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Today is International Literacy Day and the 2017 theme is Literacy in a Digital World:

On 8 September, 2017 a global event will be organized at UNESCO’s Headquarters in Paris, with the overall aim to look at what kind of literacy skills people need to navigate increasingly digitally-mediated societies, and to explore effective literacy policies and programmes that can leverage the opportunities that the digital world provides.

Yesterday however my Wycliffe Bible Translators colleague Ed Lauber used a story – Your Language Doesn’t Go Far – about a relatively small Ghanaian language to highlight the crucial importance of literacy in every society.

These are the opening paragraphs…

A Christian from a smaller ethnic group in northern Ghana told me that he told the district pastor of his church that he was enrolled in a literacy class in his language. The pastor responded that what he was doing was useless because he could not go far with his small language. If he traveled even a short distance he would quickly be outside the area where the language is spoken, so it would not serve him any more. According to the pastor, he was leaning a skill with very limited range.

Any psychologist will tell you that a person only learns to read once. It’s just like math – if you learn it in any language, you know it. The skill of reading can be transferred to any language with much less time and effort than learning the skill in the first place. So enrolling in a literacy class in any language will give a person a skill they can use in any other language. Being able to read will go a long way, even if the language won’t. So the pastor was focusing on the wrong thing – language instead of literacy.

In the concluding paragraphs, Ed admits that the pastor was true in one sense, in order to get to the bigger picture…

But the pastor’s point about the language is true. The language is only used in one small part of Ghana which is an even smaller part of the world. The usefulness of a language over large geographic areas is important for commerce, politics, etc. Nevertheless, the pastor has another problem. His own language, while many times larger than the smaller language, is a very small language by world standards. Yet he reads the Bible in his language because people who speak a really important language like English or German came to Ghana and did not think his language too small or trivial to translate the Bible and teach people to read. They did not dismiss his language as one that wouldn’t take people far.

It turns out that people often think that languages smaller than theirs are too small to be worth it but their own language is worth it. An ethnocentric viewpoint like that does not square with God’s own sense of mission. He could have easily dismissed us because being human doesn’t take you far in this universe.

I encourage you to read the whole blog. Thanks, Ed!

And happy International Literacy Day!

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SU WordLive’s image of the day

Two Mondays ago I was reading SU WordLive – as I try to do each day: we were starting Proverbs…

Proverbs 1

 1 The proverbs of Solomon son of David, king of Israel:

 2 for attaining wisdom and discipline;
for understanding words of insight;

 3 for acquiring a disciplined and prudent life,
doing what is right and just and fair;

 4 for giving prudence to the simple,
knowledge and discretion to the young-

 5 let the wise listen and add to their learning,
and let the discerning get guidance-

 6 for understanding proverbs and parables,
the sayings and riddles of the wise.

With an introduction like that, why wouldn’t I want to read on? I did. I enjoyed the reading. It was encouraging and inspiring and challenging and full of wisdom – and even I, wise in retirement 🙂 – wanted more.

And I got it from Rev Howard Peskett who retired to Penzance in 2006 with his wife Roz, after doing discipleship and ministry training for 20 years in Singapore and 15 years at Trinity College, Bristol. I always perk up when I see that Howard is one of the contributing commentators on SU WordLive.

Here is what he wrote. I love his style and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. If Howard somehow happens to read this blog: “Thank you, Howard!”

‘Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? And where is the knowledge we have lost in information?’1

I begin by thanking God for Solomon, a wise though flawed king. I also thank God for my father and my mother (perhaps long dead), without whom I would not exist, for whatever wisdom I gained from them and especially if they instructed me in God-fearing love and obedience. As I reflect on the (at least fifteen) wisdom nouns in the prologue (vs 1–7) I wonder how my children and grandchildren (if I have any) or the young people for whom this book was written may gain and practise the qualities described here, especially the most fundamental one: an affectionate and awe-filled regard for and obedience to God’s good laws (v 7). Do I myself know this? Show this? Embody this?!

The father’s first lecture is about avoiding gangs, resisting peer pressure – a key skill for young people (and for older people?!). Which way shall I go? Which house shall I enter? Which voice shall I heed? These questions echo throughout Proverbs: one most fundamental question is ‘How do I know what I know and how do I know it is true?’ The father’s teaching, the mother’s graceful garland seem so much less enticing than the gang, the lots, the loot! Verse 17 notes the obvious truth that no bird flies deliberately into the hunter’s net! In this past century we have seen, in different parts of the world, whole nations stampeding into the arms of tyrants! Do I have the guts, the moral courage to stand against collective lunacy, even when pelted with insults, mud and stones?

The father concludes his warning with a blunt, global (‘all’, v 19) statement: ‘The rippers-off will be ripped off!’ (v 19a, literally). Sin has a boomerang quality (See also Proverbs 26:27; 28:10; Psalm 9:16), though I may not see the payback in my lifetime. If the vindication seems delayed, I wait for it.

Howard Peskett

1 From TS Eliot, Choruses from the Rock

 

 

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Today is Pentecost Sunday… read all about it in Acts chapter 2

A few days ago Wycliffe Canada colleague Jack Popjes posted The story of Pentecost in Two Contrasting Versions. I’m pretty sure he won’t mind me re-posting on Pentecost Sunday…

Why Stories from Different Cultures Are So Similar
I grew up listening to Dutch folktales, read voraciously in English during my early years in Canada, enjoyed Brazilian stories in Portuguese, studied Canela legends, and know all the Middle Eastern Bible stories by heart. I wondered why stories from these five different cultures seem to have similar plots and structure.

An anthropologist, Levi-Strauss, taught me that these timeless stories hang together because they all follow certain rules. Elements in each major tale relate to each other, both in the way they are similar and in the way they contrast. What’s more, one element in each pair is often positive, while the other may be negative, just as health contrasts with disease, and clean contrasts with dirty.

The Moses and Joshua Example
Here, for instance are how the stories of Moses and Joshua are similar: Both were chosen by God. Both led Israel. Both performed miracles. Both accomplished their tasks.

Here are the contrasts: One was old: one was young. One was a shepherd: the other a trained warrior. One led them out of bondage: the other led them into freedom. One was highly educated in Egypt’s royal court: the other was an ignorant slave.

Around the world, all enduring stories are structured similarly because they all reflect the greatest story of them all; the timeless tale of God, His creation, human sin and God’s redemption.

Now The Two Stories of Pentecost
Pentecost, also called the Feast of Weeks, in Old Testament times was simply a harvest festival. Eventually, this turned into more of a remembrance of the time Moses received the Law on Mt. Sinai. And of course, for the Christian Church, we remember that it was on the first Pentecost after Christ rose from the dead, that God sent the Holy Spirit to the Church.

So, doing a quick study of these two major stories, here, in list form, are some similarities and contrasts:
Jewish Observance of Pentecost: Receiving of the Law.

  1. God’s servant Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the Law
  2. This happened 50 days after their escape from Egypt (10 days of travel plus 40 days on Mount Sinai)
  3. Moses found the people feasting and playing before the golden calf
  4. Moses ordered the Levites to draw their swords and execute the idolaters
  5. As a result, 3,000 people lost their lives

Christian Observance of Pentecost: Receiving of the Holy Spirit

  1. God’s Holy Spirit came down from heaven with Power.
  2. This happened 50 days after Jesus rose from the dead (40 days of seeing Jesus alive plus 10 days of waiting in Jerusalem)
  3. The Holy Spirit found the disciples fasting and praying before God
  4. God ordered Peter to use the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God, and preach to the crowds
  5. As a result, 3,000 people received eternal life.

The apostle Paul may well have had this contrast in mind when he wrote to the Corinthian church, “The letter of the Law kills, but the Spirit gives life” 2 Corinthians 3:6.

Try This Yourself
Pick a pair of characters like king Saul and king David. Or the prophet Jonah and the apostle Paul. Check out the amazing similarities and contrasts in their stories.

Wycliffe Canada colleague Jack Popjes is a prolific story teller. One of his stories inspired me to research which resulted The Irishman’s Prayer and The Irishman Who Prayed

Keep writing the stories, Jack!

… translating the Bible for the Sabaot people of Kenya No.1

Sabaot Bible dedication

Reading Peter Brassington’s blog on the subject of linguistic false friends has prompted me to blog. In the era of fake news and alternative truth (yes, Peter does mention Donald Trump in passing) it is crucial that everyone, from politicians and journalists and pundits to linguists involved in Bible translation, communicates the truth clearly.

Years ago I was part of a multi mission agency tour of N. Ireland university Christian Unions. Our theme for that year was Bible translation. The Sabaot project in Kenya was a very interesting one and inspired me to write a dialogue encapsulating the dangers of assuming that people understood what others thought they understood… if you see what I mean.

Read on..

To be performed by two readers…
ONE: Okay, so what the verse actually said was “Jesus ordered his disciples to enter the boat.”
TWO: … but on Mount Elgon in Kenya there are no boats.
ONE: And because of this…
TWO: (and other linguistic difficulties)
ONE: …most people thought it meant:
TWO: “Jesus Ordered His Teachers To Plant Milk”
ONE: …which doesn’t make a whole lot of sense and probably didn’t encourage them to read the rest of the story.
TWO: That was one of the discoveries made in a survey to find out how well the Sabaot people of northern Kenya understood the Swahili New Testament.
ONE: “And we thought that our people knew Swahili well!”
TWO: said a local headmaster involved in the survey.
ONE: Testing a second passage,
TWO: the team realised that the people had no understanding at all of the Swahili words for biblical concepts such as mercy or grace.
ONE: They did know market Swahili,
TWO: but just because you know how to buy a goat using another language
ONE: doesn’t mean you understand sanctification or justification!
TWO: Until there was a written form of Sabaot,
ONE: God only seemed to speak in someone else’s language.
TWO: This made the meaning hard to understand and also raised uncomfortable questions for the Sabaots.
ONE: Was theirs not an important language?
TWO: It was neither a language of education nor of the church.
ONE: Were they an important people?
TWO: Could God understand them when they prayed in Sabaot?
ONE: Did God even listen?

But there’s a good outcome to this story…
Francis Kiboi says, “Before the Scriptures came to my people, Jesus seemed to be distant and foreign. But now that we have the Scriptures in the language, he is walking with us on this mountain. God is with us, and he is Sabaot!”

… and an even better one in a part 2 blog to come!

… or more accurately, praise to God who created the world that we live in and enjoy.

Just one of God’s landscape paintings…

Following on from my tongue in cheek Jacana story yesterday, this morning I read this from Vivien Whitfield commenting on Psalm 104 in SU WordLive.

As a keen birdwatcher I regularly feed the birds in my garden and record those which come. It’s fun to watch their different characteristics. Greenfinches sit guzzling on the seed feeder. Tits fly in and out again quickly. I have seen collared doves appearing to plead with me to put more food out. And yet all the birds fly off when I go out into the garden. They depend on me when the surrounding food supply is low, but they’re wary of me as well. Perhaps that’s a good illustration of how humans are with God. We depend on him for everything and yet there’s a right wariness too – which comes through clearly in this psalm.

Yesterday we had a plump woodpigeon perching on our decking fence patiently waiting for untidy feeders like the sparrows and coal tits to dislodge seeds on to the ground so it too could feed. I’ve also been excited about the beautifully coloured goldfinches that come regularly to feed from the niger seeds this year.

Then there are the bossy noisy starlings, the bullying jackdaws and the imperious magpies that disturb the quieter robins, collared doves, tits and dunnocks.

Please take time to read Psalm 104 today. God has given us an amazing world to live in.

The Earth reflects the amazing creativity of our God. We destroy and exploit it at our peril.

Another quote from SU WordLive this morning

 

 

As some of you know, I have got back into birdwatching since retiring and am enjoying it. This morning I had a surreal experience when I looked out the back bedroom window into the neighbour’s garden which has a pool. I got just a glimpse of a familiar but very unusual bird, the Jacana or Lilytrotter, which immediately flew off. We often saw them in Ivory Coast. In fact while at Vavoua International School, my son Stephen drew a picture (below) which hangs in our living room. Do any of my ornithological friends have news of recent rare blow-ins?

Jacana or Lilytrotter

Did you notice the date at the top?

Some of my Facebook friends were fooled! And took it well.

The woodpigeon below actually did spend some time on the fence bordering our decking today. I suspect he was waiting patiently for some untidy coal tits or house sparrows to spill some seeds so he could get something to eat.

Woodpigeon

 

So to make up for it, here’s an absolutely brilliant video of three Irishmen taking the mick out of themselves as they head off to celebrate St Patrick’s Day!

This should appeal to all my friends around the world with Côte d’Ivoire connections… not to mention spud afficionados, flag experts, Irish dancers, Welsh (or should it be Scottish) people and drinkers of the Irish national brew!

Looking forward to your reflections and comments by pigeon post, postcards… or even comments here on the blog.

A very happy belated St Patrick’s Day!

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