Posts Tagged ‘translation’

A long journey

In May, I had the privilege of going to Asia for the first time. I attended Wycliffe’s global conference along with 500 people from 67 nations — a picture of the breadth of the global Bible translation movement. We saw some excellent examples of servant leadership, spiritual authority and unity among a very diverse and divergent collection of opinionated leaders. The highlights for me were the opportunity to meet with 21 Canadian leaders who attended, and the opportunity to play hookey.

Yes, you read that right. I had a chance to get away from the meetings twice to visit with two language projects, one of which is in its twentieth year. In a small urban house, we met a young American named Amber and a remarkable mother-tongue translation couple who have been the one constant on this project. The following is their story.

In the early ’90s, Duang Tip found himself assisting a Bible translation project. While it wasn’t his heart language, it was a more widely-used dialect with similarities to his own. His expatriate mentor noted his ability and suggested he translate the New Testament into his own related language, spoken by about 20,000+ people just in Thailand. Duang Tip knew enough about the translation process to count the cost. He prayed for three months before committing to the challenge.

Duang Tip and Dawk KaewThe project never seemed to go smoothly. For years, the team struggled as each stage in the work took longer than it should. An attempt was made at one point to speed the work with a larger team, but that just added to personal tensions. Finally their language program coordinator made the difficult decision to slim the team down to four. As Amber and her Thai husband Upai worked alongside Duang Tip and Dawk Kaew, the project began to pick up steam. At this date Luke, Acts, Philemon, Titus, 1 & 2 Timothy are completed. Seven books are awaiting consultant checking.  Six books are going through the Team Checking and Community Checking stages. In short, the end of the New Testament project is finally within sight.

So, what’s next? Retirement? Duang Tip can’t imagine that. His people need the Old Testament.


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[Reprinted from wycliffeusa.wordpress.com]

By Roy Eyre, president of Wycliffe Bible Translators of Canada

Those of us who are not directly involved in translating the Bible will never completely understand or appreciate the linguistic challenges our translators face day by day.

That includes me.

I am giving my professional life to the Bible translation cause. But I am an administrator, not a linguist. As a result, I approach the challenge of translation from a unique vantage point. I look at this topic as a father—and pastor of my own family. I look at it as an elder—concerned with right doctrine. And I look at it as someone who cares deeply for God’s Word—wanting everyone around the world to be able to have access to it in their own language.

Still, I can share some general insights on the matter.

One fundamental truth about translation is that there are no two languages that have an exact cross-over of vocabulary. Most Christians in North America have heard in church at one point or another that our English word, “love,” in our Bibles doesn’t capture the meaning behind the four Greek words in Scripture: agápe, éros, philía, and storgē. Take a moment to consider the implications of using éros instead of philía in a translation. Sexual connotations would certainly be a stumbling block when “brotherly love” was intended.

English is a handy language in its use of generic words like “love.” However, many languages have far more specific words. I remember a previous Word Alive story that explained that there are more than twenty different Inuit words that English attempts to encapsulate in the word “snow.”

But other languages have a more limited vocabulary. Wycliffe’s Ken and Mendy Nehrbass are Bible translation consultants on an island in Vanuatu, in the middle of the South Pacific. Ken once tried to convey to me the difficulty of translation into the Southwest Tanna language:

“Translated Genesis 2–4 yesterday. You’d think that the difficulty with translating would be that there are so many ways to say something—how do you narrow it down? But every chapter of the Bible presents the opposite problem for a language like SW Tanna: there’s no way to say it! Like [in Gen. 4:15], “if anyone kills Cain, he will be avenged seven times.” ([In SW Tanna, there is] no word for ‘avenge,’ no number above five, and no way to say ‘x number of times.’)”

Our translators face a difficult and complex task daily. Even the “simple” verses can trip them up. We in English-speaking countries—home to 85 percent of all Bible resources—have a difficult time visualizing the challenges. So let’s pray for translators like the Nehrbasses, working in isolated locations and struggling at times with a few other consultants to find the best solutions in each unique language.

How did Ken and Mendy end up solving their dilemma? They leaned upon their biblical, translation, and linguistics training; Wycliffe’s translation practices based on more than a half century of experience; insights into the local language and culture from the Southwest Tanna people; and, no doubt, much prayer.

Recognizing that conveying the meaning of God’s Words is an ultimate goal, they chose the following:

Nɨkam. Tukmə yermamə kɨrik rhopni ik, tukrɨrəh narpɨnien ehuə rapita narpɨnien yame nakawəh.

In English, this translation conveys the idea that if someone killed Cain, he’d receive a larger punishment than the punishment he meted out to Cain.

The manuscript of the New Testament is currently being printed, and the Southwest Tanna will soon have God’s Word in a form they can understand.

I may never know everything that translators, like Ken and Mendy, face. But I do know this: Wycliffe Canada is just as committed in 2012 to accurate, clear, and natural translation for every remaining language as we were sixty years ago when our personnel first started serving in this amazing and life-changing work.

—Roy’s post originally appeared in Wycliffe Canada’s Word Alive magazine. Read the rest of this issue on their website at http://www.wycliffe.ca/wordalive/#/2

—Read or watch more on Ken and Mendy Nehrbass’s work in Vanuatu at http://www.cbn.com/700club/guests/bios/Nehrbass_112707.aspx and http://www.nehrbass.info/

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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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[Reposted from thebackrowleader.com because of its relevance to my week in Costa Rica and recent posts.]

Let’s continue mining the leadership development principles found in Acts 6. When the apostles made the decision to remove their fingers from day-to-day program management, who did they turn to? First, they opened the problem to “all the believers,” inviting their input. Second, they went local. The problem was a Greek-speaking versus Hebrew-speaking issue. The apostles were Hebrew-speaking, and when accused of some latent racism, they selected Greek believers to address the problem. They found a local solution. Third, they turned to the next generation. There’s no indication of age, so I don’t want to imply that they handed over responsibility to young leaders, but they clearly handed responsibility to the recipients of the gospel message.

That’s the mark of a movement: those who bring a new idea or message and hand it off to the recipients of that message to take it where they didn’t imagine it could go. We’re experiencing that within Wycliffe. There’s a movement exploding in many parts of the world, carrying forth Bible translation in ways and to places our founders never dreamed of. For instance, I just spent a few days with leaders of 25 non-Wycliffe organizations birthed in Central and South America who are just as passionate about advancing Bible translation in their countries and from their areas of the world as we are. We’re joining together in an alliance to figure this new world out together. It’s a world where language groups are setting up their own Facebook pages, beginning work before we ever get there and becoming evangelists to neighbouring people groups.

Here’s the ugly side, though: the one who can most easily suppress a movement is the original messenger. We westerners do this all the time. To give us the benefit of the doubt, most oppression by a majority is unintentional. We simply don’t realize where we shut down innovation, fail to hand over ownership or fail to see potential. A friend of mine calls it “institutional racism.” In older organizations, it can be a historical colonial viewpoint that has long been eradicated in the obvious places but has become institutionalized in policies, procedures and practices that have never been challenged. It’s time for some audits of the deep, dark corners of the organization.

Since this blog is about leaders, let’s not let ourselves off the hook. Let’s make it personal. Have you audited the deep, dark corners of your own core beliefs for inconsistencies in what you say and practice in terms of holding onto authority or ownership? I remember reading a passage in Sherwood Lingenfelter’s Cross Cultural Leadership about a missionary who had to return to the United States. He successfully found and prepared a national worker to assume responsibilities for preaching in the local church while he was gone. By the time he returned, this local pastor was thriving in his role over a growing church. What a tremendous success! That’s our dream, right? Imagine what happened next. This missionary thanked his brother and took over preaching responsibilities again. I wanted to throw the book down! I wanted to throw some stones!

Until I realized I probably do the same thing all the time. I take back a role I empowered my kids to do, because it’s part of my identity. I delegate an assignment to a subordinate and begin meddling again without thinking. How often have I done that? I couldn’t tell you, but I’ll bet my subordinates and the minorities who have worked with me could tell me… if I created a setting where they could speak openly. I won’t be throwing any stones.

In response, here’s a better way: Let’s lay hands on “the next generation, pray for them and posture ourselves behind them. Let’s lay aside our feeble visions for the capacity of the next generation and allow God’s vision for them to prevail. He may well have a movement in mind.

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We stand on the shoulders of those who came before us.

You’ve probably heard that quote before. It came to mind today as I listened to many of my colleagues from all over Central and South America. The fact is that everything we deal with today has historical roots. That’s both a good thing and a challenge. For instance, colonialism has impacted my Latin brothers and sisters in immeasurable ways. Many of the attendees at this meeting are dealing with pain, anger, fear and frustration resulting from colonial attitudes, and many of the examples they shared are more recent than I would like to think. But it also occurred to me that these meetings wouldn’t have been possible if not for languages of wider communication, like Spanish and English. I’m not saying that “trade languages” justify the many sins of our fathers, but God has a history of bringing about great good from a broken world and broken people.

Here are some thoughts I heard in the last few days:

  • Indigenous people in one country were told in the past that they didn’t have the education or skills to do Bible translation. They have taken up that challenge and accomplished a lot of good in a short amount of time.
  • A Latina told us her country had a similar experience. Her response: “Latin Americans were told we’re only there to receive. We don’t want to receive; we want to give.” However, she acknowledged that many in her country still have feelings that they’re not capable of certain tasks.
  • A leader of an indigenous Bible translation organization gave encouragement to his Western colleagues with these words, “One of the great privileges for anyone is to lose your job because you’ve equipped someone to replace you.”

Wycliffe certainly can’t point any fingers; we don’t have clean hands ourselves. I’m not pointing fingers either, as I find paternalistic attitudes so easy to slip into. But it was refreshing this week to hear such incredible candor. The fact that these lideres could speak openly and honestly without fear of repercussions is a great starting point. There were a lot of bright spots as well. We are giving significant support to the rising Bible translation movement, represented by 108 partner organizations in the Americas who are working to transform people through Bible translation and language-related ministries.

We laughed, we cried, we prayed and we planned together. I’m leaving these meetings with a few ideas for fresh partnerships.

Our half day of prayer closed with prayer in 10 different languages

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Southwest Tannese man reading MarkFrom time to time, we’ve updated you on a project we personally support and pray for, the translation for the Southwest Tanna people in Vanuatu in the South Pacific. Our friends Ken and Mendy Nehrbass have been working there for almost twelve years. They’re beginning to typeset the entire New Testament today. Here’s a snapshot of some key events in the last eight months, in their words.

Dec 12:

Whole draft of New Testament complete! Chief Jenri and Ken finished drafting Romans 16 last month, which means we’ve completed the drafting of the whole New Testament! Jenri was so thrilled when that last verse in Romans was finished that he roamed around the village for the next hour hooting and hollering, “Whoooo! The Bible is in our language! Woooo!” With only 2 more books to consultant check, it won’t be long before we’re getting ready for typesetting and printing the New Testament (a lengthy and detailed process). It looks like the day that the New Testament will be printed in the SW Tanna language is closer than we ever imagined – it’s just around the corner!

May 18:The Southwest Tanna translation team completing their draft

“Now to him who is able to establish you by my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past, but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God, so that all nations might believe and obey him– to the only wise God be glory forever through Jesus Christ! Amen.” -Romans 16: 25-27. So fitting for the last verses of the New Testament to be checked! THE TRANSLATION IS FINISHED! now to get the New Testament ready to go to the printers…

Mendy holds the New Testament manuscriptJun 6:

That thick manuscript is the whole New Testament in the SW Tanna language! We’re doing a final proofread today.

Aug 1:

Speaking of the finish line, we’re starting the process of readying the SW Tanna New Testament for printing (typesetting)TODAY. This is a meticulous editing process where we check all the headings, chapter numbers, we make sure the pictures are in the right places with the correct captions and that the page numbers and other formatting things have come out correctly.

In 2006, I had the privilege of designing the cover of the Gospel of Mak, the first scriptures ever published in Southwest Tanna. As I finalized my design, I put together a mock-up from the pdf file Ken sent me. I can’t read the language, but I know layout and pagination. I could tell the page numbers were wrong. Then I noticed that two of the pages were repeated, meaning two pages of  Mark were missing. A quick email to Vanuatu, and Ken was able to correct the problem before printing any of the booklets.

2007 promotion for Bibleless Peoples Prayer ProjectSo, with a sense of knowledge of the complexities of typesetting, we’re praying for Ken and Mendy today. And with a sense of ownership, we’re more than a little excited today.


[You can live vicariously, too, joining a Bible translation project from here. Find out more about the Bibleless Peoples Prayer Project.]

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cell phoneI remember walking into church as a kid, always armed with a Bible in hand. How could you go to church without bringing a Bible? And by “Bible,” I mean treeware. There was a whole industry to support it: Bible covers, bookmarks, cover embossing and engraving, Bible cover embossing and engraving. Today, my Bible looks quite different. When I pull out my phone in church (on silent, of course), I’m not checking my messages. I’m following along with my pastor, switching versions on the fly and pulling up notes, maps and images on the passage at hand.

Bible apps for iPhoneI’m very excited about a new partnership to get the Bible into digital platforms in every language and distribute it worldwide through technology. In case you haven’t noticed, cell phones have allowed people in third world countries to skip an entire generation of technology. They skipped the telephone line and jumped straight to cell. In fact, you can get better coverage in most countries in Africa than you can in rural parts of the United States. I read recently that nomads in Africa no longer pick places to stop for the night based purely on where water is available. Instead, they look for wi-fi hotspots.

The Every Tribe Every Nation partnership is working primarily through YouVersion and Bible.is. YouVersion is by far the most popular Bible application on the iPhone. But it has a key limitation when it comes to oral societies: you have to read the Bible. Bible.isThat’s where Faith Comes by Hearing’s Bible.is excels. You can push play and hear the Bible while you follow along. What a great way to learn how to read!

Both of these organizations love Wycliffe because we don’t copyright our translations. Imagine getting access Scriptures in 800+ languages from one source! That’s what we offer.

Stay tuned. This distribution method opens all kinds of possibilities, especially in places where possession of a Bible is a punishable offense. You can also read more in Wycliffe Canada’s WordAlive magazine.

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