Posts Tagged ‘mother tongue’

I recently participated in an Open House at our Atlantic Centre near Amherst, Nova Scotia. As we all sat by a campfire afterwards, I spoke with Sharon, a Jamaican lady who is a longtime friend of Wycliffe. She told me she resonated with my points about the power of the mother tongue. She said even the Hawaiian Pidgin New Testament (Da Jesus Book) spoke to her deeper in her soul than English. “It hits me right here,” she said, pointing at her heart.

I asked her if she had seen the Patois New Testament, which was completed last year. “There’s a New Testament in my language?!! Where can I get a copy?” she exclaimed. “I want to send one to my family in Jamaica.” As multicultural as Canada is, I didn’t expect to hear stories about the impact of the mother tongue, right here in Canada. But why shouldn’t I? After all, last week my counterpart in Wycliffe UK attended the launch of the Jamaican New Testament in London. Eddie Arthur’s blog post about that experience is worth reading.

He notes that a lot of people have been questioning whether the Patois is a legitimate language. “The thing that really struck me was that without exception, every speaker at the event felt a need to defend the production of the New Testament in Jamaican.” The Hawaiian Pidgin received similar criticism. After all, to English-as-a-first-language speakers, both seem like sometimes-humourous variations of English. For instance, John 3:16:

“Is jus cause God did love de whole a wi why him sen him ONE Son fi come dead fi wi, so dat all a de people dem who believe seh Him real woan dead but wi live fieva.” (Jamaican)

“God wen get so plenny love an aloha fo da peopo inside da world, dat he wen send me, his one an ony Boy, so dat everybody dat trus me no get cut off from God, but get da real kine life dat stay to da max foeva.” (Hawaiian Pidgin)

If we can understand it when we read it, it can’t be another language, can it? For me, Sharon slammed the door on that line of thought. The Scriptures don’t speak to her the same way in her second language.

Arthur concludes,

…the story of the Jamaican language is the story of all minority languages. Whether you are in the West Indies, West Africa or East Asia, there is always an educated elite insisting that minority languages should be suppressed in favour of English, French, Arabic, Chinese or what-have-you.

So let’s celebrate with the minority today. Jamaicans are equals with us. God speaks their language.


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I’m not a Bible translator, though I’ve often thought I’d be a pretty good one. My wife Becky would be a great translator. After all, she studied Chemical Engineering; she’s an analyst and problem solver. As a graphic designer, I’m a problem solver as well. Wouldn’t Bible translation be an ideal vocation for us? Twice we’ve asked ourselves that question and taken the time to research and talk to God about His calling on us. Yet he has never opened that door to us.

Instead, we’ve learned to live vicariously, finding joy and satisfaction in the success of others. As a family serving Bible translation from North America but wanting to have a global impact, my wife and I have made a deep investment in the Southwest Tanna language project in Vanuatu, a chain of islands in the South Pacific. Since it began about twelve years ago, we have donated and prayed for this project and tried to care for our friends Ken and Mendy Nehrbass, an American couple consulting on the project. I also had the privilege of applying my graphic skills to design the cover for the first scriptures ever printed in that language.

My favourite Christmas gift in 2010 came in a small envelope from Vanuatu. I pulled out a Christmas card signed by eleven people, the Southwest Tanna translation team. It included a short bio and photo of each member. There we were introduced to incredible people like Jakob Willie, Tom Makua and Chief Jenry Nasey – those who have invested their time, blood, sweat and tears into seeing God’s Word in their own language.

They celebrated and dedicated their New Testament on May 31.


My favourite shot is of Chief Jenry, one of the translators, holding one of the first copies off the truck. He said that he is so overwhelmed to hold God’s Word in his hands — all the hard work can finally reach the hands of those in his language. He said his heart was so filled with peace and joy and excitement that his tears fell down his cheeks.

You won’t see me in these pictures, because my body remained 10,000 km away from Vanuatu that day. Instead of being there in person, I spent the day with a number of young people on their way to membership in Wycliffe Canada. Those men and women represent the future. Who knows how many translation projects and literacy programs they will start? I think I made the right choice… I think.

Nevertheless, I have a personal goal this year to attend a ceremony that launches a New Testament, completed with help by a Canadian translator. So I didn’t make it to this one, but I have in my hands a copy of the Buamu New Testament, hot off the press, with a dedication service in Burkina Faso scheduled for October that I plan to attend.

I love my job. Being part of an organization that impacts people all over the world, most of whom I’ll never see, gives me a lot of joy and satisfaction. And who knows? Maybe my next job will be Bible translation.

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If you want a quick rationale for the power of mother-tongue translation, look no further than a good Christmas service at your church. We had a Christmas chapel service at Wycliffe yesterday, where we sang Silent Night in Spanish, Korean, German and English. Most of us could sound out the Spanish and sing along pretty well. A decent number sang the German, and a valiant few tried the Korean. But when English came up, the swell of voices and passion was noticeable. There’s nothing like celebrating Christmas in our mother tongue!

The complete Bible isn’t the only indicator Wycliffe uses to measure progress. There are a number of early steps, including the script for The JESUS Film, Bible stories and audio recordings as passages are completed. But did you ever think of what it would be like to read the Christmas story for the first time in your own language? This Christmas, the 9 languages in the Mara cluster in Tanzania will experience that treat! Check out this video from CBN.

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