Developing National Leadership through Partnership

David Bilyeme, a translator from the Urat language practicing his facilitator skills during an O.B.S session.

David Bilyeme, a translator from the Urat language practicing his facilitator skills during an OBS session.

The Sepik Partnership and Engagement Strategy (SPES), an SIL International project in Papua New Guinea, is delighted to partner with other Bible translation organizations to host an Oral Bible Storytelling (OBS) workshop. OBS is a way of sharing God’s Word to others by narrating an entire Bible story.

SPES’ partnership with the Papua New Guinea Bible Translation Association (BTA) and The Seed Company resulted in national trainers from Milne Bay, flying to the Sepik area. Six language communities, each represented by a four-member team, welcomed these trainers, all eager to learn the new OBS skills. An OBS module consists of a selection of Bible stories which share a common theme. Each story is heard and reflected on for the purpose of retelling. For instance, stories pertaining to the birth of Jesus were learnt for the purpose of retelling during the Christmas season. Basic storytelling techniques such as setting the scene, character descriptions, paying attention to facial expressions and gestures etc. are used to capture the audience’s interest, but when the story impacts a storytellers’ personal life, it makes a powerful difference.

In order to retain such long passages along with their twists, background details and sequence, a daily routine of memory activities is followed, enabling participants to keep a fixed sequence and wording of a story. This is crucial because main points of a story can be masked by random phrases. Verses are narrated in a personalized manner and main points for Bible sharing or devotion are told such that they stand out in the story.

At first glance, many may presume OBS to be unsophisticated because it uses such simple skills. Yet, the humble servant who chooses to let the power of God work through the art of storytelling, will be amazed at its impact. It is an effective tool for sharing God’s Word where written materials are not readily available, thus allowing a person to become the instrument for God to use and reach out to others.

These narrated stories are translated into local languages for audiences back in the villages. Afterwards, the storyteller translates each phrase into a common language which a translation expert understands. Translation experts then check and eliminate common translation errors in the stories. Once the translated versions are checked and approved by a translation expert, they are saved in a voice recorder which the participants can replay and listen to wherever they are. This will help illiterate storytellers to keep their story straight. All activity is done orally since many new languages may lack a proper writing system.

The Seed Company, which focuses on funding innovative activities that accelerate Bible translation and its impact on new languages, is committed to supporting these OBS workshops in the East Sepik and Sandaun Provinces of Papua New Guinea. So far it has funded two modules; the third will commence in April while the fourth will be held later this year (2013). All trainers and participants receive free boarding, lodging and travel expense as they learn the art of OBS. Each module takes a total of two weeks with practical activities in between the modules. A total of four modules need to be learned in order to become an OBS trainer.

BTA, whose vision is to train and equip PNG nationals in Bible translation work, has supported SPES by way of providing trainers, while SPES itself has gathered the people to be trained.

These OBS workshops are the beginnings of a strategy for accelerated pace and impact of Bible translations in new languages. More than 100 languages in the Sepik region are without Scripture and they are SPES’ focus. SPES needs people who wants to help reach out to these languages with God’s Word. A vital step to meeting this need is the training of nationals to become leaders in the Bible translation movement. This is best achieved through partnerships which enable the sharing of resources. Other important steps include the sustenance and extension of OBS to new languages. Please contact us if you would like to know how you can help sustain OBS or if you belong to one of the language groups listed on SPES’ 100+ Bibleless Languages.

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