Directly to our hearts: how the Ambonese Malay translation team is partnering with local churches

By Deb Fox  | Wycliffe Today Autumn 2023 Edition

Steve Sahuleka is a translator with the Ambonese Malay project in Indonesia. He attended the dedication of the Ambonese Malay New Testament in September and is pleased with the reception it has already received from local churches and communities. He notes that the translation has garnered particular respect from churches ‘because pastors have been involved in the process’. Steve says that the pandetas (pastors) help the translation team review the work, which increases the authority of the translated Scripture among their congregations.

The Ambonese Malay translation elevates the status of the language but Steve says that it also provides an opportunity to support the Church – especially where spiritual issues are concerned. Many people, Christians included, still practise necromancy. They summon their ancestors’ spirits to point out the problems in their lives. When the team went out to visit a village to test the translation, they read a passage that warns against the practice of ancestor worship and communicating with the dead, rather than trusting in Jesus (Luke 16: 19-31). When the congregation read that passage, there was a ‘holy quiet’ in the room as they started to really understand the passage in their mother tongue.

People understand Indonesian but they don’t understand nuances in Scripture, especially when it comes to ancestral veneration. But the Bible has finally been presented in a way that speaks directly to their hearts. Every day, people talk in Ambon. People use it on almost every occasion. There is a lot of relationship between Ambonese Malay and our culture. We don’t have the same depth of thinking or philosophy in Indonesian so what we want to say can be better expressed in our mother tongue.

Steve shares candidly about his initial hesitation about participating in the Ambonese Malay translation. He says that the more he studied Scripture, the more his own heart was changed and he began to realise the significance of bringing the Word of God to his community in the language they understand best:

I didn’t originally want to work on the Ambonese project. A friend introduced me to the idea. Now I’ve been working with the team for 13 years and I’ve fallen in love with it. Through my work as a translator, I can really understand how God loves me. He loves me as a wretched man but still accepts me as his child. People who struggle with their identity as a Christian will be encouraged by this truth as well. My hope is that people in Ambon will not only tell themselves ‘I am a Christian’ but through a deep understanding of the words of God, their lives will be changed and the image of God will shine through their everyday way of life – in the way they talk, in the way they approach others and so on. For that reason, I am honoured to be working on this project.


PRAY for Steve and the rest of the team as they seek opportunities to share the Ambonese Malay New Testament with their communities.

For more information about the Ambonese Malay translation, go to:

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