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.

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.

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.

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.

 

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.

From Darkness to Light

When the term darkness is mentioned, it doesn’t usually conjure up ideas of happiness or excitement. It can depict death, a sense of heaviness, or maybe being lost. At times, we have felt that sense of darkness as we work in the Sepik. When the SPES team was preparing to run Oral Bible Storytelling (OBS) in Sandaun province, they visited one of the villages in the Mamhoaf language group. Both team members felt there was little potential for working with the people there. No active church was present. Few people were even around to engage in conversation. Thankfully, God had a bigger plan.

Demas and his family

Demas and his family

As the Mamhoaf team came and began to engage with the Bible stories during the OBS workshop, God began to work in their lives. Mamhoaf team members gave their hearts to Christ and began sharing the stories they learned. This created a new hunger to know God more and the church was reborn. Last month, one of the SPES team went and visited the area again. Demas is leading the church and the church is bursting at the seams with people. He and his wife are counseling and praying with people. He sees great value in continuing the work of OBS, so he is training three other men to take on the church work so he can more fully focus on teaching others.

In a nearby language group, revival has broken out in that church too. Numbers of people coming to church have drastically increased. Agai has been in language work for many years, but in recent years has really seen the Word of God come alive for him as well. He is hoping to help Demas do some training to get people more grounded in their faith. The darkness has lifted in these areas and the light is beginning to shine.

Michael, at the last OBS workshop

Michael, at the last OBS workshop

There are other areas in the Sepik that are still caught in the darkness.   Just Sunday, we received a text from Michael, one of the OBS participants in the Inebu One language group. He requested prayer that they could continue to share the Bible stories they had learned. They are facing challenges from people who don’t know the Lord who are trying to stop the work of these participants. Would you pray with us that God’s Word can continue to be shared and that those who don’t know Christ will be brought from the darkness to the light?

What will be next?

Sharing a meal together

Sharing a meal together

Last week two SPES team members, along with two OBS trainers, returned from a two week trek through eighteen different villages in the Sandaun province. The team’s purpose was to invite people from these villages to an upcoming course in April and also to spend time with the people in their villages. Most of these villages were visited two or more years ago as the Oral Bible Storytelling phase of the work was starting. The people always appreciate us reconnecting in their world. Those participants who came to the SAAT (Survey, Awareness, and Assessment Training) in November had done a good job of raising awareness in their communities about their heart language and how strong (or not strong) that language is. The team was able to share some of the possibilities for what future work might look like as well as dispel options that might not be possible.

People at one of the community meetings

People at one of the community meetings

These villages represent five different language groups, but they are very unique in their situations. In the especially remote area of Ineisine, where government services are nearly nonexistent, many of the language speakers converse in seven different languages. What will translation look like in their area? In the Amto and Anu villages, a good portion of the speakers are monolingual in their heart language (tok ples). They have not learned the trade language. How will that impact future work? Another language group has four villages. The village with the most resources and knowledge also has the least amount of heart language spoken. The children do not understand the tok ples at all. In another two villages, the kids can hear the tok ples well, but usually respond in the trade language. In the last village, the kids speak tok ples fluently. Again, it will be a complex situation as we help them figure out a workable plan that can be used by the most people.

Pray for these groups as they discuss amongst themselves the best ways to move forward. What types of materials would be most beneficial for each group? Will it be written or audio or both? Will it be geared toward adults or kids? As they come to consensus on these issues, we will begin planning further with them in April when they come to Yabru for the next course.

Water covering the area where our OBS workshops have been held

Water covering the area where our OBS workshops have been held

At the last course in November, there was significant concern that there would not be water to meet all the needs of those at the course. At the same location last week, everything was covered with three feet of water. We are so thankful we didn’t have that much water at the course. It reminds me of the passage in Isaiah 55:10-11 that says, “As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.” (NIV) We look forward to seeing how God’s Word will achieve its purpose for these language groups in the months ahead.

2016 – What’s ahead?

A clouded mountain in the Sandaun province

A clouded mountain in the Sandaun province

As we embark on 2016, it is with both excitement and a bit of apprehension. Sometimes we think how simple it would be if we could just see months or years down the road, but then are reminded how that thinking is faulty. How can we really trust God if we know all that is going to happen? How can we rely on Him to guide our steps and plans when we think we already have the plan? This year promises to be one in which we need to trust fully in the One who knows what tomorrow holds.

One of the planes that carriers our participants and staff

One of the planes that carriers our participants and staff

It is easy to prepare for the workshops already on the schedule. But, there is always the unexpected. Who knew how hard it would be to find consultants for the Lumi Oral Bible Storytelling (OBS) course that starts in under two weeks? After trying for many weeks to find the needed consultants, the third one was finally confirmed late last week. How will the weather be when it is time for the workshop to start? Will the airplane be able to get the participants or will the airstrips be too wet? So many things force us to depend on God. We are expecting nearly fifty participants, as well as twelve trainers and other staff. The logistics have potential for unexpected things to come up.

There will also be personnel changes in the new year. Gary and Denise Abbas will be going on home assignment for about six months to share about SPES with their partners and families.  Rocky and Wendy Dede will be more based in Ukarumpa than Wewak this year. There is potential for others returning to Wewak, as well as possibly some new faces. As we deal with many transitions, pray for unity among the team and people to fill all the necessary roles.

Besides OBS, there are a number of other training opportunities that will occur this year. Some of those have been confirmed and others are still in the planning stages. We look forward to the opportunities we will have to share God’s truth with the people of Papua New Guinea and how that can have an impact on individuals and communities.

A small group welcomes the canoe and team.

A small group welcomes the canoe and team.

For the language communities that have already finished OBS, this year will be a time of dialogue to find out if and how these groups want to continue in some kind of translation work. This is probably the area where there are the most unknowns (partly because we are trying to have this phase be community driven), but we know God will direct each group to the plan that best fits their needs.

We also hope to begin engaging with language communities in a new part of the Sepik, so that they are poised for the next intake of OBS. This will involve a fair amount of research regarding different groups, as well as visits to each of the areas. There are still lots of groups that we haven’t worked with, but we want to be hearing where God wants us to go.

Are we ready for what 2016 will hold? We can say yes because we know that God will lead us each step of the way.