Posts Tagged ‘linguist’

Words and photo by Rodney Ballard

Featured Photo From the Field--Celebrating God's Printed Word

Urs Ernst smiles as he inspects the newly completed Makaa New Testament, in print for the first time. Urs, who joined the project in 2000, was the translation consultant working with Dan and Teresa Heath who have served as exegete and linguist respectively since the project’s beginning in 1978. This is a celebration of the completion of the typesetting, with two copies of the New Testament having been printed in Yaoundé, Cameroon. The main printing will be in South Korea and is expected to arrive in Cameroon for the New Testament’s dedication in 2015.



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By Melissa Chesnut

Each year, National Hispanic Heritage month (September 15–October 15) honors the histories and cultures of Hispanic nations and remembers the anniversaries of the independence of Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Mexico, and Chile. This four-part “Throwback Thursday” series will focus on different aspects of Wycliffe’s work among Hispanic countries and language communities.

Read Part 1: A Man with a Vision or Part 2: One Person at a Time

Starting a mission organization with the goal of translating the Bible worldwide is a daunting task. During the early years, Wycliffe founder Cam Townsend encountered many people who weren’t confident that the mission would succeed. The odds stacked against it just seemed too high!

But God is much bigger than any of these odds, and in the face of every obstacle, He has proved faithful.

When foreign missionaries weren’t allowed in to Mexico in the 1930s, God opened an unexpected door. Although Cam and others were not allowed to enter the country officially as Bible translators, the government did recognize a need for assistance in studying the rural education system. To Cam, the solution was obvious. “We will enter Mexico as linguists rather than as missionaries,” he decided.

Cam shakes hands with men he knew as boys when he lived and worked in Mexico.

Cam shakes hands with men he knew as boys when he lived and worked in Mexico.

Although it wasn’t their official job in Mexico, Cam’s colleagues were still able to help with Bible translation. But when Cam got a request from an official to send translators to the Lacandons, a tribe of only two hundred people, he was faced with a dilemma. He knew that tribes with large populations needed the Scripture, but did tribes of two hundred merit the lifework of an educated linguist?

As Cam pondered the question, he was reminded of Jesus’ parable about the shepherd who sought the one lost sheep. Yes, he decided, even the small tribes needed the Bible in a language they could understand. But where would he get the volunteers?

At that time, there were forty-four workers under Cam’s leadership. He decided to ask, “Will each of you be responsible before the Lord for one new recruit for Bible translation? … I’m sure He would give us six extra for good measure.” Sure enough, by the end of that year, Cam had fifty new volunteers for Bible translation—plus one more for good measure!

When finances were limited, God sent other believers who gifted the money to Cam and the work of Bible translation. From simple needs like the monthly $5 to rent a vacant farmhouse for the beginning of Camp Wycliffe to $10,000 to build a clinic and dwelling places in Peru, God always came through.


L.L. and Edna Legters pose with friend and Wycliffe founder, Cam Townsend.

The journey was never easy. Gaining access to countries where missionaries weren’t allowed was difficult and trying. Finding volunteers who were willing to dedicate their lives to linguistics and translation sometimes seemed overwhelming and impossible. Supplying funds for the projects in various countries seemed unfeasible. But each time, God opened another door.

Though the odds stacked against them seemed high, God is more powerful than any obstacle. As L.L. Legters, one of Cam’s friends and a fellow pioneer of Bible translation, would sing:

Faith, mighty faith the promise sees,
And looks to God alone.
Laughs at impossibilities
And shouts, “It shall be done!”

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By Catherine Rivard with Richard Gretsky

For much of the workshop, Susan, a Kwomtari speaker of Papua New Guinea, sat unobtrusively at her table, often resting her chin on her hands as she listened to the lectures. One of thirty participants from seven languages, Susan was attending the third of four workshops on Oral Bible Storytelling (OBS), a course that teaches Papua New Guineans how to memorize and retell Bible stories in a dramatic manner.

Quiet and humble, Susan rarely spoke in discussions, and so when she shyly walked to the front of the room, everyone grew silent. She stared at the ground for a moment, and then, breaking into a huge grin, Susan dove headfirst into the story of Moses fleeing Egypt. Waving her hands and darting around the room, the tiny woman became as fierce as Moses scolding the Hebrews, as cowering as shepherds, and as vivacious as Jethro’s daughters. As she finished the story, the room roared with laughter and applause; Susan beamed in delight—not being able to read no longer meant she couldn’t share God’s Word.

As a pastor’s wife with a deep faith, Susan’s inability to read has long been a great frustration to her, preventing her from leading well her women’s fellowship group or even telling Bible stories to her children. After she attended her first OBS workshop, Susan eagerly began sharing stories with her family and throughout the village, though some women in the fellowship became angry, accusing Susan of arrogance and not accepting their authority as literate members.

However, when Susan was asked to share a Bible story for the opening devotional for a regional women’s meeting, she gladly obliged. “How many of you can read?” she asked. A dozen of the 150 women raised their hands. “OBS helps you learn Bible stories and share them with your families—without needing to read.” Excited, the women sat listening, spellbound by the biblical story and the passion with which Susan told it.


The opposition that Susan had faced melted away, and instead, more of her people became excited about receiving God’s Word through OBS in their own lives!

After Susan’s husband saw the impact his wife was having, he found a way to help her use her strengths to impact others. And since then, Susan has been telling Bible stories in churches throughout the Kwomtari area, with her husband following her and preaching his sermons based on the message contained in the story she shared. Together, they are planning outreach trips to other Kwomtari villages and beyond.

Catherine Rivard is a linguist with Wycliffe Bible Translators in Papua New Guinea. She blogs here.

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By Katie Kuykendall

Seimat Genesis March 2013

Another Scripture dedication has happened! We thank God that the Seimat people of the Ninigo Islands in Papua New Guinea (PNG) have been celebrating the completion of the New Testament in their language since Tuesday! The dedication comes to a close today.

In addition to the New Testament, the Seimat translation team has started on the translation of Genesis and has been working for many years producing other literature for the Seimat people, including story books for elementary students, an HIV/AIDS information booklet and story book, and a Seimat-English picture dictionary.  They’ve also been training several community members in basic computer skills and other tools to continue the work.

Seimat NT shipment OR March 2013JPG

Recently the team hosted a presentation about the Seimat Bible translation and literacy project during SIL International’s* biennialconference in Ukarumpa, PNG. Several Seimat men shared about their culture and the things they’ve learned by participating in the project.

One man, Rudolf, said that reading God’s Word in English

is like “swimming on the surface of the sea when you can’t really see what’s down there beneath you.” Now that Rudolf can read God’s Word in his own language, he said it’s like “putting on a diving mask, swimming down deep, and being able to see clearly everything that is there.”

Praise God for His provision in this project and that Rudolf and other Seimat people can now know God better! Please pray with us that the completed New Testaments will be shipped safely and that the dedication will bring glory to God.

*SIL International is Wycliffe’s primary strategic partner.


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Imagine what it would be like if you had never held a pencil, never written a letter, never read a word.
Nearly 300 million women fit that description.

Around the world, literacy rates for women lag behind those of men. Girls are less likely than their brothers to have the opportunity to attend school, and those that do attend are often forced to drop out before completing secondary school. But when women do receive literacy training, they are better able to affect change, combating destructive conditions like poverty, illiteracy, and discrimination.

Linguists have found that majority culture often places a low value on minority language. Many times the minority language speakers begin to accept the negative view of themselves and their way of life. But when individuals learn to read and write in their own language, it can help them realize the significance of their culture. Seen as the primary guardians of indigenous culture, it is especially important for women to gain the capacity and skills necessary to preserve it.

More than Reading and Writing

When women attend literacy classes, they learn much more than how to read and write. By the end of a typical program, participants are able to write notes, stories, and letters; read letters and books; tell time; add, count money, and read scales. Suddenly they can interact with the world in a new way, gathering information through reading and expressing themselves through writing. Using their basic knowledge of mathematics, women can shop at the marketplace without fear of being cheated. It is also easier for an individual to bridge into the national or trade languages once they learn to read and write in their mother tongue.

mother2Reading gives women access to information on a variety of topics like health care, nutrition, hygiene, childbirth, and disease prevention. The lifestyle changes that result battle dangerous global diseases like malaria, hepatitis, and HIV/AIDS.

The “poorest of the poor” in almost all societies are women and children. Literacy gives women the skills they need to manage rural micro-economic businesses, or “cottage industries.” These endeavors give women their own source of income, promoting independence and equality and enabling them to improve their homes, buy food and clothing for their families, and pay school fees for all their children—not just boys. As a result, literacy is seen as the foundation for all sustainable community development.

Literacy Brings Lasting Change

The influence of literacy is seen not only in the lives of the women who achieve it but also in the lives of those around them. Women who have been transformed are strongly motivated to provide education for their community, guaranteeing that any investment in women’s education is sustained from generation to generation.

The single most valuable reason to improve literacy is the opportunity for every woman to read the translated Word of God in her own language and begin or strengthen a relationship with her Savior. Without the ability to read, the translated Scriptures have little impact.

Literary projects are often part of Wycliffe’s Bible translation process, teaching both men and women how to read and write in their language and preparing them to access God’s Word for themselves.

You can help support Wycliffe literacy projects by visiting http://www.wycliffe.org/Give/CurrentProjects/–MothersDay.aspx


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By Katie Kuykendall

Addie, giving a presentation to the translators

Addie, giving a presentation to the translators

Psalm 119:133 reads, “Guide my steps by your word, so I will not be overcome by evil” (NLT). That was Addie Williams’ desire. But she never imagined God would guide her steps out of a successful career and comfortable home, and into a more challenging job in a village five thousand miles away.

After thirty-eight years working full-time for the Federal Trade Commission, raising three kids, and attending a Bible college in the evenings, Addie decided it was time to retire. Though many welcome retirement as a long-awaited opportunity for rest, Addie felt God calling her to something more. She couldn’t shake a strong feeling that she should spend her retirement in ministry.

“I wasn’t sure what the Lord wanted me to do,” she said. “I wasn’t sure, but I knew God had a plan.” Addie decided she needed to listen more closely to find out.

“The Scripture says order your steps in God’s Word,” she said. “I felt like God was saying, ‘I can’t order your steps in My Word if you’re not in My Word!’” So she studied Scripture, prayed, and listened. She also went back to seminary and kept her ears open for God’s instruction.

At work with her team

At work with her team

When a friend suggested Wycliffe Bible Translators, Addie was intrigued. She’d always valued missions, attending a church that supported foreign missionaries and taking a couple short-term trips herself.

Addie studied at the Graduate Institute of Applied Linguistics in Texas, where she realized the linguistic skills God had given her. She finally got her first taste of the field of Bible translation when she took an exploratory trip to Nigeria!

“It was exciting to be working with new people in a different location, learning about a different culture,” she said. “I was excited to be a part of Bible translation in a way that I hadn’t thought about before.”

Addie joined a team in the Adamawa cluster—several groups with no written language working together to translate Scripture more quickly and efficiently. After three weeks of helping begin developing a writing system, Addie was hooked.

“It was such a blessing and encouragement to see their enthusiasm to want to make the sacrifice to be part of the project—to do a translation so their people can have the Word of God,” she said.

In 2008 she became an exegetical assistant for The Seed Company, one of Wycliffe’s partners in Bible translation. She now lives in Nigeria three to six months of the year, happily enjoying her “retirement” in a new office—a simple building with unreliable power in the heat of West Africa.

“I didn’t necessarily think I would live in another country,” Addie said. “I didn’t reallyaddie3 have a firm idea of what I wanted to do, so to have something materialize that was workable and something that I felt like I could do was exciting, how God just put the skill together with the need.”

As local language speakers translate Scripture for their own families and neighbors, Addie works alongside them offering guidance and instruction. She also leads workshops several times a year to help the translators improve basic translation principles. With Addie’s help, one language group has completed translations of the Gospels and is finishing the script for the “JESUS” film, a movie about the life of Christ based on the Gospel of Luke. Since 1979, more than 200 million men, women, and children worldwide have indicated decisions to follow Jesus after viewing the film.

For the local speakers who have been waiting to finally embrace the Gospel, Addie can’t finish her work soon enough.

“Some of the older people are praying that they don’t die before the ‘JESUS’ film is done,” she said. “They’re anxious to have the Word in their language and to be able to hear it and understand it.”

What was once Addie’s desire is now a way of life. For Addie, being guided by God’s Word meant helping translate it. What does it mean for you?

Having tea with her team

Having tea with her team

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By Katie Kuykendall

“Language is the blood of the soul into which thoughts run and out of which they grow,” said Oliver Wendell Holmes, American jurist.

Linguistic analysts predict that more than half of the world’s nearly seven thousand languages will disappear by the end of this century. Researchers at National Geographic reported that languages are disappearing at such a rapid rate that many have declared a global language extinction crisis. At the top of the list are Australian indigenous languages, according to an article by the Radio New Zealand News.

Today only 20 of an original 250 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages are still commonly spoken in Australia, the article states. With the disappearance of those languages goes each people group’s sense of culture, heritage, and personal pride. This is the power of a local language.

“How much more powerful is that language when it is inextricably tied to the landscape, when it is seen as defined by the very place it’s spoken? And what happens to a culture and a community when that language changes over time?” asked Jennifer Cook, host of the Up Close radio broadcast from the University of Melbourne, Australia.

This is the case with many of the indigenous languages of Australia. Many of them have no Scripture. And once they’re gone, they’re gone. If a language isn’t preserved and strengthened, speakers frequently succumb to pressure by their country’s government and majority language groups to assimilate into other cultures, leaving their heritage behind.

Wycliffe often works on projects in which cultural preservation can be one of many community benefits to Bible translation. Providing an indigenous people group with written Scripture for the first time is like providing them with the tools for survival. History can be written, documented, remembered, and celebrated. Their ethnic identity can grow as they gain more confidence interacting with other people groups.

Most importantly, preserving a local language through Bible translation means its speakers will gain access to God’s Word in the language that truly speaks to their heart. If a language dies out before it can be written and Scripture translated into it, how will the Gospel become personal to them? How will they know that God speaks their language?

Check out this video to learn more about Wycliffe’s heart for cultural preservation.

Click here for ways you can pray for indigenous languages and Wycliffe projects in Australia.

Interested in donating toward our projects in Australia? Click here to visit Wycliffe Australia’s website and make a financial contribution toward our goal of making God’s Word accessible to every people group in the language that speaks to their heart.

“There are many different languages in the world, and every language has meaning.” (1 Corinthians 14:10, NLT)

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