After the storm: The growth of Bible translation in Vanuatu

By Deb Fox  |  Wycliffe Today Winter 2024 Edition

Jared and Bethany Killey are Wycliffe Australia members who recently relocated to Vanuatu to work with SIL Vanuatu. They have been learning the national language, Bislama, and settling into their location in the capital Port Vila, along with their two young sons Nathanael and Matthias. The Killeys recently returned to Vanuatu to take up a translation assignment. They are preparing to work with an experienced language survey group from Papua New Guinea to determine the most viable language group to focus on when they move to the island of Espiritu Santo. The island has around 40 active indigenous language groups but some of these are endangered or almost impossible to access. Much of the language data on Santo has now been updated after a visit from SIL Ethnologue workers to help new teams determine which languages to focus on. Bethany says that they are ‘not rushing the process so [we] can be wise about what we are committing to for the next 20 years’. 

The Killeys are excited about their return to Vanuatu, despite a tumultuous experience the first time they visited the island nation. Vanuatu comprises 83 islands and these are located in a ‘cyclone belt’, with active volcanoes and conditions that are prone to severe storms and earthquakes. When Jared and Bethany visited Vanuatu last year for training and orientation, they experienced two major cyclones in close succession which wreaked devastation on local infrastructure and services. Jared also contracted shingles during the trip, which made it difficult to support his young son and then-pregnant wife.  Despite the incredible challenges, Jared says that the community spirit was an encouragement:

Wherever we looked, people were helping to clean up. Everyone pitched in. We felt God’s protection and provision. Thankfully we had been able to meet people before the cyclones hit. We were able to attend a conference and get to know everyone better. 

Jared & Bethany with sons Nathanael and Matthias

Jared & Bethany with sons Nathanael and Matthias

Prior to the cyclones, the first in-country orientation course for new workers was held in three parts in three parts. This included formal classes, including an introduction to Bislama, culture and history of the Church and SIL in Vanuatu. Jared explains that the opportunity to meet with people and learn more about the culture and language was an invaluable part of their time away:

We had previously done some language learning over Zoom so being able to actually have a conversation with someone in Bislama was wonderful! We also spent time in a village on the island of Nguna. To get to that island, we had to travel north and go on a little boat. We had structured activities during the day that aligned with the local lifestyle – weaving, broom making, cooking. But it was wonderful just sitting down and chatting with them during that time. The people are quite proud of their Christian history but they realise that it’s one thing to have a few books of the Bible translated but there is a need for the whole Bible and Scripture engagement skills to help grow people’s understanding of God and his Word. 

Bethany adds that the village stay was also significant for the local community:

When we arrived, we were welcomed by the chiefs of the village. We were the first visitors who had come in quite some time so it was really special to them. Depending on the time of day, there are several different greetings that I would get wrong every time!  We mostly spoke in Bislama but when we were at the village we tried using some of their own language and their faces would light up! ‘You’re speaking my language!’ They realised that if we cared about them enough to travel there, God must also care about them.

Please pray for Jared and Bethany as they continue to seek God for which language community to support. To hear more about what the Killeys are doing in Vanuatu, or to support them, please visit

Thanks for your patience...

Waiting is hard, isn't it. But imagine waiting 2000 years for Scripture in your language! Thanks for your patience. And thanks for your generous support which will help bring the long wait to an end...