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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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when-a-foreigner-residesIn my previous post Praying for a generosity of spirit, I touched on current news themes about accepting or rejecting the stranger and the foreigner in our midst.

A week or so ago I received my friend Clare Orr’s prayer letter from Senegal where she works with SIL in literacy and numeracy development with a number of Senegalese languages.

Clare’s account of how she relates to local people is fascinating; but the ways in which the local people relate to her, a stranger and foreigner, are impressive and very challenging.

First Clare shared observations about the people she lives with…

I recently had a visitor stay with me for a week. Rebecca has been in Senegal since October, on a six-month placement with SIL, Wycliffe’s partner organisation here. The time I spent with her and the discussions we had made me reflect on my time here.

clares-zig-family

Setting off for church on Christmas Day

Home life
Rebecca’s time with my host family was her first experience of life in a Senegalese home. That household is something I continually give thanks for, and she joined me in singing their praises. The fact that my host mum, Tante Adèle, opens her house to whoever might turn up has become almost commonplace to me – and yet it is still something amazing. At the beginning of the school year, she got a phone call from someone in her late husband’s village. The next day, that woman’s 27-year-old son turned up on our doorstep. He moved in and started attending a school in Ziguinchor.

There are three other guys living here aged between 19 and 26, plus a 7-year-old, all connections from her late husband’s village, all in Ziguinchor for education. Plus me. And over Christmas three of her own children were back, one of them brought another friend, another girl from her husband’s village came for a week, and so on. And yet Tante never complains about having to look after so many people. And even though they – we – aren’t even all related by blood, we look out for one another. Homework time? Those further on in school help those in younger years. English homework gets brought to me, of course! Whenever my water filter is empty, I ask one of the guys to fetch me some water. Need something carried, an errand done, to borrow phone credit? Ask and someone will help out. Everyone has their turn at cooking, sweeping, dishwashing.

Even more impressive is how the local community relates to Clare…

Neighbourhood life
Then there are my neighbours. Women who have never left Senegal, women who have rarely encountered Westerners, women who speak little French. Yet they are always quick to greet me. They are happy to welcome me into their homes, to be patient with my Wolof as we sit and chat in a language that is neither my nor their first language, nor our second.

At Christmas, my host family cooked extra food and sent it to the homes of our neighbours who don’t celebrate Christmas – and our neighbours had done the same for us when they had a religious festival in September. These are women who have little in common with me, an outsider, but have chosen to accept me into their lives.

Every time I leave the house, whichever direction I go, someone calls out my Senegalese name, Soda. Sometimes just one person, sometimes three or four, sometimes a dozen. Occasionally, I know their name too. More often, I’ve forgotten it! With my host family, we joke that if someone is being given directions for our house, there’s no point in telling them to ask for anyone else – but if they ask anyone in the neighbourhood for Soda’s house, they’ll be shown to our front door.

When people who don’t know me see me, they shout out “toubab”, white person. I’d rather they didn’t shout toubab – so that’s why they all know me name. I tell them, no, please don’t call me toubab. My name is Soda (or aunty Soda to children).

Sometimes I find it annoying. Sometimes I feel like I’m being watched wherever I go. Sometimes I feel like I’d rather stay in rather than going out and having to talk to people I barely know – because if someone greets me by name, I can’t just ignore them. But more often, it’s reassuring. I feel safety in the fact that I’m known. These people may not know me well, but they know me to see, they know my name, and if I ever needed them, I know they’d come to my help. Also, even if I don’t recognise someone, I can tell whether or not they actually know me by whether or not they know my name.

Thank you to Clare for allowing me to re-blog this – and for the honesty in your writing. I think there is so much to teach those of us who live in less welcoming communities – whether our lack of welcome stems from culture, politics, suspicion, fear or just self-centred laziness.

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Jesus, Light of the World

Jesus, Light of the World

I have just sent this off to Prayerline, the weekly mission prayer news from the Presbyterian Church in Ireland‘s Council of Global Mission. Wycliffe gets an entry every four weeks and this year, I’m delighted that we have the Christmas slot for a week starting 21 December 2016.

Wycliffe’s December contribution for PCI Prayerline

More people than ever before know Jesus’ name in their language this Christmas because of Bible translation. Here is a small sample of the name of Jesus in 3,000 plus languages with some Scripture. Speakers of up to 1,800 languages are still waiting to have the name of Jesus translated for them. #endbiblepoverty

Jezusi (Albanian)

يسوع (Arabic)

Յիսուս (W Armenian)

Езус (Belorusian)

যীশু (Bengali)

耶穌 (Chinese)

Ιησούς (Greek)

Íosa (Irish)

イエス (Japanese)

Иса (Kazakh)

ഈശോ (Malayalam)

Isus (Romanian)

Иисус (Russian)

যীশু (Sylheti)

ܝܫܘܥ (Syriac)

இயேசு (Tamil)

เยซู (Thai)

Ісус (Ukrainian)

Giêsu (Vietnamese)

uJesu (Zulu)

This Christmas Day the Wycliffe UK & Ireland prayer guide asks us to:

  • Thank God for the birth of Jesus. Also thank God that many more people can read about the birth of Jesus through the translated New Testaments that have been launched during the past year.

As you read and hear the familiar Christmas accounts in the Bible this week, ask God how he might want you to be involved in helping the name of Jesus to be translated into new languages and be known by the speakers of those languages.

 

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Emily is our new volunteer in the Wycliffe UK & Ireland office in Belfast. Not only is she learning a lot but she has been a great asset to the team already – and she has written me a blog!

Scroll listing around 1,800 languages with no Scripture

Scroll listing around 1,800 languages with no Scripture

I have been volunteering with Wycliffe for the past few weeks doing general admin work, which has already proven to be varied and interesting. One of the highlights so far is a scroll I had to make of all the languages that the Bible needs to be translated into. It was an amazing visual, as the list went on and on. It’s a lovely atmosphere in the Belfast office as everyone is friendly and there’s always a bit of laughter. I was told that my desk is the best in the office as it has the best view…which is true. Right now I can see a beautiful rainbow stretching over the city of Belfast. In just the first two days of volunteering at Wycliffe I was made more aware of the depth of work that goes into translating the Bible; it’s not just a case of sitting down with the Hebrew and Greek scriptures and translating it into another language. For example, on my first day I met Kenny who told me that some languages are purely oral, so a writing system needs to be created from scratch, then the people need to be taught to read so that they will be able to read the Bible in their own language. At 11am everyone in the office stops for a time of prayer. It’s great to be able to bring the workers and projects to God and to share in their burdens and successes.

If you didn’t make it to the recent Wycliffe:Live in Belfast – and unfortunately very few did – you can read Emily’s report of an excellent evening focussing on how God impacts lives through His word.

wycliffe-live-16-a5poster2On Thursday, 13th October, I had the opportunity to attend Wycliffe:Live where I learned much more about the work that Wycliffe is involved in. We had been greeted at the door and handed a paper footprint and heart which were then used by Alistair and Marlene to share some statistics. Alistair revealed that 78% of the world’s population have the entire Bible in their own language. “Well, that’s pretty good, isn’t it,” Alistair asked. It sounds good; in fact, it’s a higher statistic than I thought it would be. But then Marlene revealed that if you look at it from a language point of view the statistics aren’t so positive. Only 8% of the world’s languages have the complete Bible. Marlene pointed out that it doesn’t matter whether the language is spoken by a large or small population, the amount of work to translate is still the same. As mentioned above, there is more work that goes into translation than you would realise!

Throughout the evening we heard about various projects throughout the world and how the Bible was changing people’s lives when they heard it in their mother tongue. Two images stood out for me: the first was of a group of Supyire people in Mali huddled together under a basic shelter to listen to their audio Bible. Their eagerness to hear the Word of God was evident. Another photo showed Mikatoso, a Zambian, reading the Book of Luke in his own language for the first time. As Ricky said, “His smile sums it all up.”

Alf told the story of Mpeere, who said she had become more patient since she started listening to Romans 12v20 on the audio Bible. She even reached out to a woman who didn’t like her and wasn’t well liked by others. In doing so, she changed a negative relationship into a positive one.

Mpeere’s Supyire Bible listening group, Mali

Marlene and John shared testimonies of Scripture impacting refugees. One testimony told of how the Book of Ruth brought comfort to women refugees because they could identify with losing husbands and sons. Refugees are even praying for those that are persecuting them.

It was interesting to hear John’s story of his 28½ years with Wycliffe and how, even though he and his wife Ruth didn’t feel called to be translators, they were challenged to use their skills as teachers to teach missionaries’ children at Vavoua International School in West Africa. This is something I have come to learn: many different skills are needed in Wycliffe; you don’t just have to be good with languages. There are many supporting roles that are required in order to help the translating process run smoothly. John is retiring in December and I wish him all the best for the future…whatever that may be!

Another thing that really stood out for me at the meeting was the emphasis on prayer. Everything, whether it was the work, the projects or the offering, was brought back to God. There was a real sense of the need for prayer and a reliance on God, that this is His work and we are His workers. Many prayers were offered up that night.

Finally, Strandtown Baptist Pastor, Lee Campbell closed the meeting with a message on the importance of continuing mission. Lee explained the word fellowship means “Coming together and working together for a common goal and purpose”. Therefore, we are partners with God as He does His work in this world.

There is so much more that I could write about but I will leave you with some of the challenges that I feel were raised at Wycliffe Live: Do we read the Bible with the same joy and eagerness as those receiving the Bible in their own language for the first time? Do we listen to God’s Word so that it changes our lives and attitudes as it did with Mpeere and the refugees? Are we using our skills in the way God wants, like John and Ruth? And what can we do to be involved as partners in God’s work?

A big thank you to Emily for this blog. There are lots of ways to volunteer with Wycliffe at home and overseas both short term and long term… take a look.

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