Our theme this month centres around gifts at Christmas. We shop for family and friends. We donate to charities in lieu of gifts to friends and family. We give to the needy and homeless. We give and receive gifts of Christmas music, warm hospitality, family times.
Going back to the beginning, we think of the gifts of the Magi to the Christ Child. And we are awed by the mystery of God’s greatest gift—Jesus who came to earth to bring us salvation.
The Gift of Bible Translation
If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart. Nelson Mandela
A few days ago I received a Christmas card from Wycliffe Bible Translators. It tells the story of the Bambalang people of Cameroon receiving the newly-translated book of Luke. When the people read it together in church, they burst out laughing.
The translator was shocked. “Oh, man,” he thought. “We’ve messed up…something’s wrong.”
He asked the pastor what happened. The pastor assured him that the laughter wasn’t from incorrect translation. Rather, in the verse where Joseph and Mary put baby Jesus in a manger, the translators now used the Bambalang word to describe a feeding trough for sheep.
“They laughed because they understood it,” said the translator. For years they had been hearing the equivalent of the word manger and didn’t know what it was.
“For the first time, really, the Scripture was theirs.”
They now own the words that give them life.
The Bible is the life-changing Word of God and is a cause for celebration as this language group and many others are now receiving it in their heart language.
Sometimes the heart language is a specific dialect of a major language and needs its own translation.
Take the First Nations Version (FNV). It is for the 90% of native peoples on Turtle Island (their word for North America) whose first language is now English, but who retain much of their vocabulary and unique world view. An English translation is being drafted for them.
Here is part of their Christmas story from the Gospel of Luke. (The traditional First Nations names for Biblical characters and places are adapted from the original Hebrew and Greek.)[i]
1-2 When the time drew close for Bitter Tears (Mary) to have her child the government of the People of Iron ordered that the people be numbered and put on government rolls. 3 All the tribal members were required to travel to their ancestral homeland to register. 4-5 He Gives Sons (Joseph) and Bitter Tears (Mary) set out on a long journey to House of Bread (Bethlehem), the village of their ancestor the great chief Much Loved One (David)… 6 The time for Bitter Tears (Mary) to have her child was upon her! 7 But no place could be found in the lodging house, so He Gives Sons (Joseph) found a sheep cave where it was warm and dry. There she gave birth to her son. They wrapped him in a warm soft blanket and laid him on a baby board. Then they placed him on a bed of straw in a feeding trough.
The translation goes on to tell how spirit-messenger from the Creator came to the shepherds and told them about the baby, the Chosen One, who would set his people free.
13 Suddenly, next to the messenger, a great number of spirit warriors from the world above appeared giving thanks to Creator saying, 14 “All honor to the One Above Us All, and let peace and good will follow all who walk upon the earth.”
Jesus said, “The Spirit gives life…The words I have spoken to you--they are full of the Spirit and life” (John 6:63 NIV).
Bibles in major languages, dialects, Braille Bibles, even Bibles in sign languages are now available to many of the world’s peoples.
And still more peoples are waiting for their own Bibles. So desirous of God’s Word that years ago Chinese Christians created a prayer song.
Lord, send a Bible for that’s your gracious light.
True love and teaching and the bread of life.
I know for sure that your Word will lead me on,
Brighten the way all through my journey home.[ii]
Pray this Christmas that through this gift—this present of translation—God’s presence would become present to all the world’s people.
[i]Adapted from Larry and Sharon Fjeldstrom http://b5d29352f4cbb4f36764-64716aaac85f98c90d1d9176c94b76d6.r70.cf2.rackcdn.com/uploaded/g/0e2203317_1456949710_gm-newsletter-fjeldstrom.pdf
[ii] Paul Estabrooks and Jim Cunningham, Compilers. Standing Strong through the Storm. Santa Ana, CA: Open Doors International. 2004. P.127.