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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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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.

Whoooooooo!

[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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