Silence is not always golden
By Deb Fox | Wycliffe Today Christmas 2023
The Four Seasons gave us the song ‘Silence is golden’. But have you ever wondered what it would be like to lose one of your senses? Renowned 19th and 20th century author and disability advocate, Helen Keller, lost both her sight and her hearing after an illness in her infancy. Despite the incredible hurdles and daily struggles she faced, she was able to attend Harvard University and become the very first deaf-blind person in America to graduate with a Bachelor of Arts degree. Yet Helen was acutely aware of her unique position, saying in her autobiography, ‘I owed my success partly to the advantages of my birth and environment. I have learned that the power to rise is not within the reach of everyone’.
Sadly, the majority of Deaf and blind communities still face challenges in their daily lives most of us never encounter, including the ability to access and understand Scripture. At a Wycliffe Australia ‘Mission Possible’ event in Melbourne, Saul and Rebecca Thurrowgood shared about their heart to reach Deaf people with the Bible in a language that speaks to their hearts. Their talk was titled ‘Faith comes by hearing…but what if you’re Deaf?’ and included live sign language interpretations throughout the night. They also shared about the motion capture technology Saul has been creating called Chameleon that is helping to advance the work of Bible translation for Deaf communities.
Rebecca’s parents are both Deaf so she has grown up witnessing firsthand the difficulties they endure. She says that, despite the privileges many in our society have access to, there are still many challenges the Deaf face in Australia and on an international scale:
Attitudes have changed over the years but there is still a stigma attached to deafness. Deaf people aren’t necessarily any more included in services and planning. It takes more intentionality and preparation to truly include Deaf people and provide them with the resources they need. Many Deaf people have other disabilities and deafness has come as a secondary issue. They tend to be abused more because they are more vulnerable.
A 2018 study in America found that the stigma Deaf people face is often a result of the different ways they need to communicate. It determined that ‘the hearing world tends to view being Deaf as a disability … rather than as an identity that also brings opportunity for personal growth and community’ (Mousley and Chaudoir, 2018).
The same attitudes are prevalent among the Deaf in Australia. Rebecca shares:
We often get asked, ‘Well if Deaf people can see, they can read the Bible, right? Why do they need a translation of their own?’ But if we’re talking globally about the Deaf community, we’re talking predominantly about a group of people that don’t get provided with an education in most countries and if they do it’s very minimal. When you don’t have that phonetic input, reading is quite difficult. And it’s not just the words, it’s the way words are put together. But sign language is more than a series of words. It’s a language that expresses culture, identity and belonging. That’s the way I believe God speaks to us. He’s not just a hearing God – he’s also the God of the Deaf. He understands sign language too!
- for the Auslan Scripture translations Saul and Rebecca are planning to start in coming months
- that a team of Auslan signers can be formed and trained to help with the motion capture being used for Chameleon.
Read more about the ways in which Chameleon is being used to translate Scripture and gospel resources for sign languages throughout the world, via the website https://wycliffe.org.au/chameleon.
Have a look at the Christmas video available in Auslan: The Who, What, Why and How of the Christmas story in Auslan!
To see videos created for Deaf children in Auslan, go to: https://wycliffe.org.au/children.
The story behind the painting
By Deb Fox | Wycliffe Today Winter 2023 |
‘A Celebration of Bible Translation’, oil on canvas by Meryl Sorenson.
They say a picture can paint a thousand words, capturing the emotion contained in a single moment in time. This painting celebrates an important moment when two young men in the Philippines got to read God’s Word in their own language for the very first time on the day the Keley-i New Testament was dedicated in 1980.
Artist, Meryl Sorenson, shares that she created the painting because she wanted to help others understand and celebrate Bible translation. Her painting A Celebration of Bible Translation was purchased at an auction in Queensland, Australia to raise money for Mother Tongue Translator training and national translation consultant training. Meryl’s sister, Jenelle, supported her husband, Bert, while he worked on the translation of the Keley-i Old Testament to complete the whole Bible. Their legacy has left a lasting impression on Meryl and influenced her decision to paint the scene.
Bert and Jenelle Maddawat were from two different worlds. They met in the Philippines in 1977 and quickly developed a deep love for one another. A Filipino guy and an Aussie girl from vastly different cultures and races, they were brought together by a shared love for serving God and bringing his Word to people in the languages they understand best.
Yet their passion for getting God’s Word to people in the languages they understand best meant that their marriage was delayed a few years. Bert was a dedicated Bible translator working with a small team of other local speakers and Dick and Lou Hohulin from the USA, to complete a translation of the New Testament into the Keley-i language. As much as he loved his dear Jenelle, his number one priority was getting the gospel message into the hands and hearts of the Keley-i speakers.
In 1980, the Keley-i New Testament was published and dedicated. It was a joyful celebration and a time that cemented Bert’s love for his soon-to-be-bride. The young couple was married later that year and began some busy years of working and raising their four children in Australia. But, after a number of years, God called them back to Bible translation. Dick and Lou Hohulin were looking for a skilled worker to join them again in another nearby language translation.
Bert was also fluent in the neighbouring language of Tuwali. In 1994, he, supported by Jenelle, and a team from SIL completed the Tuwali New Testament. By 2004, they had finished the complete Tuwali Bible. They also went on to complete the Keley-i Bible in 2008. The Madawats were part of translating two full Bibles and providing thousands of people with Bibles in the languages they understand best.
Today, there are an estimated 8,000 Keley-i speakers and 30,000 people who speak Tuwali as their first language. Praise God that these communities now have access to God’s Word in the languages that speak to their hearts.
The silver lining of endurance
By Kathy Cummins | Wycliffe Today Winter 2023 |
I’ve cried a lot in my 17 years of literacy work. I’ve become frustrated, yelled at, and even hit people! I’m not proud of my reactions but I have often found this life of language work hard and at times I wanted to give up.
The frustration comes from waiting around for people who say they’ll come but never show up. It’s teaching women literacy skills for two years but discovering that none of them have successfully learned to read and write. Added to this has been the anguish of getting ripped from our home and community due to civil war and not knowing if we could ever go back there.
Then, a glimmer of the rewards of endurance arrives. I realise that I can speak the language and mostly understand what native speakers say! Locals tell us they know that God loves them because he sent us to them! I see children I once cradled in my arms learning to read and write their language. A teenager I taught is now translating the Bible into his language!
We have been developing deep friendships, born of shared waiting, hardships, work, and life. We are helping the community render God’s truths in the God-given intricacies of their language structure. What a privilege! This is the silver lining of endurance. I’m not sure how ‘willingly’ I am enduring, but the glimmer is there.
So I am willing to endure anything if it will bring salvation and eternal glory in Christ Jesus to those God has chosen. – 2 Tim 2:10 (NLT)
Creatively telling God’s story
Image by Gary McMaster
By Deb Fox | Wycliffe Today Winter 2023 |
Ethnoarts or ‘ethnic arts’ enable language communities to tell stories using artforms from their culture, whether that be symbols, images, music, drama or dance. Lucy Rogers, along with her husband Alan, has been leading songwriting workshops with Indigenous communities since the late 1980s to help them connect with and share God’s story of love and redemption.
Communication is more than just language – the arts carry so much more meaning! Song and dance are very strong media for sharing the gospel in Indigenous culture. God made each one of us and put us where we are for a reason. Just because you become a believer, it doesn’t mean you have to throw your culture away. Our role is to help communities determine ‘What is of God and what is not of God? What is good that you can use from your own art forms to tell his story?’
At a Katherine Christian Convention a few years ago, women from the Warlpiri language in the Tanami Desert, northwest of Alice Springs, shared a dance that they had created. Lucy says:
The [Warlpiri] ladies felt it was important to create a dance to tell the gospel to their older people. They decided to do the Parable of the Ten Virgins [Matthew 25:1-13] but one of the older ladies – who was not a Christian at the time – wanted to create a dance that explained why Jesus was on the cross. In the process of talking about what repentance means and what it looks like to follow Jesus, the lady who suggested it came to the Lord herself! The dance (which was made in four parts) told the story of feeling sorry for sinning, kneeling before the Lord in repentance, giving their life back to the Lord and dancing away joyfully.
Like Lucy, Peter is a Wycliffe member with a passion for helping cultures use art to understand God better. Through the ‘Arts for a Better Future’ program in Dallas, Peter trains cross-cultural workers with the tools they need for working in language communities to research what artforms are suitable for storytelling. Peter also has experience leading ethnoarts workshops in Papua New Guinea, Kenya, the Solomon Islands and Australian Indigenous communities.
Peter recalls a painting workshop north of Alice Springs where 8 Indigenous ladies were working on large canvases to explain the life of Abraham. When they had completed their artworks, passages from Genesis that related to each painting were read out in each person’s language. Peter says:
It’s exciting seeing people start to understand the Scriptures, having encountered God’s Word through an artform like painting. The arts speak innately to their hearts. Seeing artists come to the Lord through encountering the Scriptures in their cultural creative language…there’s really nothing like it.
for more people to help with audio recording and editing that God would provide for the needs of 3 communities waiting for recording of their songs to begin for an ethnoarts workshop Lucy and teachers from Nungalinya College are planning for 2024 for a painting workshop fellow ethnoarts trainer and Wycliffe member, Ming Fang Strickland, is facilitating that God would continue making Scripture come to life through ethnoarts storytelling.
Watch stories of Australian Indigenous people sharing their faith at https://www.40stories.org.au/
Celebrating with our Indonesian neighbours
By Max Sahl | Wycliffe Today Autumn 2023
In this edition of Wycliffe Today we are highlighting our relationship with our close neighbour, Indonesia. The Church is thriving in Indonesia and there are many people groups eager to have the Scriptures in a language they fully understand. There is also a growing Bible Translation Movement (BTM) in Indonesia, with local translation organisations being established to train local translators for this important work. However, training and facilitation, and resourcing and technical expertise are all desperately needed. This is where Wycliffe Australia can come alongside to help our Indonesian brothers and sisters.
I was invited to Indonesia last September to attend the Ambonese Malay New Testament dedication. Despite allowing what I thought was plenty of time to get to the island of Ambon, a series of flight delays, cancellations, and redirections meant that after 50 hours of travelling, I arrived at the main protestant church in Ambon with just three minutes to spare. It was a miracle. The churches all came together to celebrate this milestone and there were choirs, bands, dancers, singing and public reading of the new translation. The speeches even included one from the mayor, such was the importance of this occasion.
It is estimated that the Indonesian provinces of Maluku and North Maluku have 3.1 million speakers of Ambonese Malay. Now they can all hear the life-giving words of God in a language they can fully understand. Thank you, Lord!
For God, nothing is impossible
By Belinda Fox | Wycliffe Today Autumn Edition 2021 |
‘For God, nothing is impossible.’ That is the Papuan Malay translation of Luke 1:37 inscribed on the back wall of our translation office in blue decal stickers. They are words often quoted by our team because God is often doing impossible things in our midst!
But how about keeping a Bible translation project going during a global pandemic? What about translators not being able to travel freely to the office due to COVID restrictions? Or expat facilitators getting stuck in their home countries indefinitely? Or project funding being unexpectedly cut? Or the churches and groups we normally approach being shut for months?
‘For God, nothing is impossible.’ In fact, he didn’t just overcome these particular challenges to enable the translation to run smoothly in a year that many would rather forget. He went one step further and did ‘immeasurably more than all we [could] ask or imagine’. Ephesians 3:20 (NIV).
For years, we have been praying that our translation team, along with the local church and community, would take ownership of the Papuan Malay Bible translation. It’s one of our main priorities as we look towards publishing the New Testament in the next few years.
But you can’t force ownership. No amount of team discussions, devotionals or meetings with church leaders will have any real effect unless God aligns hearts with a vision for Scripture in a language that speaks to their hearts and a longing to invest in seeing that vision accomplished.
And it seems that in 2020 he has been doing just that. Our team members demonstrated greater passion, initiative, ownership and reliance on God than ever before. Doors opened to partnerships that had always been shut tight. Key leaders approached us asking how they can support our translation and distribution efforts.
Trying to reach an area larger than New Zealand with God’s Word to prepare people for the New Testament in their language has always felt like an important but impossible dream. But, ‘For God, nothing is impossible’! Of all years, he chose 2020 to accelerate the work and soften hard soil.
So we rejoice in his goodness and faithfulness! And we wait. With expectant hearts. Ready to see what impossible things God does next and join him as he prepares the ground for harvest. Knowing that, no matter what circumstances we may face, ‘for God, nothing is impossible.’
Unlocking hope through prison ministry
How the Plain English Version is opening doors for the gospel
By Deb Fox | Wycliffe Today Spring Edition 2020 |
Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering. – Hebrews 13:3 (NIV)
The Prisoner’s Journey (TPJ) is an eight-week program run by Prison Fellowship Australia. It is based on the Christianity Explored series, using Mark’s Gospel as a way for helping inmates connect with the person of Jesus when he is presented as someone who was also rejected and despised.
When Prison Fellowship CEO Glen Fairweather met with chaplains at the Darwin Correctional Centre, one of the key messages that came through was that there needed to be a program that Indigenous inmates could connect with. He shares:
We felt an increasing conviction to do more for Aboriginal people who are incarcerated. We wondered how to tailor the TPJ program to the needs of Aboriginal men and women. Then we began reaching out to networks and trying to figure out how on earth we could make this happen. My first phone calls were to Wycliffe and SIL Australia.
Glen discovered the Plain English Version (PEV) translation that retired Wycliffe and AuSIL member David Glasgow helped to create for the Gospel of Mark. He approached Dave to see if it could be used in the TPJ program.
Dave was happy for Prison Fellowship to use the PEV translation but he went above and beyond our expectations, even getting the questions in the course translated into a similar style as the translation itself to keep everything consistent.
Dave says he is similarly thrilled that his work with the PEV translation is being used in such a significant way in prisons:
The PEV allows Indigenous people to read God’s Word in a format they can understand. We edited The Prisoner’s Journey course book using the same principles as those used in the PEV, for example, replacing passive constructions with active verbs. Grammar constructions that are not used in Aboriginal languages but are common in English can be confusing to those for whom English is a second language. These changes ensure that the message of the Gospels is clear to an Aboriginal audience. We would value prayer that when the PEV is available many Indigenous people will hear about it, find out how to get hold of it, accept it as God’s Word to them, and live by it.
Another important aspect of the PEV of TPJ is the visual element of the teaching. The study guide and the Gospel of Mark have been completely overhauled and adapted to suit Aboriginal participants. AuSIL Director Alan Rogers put Glenn in touch with graphic designer Paul Davies. Paul grew up in an Indigenous community in Tennant Creek so he had connections with local Indigenous artists.
Coordinator for TPJ, Richard Boonstra, explains:
Each session has accompanying artwork which helps any participants who are non-literate reflect on it in their own time. Facilitators can also show images in large format so that inmates who aren’t literate can still participate in the sessions.
The project has come together in record timing and Glen is grateful for the partnership of many organisations working together towards the one goal:
We’re not the Bible translators, we’re not the graphic artists but we have a vision to reach this people group and to reach Aboriginal inmates. To have so many other individuals and organisations from Prison Fellowship, Wycliffe Australia, SIL Australia, AuSIL, The Bible League and Christianity Explored all willing to support that vision is the biggest blessing.
Richard adds: ‘Yes, this has happened so quickly! We just think that God’s had his hand on this. Together, we’re unlocking hope.’
The pilot program for the PEV of TPJ is waiting to be rolled out at the Darwin Correctional Centre and Richard is hoping that facilitator training can start and the new booklets can be used once COVID-19 restrictions are eased.
For more information about TPJ go to https://prisonfellowship.org.au/programs/the-prisoners-journey/
To discover more about the PEV of the Bible, head to https://aboriginalbibles.org.au/english-plain/
How AI is accelerating Bible translation
By John Tan | Wycliffe Today Spring Edition 2020 |
There is an area of computer software design called Artificial Intelligence (AI) where data is fed into a program and it ‘thinks’ for itself. Most of us use AI in our everyday lives through Information and Communication Technology (ICT) without thinking too much about it.
Photo by Edho Prathama
We use AI for:
- running virtual assistants, including Siri, Hey Google, Cortana and Alexa
- search engines such as Google Search and Bing
- navigation and maps, like Google Maps, Bing Maps or Waze
- drawing patterns, trends and statistics from data and creating graphs in Microsoft Excel or Google Sheets
- automated translations through tools like Google Translate, Microsoft Translator, Facebook and IBM Watson
- chatbots (automated assistance programs) that help us with conversations, store purchases and technical support inquiries. This includes the predictive texts when we write messages in Microsoft Word, Google Docs, email and SMS messages
Wycliffe’s partners in SIL and the Deaf Bible Society employ AI in helping people everywhere engage with the translated Scriptures. In addition to the everyday uses listed above, SIL and Deaf Bible Society use AI to:
- store audio recordings, words and patterns in grammar on computing devices. SIL’s linguists use AI to learn languages more quickly and complete Bible translations at a faster pace
- teach people how to read and write using text-to-speech software. Some people learn their alphabet by looking at words and hearing what they sound like. Many people learn the Bible audibly
- create video-based sign languages. Translations are not limited to just speech and text; they are also in the realm of video
- The Bible is already indexed by books, chapters and verses. The complete Bible is available in 704 languages. This makes it an ideal resource of data for AI software programmers and linguists who are working for companies like Google, IBM, Microsoft and DuoLingo. Imagine being paid by one of these giants to read the Bible!
Many AI projects like these look for monetary profits but missional AI pushes beyond this boundary. SIL and the Deaf Bible Society want to see individuals and communities using the languages they value most to engage with God’s Word.
Chameleon: changing the future of Deaf Bible translation
By Deb Fox | Wycliffe Today Spring Edition 2020 |
Saul and Rebecca Thurrowgood are Wycliffe members who have just welcomed the birth of their fifth child. They are also excited about the arrival of a program Saul and his team have spent many years perfecting in partnership with the Deaf Bible Society: Chameleon. Rebecca explains that, just like the chameleon’s ability to adapt and change in order to communicate, ‘the goal of Chameleon is bringing the gospel to the Deaf in a new way that protects the people involved by changing their appearance.’
Currently, less than two per cent of the world’s Deaf identify as followers of Jesus. Many do not have access to God’s Word in a language they understand—their own sign language. There are over twenty-five sign languages with portions of Scripture available on video but there are significant barriers to videoing real people for the translation of the remaining sign languages.
For many regions around the world, persecution is a daily occurrence. Therefore, filming a real person recording sign movements in their local sign language may be a dangerous move. Another barrier which often presents itself in small Deaf communities is denominational differences among Christians. Unlike the anonymity of a printed Bible translation, the face of the signer may become attached to the signed translation. If their character, past life or community become an issue, they risk overriding the message of the gospel. The use of animated characters eliminates these risks and also enables the translation work to be accelerated.
How does the technology work?
Chameleon is a form of motion capture technology which uses artificial intelligence which the team has trained to create neural networks1 for an avatar (an animated character) to copy.2 In order to create the neural networks, they have had to source movements from as many places as possible, including videos already available from the Deaf Bible Society and filming live recordings in a studio.
We need the computer to track the person, regardless of their shape, size, ethnicity and gender. We need to train the computer to recognise the various parts of the body. We have trained the computer’s neural networks to recognise different locations including the body, the hand and five different neural networks in the face. There are hundreds of thousands of images fed into the computer in order for it to recognise various shapes. Once it can remember specific movements, the avatar can be asked to perform a number of sign movements.
Rebecca explains: ‘We’re trying to get the computer to recognise the movements. Perfect copying means a better data output—the better that is, the better the outcome is.’
After many years of setbacks and trials, Chameleon 1.0 is almost ready for release. Saul says that the team was excited to discover that a team in South-East Asia had been using the pre-release version of the program and it worked better than expected.
To know that this technology is being used for its intended purpose is a huge blessing. We are so grateful knowing that this product will be a way to get the gospel out to places where it otherwise may have been impossible to create a sign language translation safely.
1 Neural networks: A set of algorithms, modeled loosely after the human brain, that are designed to recognise patterns.
2 An avatar is an electronic image that represents—and may be manipulated by—a computer user.
The fruit of perseverance
By Max Sahl | Wycliffe Today June 2020 |
When I think of the phrase ‘fruit of perseverance’ it is easy to remember translators like Warren and Jessie and others who have served in the work of Bible translation in multiple countries for over 50 years.
But what do you say to a group of young people who are just taking their first steps on the journey of Bible translation? This was the question on my mind as I prepared to speak to a gathering of young translators in South Asia recently. Just to get to their training, many of the students had already given up so much. One student had missed the birth of his first child, and another had cut short his honeymoon. All of them had left families and responsibilities and forsaken other opportunities to be there.
To encourage them in their ministry, I shared two stories about Jesus and perseverance from the Gospels. Firstly, in Matthew 4:8-10, the devil takes Jesus to a very high mountain and offers him all the kingdoms of the world. Yet Jesus understands that his earthly mission is to ‘worship the Lord your God and serve him only’. Perseverance means understanding your mission and not getting distracted.
Secondly, in Mark 10:29-30, Jesus explains to his disciples that the fruit of perseverance is worth it. For the students in South Asia, Jesus had a special message, ‘No one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age’. Eternal life awaits them in the age to come but the road will not be easy.
Let us also run the race with perseverance, throwing off distractions and fixing our eyes on Jesus and our eternal reward.