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With Lynda Farncombe, Mary Steele and Justin Frempong

I don’t intend to write all about that very special day at Buckingham Palace. Let the photos tell the story…

Before the ceremony in the Palace courtyard

And afterwards: spot the MBE medal

Mary Steele MBE

Lots of traditional dress on the day

Heading off to find some lunch…

… Mary turned down The Ritz for a humble Italian restaurant

It was a very special and memorable day which I feel very privileged to have shared with Mary.

My two recent posts here and here about Mary Steele MBE and Wycliffe Bible Translator, have taken me back to 10 May 2006 when I was one of Mary’s three guests at Buckingham Palace. The others were Lynda Farncombe (Mary’s niece, a Wycliffe UK member) and Justin Frempong (Director of the Ghana Institute of Linguistics, Literacy and Bible Translation GILLBT) Mary’s boss in Ghana.

That’s the photo story you have just been reading above…

Mary Steele died at the age of 89 having made an incredible contribution to Bible translation in the languages of Ghana over a period of 55 years.

 

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So said Mary Steele, Wycliffe Bible Translator, when interviewed on Ulster Television (UTV) some years ago.

My mind was very focussed on Mary and her long career with Wycliffe Bible Translators when I attended her funeral just before Christmas.

My mind went back to Mary’s interview with Paul Clarke which was shown on UTV twice in the same day. Did I have a copy of it? Where might I find it? It was a sheer accident that I found it on the new Wycliffe UK website – and I thought it deserved a plug.

The quotation below is  from When the Good News met the media which I blogged on 31 October 2010…

UTV Live news last night (Tuesday 10 June 2008) twice carried the story of Mary Steele MBE, 80 year old veteran Bible translator in Ghana. Mary is home near Ballymena in N. Ireland for a few months before returning to Ghana to complete the revision of the Konkomba Bible to be type-set in the autumn. She was very sensitively interviewed by Paul Clarke and Mary was her usual calm and clear speaking self. She talked about the growth of the Konkomba church since the sixties when she first went there and the amazing growth in literacy – hence the need for a new edition of the Konkomba Bible.
When asked why she does what she does, Mary replied, “I love the work, I love the people and I love the Lord!”

So I invite you to watch and enjoy Mary’s interview with Paul Clarke…

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I have attended many funerals in my work with Wycliffe Bible Translators. I used to attend the funerals of parents of Wycliffe members. But more recently, it has been the funerals of colleagues. Perhaps the most poignant funeral was on 22 December 2017, the day after my 70th birthday.

Mary Steele died at the age of 89 having made an incredible contribution to Bible translation in the languages of Ghana over a period of 55 years.

On the day that we learned of her death, Wycliffe Personnel sent this tribute to all Wycliffe UK members:

Mary was one of the true “legends” of Wycliffe, widely loved and respected. She was born in 1928, trained as a nurse, worked in mission hospitals in southern Africa in the 1950s, joined Wycliffe in 1959 and later sailed for Ghana as one of the first Wycliffe members to go there. She worked extensively on the Konkomba and Bimoba translation projects in the north of the country, facing a variety of challenges, including health issues and serious inter-ethnic conflict. Both of these language groups now have completed Bibles, and have seen significant church growth. In addition, Mary was instrumental in a wide range of literacy, Scripture Engagement and Community Development activities, all of which were of significant benefit to these communities. Mary also served as a translation consultant to a number of other projects. She was a much-loved and highly valued member of the Ghana Institute of Linguistics, Literacy and Bible Translation.

In 2008 Mary was awarded an MBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List for Services to Bible Translation, Literacy and Development. In 2015 she was appointed as a Member of the Order of the Volta by the President of Ghana. She retired (somewhat reluctantly!) in December 2014.

At the dedication of the Konkomba NT Mary was thanked and complimented by a Konkomba man: “She is deep and vast, and without her life for the Konkombas would be useless”.

Mary came from the Ballymena area of N. Ireland, sometimes referred to as the Ballymena Bible Belt. Mary’s achievements were often reported in the Ballymena Times newspaper by reporter Joe Boyd who now works for the online The Church Page. Joe asked me to contribute to his tribute to Mary.

‘When my wife Ruth and I joined Wycliffe Bible Translators in 1989, Mary Steele was already a legend for newbies like us. Later in my Wycliffe UK role, I met her many times and was always impressed by her commitment to helping Ghanaian colleagues translate the Bible into their languages; her devotion to God; and her humility. It was a surprise and a great privilege when Mary asked me to be one of her guests – along with her niece Linda Farncombe and Justin Frempong, director of the Ghanaian Institute of Linguistics, Literacy and Bible Translation (GILLBT) – when she went to Buckingham Palace to receive her MBE from Queen Elizabeth. It was a great day! I believe that protocol demands that one politely answers any questions the Queen might ask, but not initiate anything oneself. However Mary told us afterwards that having confirmed the Queen’s questions about her work in Ghana, she then made sure that the Queen knew how many people groups in the world were still waiting for Bible translation into their languages. I guess that summed up our “Queen Mary” and her passion for her work.’           [Joe Boyd’s full article can be read here.]

As a member of Killymurris Presbyterian Church, Mary was also very highly regarded in Irish Presbyterian circles.

The PCI website also published a tribute to Mary.

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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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In 1962 Mary Steele arrived in Ghana to work with Wycliffe Bible Translators. Moving up to the north of the country, which was very under-developed at the time and had few schools, Mary started work on the Konkomba language.

Mary with her MBE at Buckingham Palace

Mary with her MBE at Buckingham Palace

When the Konkomba New Testament was completed and local language literacy well underway, Mary started work in another language, Bimoba.  Then when the Bimoba NT was translated, she returned to help the Konkomba team work on the Old Testament.

Readers of this blog may recall that Mary received the MBE at Buckingham Palace in May 2006 for services to linguistics, literacy and Bible translation in Ghana.

Just last week the Ghana Institute of Linguistics, Literacy and Bible Translation (GILLBT) recognized Mary’s long service with them.

Mary at the British High Commission in Ghana

Mary at the British High Commission in Ghana

Wycliffe Bible Translators UK executive director Eddie Arthur was present at the event.

Last Thursday 20 March 2014 I attended a reception at the British High Commission in Accra to celebrate Mary’s 52 years of service to this country. Perhaps the most remarkable intervention was from a former government minister from the Konkomba area who said that he and other successful Konkombas could not have received an education and done as well as they did without the work of the woman they call their mother.

Eddie quoted a recent blog by Rollin Grams.

The local church can support a missionary perspective by separating the recent concept of ‘short-term missions’ from ‘missionaries.’ Missionaries are called into a life-time of cross-cultural ministry. They are skilled in cross-cultural interaction, Biblically educated (or should be!), able to share the Gospel clearly, and working to evangelize, plant churches, and nourish people and churches in the faith through training in the Scriptures and for ministry. Their example is Paul the apostle and his missionary team, not the Peace Corps or the Red Cross.

Mary is rather unique in having been blessed with the health and strength to serve for 52 years. Her career illustrates that mission work – and especially Bible translation – is by its nature a long-term venture. Perhaps this is something our short-term church culture needs to grasp.

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Mary Steele in Ghana

Just a few minutes ago, Wycliffe partner in Ghana GILLBT published this on their Facebook page

The work of Mary Steele is being celebrated at the British High Commission today!
Mary Steele has, through a period of over 50 fifty years, contributed significantly to the intellectual, material and spiritual life of Ghana. Her contribution to language development and the spiritual transformation of language groups in Ghana was recognized by Queen Elizabeth of Great Britain and was awarded an MBE (Member of the Order of British Empire) at the Buckingham Palace in London in May 2006.
GILLBT congratulates Mary Steele for the great work the Lord has used her to do in Ghana!

Wycliffe UK director Eddie Arthur travelled to Ghana yesterday to be with Mary Steele at the British High Commission in Ghana today, celebrating the work of Bible translation partner GILLBT and Mary in Ghana.

As referred to in the GILLBT statement above, Mary was awarded the MBE at Buckingham Palace May 2006 for services to Bible translation, literacy and language development in Ghana. I had the privilege to be there with Mary, her neice Linda and former GILLBT Director Justin Frempong.

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Mary Steele MBE at Buckingham Palace with some colourful friends

Mary Steele MBE at Buckingham Palace

In a recent blog about the impact of the translated Bible on the Bimoba people group in Ghana, I referred to Mary Steele who was involved in the translation of the Bible into the Bimoba language.

Mary is planning to spend her summer back home in N. Ireland but is currently consultant checking the Book of Acts in the Avatime language. A few days ago she sent me a request for prayer for this work imbedded in a touching story about the Avatime people’s wait for the Scriptures in their heart language…

Steele, Mary Apr 10

They have been Christians for a hundred years but still have no Bible in their language. The Avatime people live in the Volta region of Ghana, in the southeast of the country. The majority of them profess to be Christians, but as yet they do not have a Bible or even a New Testament in their language. The Gospels have been translated and we are now checking the book of Acts.

There is a feeling of spiritual opposition to the work of Scripture translation in this language, and it seems to go with difficulty. Please pray for spiritual victory, and that the Word will be a blessing to the team, Divine, Jacob and Gershon, and myself, as we work just now on checking the book of Acts in the Avatime language (pronounced Avateemee – but the Lord will know who you mean no matter how you pronounce it.)

Also please pray that the work of translating and publishing the New Testament, and eventually the whole Bible, in this language, will go ahead smoothly and quickly. A hundred years is a long time to wait.

Thank you for helping to bring the Bible to the Avatime people, by your prayers.
Mary Steele

If you Google Avatime, you can read things like this on Wikipedia

Avatime is a tonal language with three tones, has vowel harmony, and has been claimed to have doubly articulated fricatives.

Avatime has nine vowels, /i ɪ e ɛ a ɔ o ʊ u/. It is not clear if the difference between /i e o u/ and /ɪ ɛ ɔ ʊ/ is one of advanced and retracted tongue root (laryngeal contraction), as in so many languages of Ghana, or of vowel height: different phonetic parameters support different analyses.

Avatime has vowel harmony. A root may not mix vowels of the relaxed /i e o u/ and contracted /ɪ ɛ a ɔ ʊ/ sets, and prefixes change vowels to harmonize with the vowels of the root. For example, the human singular gender prefix is /ɔ ~ o/, and the human plural is /a ~ e/: /o-ze/ “thief”, /ɔ-ka/ “father”; /be-ze/ “thieves”, /ba-ka/ “fathers”; also /o-bu/ “bee” but /ɔ-bʊ/ “god”.

… all of which gives some insight into the work of a linguist translator like Mary!

If linguistics turns you on – read more. Whether it does or not, please pray for the Avatime team in their work right now.

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