics, we probably don’t think about the different languages and dialects that were in use around Bethlehem when Jesus was born. As it turns out, there are more similarities to the multicultural environments we find ourselves in today than we may have considered.

In an interesting article for the Ethnologue, M. Paul Lewis sheds some light on the multilingual society Jesus was born in to.

The world into which Jesus was born was (and is still) a multilingual one. Jesus, no doubt, grew up navigating a language ecology that included at least four languages:  Aramaic, Hebrew, Greek, and Latin. The Bible tells us that he read from the Hebrew scriptures and it is probable that his conversation with Pontius Pilate at his trial was at least partially conducted in Latin.

Christians believe that in Jesus, God took on human form. That He became a multilingual man is only one of the ways, but an important way, in which that identification with humanity is fully demonstrated.

Have a read of the full article: For unto you a multilingual son is born.

Our God is a multilingual God, but there are still people who do not know this as a reality. That is why it is our vision that, together with partners worldwide, we aim to see a Bible translation programme begun in all the remaining languages that need one. (Find out more about Wycliffe).

God speaks in your language. In what way is God communicating to you as we enter into this Christmas period?

If you feel a prompting to mission, why not check out one of our First Steps events taking place in the new year? (and you don’t have to be a linguist). There are also plenty of other ways you can get involved, have a look.


What’s in a name?

Saturday, November 22nd, 2014

Living and working cross-culturally involves a huge amount of adjustment, giving up your own norms and familiarity for what is normal and familiar to those in your host country.  Rachel writes in her blog about how even her name got lost in translation.

A bracelet with lettered beads“Why is your name Rashid? You aren’t a man. Are you a man?”

Eventually I got tired of explaining that I was, indeed, a woman, despite all nomenclature to the contrary. Someone suggested I needed a Somali name and I took the first one they offered, Lula. It means diamond, or light.

In all other cases in Djibouti, my name is Rachel. It isn’t always easy for people to say and they forget it easily. I don’t mind, I forget theirs, too. Sometimes it does sound like Rashid. Sometimes it sounds like the French name Rachelle. That’s fine, too. Its my name, however it sounds on someone else’s lips and I appreciate their effort in trying it, appreciate my freedom to hold on to at least my name when I seem to have let so much else go in this expatriate life.

I feel like telling someone your name is giving them a gift. I’m saying I don’t care how you pronounce it but this is me. My name along with all the other foreign and strange things about me are what you get when we develop a relationship. I’m saying, let’s explore those differences and learn from each other, even as we learn how to say each other’s names.

She goes on to share an alternative perspective from an American woman,

[who] used to engage with Chinese students in the United States and struggled to pronounce their names, to remember their names, to remember who went with which name. They would go back and forth, battling through tones and consonant combinations, and she would still slaughter their name.

She said that when one of them would say, “Please call me David,” she felt an immense relief, sorry that she couldn’t master their original name, but thankful that they could now move beyond her embarrassing attempts and into a relationship. She knew full well what they were giving up and wished they didn’t have to. But, honestly, felt thankful. (Read full post.)

These experiences put a very human perspective on what it can feel like for the millions of people without God’s word in their language as they try to get to know God for themselves.  Without God’s word – or even name – in their language, so many think they need to talk to him in another language, or struggle to pronounce unfamiliar sounds to call on his name.  Imagine their relief when they discover God is happy for them to use his local name and for them to converse in the local language.

He is known by the names Isa, Jisas, Jesu, Jezu, Jisasɨ, Yesus, Sisa and Azezi to mention just a few.  As one who ‘became flesh and took up residence among us’, (John 1.14) he still wants to break down the communication barriers and come into relationship with people of all nations, languages and cultures.

Holding multilingual church services

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2014

Increasingly in the UK, multi-ethinic churches are faced with a dilemma.  Should everything be done in English, or should prayers and songs in another language be incorporated?  It’s a challenge faced the world over, and we in the UK have much to learn from those who have wrestled with this very issue for years.

Ghana is a country with over 60 languages, and these languages are not expressed in well-defined, discrete areas of the country.  Language communities overlap, people groups intermingle, and there is significant cultural and linguistic diversity in many churches.  Ed Lauber, working with partner organisation GILBT* shares some ways the church in Ghana has embraced this challenge.

Singing hymns in two Ghanaian languages as the same time. This was at a business meeting conducted in English.

Figuring out how to be one, unified church while making sure that everyone hears the message in a language they fully understand is a challenge. There are many approaches, such as having more than one service each in a different language, then once a month having a unified service in a regional or national language. Some churches conduct services in two languages. But translating everything is time consuming plus it is difficult for listeners to stay focused when every other sentence is in a language they don’t understand. Others have church services in a regional or national language, and home Bible studies in local languages. There are no easy answers. But some ignore the issue altogether and do everything in a regional or official language. But that leaves those most disadvantaged in that language to fend for themselves. It is hard to imagine how a person can become a thriving Christian while understanding only a fraction of the Bible and the teaching and preaching in church. (Read whole post here)

English speakers have the hardest challenge of all.  As the speakers of a dominant world language, it is almost impossible for us to imagine what it’s like to be a minority language speaker, where we are not widely understood.  Let’s not ignore the issue.

The Bible paints a picture of unity and diversity, of God reaching out to great and small, bringing us together as one Body.  The Good Shepherd leaves the 99 for the one lost sheep, and Revelation describes this:

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… they cried out in a loud voice: “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.” Revelation 7.9-10

That great shout will be in thousands of languages! What will the overhead projector look like for that worship service?  Somehow I don’t think we’ll be needing words on a screen, and it’s just as well!
Nevertheless, the Wycliffe website has some helpful suggestions for churches here: Support Non-English Speakers.

* the Ghana Institute of Linguistics, Literacy and Bible Translation (GILLBT)

Learning more about God with music from the heart

Wednesday, September 3rd, 2014

Music provides an opportunity for groups to memorise Bible stories. Just like the songs we sang in Sunday School helped us to remember truths from the Bible, Wycliffe use music to help communities get to grips with the Bible.

Rob Baker is a school music teacher and ethnomusicologist. An ethnomusicologist is someone that helps a language group develop Bible songs in their own language and culture. For his summer holidays he’s spending some time in the Ivory Coast helping a couple of communities with their worship.

He starts with some teaching…

Next day, and teaching began. I started off as I do with most courses of this kind I have taught, by asking two questions:

(i) What is culture?
(ii) Is music a universal language?

Ethnomusicology in Ivory Coast

Ethnomusicology in Ivory Coast

The answer to (ii) is almost always given as ‘yes’, until I explain more clearly, giving examples from across the globe. After this, participants realize that, whilst music is a universal phenomenon, it is not a universal language, as every culture of the world defines, composes and makes music in a different way.

We then make the logical step on to the importance of one’s own culture and how, when artforms from the local culture are used, it speaks to members of that culture in a powerful way, and communication is improved too.

After this, we list all the song genres present in each culture. A song genre is just a style of song linked – in Africa – to a specific event. Songs for weddings, funerals, harvest, initiation, hunting, war, and dancing in the moonlight. Once listed, we see how many of these have already been adapted for church use and which ones could be used. Sometimes they are almost all already used in church, sometimes almost none have been used. But the idea is the same as that of Charles Wesley: to use the music closest to the heart of those we are trying to reach. We call this contextualization. Or, as William Booth said: “Why should the Devil have all the good tunes?”

You can read more about the workshop Rob was involved in, and listen to examples of the songs they recorded, on his blog.

Wycliffe aren’t just interested in translating a Bible and leaving communities to get on with it. We want them to be able to understand and learn from it as well. You can find out more about Ethnomusicology and how other art forms help people to get to grips with God’s word on the Wycliffe Global Alliance website.

If you’d like to get involved in ethnomusicology, have a look for opportunities on the vacancies page of our website.

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.