Beyond our scope

A Kwomtari man tells his story.

Knowing that the vision of SPES is to work with the last one hundred languages in the East Sepik and Sandaun provinces, we understand that we cannot do that alone.  Sometimes our partnerships include working with other SIL teams in these provinces.  Murray and Carol Honsberger have been working with the Kwomtari people in Sandaun province for twenty-seven years.  They have a desire to use Oral Bible Storytelling (OBS) to reach out to some neighboring language groups, to help them get some of God’s stories in a format that can be understood by the communities.

In light of that, they asked if the SPES project would have trainers who could come and lead OBS workshops with four language groups (Kwomtari, Nai, Yade, and Baibai) in the Sandaun province.  We give thanks that, at this point, enough training has been done, that we have several trainers who could go and run these workshops.  What a joy and privilege to be a part of getting God’s Word to even more people.

Nai speakers work on consultant checking their story.

Recently these four groups finished their first workshop and all twenty-one participants would echo the words of one Nai speaker: “The OBS course is a tool to use – pray that God will strengthen us. God is opening our eyes and changing our way of thinking. Pray that God will prepare our villages and the hearts of the people to hear. Pray that we will be able to finish all four courses and that we will see real change in our lives.”

Three Yade men came and are praying that five more will join them for the next course. One Yade man wrote: “In this first course I learned about what is involved in giving something to God, and about being a true friend to my wife.”

Baibai participants work on crafting their story.

A Baibai man at the course wrote: “I have been chosen to do church work but do not know how to preach. OBS is teaching me how to share God’s Word.” Pray that the Baibai group will find one more person to join their group. They really struggled through the course but God enabled them to finish all four stories.

Praise God for the united effort of the Baiberi people who hosted the workshop. They are already talking about the next course in February and the preparations they need to make. One of the Kwomtari participants wrote: “OBS has strengthened my faith. It has taught me how to put a story well into my thoughts and keep it there. I have learned how to tell a story with an opening and closing. I feel OBS is teaching and enabling me to do my work as a church leader.”

Yade speakers find just the right words to make their story clear.

Almost all of the participants were lay pastors – some were relatively new believers who had been sent to start a church – they felt lost. After the two weeks they left feeling like they had something they could share and a way to do so. Many were challenged personally by the stories.

We give praise to God for the impact God’s Word is already having on lives and will continue to have in the weeks and months ahead.  Will you pray for these groups to know God more deeply?

Photos by Carol Honsberger

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Persevering in Prayer

Often when we pray, we do so expecting that God will answer quickly and in the way that we desire.  Well, reality tells us that this scenario is not always the way things play out.

Mehek students work to learn their story.

Leading up to and at the recent Oral Bible Storytelling (OBS) workshop in Wewak, many prayers were offered for a variety of subjects.  These prayers included getting the participants to and from the course safely and in a timely manner, good opportunities for the participants to learn the stories well, health and safety for those involved with the course as well as for family members who stayed behind in the villages, and a myriad of other things.

For one of the participants who was planning to attend the course, his wife and son were killed in a car accident just before the course began.  We want people to be able to come and learn more of God’s Word, but this man was not able to come as he had many family issues that needed his attention.

One of the trucks that has provided transport for the workshops.

For reasons we don’t fully know, transportation is a challenge for this particular group of language communities.  At the beginning of this course, we didn’t even know if everyone would get to Wewak for the course.  Through more prayer and a lot of communication with different drivers, trucks, and participants, they did arrive in Wewak, even though a few were a bit late.

As the time approached for the workshop to be completed, transportation again looked like it could be difficult.  More prayers.  Multiple attempts to contact drivers and trucks didn’t seem to give a solid workable plan.  Things happen, but sometimes that can bring more stress.

Thursday morning arrived and there was one truck which could take half of the participants home.  But, what about the other half?  After a trip to town to contact drivers, there was still not a confirmed solution.  It was getting getting later in the day.  What to do?  Prayers continued for a workable solution.  One of the SPES team members walked out of the office to talk to those who remained about what the next plan should be, possibly to leave the next day.  At that moment, a truck drove in and was ready to take the rest of the group home.  God heard our cries!  Thank you, Lord.

One of the participants practices his story before going home.

The participants did work diligently to learn several Christmas related stories that they are now able to take back and share in their villages.  Some of these people seem to face some roadblocks when they take the Bible stories back to share.  Please pray earnestly that God’s Word could break through the roadblocks and that these stories would have great impact in their communities.

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.

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.