Oral Bible Translation – What Does It Take?

For several years, a few mission organizations have been collaborating together to create some software that could be used to make oral Bible translation happen.  Render is now being trialed in several parts of the world to see how the process works.  Since all parts of the process are done orally – translation, team checking and revision, consultant checking, and recording, it is ideal for communities that operate predominantly in an oral realm.  As the SPES project has been watching Render develop over the last couple years, we have become very excited about the possibilities that it holds for small language groups in the East Sepik and Sandaun provinces of Papua New Guinea.

However, because Bible translation has been written, rather than oral, almost exclusively for decades, this new approach presents its own challenges.  Where will we find people who can come and help us run the Oral Bible Translation (OBT) workshops?  Ideally, these would be people who would feel comfortable switching from a written to an oral process or have received training in oral translation.  Could it be you or someone you know?

Our current staff does not have all the skill sets needed to lead the training.  We continue to pray and trust that God will lead people to us that have the needed skills to help Sepik language groups get God’s Word in a way that clearly speaks to them.  A few of these roles are crucial and without people to fill them, OBT cannot move forward.  The team in Wewak feels strongly that this is a natural next step for language groups who have already completed their Oral Bible Storytelling workshops.  Language groups continue to call and ask when they can begin the next step of translation work.  It is a struggle for us to not be able to tell them when the next steps will happen.

Could this be you?

Each morning, the Bible passage to be translated will be discussed during devotions.  Someone is needed who can help give a good understanding of what is being discussed in the passage from an exegetical perspective.  They would need to be able to check specific key terms and help the teams make sure they are translating those key components in an accurate and natural manner.

Another person is needed who can help the teams understand a bit of how their language works linguistically.  This is not as in-depth as it would be in a written setting.  Some of the details are not needed in the oral realm, like consistency of spelling and punctuation, since it is all recorded rather than written.  However, understanding some of how the grammar works, so that the passage can be translated naturally, rather than word-for-word from another translation will help the teams have translation that can be easily understood.

One translation consultant is needed for each language group.  In the initial pilot project, the current plan is to include three language groups.  The consultants would take the scripture portions that have been translated and go through them with the team to check for consistency of key terms, making sure nothing has been introduced that is not true to the Bible and to make sure that key items have not been omitted.  As they go through each passage, changes that are needed will be noted and fixed before the final recording is released for the communities to use.

Will you pray with us that God will provide the people needed to move this work forward?  If you or someone you know might be interested, please contact us by email or at our Facebook page.

1 Report from the Lausanne Committee on World Evangelization Issue Group “Making Disciples of Oral Learners, page 4.

God’s Word – Living and Active

Groups work together to learn the day's story

Groups work together to learn the day’s story

Eleven Nuku area language groups continue to learn four Bible stories during this two week Oral Bible Storytelling (OBS) course in Wewak.  Yesterday they began learning the story of The Fall from Genesis 3.  As they listened during the devotion time, they grappled with various parts of the story.  Some of their personal beliefs that have been held for many years did not line up with the truth they were hearing from God’s Word.  How do they move forward and reconcile those differences in their own lives?

Michael tells a story

Michael tells a story

Wednesday the same story was told to give them a chance to hear it again and process what was being shared.  After the story is given, questions are asked so that the participants can interact with the story on a personal level.  Wednesday’s questions focused on what the participants learned in the story and which character were they like in the story.  As many honest responses were shared, it was evident that God’s Word was alive and giving people reason to think about their own lives.

“I am like Eve because I listen to others when they tell things that aren’t true and then I follow after those same things.”

“I am like the snake because I tell others things that aren’t true and cause them to do things that aren’t right.”

“I am like Adam.  I go along and do the wrong things even though I know they are wrong.  I don’t stand up for what is right.”

“I am like Eve because I covet so many things.”

Listening to the day's story

Listening to the day’s story

“Now that I have come to this course and know what is true, I need to stand on that truth.  When other people come and tell me things that aren’t true and try to pull me in the wrong direction, I don’t want to follow them.”

“I need to not deceive other people.  I need to leave those ways behind, and do what is right.”

“I need to stand up and take responsibility in my family.  If my wife is saying things that aren’t true, I need to confront her and try to help her see a different way.  If not, it will cause problems for our whole family.”

It is encouraging to hear these responses.  Keep praying that God’s Word will bring conviction and lasting change.

Nuku OBS workshops are launched

Some of the Nuku area language groups in the Sandaun province of Papua New Guinea have been waiting for years for someone to help get God’s Word into their heart language (tok ples).  So it was with great excitement that we welcomed the arrival of participants from Beli, Pahi, Heyo, Mehek, Yahang, Wanap, Laeko Libuat, Siliput, Yangum Mun, Yangum Dey, and Minidien language groups on Monday.

Crossing a flooded river

Crossing a flooded river

Due to significant rains in the area, swollen rivers and muddy roads made the trip to Wewak a challenge for many of the participants.  The PMV (public motor vehicle) carrying many of the participants got stuck Sunday night, but they were able to dig out of the mud Monday morning and make it to Wewak.  Others waited for rivers to recede enough that they could cross (as seen in the picture) or walk to the other side.  We are very thankful to report that by Monday evening forty-one participants were safely in Wewak ready to begin class Tuesday morning.

OBS trainers serving at this course

OBS trainers serving at this course

Fifteen trainers are leading this course, many of whom are learning new roles and responsibilities this time.   A couple trainers are being prepared to launch a new OBS cluster later this year in Sandaun province.  We also have six brand new trainers who just graduated from the Lumi OBS workshop in January and are working to learn the ropes of teaching and mentoring new language groups.  We are so grateful for the capable and enthusiastic team God has brought together to lead this work in the Sepik.

Learning how to use a voice recorder

Learning how to use a voice recorder

As the participants work at learning the Bible stories, one of the tools used is a voice recorder.  After they have internalized the story and can tell it both in the trade language as well as their heart language, they record it on a voice recorder.  The story can then be played back for the group to check the story’s accuracy.  Tuesday they learned how to use the recorders.

Participants have another two weeks to learn a total of four Bible stories from Genesis.  These stories are foundational to understanding many other aspects of the Bible.  They have been learning the story of Cain and Abel over the last two days and God’s Word is already convicting men of their sins.  Pray that they can learn the stories well and that the truth of God’s Word will change the lives of those present even before they head home.  We wait expectantly to see how God will work in the days ahead.

Lumi Oral Bible Storytelling completion

Devotion time

Devotion time

The last two weeks were a flurry of activity as we finished the fifth and final Oral Bible Storytelling (OBS) workshop for thirteen Lumi area language groups. With forty-eight participants and twelve trainers, the Wewak Regional Center was filled to capacity. Participants were eager to learn three new stories from the New Testament that they have now taken back to share in their villages. We know that God’s Word does not return empty, so we look forward with anticipation to how these stories will impact language communities in the future.

Learning how to teach about language and how it shifts in communities

Learning how to teach about language and how it shifts in communities

The groups also received some training that they could share with their communities regarding their tok ples (heart language). How strong is the language? Can all the children speak and understand it? What causes communities to move from one language to another?  How can they hold on to both languages in the midst of pressures to change?  They practiced some participatory activities that they can do in their areas so that everyone can see the vitality or lack of vitality in each language group. Before leaving, they were tasked with raising awareness as they share these activities in their communities.

Group photo of participants, trainers, and other staff

Group photo of participants, trainers, and other staff

Friday, 20 January, was the graduation ceremony. The trainers did a great job coordinating and leading this event and making it a meaningful experience. Those who spoke challenged the groups to continue to carry this work and be faithful, even when times get tough. It is a time to act and not just sit and watch others do the work or just think about possibly doing something.

They have now returned to their homes. Pray that they will have many opportunities to share what they have learned. Pray for wisdom for the communities as they discuss what the next steps might be and how those steps could be achieved. Several of the participants were picked to become trainers and continue helping to carry the work of OBS forward in the Sepik. The next group of languages will begin training in February.

What is Render?

Recently Gary and Sam attended some meetings in Ukarumpa, in the Eastern Highlands province.  Fred Madden, who works with The Seed Company, came to share about a different medium for doing translation.  Oral Bible Translation allows the translators to translate exclusively in an oral manner.

Using the Render software

Using the Render software

Oral Bible Translation works like this. Initially translators discuss any key words, phrases, or concepts that could be difficult to understand or tricky to translate.  Then they listen to a “chunk” of scripture such as a section of a story or a paragraph.  When they feel comfortable that they understand the portion of scripture, they figure out how to say the section in their heart language.  Speaking into a computer, they will then record the passage using some newly developed Render software that records all that is said. This is repeated until everyone is happy with the translation. Then it goes through a series of checks for accuracy and naturalness.  When the team is satisfied that the rough draft is good, it then goes to a consultant who will also add his or her comments orally on the computer and the team can make the needed corrections.

After all the needed changes have been made and the translators and consultants feel it communicates clearly, the recordings can be finalized.  When the recordings are ready, they can be placed on SD cards that can be inserted into mobile phones or use other electronic devices to listen to and engage with the translated scriptures.

As literacy rates are low in many of the language groups that SPES is engaging with, Oral Bible Translation seems like a good fit for at least some of these groups.  This type of approach would allow more people who know and understand their language, but not necessarily know how to write it, to be involved in the work. It also has a better chance of being used by more people in more places. However, this approach involves potentially more people and therefore more costs.  Pray for wisdom to know if this is the way we are to move forward.

Traversing the roads, navigating the mountains…

Beautiful view looking out from Libuat village

Beautiful view looking out from Libuat village

Last Monday morning before sunrise Gary, Sam, and Amos set their sights on Nuku Station located in the Sandaun province.  Trips have been taken to this area previously, but they were headed to new outlying areas around Nuku Station.  After a couple of stops along the way, they arrived mid afternoon.  A meeting with an older Christian Brotherhood Church (CBC) missionary proved helpful as he linked local PNG men with the team to guide them to the other language groups.

The road goes up to the next village

The road goes up to the next village

They designed a plan of action.  Both groups needed to drive and then hike to different parts of the area.  Hiking in other areas has been challenging in the past, but this hiking seemed to take things to a new level.  Some trails were narrow with significant drop offs on each side.  Others were steep – here they call them “hand leg” mountains.  Using your hands and legs, you just keep moving up the mountain.  Going down those mountains is a different challenge all of its own.

Rain and dirt lead to excitement

Rain and dirt lead to excitement

Some roads exist in this area, although a few partial days of rain made the mud packed roads very slick.  Before the trip, we asked people to pray for dry weather because we knew the rain could make the road impassable.  Instead of answering our prayers for dry weather, God chose to increase our prayer lives and our faith.  As they returned to Wewak on Saturday, the trip was anything but quiet.  However, after many prayers and some anxious moments, the weary travelers arrived home safely late Saturday night.

Community meeting in Wonum

Community meeting in Wonum

Heading in two different directions, the group was able to visit eleven different villages during the week.  Many of the villages were excited to hear about the work happening in the Sepik region.  Some of the communities have been asking for help for many years.  Plans were shared regarding the upcoming Oral Bible Storytelling (OBS) workshops to begin in 2017.  They discussed logistics and who would be the best people to come and get the training.  Usually a Bible story similar to what is taught in an OBS workshop was shared so they could get a picture of what could be learned.

Still more villages need to be contacted in December.  Pray that the people who came to the meetings would choose the right participants for the workshops.  Pray that they have a real hunger for knowing God more as they begin to hear Bible stories in their heart language.  Pray that God’s Word would go out through clear teaching and be well understood.

Growing Excitement

Participants listen attentively during class

Participants listen attentively during class

The most recent Oral Bible Storytelling (OBS) course finished for the Lumi cluster participants last week and the participants began the long journey home on Thursday.  With forty participants from fifteen language groups, it was a busy time of learning six stories during the course.  We purposefully picked stories to do a panorama picture from both the Old and New Testaments so that they can have a better picture of what God has done for us.

Drama of Jesus carrying the cross

Drama of Jesus carrying the cross

Four new stories were introduced this course.  These were new not only for the participants, but the trainers had not taught these stories before either.  Three of the stories focused on Jesus’ betrayal, arrest, crucifixion, burial, and resurrection.  As connections were made between the lambs sacrificed in the Old Testament and Jesus being our sacrificial Lamb, the lights began to come on as people understood more of what Christ did on our behalf.  A video was shown to help them understand more of what Jesus endured when he took our punishment.  As the men watched, you could hear them whisper, “Enough, enough!” as they saw how much he suffered for us.

Six stories are the most we have attempted during any one course which means the participants had to stay focused and work hard.  One of the memory activities that seemed very effective this time was drama.  Most of these stories translated had a significant amount of action in them, so they were more conducive to cementing the stories in their minds through drama.

Collen leads the discussion

Collen leads the discussion

Daily afternoon debrief with the trainers

Daily afternoon debrief with the trainers

As staff we are excited to see many of the participants growing in their abilities to tell Bible stories.  After each course they are becoming more effective as they go back and share their stories in the village.  During this course nine participants had the opportunity to “student teach” part of the class material.  They were pared with seasoned trainers who coached them, gave them pointers, and helped out when they found it difficult.

At the end of each teaching day, all the trainers and whoever had taught during the day gathered together for a time of debrief to see what went well and what needed to be changed.  Debrief is always a good time to connect as a team and figure out how to prepare for the days ahead.  Some of these participants will have the opportunity to become trainers after the final course is completed in January 2017.  Some of them seemed very natural standing in front of fifty people teaching.  What a blessing that could be, to have incoming trainers with these gifts!  Mentoring is one way that OBS works to train up new workers to continue to help carry this work into more parts of the Sepik and Papua New Guinea.  We look forward to seeing how God will use these trainers in the future.

angel-shepherds-dramaPray for the participants and trainers as they go back and share these stories in their village.  Christmas will soon be approaching and this may be the first time some of these groups hear the Christmas story in their own language.  As they share the stories surrounding Jesus’ death and resurrection, pray that God’s Word will impact lives and people will come to know Christ as Savior.  Isaiah 55:10-11 promises us that “As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth…so is my word that goes out from my mouth: it will not return to me empty.” (NIV)

Healing the Wounds of Trauma

David, one of the trainers, leading worship

David, one of the trainers, leading worship

Betty teaches one of the lessons

Betty teaches one of the lessons

Two of the goals of the SPES project are training Papua New Guineans and partnerships. Currently we are engaged in both of those. Last year, we ran a Healing the Wounds of Trauma workshop in Wewak for people from various churches to get training in how to help others deal with past trauma and find healing in Christ. Earlier this year, we were asked if we would be willing to come and run four of these workshops for the Aitape West Translation Project (AWTP). The AWTP is currently working to translate Scripture for ten languages in the Sandaun province. Each year they run four weeks of workshops related to some type of Scripture Use activity. This year the focus is on trauma healing. Sam Smucker took two of the Papua New Guineans who received training here last year to help run these workshops, along with one other SIL trainer.

God has been doing some amazing things and we are encouraged to hear how the course is helping people. Here are a couple of the testimonies that were shared, translated from Tok Pisin into English.

One man shared:

Searching God's Word for answers to life's questions

Searching God’s Word for answers to life’s questions

“In this week long workshop, I learned many things about finding the road to heal pain and trauma in a church setting and in the community. The thing I rejoice in is that God’s Word was in all the lessons. I received and learned in the lessons that I always need to bring my pain and burdens to Jesus’ wooden cross. I really liked this course and I wish that this course lasted longer like 2 weeks.

For me personally, I learned two things that really helped me.

  1. I need to hear the worries and pain of those who are traumatized. I need to give my time to be with them and feel how they feel inside – it’s really important.
  2. All the time I need to help them bring all their worries and pain to God and lay them at the foot of Jesus’ wooden cross. God himself is the reason for all good things and he is always ready to hear and take our pain and burdens. So I feel that I need to help them draw close to God and give their pain and worries to God.”

One of the ladies who attended the second course shared:

“There were many things in this course that really helped me because I have carried my trauma for many years and I’ve tried to find ways to heal my trauma. I have great joy to be in this course and I feel that this burden or sore I’ve been carrying for a long time now has a way for me to slowly heal it until it is healed.

Each participant was encouraged to write their pain on a piece of paper and take it to the cross.

Each participant was encouraged to write their pain on a piece of paper and take it to the cross.

Everything taught at this course helped me and now it has opened the door for me to help heal my sore first and later help my brothers and sisters. This week was not in vain and it has begun to produce fruit in my life.

One thing I learned that really impacted me was how we could use God’s Word in every lesson to support all the topics taught. Now I feel that I have lots of work to help others to carry their pain and burdens to the wooden cross. Taking burdens to the wooden cross was a great way to help those who felt too ashamed or afraid to share in a big group.”

Pray with us that those attending would indeed find God’s healing from the many types of trauma they have experienced. As they find healing, may they go and share what they have learned with others who need to find healing in Christ as well.

 

God’s Ways are not Our Ways

Often we pray and expect that God will answer in a specific way. Sometimes he does and other times he chooses to challenge us with a more stretching journey. As we prepare for any course, we know the importance of being flexible. The third Lumi Oral Bible Storytelling course in Wewak has shown that need again. As the trainers arrived, we learned that two of the trainers we expected to be at the course would not be attending. This increases the workload for those who are present. What should we do? Could we find a substitute at the last minute or go with what we have? After one failed attempt, we were able to find one substitute which worked out well. Because not all the groups showed up, we didn’t need as many trainers as we expected.

Students intently listen to the latest story.

Students intently listen to the latest story.

The phone had been ringing for days as participants called to tell us they had begun their journey to meet the truck in Lumi. Some called multiple times to tell of their progress. We were excited because it sounded like there would be a full house of participants when they arrived in Wewak. The truck showed up and we realized that there were actually ten participants who hadn’t come. This was a disappointment as we desperately want people to have access to God’s Word in a language they understand. If the participants don’t come, they are unable to learn the stories to share in their villages. We rest in the fact that God has a bigger plan that we do not see and he has the exact people that He wants here at this workshop.

In spite of prayers for good flying weather, the day the airplane went to pick up the rest of the participants, the weather was not great in Wewak. In the Lumi area where the participants were, the weather was beautiful. Because of some other failed plans, the airplane had to bring extra participants to Wewak. By the time the pilot landed, the weather was bad, but God safety brought everyone home that night. However, one load of passengers was still waiting at Guriaso who were supposed to be picked up that day. Now what? We had no way to communicate the change – there is no cell coverage in that area and the HF radio was not working and was being brought to Wewak to be fixed. We began to pray that God would keep them there long enough for the plane to arrive the next morning. He answered and the men were still there and thrilled that the airplane had come to pick them up.

Golden Calf drama - Aaron is startled by the "golden calf"

Golden Calf drama – Aaron is startled by the “golden calf”

The disobedient Israelites died after they worshiped the idol.

The disobedient Israelites died after they worshiped the idol.

So, with thirty-nine participants, twelve trainers, two consultants, and two families to help with all the necessary logistics, we embarked on the workshop Wednesday, June 8. Participants are working diligently to learn four difficult and lengthy stories this time. One of those stories is the Passover. With each group that has learned this story, we have enjoyed being able to share a Seder meal together. What an eye-opening time for them as they come to understand more of what took place with the Israelites in the Old Testament and the picture it paints for Christ’s work in the New Testament. Another story for this course is the Golden Calf. The participants used drama to help cement the story in their minds, so they could learn it well. Pray that the stories learned will come alive for each of these men and that they will be able to share God’s talk with their communities and that lives would be changed.

Preparing for the Seder meal

Preparing for the Seder meal

Freed from Lies

Four trainers ready to board the Kodiak

Four trainers ready to board the Kodiak

For the team of four trainers, most of the last two weeks was spent at the Abau Training Centre in Sandaun province running a Culture meets Scripture workshop. Leading up to the course, there were significant hurdles that had to be overcome for the course to take place. Even a few days before, the training centre was under water from so much rain, but many around the world prayed and the waters receded. Due to circumstances beyond our control, we were short of the number of needed trainers, but God again came through in a specific way for us. There was concern about not having enough food, but no one went hungry during the course.

Discussing the armor of God

Discussing the armor of God and our identity in Christ

Early on in the course, it was quite evident that there was a battle raging for the hearts and minds of the participants. God brought together this group of trainers with different giftings to lead these men in understanding more of God’s truth. Each day was filled with teaching sessions as well as practical sessions where they looked critically at their cultural practices. Teaching times included understanding the three realms (people, angels, and God), strongholds,who I am in Christ, and dreams. Dreams are a huge part of this culture. Dreams are always to be followed and never questioned. So this teaching time proved eye-opening as they began to understand that not all dreams are from God nor should they be followed. The teaching times continually took the participants back to God’s Word to discover what God had to say about a given topic. They looked at cultural practices related to hunting, gardening, the mourning haus (how people respond after someone dies), as well as specific topics related to how they view women.

Throughout the course, conversations amongst participants were overheard.   “We have been believing lies all our lives. What we have followed in our culture is not true. Now we understand what God says about these things.” “This teaching has been so helpful for us. We need more of it.”

Talking about cultural practices

Talking about cultural practices

After the course ended, the trainers met a man from Samanai who had previously come to the Oral Bible Storytelling workshops. He planned to come to this course, but then a young man died in his village. They suspected a woman of sorcery related to the death, so they killed her the same day the young man died. These very topics were discussed at the workshop. Had they known the truth of God’s Word, it could have removed their fears and the results could have been different. How tragic as these people are still in bondage to the lies of the evil one. As one of the course participants was returning home, he learned that his older brother had just died. Please pray that the truths the man has learned at the course will make for a very different outcome in Miarfai. Pray that God’s talk will continue to go out not only in the participants’ villages, but also in the surrounding areas and that people would be freed from lies they have believed for so long.