I stood in a church service in El Paso, Texas and sang along to a praise song projected up on the screen. The words I was reading were words my heart best understands, they were the words that are the most powerful to who I am as a person, they are able to stir up deep emotion in me and enable me to express to the best of my ability what I feel and believe. Those words were in English- my heart language.
Tom and I have written on this topic before but not since transitioning here to Mexico. It’s a topic that few understand but one that is crucial when you engage in the topic of and the life of-cross cultural ministry. Translation. Specifically Bible translation in our context. Naturally, because we are engaged in cross-cultural ministry we are more passionate about this topic than most of the people who’s eyes will scan over this blog but I hope by writing it that maybe I can just remind you, the believer who is faithfully serving and sacrificing for Christ in your context-within your own home culture and language- just how crucial this topic is. You can pray diligently for, support and encourage the many faithful cross-cultural servants involved in the task of translating the word of God into the languages that speak the clearest to thousands of people groups across the globe. It is so so important.
I totally believe we take for granted the blessing of having the word of God in our own language. Even I do! Recently I was reminded a fresh when I got to be in an American church service how differently my heart was stirred and effected by being taught in and singing to the Lord in my language- English. We are not fluent in Spanish…YET..but right now I can benefit from the services at our church here in Mexico. I can follow along fairly well, catch irony and humor and a good deal of the serious stuff too. I am thankful for that and only look forward to growing in my ability to have my heart beat in the beautiful Spanish language! BUT, it’s just not the same as hearing it in MY language.
God wants to speak to the heart of every individual on the planet! He has left us His precious word to deeply convict us, to stir us at our core and to move us so deeply that we are forever changed by His truth. I am so incredibly glad to have that blessing my life. I have been forever changed by being able to understand His truth in my language!
In this blog I want to give you a brief glimpse into three of the translation works going on here in Mexico right now. You can see a few of the faces of those involved, get an idea of how many years have gone into the different translations and hopefully gain a new or fresh idea of how crucial (and involved) this is to the spread of the gospel and the discipleship of the body of Christ.
I’ll start with the translation work going on in a people group that some good friends (and former class mates!) of ours are ministering among. The Nahuatl people. Rachel is the main translator of the Nahuatl Bible on her team and I was blessed to sit down over delicious coffee with her the last time she was in the city. I am starting with the Nahuatl translation because I wanted to use Rachel’s own (condensed) description of the translation process to give you a glimpse into the huge process this ministry involves. Rachel did a great job listing out the steps in the process and with her permission I am sharing it. Translation work is not just a gifted speaker of the native language sitting down and writing the word down in a way that they feel is good/clear (enough), there are many wise and careful checks and balances to ensure that the word of God stays accurate and unchanged.
The following numbered list is a brief look into the steps involved in translation work.
1. Exegesis (interpreting the passage(s))
2. Exegetical Draft
3. Transfer (Recording the draft with native Nahuatl speaker #1)
4. Prepare Comprehension Questions for Draft
5. Content Check (checking Nahuatl draft with English or Spanish or Original Language to make sure there is nothing extra or anything missing)
6. Comprehension Check with Native Nahuatl Speaker #2
7. Comprehension Check with Native Nahuatl Speaker #3
8. Comprehension Check with Native Nahuatl Speaker #4
9. Correct Draft (after recieving feedback from Comprehension checks)
10. BT Back-Translation (translating the corrected Nahuatl draft into language of the Consultant Check, pretty literally (English or Spanish, etc.)
11. Content check the BT (against an English version)
12. Send BT to consultant
13. Consultant sends back his input (checking key terms that might sound weak, checking spots that it appears something is added or missing, checking exegesis)
14. Review consultant questions (with a Nahuatl speakers to fix draft before the consultant arrives)
15. On-site, Consultant check (verse-by-verse with Native Nahuatl Speaker #5)
16. Fix any issues (from Consultant check)
So. That is quite the process-wouldn’t you agree? Each of these steps represent hours and hours of work as you can imagine and require a lot of focus and concentration. Even finding translation helpers in the village can be very challenging because not everyone wants to sit for so long and have to think that much! It’s very normal for translators to struggle to find people who are gifted at listening well and giving them feedback. Rachel, for example has different friends who are good at different parts of the process, some who work with her more often than others. The work is painstaking because it is so very very important.
Now that you have a basic understanding of the translation process, here is the current state of the Nahuatl translation at a glance:
Speakers of the Nahuatl language (approx.): 1,300 people
Time working on translation (this includes breaks/trips away/furloughs etc.): April 2014-present
Bible portions completed: Portions of Genesis, Exodus and other Old Testament portions needed for the Chronological Bible teaching, the gospels from the birth of Christ and His childhood and Mark is currently in progress.
Wow! Praise the Lord for these portions of His word clearly translated and ready for the Nahuatl people! The Nahuatl team is getting closer to being ready to start evangelistic Bible lessons to the Nahuatl so pray for their progress please! One more language group is on the verge of hearing the good news of salvation! And this would not be possible with out a clear translation of the WORD OF LIFE!
Now I would like to introduce you to the Tigre family, serving among the Guarijio people. This family is really special for a lot of reasons but one of them is that they are the coworkers of my sister and brother in law! Isn’t that exciting?! Even though my sister’s family, the Chubbs, have yet to move into the tribe with the Tigres (they will be doing so as soon as my sister reaches the required level in Spanish!) the Chubbs have already joined the team and are excited to be part of the ministry among the Guarijio people.
The Guarijio church planting ministry has existed for many years and most recently the Tigres and the Chubbs are taking the places of others who have gone before them. There is a small church among the Guarijio and many more Guarijio people left to reach with the gospel!
Vicente Tigre is now the sole translator and is working diligently to continue the work that was started years ago. Here are some stats on the Guarijio translation that I got from Vicente:
Time working on translation (started by other someone else): 8 years total, 5 of which Vicente has been translating as well.
Bible portions completed: 1,500 verses of the Old Testament (different portions), Matthew, Mark, Luke, Half of John, Hebrews, Romans, 1 & 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Colossians, 1 & 2 Thessalonians, 1 Timothy & Revelation.
So incredible! Again, Praise the Lord for His word getting into another language! Pray for Vicente and his sweet wife and child as they continue to live and minister among the Guarijio people and as Vicente continues to work on this translation, pray that the Lord will give Him insight and and wisdom in how to relate difficult passages just as the Lord would have Him! This is a HUGE task!
Last but not least I’m giving you a peak into another translation work, one that has been going on the longest and one that is the closest to being FINISHED! Oh man, this translator and his wife (and of course others too) have worked so faithfully for so many years it humbles me! This translation is for the Tepehuan people and the main translator is Kevin Case assisted by his wife Wendy.
There is a small team of people still living among the Tepehuan people and the Cases used to as well. These days they are located in the city doing their itinerate ministry of translation from here. Because of this we are blessed to call this couple our friends and get to rub shoulders with them fairly regularly.
Here are the facts about the Tepehuan translation that Kevin supplied me with.
Speakers of the Tepehuan language (approx.): Between 8-10,000
Time working on translation (this includes breaks/trips away/furloughs etc.): About 22 years
Bible portions completed: All the OT portions for phase 1 (needed for chronological Bible lessons), about 90% of the NT books and they plan to have the final books of 2 Peter, 2&3 John and Jude ready for final check by Easter time!
Lord willing the Tepehuan believers will have a printed Bible in their hands by early next year! WOW! Praise the Lord! This couple have been faithful to run the long distance marathon of this work! It has not been a sprint, it has been many, many years of painstaking dedication to this work of getting Gods word into the Tepehuan’s hands. We thank the Lord for them and so many other translators who have not given up on this job! They have the goal set before them, the goal this is priceless to those who will receive it, the ability to pick up Gods word, any time they want it and have TRUTH.
I hope you have benefitted from this brief glimpse into translation work, what it entails and how important it is to the spread of the gospel. Please pray for and support translators! Pray that they will be sustained by the Lord and His people and stay dedicated to their crucial roles!
*I can’t help but add this shameless plug here at the bottom because we are just so proud! Our previous co-worker Ned Beall is also a translator and a translation constant in Papua New Guinea. He has been faithfully translating the Tigak language for 14 years and currently has 68% of the New Testament completed with 20% more of it translated waiting to be checked by a consultant! His goal is to have the NT completed in about 2.5 years. Praise the Lord for His faithfulness and so many other translators like him!
The Tigak church has benefitted greatly from having God’s word in their language and will only continue to be blessed by it in the future. We could not be more proud of Ned’s consistency in this work for so many years and pray for him as he continues to work on it!