December 01, 2016

Gifts of Christmas by Sandi Somers

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
[ii] Paul Estabrooks and Jim Cunningham, Compilers. Standing Strong through the Storm. Santa Ana, CA: Open Doors International. 2004. P.127.


  1. Sandi,
    I LOVE that you focused on Bible translation and Wycliffe Bible Translators because that's who my husband and I are and that's what we do--not for a First Nation's group in this country but for a mostly Buddhist group in Northern Myanmar. Beautiful. Thanks. (And we know Larry and Sharon Fjeldstrom)

    1. Thanks, Connie. i didn't know you were working with a group from Myanmar. I have a tender spot for the Karen Christians, as I know some of their history and taught ESL to several. They have their own church in Calgary. We must connect more on this.

  2. Katherine Hoffman10:34 am GMT-7

    I had shivers when I read the terms "spirit messenger" and "spirit warriors from the world above"- so very descriptive- it brought new light to me as well- I take "angels" for granted, I think. Such a great reminder of how scripture speaks within culture.

    1. There are so many ways scripture speaks within culture. I was just reminded of Don Richardon's "Peace Child" and "Eternity in Their Hearts" with many such examples. Well worth reading!

  3. I love the poetic nature of the FN translation you shared. Beautiful!

    1. Yes, Tracy, the First Nations have a poetic way of describing life. I recently thought of the Huron Carol and its vivid portrayal of Jesus' birth according to their traditions.

  4. I, too, love to read God's Word in different translations, as the old is made new. And this translation is so beautiful and appropriate for (all) Canadians. God's Word is an incredible gift!

    1. Thanks, Marnie, for sharing that God's Word makes new what we understand as we're refreshed with different translations of our English Bible. I sometimes enjoy delving into the Spanish Bible--such different insights when you look at God's Word with different eyes!

    2. I like to read the read the Greek or Hebrew for similar reasons. Because it takes me longer and is more deliberate, each time, it seems, I discover something new, some nuance or perspective I've previously overlooked.

    3. Great work for you to understand Hebrew and Greek! It would be wonderful to read our Word of God in the original languages.It would bring such a new perspective.

  5. I am always excited to read your opening blog for each month Sandi. What you say always stirs my imagination and stretches my mind and heart to consider what I will write about for this brand new month. Your making the first footprint in the new snow is both magical and mysterious for me. Thanks again for making a challenging imprint for us to follow.

    1. Thanks for your encouraging words, Sharon, and for the image of footprints in the snow. I look forward to your "magical and mysterious" footprint later this month.

  6. Sandra, I love the First Nations version! Thanks for sharing about the Bible in other cultures and languages. How I thank God for those that make them available. Merry Christmas!

    1. I, too, thought the FNV was so appropriate to First nations thought. Praying and giving to Bible translation work and workers has always been a priority for me.

  7. I'll never forget how thrilled I was to receive a large print New Testament. Though it was the King James version, I felt excited that I could read the scriptures for myself rather than having some sighted person read it.

    The book came in handy at a school Bible study. In fact, a friend snatched it and my magnifying glass and pronounced to the assembled students, "Magnify the Word of the Lord!" We all had a good laugh.

    I want to buy one of those pocket-sized talking Bibles which site sells. That would be so nice to have as well as give to my blind friends.


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