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… 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!

Finding work experience for a 16 year old language student seemed a big challenge at first – until my Granny mentioned Wycliffe Bible Translators. I knew that’s where I wanted to go. Having met Marlene Ferguson some years ago at Girl’s Brigade, I had a vague idea about the work of Wycliffe, but I knew my work experience was going to be insightful and inspiring…

This is how Rebekah from Carrickfergus started her guest blog about her three days with Wycliffe Bible Translators UK & Ireland in the Belfast office a few weeks ago. There is a regular stream of A level languages students looking for related work experience each year. Invariably they find out more than they expected…

Click to find out more

Click to find out more

Nevertheless on the first morning, I was nervous about meeting the staff for the first time. I had no need to worry as I was warmly welcomed from the moment I walked in. After a quick introduction to the office and an information pack, Ricky wasted no time presenting an overview of the work of Wycliffe and why Bible translation is extremely necessary in 2017 and the future. I had a go at some introductory translation exercises, learnt statistics about Bible translation and was shocked to hear that of the 7,000 languages in the world, only 636 have a full Bible.

Before break, I heard about Ricky’s recent trip to Zambia where he attended a translation workshop. It was very interesting to hear what happens at a translation workshop.

One thing that struck me was that at break time every day the staff take time out to pray for the Wycliffe members from Ireland. It reminded me that no matter what we are doing within our day, we should always take time out to thank God for what he has done and ask him to help us with whatever we are doing.

Words for Life - Wycliffe UK's magazine

Wycliffe UK’s magazine

Later I talked to Alf Thompson about Wycliffe’s regional magazine Words for Life. I learnt about the process of putting the magazine together and the importance of being in communication with the rest of the world. Alfred’s job also showed me that lots of different people with lots of different skills play a part in Wycliffe Bible Translators. [You can order Words for Life magazine here. Editor]

Day one introduced me to the process of how a Bible is translated and I learnt about the Jesus Film Project. I knew that Bible translation isn’t an easy task, but I was becoming more aware of all the elements that have to be in place before a translation project can begin.

Day two was research day  [the reader can do some too! Links below. Editor]

  • I completed a back translation of Matthew 20 v 1-16 from Ulster Scots to Modern English.
  • I learned about the Arop people of Papua New Guinea and how Wycliffe members John and Bonnie Nystrom faced challenges and tragedy alongside the Arop people to get to where they are now with the Bible translation project.
  • I learnt some idioms from different African languages and read an article that showed me that one small word can change many people’s lives. [Intrigued? Read about that one little word, in fact, the difference one little vowel made. Editor]
  • One of the biggest things that stood out for me that day is the huge need for sign language translations of the Bible.
  • I completed my research day by watching a video of the New Testament dedication in Kimyal, West Papua, which made me realise how much we can take the Bible for granted at times. [Click Kimyal to see the video for yourself. Editor]

On my final day, I met two Guest Bible Scholars who told me about the volunteer work that they do from home and how that helps projects overseas. It helped make sense of all I had been told previously as I saw things fitting into place. Finally I talked to Kenny about the work of the Uganda and Tanzania Branch and why projects are started in specific areas.

Paratext: screenshot of software used by Guest Bible Scholars volunteers

Paratext: screenshot of software used by Guest Bible Scholars volunteers

My time at Wycliffe was very informative and it has made me think about what I can do with languages in the future. I was challenged by the need to have the Bible in ALL languages and I will be telling people about the work of Wycliffe for many years to come.   Rebekah

A big thank you to Rebekah for writing her guest blog and allowing me to post it here.

If you are reading this and you live in Ireland, you can find out much more about Bible translation this coming Saturday 25 February at the Wycliffe First Steps event in Ballyhenry Presbyterian Church, Glengormley. Click on the link to register or phone Ricky on the Belfast office number 028 9073 5854

events-posters-a5-newtownabbey-fs

George Cowan 1916 - 2017

George Cowan 1916 – 2017

I got news today that George Cowan died in the early hours of 11 February aged 101.

I never met George but have known him as one of the greats of Wycliffe Bible Translators.

Wycliffe Bible Translators USA published an article celebrating his 100th birthday last February. Here are some extracts…

In 1942, George moved to Mexico where he met and married his wife, Florence. During their time in Mexico, they studied the Mazatec language — one that can be spoken or whistled — and helped translate the New Testament, which was completed in 1961.

But perhaps one of George’s best-known contributions has been as a prayer warrior. His dedication and passion to pray for the Bibleless peoples of the world has been an inspiration to many people over the years.

George once said, “I’ve got more versions of the Bible than I know what to do with. But what about that poor guy out there in a Bibleless group? … He’s got nothing. What should I pray for him? … I can only ask that God give him the same as he’s given me.”

I know him best by the quotation above because many times when I have spoken about Wycliffe and Bible translation, I have shown a very short but very powerful video in which we hear George voicing those words – and with such passion – urging us to pray for the Bibleless peoples of the world..

Family members have suggested that on arrival with his Lord, his wife would had greeted him with the words “Well George, you finally got here!”

And so George Cowan is with the Lord in company with family members and colleagues who have gone before and with Mazatecos with whom he and his wife worked to translate the Mazatec New Testament.

On 3 February, I posted A fascinating work experience with Wycliffe a blog written by Jack Nicholson about his three days in the Belfast office.

A celebration of DVD Scripture for sign languages in Ghana, Burundi, Ethiopia, Uganda, Tanzania, and Nigeria

A celebration of DVD Scripture for sign languages in Ghana, Burundi, Ethiopia, Uganda, Tanzania, and Nigeria

It got 5 views that day – and then day by day – 4 views, 3 views, 5 views, 0 views, 0 views, 1 view, 0 views, 5 views – until on 12 February an amazing 22 views!

Why the resurgence? Probably because the Wycliffe Bible Translators UK Facebook page shared the post on 11 February.

Of course that doesn’t count the number of views on Facebook and Twitter…

It’s a funny old thing this blogging. And I don’t know why I’m bothering to blog these thoughts and numbers.

Perhaps I have too much time on my hands in retirement… but I should let Jack know how his story has gone.

If you have bothered to read this far, why not check out these links to other fascinating experiences with Wycliffe: First Steps and Two Week Stint

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