Making a way for the Ambonese Malay New Testament
By David and Lilian Saxby | Wycliffe Today Autumn 2023
Ambon city in eastern Indonesia is no stranger to grand openings and official launches. During our time here as translation facilitators, we’ve seen pomp and ceremony for new bridges, hotels, shopping centres, supermarkets, restaurants, and more.
In September 2022, a different, more significant kind of launch occurred. A young boy sounded a conch shell, announcing to all that something special was about to happen. A traditional band stopped traffic as they marched down a main street to the church. Joining the procession were the eight members of the Ambonese Malay New Testament translation team, each carrying a copy of a book that was twenty years in the making. The newly-published Ambonese Malay New Testament was handed over to the church and officially endorsed by Ambon’s most influential Christian leader.
The ceremony was culturally and strategically important. Ambonese people value the symbolism of an official event and the church’s endorsement of the translation is crucial for its acceptance and ongoing use. We feel incredibly blessed to have been part of this once-in-a-lifetime event. It is significant for us because we have both had the pleasure of being part of the team working on this translation. We have ridden the highs and lows and seen glimpses of the impact of the Scriptures translated into Ambonese along the way. But it is so much more significant for the people of Ambon who now have the New Testament in their own language.
Christianity came to Ambon and the surrounding Spice Islands in the 16th century and the church is well established in this region. Churches generally use the national language of Indonesian for the Bible and all aspects of ministry, which means that many Ambonese are left practising their faith in a second, third or even fourth language. As a result, language can be a significant obstacle to understanding the gospel.
Twenty-five years ago, before we joined the project, no one thought that an Ambonese Bible translation project would get off the ground. Yet God made a way for it to happen. Over the years, the project faced numerous obstacles and setbacks. We were rocked by an earthquake and flooded twice. Translation staff came and left. COVID pushed publication plans back by two years. Travel restrictions meant we didn’t even know if we could attend the official launch. Yet again, God made a way.
We believe the goal of Bible translation is not just translating the Bible; it is people growing in their knowledge of God and allowing him to transform their lives. Most Ambonese Malay speakers have only ever heard God’s Word in a language that is hard for them to understand. Now with the New Testament available in Ambonese, language need no longer be an obstacle to them knowing God. We hope and pray that this will be a new and fruitful season in the life of the Ambonese church. God will make a way!
We are returning to Ambon soon. Please pray for:
- David working on Genesis and Psalms
- Lilian who is becoming a homeschool teacher for the first time
- our boys, Joshua and Zack, to feel comfortable in our neighbourhood
- the Ambonese Scripture engagement workers helping people to know and apply God’s Word
- a continued relationship, clear communication and shared vision with the denomination sponsoring Bible translation in the province
- recruitment of passionate Ambonese Christians for Old Testament translation.