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In an otherwise quiet corner of Guinea-Bissau’s noisy capital, a camera operator counts to four on his fingers and the signer starts again. Aside from one person, the whole team is deaf* and they are quietly making history: God’s Word—in this instance, the story of the disciples’ miraculous catch of fish—is being translated into Guinea-Bissau Sign Language.

Gloria brought this vision all the way from her homeland, Brazil. There she learned Brazilian Sign Language after many frustrating encounters trying to reach the Deaf. She asked the Evangelical Church of Guinea-Bissau for a place to run a sign language project and they appropriately gave her this building, originally designated for ministry to the Deaf and blind.

“I’m the only foreign person in the whole country who is interested in this work,” she explains. “This is the first translation work in sign language.”

Breaking Through the Silence

Government census statistics indicate that there are only 1,700 deaf people in Guinea-Bissau’s population of 1.6 million. But Gloria says that figure is much, much higher in reality. Disease, armed conflict, and genetics all contribute to deafness in Guinea-Bissau.

Like the Deaf in many regions of the world, those in Guinea-Bissau are often mistreated and ignored by society at large, their communities, and even their families. Because many deaf Guineans are isolated from one another, their sign language is not well-developed, and their vocabulary is limited.

Gloria says Guinea-Bissau Sign Language needs to be thoroughly analyzed by a linguist. But until that happens, she is pressing ahead with the early stages of a Bible story translation as a means to begin gathering signs and giving the Deaf a glimpse of God’s love.

*To emphasize that Deaf cultures are distinct from hearing cultures, people often write “Deaf” when referring to a linguistic-cultural group, and “deaf” for the audiological condition of people. This approach is used in this article, reprinted in a condensed form from an article in Word Alive, a publication of Wycliffe Canada.

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By Hannah Weiand
Hannah is a Wycliffe USA intern, attending Oral Roberts University. Hannah will graduate with a degree in Writing in May 2015.

People sometimes ask, “Why not just translate the Bible using Google Translate? Wouldn’t that save you a lot of time, money and effort?” Unfortunately, it’s not that simple.

In today’s world, where technology is advancing rapidly and information is more accessible than ever, it’s important to realize that Bible translation is more than just a process of word substitution. There are approximately 7,000 languages in the world, and just under 2,000 of those languages are completely without Scripture. As intriguing as it might seem to use a tool like Google Translate to provide the Bible for those remaining languages, it simply doesn’t work.

Here’s why:

First, according to Google Translate’s website, Google Translate uses a process called “statistical machine translation.” Google explains this process as the computer detecting patterns in documents on the Internet that have already been translated by human translators. The problem here is that language groups that still need a Bible translation are typically underdeveloped, at best, and some don’t even have an alphabet. So little-to-no material appears on the Internet in those languages. And even for those languages that Google Translate does serve, Google states that “For some languages, however, we have fewer translated documents available, and therefore, fewer patterns that our software has detected. This is why our language quality will vary by language and language pair.

Second, there is a problem with the lack of languages that Google has to offer. While its program continues to grow, it currently only has 80 languages in its repertoire, making its benefits very exclusive.

Mainly, however, there is more to the process of translation than what tools like Google Translate can or cannot do. One thing that a computer tool like Google Translate cannot account for is culture. The process of translating the Bible for people who have never had it in their own language requires an understanding of their way of life. Only through that understanding can we properly communicate the complex, powerful concepts found in the Bible.

Steve Pillenger lives in Johannesburg, South Africa and works as a type setter.

For example, we love God with all of our hearts and accept Jesus into our hearts. But in many cultures around the world, the heart is not considered the center of the emotions. Consider the Awa people of Papua New Guinea, who express feelings and importance with the liver. They wouldn’t say “I love you with all of my heart”; they would say something along the lines of “I love you with all of my liver.”

Cultural context aside, we must also consider the many complexities of language. For example, some languages have multiple ways to describe something that may be a single-word concept in English, while other languages may not have a word for that concept at all. And some languages take entirely different forms, like those that are whistled or signed. (There are nearly 400 different sign languages in the world, and most of them are without the Bible!)

All of these factors help explain why Bible translation takes so much time, dedication and personal investment. And in the end, nothing can replace that personal connection.

This post is part of our Wycliffe 101 series. Click here to read the previous post, or here to start at the beginning.

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This Christmas, experience the joy of giving all over again through the Wycliffe Gift Catalog!

With 25 unique gift options, you’re sure to find just the right one for every person on your list. And you can feel good knowing that your purchases are helping people get God’s life-changing Word in the languages they understand best.

Click here to view the catalog.

catalog cover

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liffe Africa

Words and photo by Heather Pubols

Yonathan Zeamanuel explains to the Guji-Oromo team how to use Proclaimers* in listening group Bible studies. Yonathan and his wife, Tizita Zenebe (sitting to the right of him), are Wycliffe Africa members who are working to promote the use of Scriptures in the minority languages of Ethiopia.

*Faith Comes By Hearing works with language communities to produce dramatized audio Scriptures in local languages. These are played using a device called a Proclaimer. “Listening groups” are small groups that use the proclaimer to study the Bible together.

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By Hannah Weiand

Hannah is a Wycliffe USA intern, attending Oral Roberts University. She will graduate with a degree in writing in May 2015.

a woman reads her Bible to her friend

Photo credit: Marc Ewell

Here at Wycliffe Bible Translators, we believe everyone needs the Bible in a language they can clearly understand. Well-meaning people sometimes ask, “Why not just teach people English?” Well, that would be like asking a native English speaker, “Why not just teach you Latin?”

It sounds funny put that way, but before the late 14th century, when John Wycliffe and others translated the Bible into English for the first time from Latin, that’s exactly what English speakers had to do if they wanted to read the Bible.

John Wycliffe believed the common person should be able to read and understand the Bible in their own language. But at that time in history, many people thought English was a vulgar language, unfit for God and his holy Word. So when Wycliffe and others translated the Bible, many church leaders were angry. Years after John Wycliffe died, they were still so angry that they dug up his bones to burn and destroy them. And they took one of his followers, John Huss, and burned him at the stake for telling people that everyone should be able to read the Bible in their own language.

Today, thanks to the sacrifices of John Wycliffe, John Huss and others, we can read the Bible in our own language. And we believe other language groups around the world should be able to have that opportunity too.

When Wycliffe Bible Translator’s founder, Cameron Townsend, went to Guatemala to sell Spanish Bibles in 1917 — before he ever started thinking about Bible translation — a number of people asked him why God didn’t speak their language. Cam was troubled to learn that they couldn’t clearly understand the Bible in Spanish. Their need inspired him translate the New Testament into Cakchiquel, and ultimately, to found Wycliffe Bible Translators.

Photo credit: Elyse Patten

Photo credit: Elyse Patten

That’s why we think Bible translation is so important — because we want people to fully understand what God is saying. When people learn a new language, they usually don’t understand it as well as their first language, so it’s difficult to fully grasp the power and the meaning of the Bible in that language.

Bible translation is important because of the way it transforms people’s lives when they can clearly understand God’s Word. It’s not just about being able to read the Bible – it’s about being able to connect with what it says. Having the Bible in their own language allows people from around the world to make that connection.

This post is part of our Wycliffe 101 series. Click here to read the previous post, or here to start at the beginning.

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“We would like to find the [Dâw] tribe. Where are these [Dâw]?” missionary Valtier Martins said when he first arrived in the Amazonas town of São Gabriel, Brazil.

He was answered with a laugh.

“Ok, the first person you find there in the street, fallen down, drunk—that’s a [Dâw],” was the reply.

Valtier finally located the Dâw and began living among them, teaching God’s Word. Several of them were wary of the foreigner. They had long been exploited by the plantation owners they worked for, and they assumed the missionary would do the same.

But this outsider was different. He and nearly a dozen others taught them God’s Word over the course of many years.

“Everything began getting better little by little because we were listening to the Word of God,” deacon Célio Dâw said. “And God kept giving us more and more strength.”

Click here to watch a video in which Célio and three other Dâw men tell their stories of how God spoke to them, drawing them out of despair and drunkenness to spiritual leadership. Today, the Dâw have grown from sixty to one hundred and twenty people who are respected in their community.

Hope

 

 

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By Bob Creson

When most of us think of Panama, we think of the Canal. Built 100 years ago at an enormous financial cost and with many lives lost, it remains one of the amazing wonders of Central America. The canal saves each ship that uses it almost 8,000 miles of sailing around the tip of South America. Almost there locks‘Widening’ of the canal is underway to accommodate post-Panamax ships that are more and more dominating the shipping industry. These ships are of such enormous size and capacity that the existing canal and locks cannot accommodate them.

While most of us don’t think about the minority people groups in Panama, they exist. The Kuna are one of those people groups. The Kuna people number around 165,000 and their homeland is the San Blas Islands — coral atolls that hug the eastern section of Panama’s Caribbean Coast. In addition, there are several Kuna villages in the jungle areas of Panama’s interior. In recent years many Kuna have moved to Panama City to take advantage of work and educational opportunities.

The translation of the Kuna Scriptures began almost 40 years ago. A Kuna pastor, Lino Smith, asked for help to provide a New Testament for his people. Kuna co-translatorsWorking alongside Pastor Lino, Keith and Wilma Forster began work amongst the Kuna. After the publication of the New Testament in 1995, the spiritual walk of believers significantly deepened. But the Kuna church wanted more! They wanted the whole Bible! So work on the Old Testament began.

The Kuna Bible — the 531st complete Bible (Old and New Testament) in the entire world — was dedicated in late September of 2014 in three locations. My wife, Dallas, and I attended the largest celebration held at Comunidad Apostólica Hosanna Church in Panama City. Celebrating with us were SIL Executive Director Freddy Boswell and his wife, Bekah, as well as several colleagues from Wycliffe USA.

It was an awe-inspiring moment when the Bible was brought into the auditorium. The ceremony, designed by Kuna Old Testament translators, reflected the way God’s people brought him offerings in the Old Testament. First came a man wearing a Jewish rabbi’s scarf and blowing on a shofar (a Jewish ram’s horn trumpet).   Then came four Celebratingteenage boys carrying an elaborate box supported by poles balanced on their shoulders. In the box was the new Bible, which the Kuna were offering to God as a gift, asking him to use it for his glory. The pastor leading the event proclaimed, “The Word of the Lord has arrived in Kuna!” With thunderous applause, the audience of 3,200 welcomed the Bible!

At a dinner following the celebration, Keith, Wilma and Bob Gunn (Wycliffe USA member and pastor) gave glory to God for the completion of the Scriptures and reminded those in attendance that they were ALL Bible translators! All contributed to the Kuna Bible and this celebration! The Scriptures would not have been completed without the prayer, financial and administrative support from the whole team.

The following morning, Sunday, we attended a much smaller worship event held at Crossroads Bible Church, where Bob is associate pastor and his son Steve is pastor. Bob led the morning service honoring Keith and Wilma and four Kuna translators who did the heavy lifting on the translation of the Old Testament. Crossroads is proud, yet humble, to have had the privilege of Choir with pianosupporting the Kuna translation project for 40 years. Outlining the history of the translation program, Bob mentioned that Keith and Wilma – as well as some in the congregation – were tempted on occasion to quit…but they didn’t. They persevered, and the Bible was completed.

Over the years, Crossroads has invested heavily in Bible translation for a number of people groups. As a reminder to the congregation, the church keeps copies of all the Scriptures they’ve helped produce in a glass-covered wooden cabinet. At the conclusion of the Sunday service, in unison, the four Kuna translators got up from their seats on the front row, went to the stand at the front of the church where the Kuna Bible rested, picked it up, carried it over to the cabinet, opened the glass cover, took out the Kuna New Testament that had lain there for 18 years, and replaced it with the just-completed whole Bible.

Many of us were in tears by this point. We recognized that we were witnessing something that had never existed before — the Word of God, the full counsel of God, available to the Kuna church. The work of translation is done; it is now in the hands of the Kuna church and the Holy Spirit of God…a good place to be.

Today there are about 30 Kuna churches on the San Blas Islands, 18 churches in and around Panama City, and several more churches scattered throughout Panama’s jungle mainland. God will be faithful to his Word — He always is. It is now firmly planted in the Kuna community and will accomplish all He wants it to accomplish.

You, too, are a vital part of the Bible translation ministry — a part of the greatest acceleration of the pace of Bible translation starts ever witnessed. Thank you for your efforts! Your persistent investments are building God’s kingdom here on earth.

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