Archive for the ‘Africa’ Category

It was always my intention to become a Guest Bible Scholar after retiring from Wycliffe Bible Translators UK and Ireland on 31 December 2016. The title sounds very grand – Bible Scholar! Never really saw myself as a bible scholar, never mind one in capital letters. But I’ve started!

Paratext screen

Above is a screenshot without which Guest Bible Scholars like myself couldn’t function. It’s a wonderful tool called Paratext. I can see six windows:

  • the passage that I’m working on in an English translation
  • two French translations
  • the Greek / English interlinear
  • some notes written by experienced translators
  • and of course the back translation into French that the translation team in a francophone African country has provided for me to check

I have recently checked 4 New Testament chapters all by myself, passed them on to a second checker – and then they will go to an experienced translation consultant. Hopefully he will give me some encouraging feedback – or sack me!

Why bother? Wouldn’t it be quicker and better if the experienced translation consultant just did it?

Of course it would! If he or she had the time. The problem is that more translation is being done than there are experienced translation consultants to check. There’s a bottleneck in the process… and that’s why I’ve been trained to be an apprentice low level checker of first drafts of translations – with the grand title of Guest Bible Scholar.

Hopefully there will be more blogs about my life as a Guest Bible Scholar…

With colleagues at GBS training August 2016

Postscript: I’m reading a book by Tony Macaulay who grew up in north Belfast in the 1970s during the “Troubles” in N. Ireland, so I am. It’s called “Bread Boy”, so it is. Tony writes in Belfast English, so he does. And that explains the title of this blog, so it does! Have you got that?


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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!

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GBS training week 2014 team photo

GBS training week 2014 team photo


Having retired as a full member in assignment with Wycliffe Bible Translators UK and Ireland on 31 December 2016, today I have officially become a Wycliffe Bible Translators UK and Ireland local volunteer to work in the Guest Bible Scholars programme with linguist heroes Michael Jemphrey and Heather Saunders!

And some others in the photo above.

Watch this space……………..


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Refugees from South Sudan look at a photo montage depicting the conflict in their country on a calendar at the Kyangwali refugee settlement in Hoima district in Uganda

Refugees from South Sudan look at a photo montage depicting the conflict in their country at a refugee settlement in Uganda

This past week, members of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland who read Prayerline have been praying for South Sudan – please join them and learn more of the tragedy facing one of newest African nations…

south-sudan-200x250The United Nations has warned that the world’s newest nation is “at risk of outright ethnic war, and of genocide being committed”.  South Sudan, which became independent from Sudan in July 2011, has struggled to achieve stable government due to ethnic and political divisions between the country’s two major ethnic groups, the Dinka and Nuer.  Civil war broke out in the country in December 2013, and since then tens of thousands of people have been killed and around 2.4 million people driven from their homes. Despite a peace agreement signed in August last year, violence broke out in the capital Juba in July and has spread to other parts of the country.

After almost three years, the devastating economic and humanitarian effects of the war are deepening across the whole country.  An estimated 4.3 million people are now in need to food aid, as harvests have been disturbed for yet another year, and the economic downturn in the country is continuing, with inflation now at 700%.

Pray for peace in South Sudan.  Pray that the warring political factions will have the will to work for a lasting peace and that an outright ethnic war and further acts of genocide will be avoided.

Pray for those suffering displacement from their homes and who are in need of humanitarian relief, especially those facing food shortages.  Pray that each person will receive the assistance they need.

Pray for work of the Presbyterian Church of South Sudan (PCOSS), as they continue encouraging peace and good relations between communities, and for wisdom and guidance for its leadership team seeking to lead the church during such difficult times.

Pray too for our partners Christian Aid and Tearfund who are working daily in South Sudan providing humanitarian assistance to those in need.

Text from PCI Prayerline: Published Wednesday, 16th November 2016

Read full text and more on the PCI website

For more information on the work of Christian Aid and Tearfund in South Sudan go to:
Christian Aid – South Sudan  |  Tearfund – South Sudan

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white as snow

the little red cardinal has no hope of the snow camouflaging his presence!

If you are familiar with the Bible, you have probably heard the phrase “white as snow” – although you may not know where it appears in The Bible. Isaiah 1v18 is one place. Below you can read the verse from two translations in English.
“Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD:
though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.”
Isaiah 1.18 ESV
‘Come now, let us settle the matter,’ says the Lord.
‘Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.
Isaiah 1.18 NIV UK
Recently Wycliffe friends and colleagues Colin and Dot Suggett, who work in Burkina Faso raised an issue that I have often met before – what if the culture of the language that this phrase is being translated into, has no concept of snow. I first came upon through an Irish colleague who has worked in the Amazon jungle of Brazil and they certainly don’t get snow there!
Colin and Dot sent this back translation from the Turka language of Burkina Faso…
The Eternal-God says, “Come, let us discuss:
though your sins are red like fire, they shall be white as milk;
though they are red like blood, they shall be white like cotton.”
Isaiah 1.18 (Turka back translation)

… and then continued.

Readers familiar with English translations of the above passage will note a change in the colour similes in our Turka translation. That’s because the Turka language does not have a lexical means of distinguishing “scarlet” from “crimson”. (We only have one generic word for the colour “red”.) Now, scarlet is a “brilliant red colour with a tinge of orange”, whereas crimson is a “strong, bright, deep red colour combined with some blue and/or violet, resulting in a tiny degree of purple”. Our solution to this particular translation problem was to insert the simile “red like fire” to correspond with scarlet, and “red like blood” to correspond with crimson.

In addition, the similes “they shall be as white as snow” and “they shall become like wool” in this verse are likewise problematic. It turns out there’s not much call for snow in Burkina Faso (though, on rare occasions, it has been known to hail), and people do not exploit sheep’s hair to make wool. Consequently, we made use of two white commodities which are commonplace among the Turka: milk and cotton.

The above verse is just one of a large selection of key Old Testament passages which will be integrated into a chronological teaching series we are preparing for a radio play. This series provides a sweeping overview of the Old Testament with a view to prepare Muslim-background Turka listeners for a fuller understanding and appreciation of the coming of Jesus Christ into this world. We praise the Lord that this Old Testament translation work is approaching completion and should be wrapped up before the end of this year.

Meanwhile, translation work on the New Testament continues to move forward with first drafts prepared for most of the remaining books.

If you’re someone who prays, please pray for Colin and Dot and their Turka colleagues.

We covet your prayers for health, strength, spiritual vitality, and for healthy and fruitful interactions with our Turka colleagues, Foromine and Jeremy, and the Turka population.


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Are you up for a prayer challenge?

Bible translation takes a long time.

Prayer Goody Bags

From the beginnings of a writing system to the final checks of texts for naturalness, clarity and accuracy there are many steps involving many different people. It’s normal for a New Testament that doesn’t run into any major roadblocks to take 10 to 12 years from start to finish. Sometimes however, a project seems to be especially beset with problems.

This prayer goody bag is full of stories of projects that have faced unprecedented challenges: projects from many countries around the world; some have not been going very long, others are nearing the finish line but face enormous opposition.

Bible translation builds God’s kingdom. It gives the gospel, the word of God, to people who have never heard. It equips individuals and churches to grow. These things bring transformation to individuals and communities.

But this means that Bible translation encroaches on the territory of Satan – and it is inevitable that he will put up a fight. So it is vitally important that we pray for Bible translation projects that are encountering difficulties and challenges.

One such story is from the Mangbetu project:

Set deep in the rainforest of the Democratic Republic of Congo is the village of Egbita. This is where the Mangbetu Bible translation and literacy project is found. Around 620,000 people speak Mangbetu as their mother tongue, but despite a Bible translation project starting there in 1981, the Mangbetu people are still waiting for the New Testament in their language. The only Scripture currently available in the Mangbetu language is the Gospel of Luke and the JESUS Film.

Mangbetu translation team

The Mangbetu project has been subject to many attacks and roadblocks over the past 35 years, stalling the project time and again.

A total of 5 different expatriate families were assigned to work with the Mangbetu project over those years and they all left for different health, family, and safety reasons. National translators did what they could to continue the translation work. The Mangbetu team took part in a workshop series in the early 2000s and the end result was that the Gospel of Luke was published and the JESUS Film dubbed in Mangbetu.

Two Mangbetu men were able to attend and graduate from the translation degree programme of Shalom University in Bunia, northeastern DRC and they are now ready to relaunch the Mangbetu project! (See picture of the team in 2016 above).

One of the ways that Satan attacks is by isolating us from the love and support of other Christians. Your prayers can help reconnect the Mangbetu translators to the support of the wider family of Christ. Will you rebuild bridges for the Mangbetu and ensure that they soon have the word of God in the language that speaks to their hearts?

This video gives a visual perspective on the Mangbetu story:

Find out more about how you can pray for the Mangbetu project and many other projects

You can find the Prayer Goody Bags at https://www.wycliffe.org.uk/goodybags

Here is the prayer menu of more Goody Bags to explore and lead you individually or as a group to pray:

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A few days ago, I heard from a Bible translator friend recently returned to a language group in West Africa after two years working remotely with the local translation team via the internet. They are checking portions of Acts, Ruth and Genesis in two related languages with a consultant.

To illustrate the importance of getting the translation accurate, clear and natural, he shared a story blogged by another Wycliffe colleague where the translation was anything but accurate, clear and natural.


God is my goat hunter,
I don’t want him!
For He flings me down on the mountainside,
and drags me down to the sea.

Long ago an explorer traveled to the icy shores of the Canadian north. He may have been a Christian because he left behind a translation of the Shepherd’s Psalm (23) in the local indigenous language. The indigenous people memorized the lines and passed them on to their children. Unfortunately, he had depended on an interpreter to translate for him.

A generation or two later a missionary linguist/translator arrived, settled among these people, and learned the language. When, after some years, he began to translate the Bible his indigenous language helper told him, “We already have some of God’s Book”, and to prove it recited some verses of the well known and much loved Psalm 23.

The missionary was aghast. Obviously the interpreter had tried to use some cultural equivalents but with disastrous results. Here are the first two verses, with some explanations: 

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want

The interpreter substituted “sheep” with “wild mountain goats”. The closest translation for “herding” was “doing something with animals” which in the case of wild goats was to hunt them. The word “my” carried the meaning “one who works for me.”


He makes me lie down in green pastures, He leads me beside still waters.

The part “he makes me” was interpreted as, “he forces me to do something against my will”. The only green grass is found on the sun-facing-sides of mountains. “To lead” is to pull an animal along by a rope around the neck. The only “still water” is the sea.

The first two verses, therefore, went:

God is my goat hunter,
I don’t want him!
For He flings me down on the mountainside,
and drags me down to the sea.

How do translators avoid this kind of disaster?

Obviously, they need to understand the meaning of the passage. They also need to know the language and culture. But beyond those two basics, translators need to know the translation principles to obey and the techniques to use. This requires intensive training and continuing study.

Without this training the translator risks turning God, our loving Shepherd, into an abusive goat hunter.

Today a wealth of how-to-translate-the-Bible material is available online and hundreds of Christian men and women are being trained to translate God’s Word into their own languages, using proven techniques and principles of Bible translation.

Please pray for my friend and his translation teams in West Africa working face to face with the consultant.

Pray that they will end up with portions of Acts, Ruth and Genesis translated accurately, clearly and naturally in these West African languages.

Pray that God will speak to people through the languages of their hearts.

Do you think you could be involved in this kind of work or related tasked? Check out the possibilities at wycliffe.org.uk/missionmatters

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Recently I was thinking about how I should react to people with whom I’m not getting on too well… This story from a primarily oral culture in Mali was a challenge and an encouragement, not to mention the reminder that God speaks to people through his word in their heart languages!

Jesus lived in a primarily oral culture. People gathered to hear him teach and tell stories – and what they heard transformed their lives.

Today many of the places where Wycliffe works remain primarily oral cultures – and that means that Bible translation can be as much about producing recordings of the Bible that people can listen to, as it is about printing copies of the Bible that people can read.

In many of these cultures, like the Supyire in Mali, Bible listening groups gather people together to listen to passages from the Bible – as in the picture below of people listening to the audio Bible sitting on the yellow can.

Supyire listening group

Supyire listening group

After listening to the passage they discuss how to apply it to their lives. And, as this story of one Supyire women called Ndeere shows, hearing the teaching of Jesus and the Bible continues to transform lives:

‘The word of God in Romans 12:20 says if you do good to your enemy it is as though you are placing burning coals on their head. I thought hard about this passage and then I applied it to the case of a woman who lives in the same courtyard as me who doesn’t like me at all. She used to say to her friends that she didn’t even want to see me.

It is our custom that if women are heading out to work in the fields, the younger women carry the baskets of the older ones. But this woman, such a nasty person as she is, nobody would carry her basket for her.

When I heard the part in Romans on the audio player I started to carry her basket each time we went to the fields and we came back from the fields. Some of my friends told me not to do that, because she doesn’t like me. But still I carried on. At last the nasty lady said to me she was afraid of me because I respect her so much. And in the end she stopped hating me.

What is more, I have to say that listening to the audio Bible player has made me more patient. There was a time when if someone would criticise me I wouldn’t feel at ease unless I attacked them back. Now everyone is surprised at the change in my behaviour.’

This story was sent to Wycliffe supporters who receive our bi-monthly e-newsletter, thanking them for their continuing support and prayers for the work of Wycliffe. If you wish to support and pray for  people like Ndeere to hear and be transformed by the Bible, you can sign up here.

And I’m learning to carry my enemies’ baskets… I hope.

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Bible translation = teamwork… community teamwork!

If you ever think about a Bible translator, what image comes into your mind? Is it an historical, perhaps accurate way back then, image like this? But certainly not how it happens today.

The Last Chapter 735 AD

The Last Chapter

Here’s a different way to look at how a Bible gets translated into a previously unwritten language. It Takes a Village is a photo-journal about the Mono Bible translation project in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

It is said that it takes a village to raise a child. A child is not simply the product and responsibility of its parents. To be completely integrated into the fabric of its community, a child needs to have meaningful contact with and input from its wider family and community. The same is true of the process of birthing Scripture in the language of a people. Many minds and hands are part of the process, resulting in ownership of the product as well as impact by that body of Scripture in the life of the community.

The following photographic essay by Heather Pubols provides a window into one such village effort on the part of the Mono speaking people of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Here’s a more accurate image of Bible translation in Africa today.

Four members of the Mono translation team at work in Gemena, DRC

Four members of the Mono translation team at work in Gemena, DRC

Go on, read the whole story – and let it prompt you to prayer. Or perhaps to go to an event such as Wycliffe UK’s First Steps. We’re holding one near Belfast, N. Ireland on 6 February 2016.

First Steps Newtownabbey

First Steps Newtownabbey

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… and other connected questions: how hard can it be to learn a Senegalese language? How hard can it be to organise literacy projects successfully in the local context?

Recently Clare Orr, Wycliffe literacy specialist from Belfast, N. Ireland, creatively addressed these issues in her prayer letter.

Clare 2

Slicing an onion Senegal style

Living in a culture very far from my own, every day I’m faced with these differences. Every day there are new things to learn. Often, these are things that I’ve already learnt – at least, I’ve learnt the way we do them back home. However, that’s not necessarily the way they’re done here – and sometimes it’s not even possible.

Some of these, like hand washing my clothes, I doubt I’ll ever learn (at least to the level of a Senegalese woman!). Therefore, I must depend on others to do this for me. Other things, like cooking, I can gradually learn. Girls here grow up watching their mothers cook. As a young child, she’s sent to the corner shop to buy the bits and pieces for the cooking, such as some black pepper or stock cubes. A few years later, she’ll be trusted to peel the vegetables, then to pound the spices in a pestle and mortar. Gradually, the tasks are built up until she can prepare a meal by herself.

Clare 1

Clare with two of her host mum’s children

Coming into this from an outside culture, of course I can cook – but not Senegalese meals. And, to be honest, even lighting the coal stove remains a challenge to me now. Onions are a key ingredient of all Senegalese dishes. Chopping an onion isn’t so hard, is it? However, here, chopping boards are unheard of. Even plates are a rare sight. Onions are chopped whilst being held mid-air, and there’s a fine art to it. While I certainly wouldn’t win any onion-chopping races here, it is a skill that I’ve been able to learn and I’m frequently handed the onions to chop if I’m about while a meal is being prepared. Sometimes a family meal will have 8 onions in it, so speed is necessary!

It took time though for me to even be able to chop onions ‘well’ by Senegalese standard – and then some more time to get a bit faster. It can be frustrating to feel incapable of even such ‘simple’ tasks, frustrating to know that a child could do them better than me. The same applies to language learning, where again I am at the level of a child and not of someone my own age. It’s easy to want to be fluent right away. To want to be able to cook a perfect Senegalese meal right away.

However, neither of those things are possible, and there are also benefits to be taken from the slower process. As I learn, both language and cooking, I’m given the opportunity to spend time with people. I’m learning not only these skills but also how to depend on others, how to let them help me when I don’t know how to do something myself, or when I don’t know how to say something.

I’m also forced to let go of my ideas about how things are done. My idea of how to chop an onion isn’t wrong. It’s just not practical with the utensils available in a Senegalese kitchen. My idea of the best way to run a literacy project might not be practical with the resources available here either, and hopefully as I depend on others to teach me how to cook, I’m also depending on them to show me how literacy can best happen here.

Could you see yourself involved in a literacy role alongside a Bible translation team? I just got some statistics on Wycliffe personnel needs  – 89 vacant positions in literacy in Africa alone! And that’s just the needs in literacy. See the Wycliffe Bible Translators UK and Ireland website for other opportunities around the Wycliffe world. And if you are in UK or Ireland take your First Steps here.

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