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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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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

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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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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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… among God’s people in God’s world; in the hearts of those who, like me, claim to follow Jesus and too often get it wrong.

The news could make one rather depressed if one identified with…

  • the holder of a valid visa refused entry because of a Presidential Executive Order which may have been unconstitutional and unlawful.
  • someone living in N. Ireland hoping the Executive might have led the country prudently and selflessly rather than selfishly slithering into yet another potentially tribal election.
  • a disoriented refugee family facing rejection and suspicion because they are different from “us”.

In the early hours of Sunday 24 July 2016, someone started several fires inside Saintfield Road Presbyterian Church in Belfast. On Sunday 5 February 2017 – 30 Sundays later – we worshipped God again in our own buildings. Not in the church itself, but in the church hall.

It was a time for rejoicing at having got this far; for thanking local churches and the local primary school for the use of their premises; for continuing a preaching series on prayer; for praying for wisdom in planning the church restoration – but most of all for thanking God and acknowledging that he is in control.

So how is this story about my church’s problems connected with where I started above?

 

Well, because a friend led the prayer of intercession which included these words which touched me:

We are sorry that we are so obviously sinful. We recognise that we are selfish if our well-being is threatened. We see intolerance within us when we hear and see what is unfamiliar and we lack a generosity of spirit and an attitude of hospitality and acceptance.

But Father God, we see that you are good and pure and with you there is full acceptance and generosity and safety.

when-a-foreigner-resides

And my friend’s prayer is so relevant to a story I plan to post in the next few days.

It is based on some news from a Wycliffe Bible Translators UK & Ireland colleague living and working in a West African country where she is so obviously “different”.

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j-nicholsonWhen we got an e-mail from Jack Nicholson in 2016 asking to do work experience in the Belfast office of Wycliffe Bible Translators, we thought: “We can’t be that famous! Jack Nicholson?”

Turns out it wasn’t the star of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”. It was the Jack Nicholson,  A level languages student from Kilkeel.

Like all our work experience students, Jack was invited to write a guest blog about his experiences over three days in January 2016.

Marlene Ferguson had been at a careers day in Jack’s school and he had also heard about Wycliffe at his church. So here goes…

As an avid language student, I was looking forward to see what happened in the Wycliffe office. In my naivety, Bible translation took place in the most distant, isolated ends of the earth. I have to say, I wasn’t disappointed!

It struck me how many languages exist in the world, over 800 in Papua New Guinea alone, and how many, at least 1.5 billion people, do not have a Bible in the language which they understand best and are therefore unable to grasp the complete image of God and his plan. These thoughts were reinforced when I considered the widespread availability and variety of God’s word in our own country.

Contrary to my belief, Wycliffe members do not simply throw a dart at a map and book the next available tickets to that country. Nor do they charge into a village or town and carry out their plans without involving the local people.

I discovered that the process to begin a new translation project is meticulous, with an emphasis on prayer and financial support. I also got a taste of the joyful celebrations when a New Testament or a Bible is completed and dedicated.

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

Jack talked to Kenny Woodrow about his work in Uganda – Tanzania and discovered that artistic and many other skills are used in the Bible translation process.

This illustration shows art being used to convey the message of God creating the sun, moon and stars in the Kwoma visual language.

On day 2, Jack was introduced to back translations, sign language translation, how technology is used in the Bible translation process – and language cluster groups when talking to Ricky Ferguson about his trip to the Mongu Cluster in Zambia.

Words for Life - Wycliffe UK's magazine

Words for Life – Wycliffe UK’s magazine

 

After lunch, I joined Alf Thompson who works in communications for Wycliffe UK and Ireland. I heard about his job editing the Words for Life magazine. It was fascinating – and again, it reminded me of the importance of a diversity of skills and roles in Christian mission – as well as treating me to a sneak peek of the next Words for Life magazine!

Friday, my last day… and along came Olive Craig – a Guest Bible Scholar volunteer with  Wycliffe.  Olive showed me the importance of clarity when translating God’s Word to different people groups and also the importance of context in translation. Then, after a few challenging translation enigmas and idioms, Olive led me through the diligent, step-by-step method of the translation of the Bible followed by Wycliffe. The true intensity of Bible translation dawned on me when Olive opened up Paratext – a computer software programme designed specifically for Bible translation. She showed me her part in the overall translation process and how translators aim for Biblical translation to be clear, accurate and natural. I particularly enjoyed Olive’s visit, as I witnessed the practical approach of translation and the skills of so many being used to bring God’s word to others.

Paratext screenshot

Paratext screenshot

I thank God for giving me the chance to witness first-hand Wycliffe’s work in fulfilling his purposes to translate and communicate his word, the Bible, to all the languages of the world.

I retired from Wycliffe at the end of December 2016. One part of my work which I really enjoyed was helping students have a worthwhile work experience with us. So, thanks to Jack and to Ricky for giving me the opportunity to edit Jack’s blog and post it here.

Find out more about Wycliffe and Bible translation at First Steps events around the UK and Ireland.

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It’s almost that time of year. Well, we’ll need to celebrate Christmas first of course, but many Christians, young and older, students or GAPpers, early retired or really retired… will soon be thinking about a short term mission trip.

(more…)

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