Posts Tagged ‘Mali’

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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As I write this, Ulster Rugby are sitting at the top of the Pro 12 League table with four wins from four – and I’m looking forward to Saturday’s home game at Ravenhill along with the usual suspects.

So it was interesting to receive a prayer letter from friends and Wycliffe colleagues Michael and Miranda Jemphrey last week in which they compare a rugby squad to a Bible translation team!


Ravenhill aka Kingspan Stadium: home of Ulster Rugby

Here are some extracts from that prayer letter…

The new rugby season is up and running, with Ulster winning their first three matches. As a rugby club requires all shapes and sizes of players, Bible translation, too, requires people with a vast range of abilities. I like to think of the translators as the forwards struggling constantly with ideas and words to get a translation into their language; the scrum-half position is the consultant who checks the translation to ensure there are no ideas missing (Michael’s role) before he moves the translation along the line of backs. It passes through various hands: the illustrators, the revisers, the typesetters, and finally out to the wing to the publishers who cross the line and produce the final printed gospel, New Testament or Bible. As 5 points are scored for a try there is great rejoicing among the players and on the terraces. The publication of a first gospel in a language or the New Testament or the complete Bible is the occasion for a grand celebration. But 5 is not the perfect number: the try needs to be converted to become the perfect 7; and the Scriptures need to be read, broadcast, proclaimed, taught, discussed, memorized, sung and obeyed to convert lives and communities.

Brilliant, isn’t it?

Michael, the consultant / scrum half in action with a translation team in Mali

Michael, the consultant / scrum half in action with a translation team in Mali

Paul Marshall Ulster scrum half

Paul Marshall, Ulster scrum half in action against Munster

Meanwhile a lot goes on behind the scenes in preparation for a match. The players come to Ulster from different countries, cultures and languages and need to learn how to understand each other to play as a team rather than as a group of individuals thrown together — and translation teams are no less diverse. This is where Miranda comes in: one of the roles she enjoys is helping run workshops called Sharpening Your Interpersonal Skills. Listening carefully is particularly important as Wycliffe colleagues are drawn from hundreds of churches and cultures across the globe.

And the next bit is about me and my Ulster Rugby supporting mates – Philip, Derek, Norman – standing on the East Terrace singing “Stand Up for the Ulstermen” at the tops of our voices…

A rugby club is nothing without its supporters: Ulster fans come out in their thousands and are known as the 16th man as they roar on their team. Wycliffe’s translation work would go nowhere without you, who read these letters, pray for us, encourage and support us year after year.

…which is why members of Wycliffe Bible Translators UK & Ireland send out prayer letters to their supporters – and why we all appreciate so much our 16th men and women!


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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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app (noun) an application, a small specialized program downloaded onto mobile phones

Stephen Gilmore (ChristChurch Belfast) recently wrote this article for the May edition of Wycliffe News about  how his church is involved in an interesting volunteer project for Wycliffe Bible Translators – and how your church in N. Ireland can do the same!

“Mission projects involve either money, travelling overseas, or both!” But not this one! Being part of this project gives the opportunity to serve in overseas mission without even crossing your doorstep. The contribution is time, not money.

Jackie: I loved working on this project because I love the concept of folks in Mali hearing the Bible in their heart language and learning to read at the same time.

App reader

The simple concept is that an app is provided for a language group so that people can read and hear Scripture in their heart language. Smartphones are very quickly becoming the “must have” accessory in even the most remote parts of the world. So imagine being in the bush in West Africa with your new smart phone and discovering an app that speaks your language. And it just happens to be the Bible!
Before the app can be prepared, the Scripture needs to have been translated and a recording made. The most impressive feature of the app is that as each chapter is read the text is highlighted on the screen – as shown below. This is a tool for those with limited literacy.

Trish: I prayed as I did my work that people who I will never meet would be impacted by what they hear.

Our task was to provide the tagging that keeps the text and voice in synch. ChristChurch Belfast pulled together a team of around a dozen people to work on the project for the Minyanka language of SE Mali. After initial training, sets of 5 or 6 chapters were allocated to team members. We chose to start with the shorter epistles to give folk the satisfaction of completing a full book. Of course with any such project, a few found that the project wasn’t right for them, others completed their initial allocation whist others came back for more and more finding the process verging on the addictive.
phone picThere are 260 chapters in the New Testament each of which needs tagging. We found a learning curve of around 5 chapters before getting “up to speed,” after which an average chapter could be completed in 45 minutes. It took 4 months to completely tag the NT and as the first church to take on such a project we were able to report issues so that now the process should be much easier as the app builder has now been fully developed.

Joyce: When I saw the app working it was great to see how it will make God’s Word more accessible for people from Mali. It was a real blessing to be involved.

Anyone with a PC or Mac and basic computer skills should be able to participate. In the middle of the mundane but intense process of listening carefully to a foreign language – going back and checking to within a few milliseconds that each tag is in the right place – comes the thought that, in just a few months, someone in Mali will be impacted by listening to the Word of God in their heart language for the very first time.
There are 799 languages in the world ready to receive an App. There used to be 800! Could your church take on a project to reduce that to 798? Get in touch with us in the Belfast office at northernireland@wycliffe.org.uk

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After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem              Matthew 2:1

We all know that the Magi, the Wise Men, the kings (?) bringing gifts of gold , frankincense and myrrh to Mary and Joseph’s baby boy… came from the East. But mistakes can be made.

Historically one of the most dubious was the Wicked Bible… also known as The Adultery Bible!

wicked bible

This is a reprint of the King James Bible published in 1631 by royal printers Robert Barker and Martin Lucas. Rather unfortunately one of the typesetters left out a little three letter word. King Charles I and the Archbishop of Canterbury were not well pleased. They ordered all the copies to be burnt and Robert Barker and Martin Lucas were perhaps fortunate to escape with the loss of their printers’ licence and a heavy fine!

It can happen so easily… and so in one draft translation of Matthew ch1 in more recent times… the wise men were coming from the west.

We really want the Bible to be translated accurately, clearly and naturally. And so it’s good to pick up these human or typographic errors as early as possible in the translation process. It was Brian, a Volunteer Bible Scholar from Belfast, poring over the text looking for such more obvious errors, who was able to set the geography right both for the Magi and for the translation team.

I learnt all this when I attended a Volunteer Bible Scholar workshop last Saturday in Belfast.


Michael Jemphrey, workshop leader, multi-tasking just before we started

The workshop was attended by by two existing Volunteer Bible Scholars and eight others there to find out if they could also help out. Michael was assisted by Philip and Heather Saunders.

Here’s how Michael, who previously worked on the Supyire New Testament in Mali, explains the whole concept of Volunteer Bible Scholars…

Before ploughing a new field the Supyire farmers in our village in Mali have to clear it of rocks and larger stones. It is a time consuming task but it makes the ploughing so much easier and effective. The work of a Volunteer Bible scholar is similar. Using the ease of global communication today, the volunteers clear the most obvious mistakes in a draft translation of the Scriptures before it comes before the eyes of a consultant. The consultants then can concentrate on the nuances of the translation and ensure that it is accurate for printing. Sometimes it’s an obvious typo; sometimes half a verse has been missed out. Like clearing out the stones, this is slow, methodical work and the harvest is still some way down the line. But it is an essential part of the teamwork providing the food of God’s word accurately translated for language communities hungry for it.

Here’s another way to look at why we are looking for suitable Volunteer Bible Scholars to help Wycliffe Bible Translators. In some parts of the world and particularly in Africa, lots of translated books of the Bible are waiting for a consultant to check the accuracy, clarity and naturalness of the text. Currently there is a shortage of consultants… creating a bit of a bottleneck in getting the work done.

Find out more about Wycliffe Bible Translators and Bible translation and how you might get involved.

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Mali National Assembly

More than once, listening to Bamakois vent their frustrations at their unresponsive government and politicians, I’ve been reminded of my own country, where we have the best Congress money can buy and where corporations have the freedom to bankroll candidates who advance their interests over and above the common good. Whether in Washington or in Bamako, we need to confront the power imbalances that keep democracy from functioning.

This quotation is from the blog Bridges from Bamako, which is written by Bruce Whitehouse, an American anthropologist who has lived in Bamako for some time and writes with insight on the current political situation in Mali.

It is interesting how he compares the interaction of politics and vested interests in Bamako and in Washington – and in the light of current long running UK news stories – perhaps London can be added to the list.

Three very different cultures. Great similarities when humans too often work on the premise of  ‘Every man for himself, every man for himself.’

PS I continue to pray for peace and stability for all Malians and for the work of Bible translation in Mali to continue.

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I was at a funeral this morning of a man in his eighties who had been a lifetime Boys Brigade man – and of course we sang the BB Hymn.

Will your anchor hold in the storms of life,
When the clouds unfold their wings of strife?
When the strong tides lift and the cables strain,
Will your anchor drift, or firm remain?

I guess the situation in Mali with a military coup and the resulting political crisis, compounded by the loss of the north to a combination of rebel forces, might just constitute one of those “storms of life” for my Wycliffe colleagues  who have been evacuated from the country.

So where am I going with this? Before going to the funeral, I read a post from Mali colleague and Branch Director Tim Tillinghast’s blog Tim’s Sabbatical Journey and Beyond in which he reflects on the situation in which he and his colleagues found themselves recently.

I have never been in a crisis situation like this having left Côte d’Ivoire some years before the trouble there, but Tim has experienced several crises in several different ways…

This is not my first time to be in the “insecurity pressure cooker” having seen and even helped evacuate my colleagues out of Côte d’Ivoire on three separate occasions (2002, 2003, 2004).

As a third-grader, I lived through a week in Lebanon when fighter planes were flying overhead and we had to stay inside. Then in Yemen there were 2 different occasions when the President was assassinated and there was more staying inside. I remember it being tense and uncertain, and also the fact that we had no school.

These past few weeks have been different, the first time in the midst of the situation myself as an adult. In the past, I have been on the outside helping to get others out before and there is intense pressure and then a relief when they are all out.

This time I was on the inside, coordinating with my team, making decisions and trying to get everything in order for those we leave behind, trying to manage resources in the face of an economic embargo, and trying to pack up my own stuff.

The coup coincided with Mali’s approaching spiritual retreat and branch conference which had to be cancelled, but they did spend more time than anticipated in prayer and worship and mutual encouragement.

  In the midst of curfews and troubled times, our normal Bible studies and church times and meeting places were disrupted. However, we managed to come together spontaneously for prayer and worship and sharing of scripture where we could. Perhaps it was the uncertainty of the situation, the rawness of our emotions in the midst of harried preparations, or the stripping away of unimportant things, but these were times when the prayers were intense and heartfelt, the worship glorious, with the Word of God ministering simply and profoundly without explanation needed.

Tim refers specifically to a new song written by Mali’s resident, but soon to be evacuated, ethnomusicologist Rob Baker which everyone found very relevant and helpful. Read the words and hear Rob singing the song on his own blog here.

It seems that Priscilla Owens wrote the words for the Will your anchor hold back in 1882 while Rob Baker wrote In a world gone mad we look to you in March 2012.

However as I sang the older hymn in the funeral service, I thought perhaps Rob has produced the 21st century equivalent.

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My previous blog covered part one of the recent Wycliffe:Live in N. Ireland. This blog continues the story… and early on in the second half we had these statistics…

Current language statistics

The surprise! The shock! The encouragement! The challenge!

Janet McNeill from Macosquin in N. Ireland took up the challenge after studying at St Andrew’s University in Scotland, joined Wycliffe and has just returned from her initial assignment in Mali working on the linguistic analysis of the unwritten Shenara language in preparation for a Bible translation to start in the near future.

Janet recording Shenara stories

And so the Shenara language begins to be written down phonetically and be analysed…

Shenara text, back translated and analysed

… and the phrase is a Shenara equivalent of “Bon appetit!”

In February 1997, a few months before I returned home from Ivory Coast, I visited Philip and Heather Saunders at their house in Daloa? The final chapters of Luke in the Kouya language were being consultant checked.

Philip and Heather Saunders with translator Emile in Daloa

One morning in August this year I visited Philip again in Waringstown and found him sitting in front of his laptop surrounded by Bibles and books and notes and wearing headphones. Now a translation consultant himself, Philip was using the benefits of technology to consultant check the translation of the Gospel of John in Bété with the team in Abidjan, Ivory Coast via Skype!

Remote translation consultant check

Today’s Bible translation consultants travel to work with the translation teams, but they can also combine their experience with modern technology to advise national translators without leaving home!

Wycliffe:Live ended where we had begun – with the MAF plane flying into Korupun, West Papua in Indonesia – bringing the Kimyal New Testament to the Kimyal people.

Why not watch the video of the Kimyal people again?

Find out more about how to be involved with Wycliffe UK on our website

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Barthe, Eugenie and friends reading their Kouya New testament

My friends Barthe and Eugenie lived about 500 metres up the road from Vavoua International School in Ivory Coast where we taught for eight years in a school for missionary kids. Barthe leads the church in their Kouya village of Bouhitafla and Eugenie is a trained literacy teacher. They were delighted when the Kouya New Testament was completed and arrived in the Kouya area.

But in the Kouya village communities, as in many parts of the world, information is often more usually shared orally – and in the Kouya villages it always was until their language was first written down in the 1980s. In Wycliffe Bible Translators we are concerned that people have access to the Word of God in different formats and recently the Radio Drama Team from Mali took on the task of making some of the Kouya Scriptures available for an oral audience.

The drama team’s current priority is to record the Kouya translation of Luke-Acts for distribution on MegaVoice players in Ivory Coast. Philip and Heather Saunders write: “The Kouya NT was published at the start of civil war in Ivory Coast. Kouya territory straddled the front line, hampering Scripture distribution and literacy teaching. Please pray that hearing God’s word in their own language will have a huge impact.”

Thanks to gifts from believers in N. Ireland, each Kouya village will receive three players, under church supervision. Pray for the formation of listening groups and the training of group leaders. Groups will meet weekly to listen to Scripture, discuss, ask questions, and apply the teaching to their lives. Pray that the fire, hammer and sword of God’s word will work as never before.

Meanwhile back in Mali, the Drama Team Director Siriki Sekongo reports…

“We have recorded a new set of 30 minute dramatised stories from Genesis to Acts.  ‘Joseph’, one of the actors we hired, was deeply touched by the love and forgiveness the real Joseph showed his brothers, so he accepted the Lord Jesus Christ! He took copies of the ‘Joseph’ recordings and we pray that his family and friends listened to them.  May the Holy Spirit illuminate and direct him on the Way to the Truth and Life.”

“Listeners love stories about Old testament characters like Noah, Abraham, Moses and King Solomon, since they have heard about them from their own religious leaders.  Pray that they will read the much fuller account in the Bible and understand the meaning behind it.”

These stories are from the Wycliffe Bible Translators UK website Seven Days of Prayer page where you can see prayer topics about Bible translation and literacy and a host of other things that Wycliffe is involved in around the world. There are lots of ways that you can sign up for prayer resources – or you can look at other ways to get involved with us in the Bible translation task here.

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Having blogged about Rob Baker and ethnomusiclogy some time ago, I thought I would pass on one of Rob’s latest blogs About the Balafon

Jo Balafon players in southern Mali

I was recently in Southern Mali, working with the Jo people and had the privilege of recording the instrument you see above. Underneath the wooden bars hang several gourds; these serve as resonators to amplify the sound of the instrument. Ingenious!

Read more here as Rob talks about the use of traditional instruments in church worship in West Africa.

You can read my previous blog The Bogo from Togo Praise God in Igo here

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