Solomon Islands: Part 3
By Rachel Wolverton, Wycliffe USA marketing strategist
(Rachel visited Wycliffe’s work in the Solomon Islands in early July. This blog series gives a glimpse into Bible translation efforts in that part of the world.)
As fireworks to celebrate the opening of the Festival of Pacific Arts* rang out on a beautiful evening in the Solomon Islands in early July 2012, many were reminded of a fateful night in 2000 when they heard similar sounds. But on that night, twelve years ago, they weren’t the sounds of celebration. Instead, the sounds of gunfire marked the beginning of what many in the Solomons call “the Tension.”
It began when ethnic conflict developed between some of the indigenous people of two neighboring islands, and the capital city of Honiara became the battlegrounds for the coup. A near civil war broke out.
Wycliffe and its partners had been at work on Bible translation in the Solomons under the name Solomon Islands Translation Advisory Group (SITAG). At the time of this conflict, all SITAG staff, along with all other expatriates** in the Solomon Islands, were required to hastily leave the country for safety.
Not knowing if and when expatriates could return to the country, key local leaders who had been working with SITAG on translation work into their own languages, realized something that concerned them. Without the SITAG staff, translation work would come to a screeching halt, meaning that Solomon Islanders speaking many of the more than seventy languages in the country may never have the opportunity to read the Bible in their own language. They did not want to let that happen.
And so out of this great conflict came the Solomon Islands Bible Translation and Literacy Partnership (SIBTLP), an organization of Solomon Islanders working on Bible translation and literacy. This new organization provided support for the islanders that had been working with SITAG on translations, with the hope that over time, capacity would be built so work would always be able to continue regardless of economic or political climate.
SITAG expatriate staff were eventually allowed back into the country, and the two organizations now work side by side to accomplish the task of Bible translation in the Solomons. Joshua Lui Zoti provides leadership to SIBTLP and helps build church partnerships across the islands for the organization while also working on the Bible translation for his mother tongue, Simbo.
Joshua has held a variety of jobs over the years, ranging from a member of Parliament to a police officer. Much like other Solomon Islanders, he has lived through wars, tsunamis, and loss of his home. Now Joshua often has to travel away from his family (and travel in the Solomons is no easy task!) to visit churches across the country. And yet he would say that his job as a Bible translator and leader for SIBTLP is the hardest and most important job he’s held. He, like those who founded SIBTLP almost twelve years ago, believes that Bible translation is worth it all so that his people can clearly understand God’s Word one day.
*The Festival of Pacific Arts was started in 1972 to promote traditional art forms in the region. This year’s festival was held in Honiara, Solomon Islands, making it the biggest tourism event ever to be held in the Solomons. Participants representing twenty-seven countries celebrated unique aspects of their culture during the two-week festival through performing arts, literature, and other exhibits. SIL (Wycliffe’s primary strategic partner) was asked to participate this year for the first time by hosting a “Languages of the Pacific” display and daily linguistic activities. Wycliffe Australia and Wycliffe New Zealand hosted Bible storytelling workshops before and during the event.
** a person temporarily or permanently residing in a country and culture other than that of their upbringing