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, Papuan Malay Team Leader | 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.
Give us your fuel, Lord!
Wycliffe Today March 2020
Imagine being separated from your family at the height of a natural disaster. Landslides have cut off access to major roads. There is no transport, electricity, food or clean water. What would you do?
For Budy, the decision was simple: pray to God and trust that he would provide, just as he had seen him do as a translation facilitator working in a remote location.
After he graduated from Bible college, Budy lived in a remote village as part of his mission training. He joined Kartidaya (a Wycliffe Global Alliance partner), married and started a family. Then in September 2018, Budy was faced with one of the biggest challenges of his ministry. While he was working in a village 85 kilometres from his home recording the Jesus Film, a massive 7.5 earthquake hit his home city in Central Sulawesi, Indonesia. The earthquake was followed by a three metre high tsunami, which brought mass destruction in its wake.
Budy prayed with the team. They felt they had to try and make it back to the city. The long journey started with a strenuous 24 hours of walking over mountains, through deep valleys and cutting through thick forests to make it to the main road. There they were told there was one motorbike they could hire and very little fuel. They prayed again and miraculously they were offered five motorbikes and just enough fuel was found to make the treacherous ride back.
The level of destruction shocked them. Buildings decimated, roads destroyed and ongoing tremors forcing people out of buildings and into the fields. No-one was untouched by the tragedy. For Budy, it was a great relief to know his wife and two children were safe.
An immediate evacuation of the city was ordered for women and children and the next morning a very full Hercules army plane departed for Makassa with Budy’s wife and children on board. Again they were separated with uncertainty all around them. An American friend offered Budy his car so he could drive to another airport to the north. ‘It doesn’t have much fuel left’, he warned.
Their journey would be 600 kilometres but they only had enough fuel to make it 200 kilometres. Budy prayed: ‘Give us your fuel, Lord!’ This was a very appropriate prayer, as the men were worn out and exhausted from their experiences. Every time they were about to run out of fuel, they came across a roadside stall selling just the amount of fuel they needed to make it to the next town. The remaining fuel was just enough to get them to the airport so Budy could fly to Makassa to be reunited with his family!
After such a harrowing experience, Budy was uncertain about returning to the area. Yet, after a few weeks had passed, he was confronted with the memory of something the people in the village had said to him: ‘Why would you leave us alone? You are our leader. You have come here to share your holy book with us. You must be together with us’. It was clear what he had to do. Once the earthquakes had settled, the family returned to continue the translation projects.
Budy wants to encourage you that, even when a situation looks bleak, you can trust that God will guide you through the storm:
When you follow Jesus, you must obey him. You cannot trust your own plans but you must trust in him. If he calls you, he will take care of you. It is not always easy but he will protect you. Always trust him.
A key player in the translation process
By Deb Fox| Wycliffe Today October 2019
Seraphina Presley is an Anmatyerr woman with a passion to make the Bible available in her language for her people. Despite suffering from some health issues and caring for her ill husband, Seraphina is committed to seeing the Word of God living and active in people’s hearts and minds.
Seraphina sometimes works as a teacher at the school in her hometown of Ti Tree and has been the main translator on the project David and Ming Fang Strickland are facilitating in Central Australia. They are now 60% through the fourth draft of Genesis, with Luke’s Gospel recently completed.
A number of Seraphina’s paintings featured in the 2017 Christian Book of the Year Our Mob, God’s Story. Her piece Translation Process depicts the steps involved in getting Scripture translated into Indigenous languages, from discussion to recording and editing, checking and sharing the published Scripture.
Bible Translation in Australia
Capacity building for PNG leaders
Wycliffe Today – June 2019 (PDF) | PHOTO BY GARY McMASTER
It’s an overcast day in Kangaroo Ground but the warm smiles that greet me at the SIL Australia campus near the Wycliffe Australia National Centre are enough to light up the room. Behind these smiles are two men from Papua New Guinea dedicating their lives to Bible translation. Stephen Moyaru and Kidu Magi are in Melbourne for one year to further their studies so they can contribute more to the work of PNG Bible Translation Association (BTA). Stephen is working as a Program Coordinator and Kidu has translated the New Testament into the Sinaugoro language and now contributes to a range of other projects as a Translation Consultant. Their schedule involves a full-time study load to complete a Diploma of Ministry with SIL Australia through Melbourne School of Theology (MST), including a couple of subjects at MST.
PNG is home to around 12 percent of the world’s languages. There are 838 living languages in PNG and 462 of those languages are still without any Scripture of their own.* The needs are great but there is currently a worldwide shortage of translation consultants and checkers to continue the work. Stephen explains that more specialised local translators are required to help keep momentum going:
Our strategy for the next three years involves strengthening nine languages and publishing six completed Bible translations. The only way we can do that is to have workers who understand the language and the culture – but they also need the right level of training. That is why we’ve come to Australia to be further trained in theological studies so that we can continue training future translation teams in PNG.
Kidu adds that there is also a need to increase the sense of ownership among the people to help move into the next phase of translation:
We not only have to increase our training – we also have to increase partnership with the communities and church leaders, as the people must own and invest in Bible translation and not think of it as white man’s work. It’s our language and we need to ensure that there will be more people to carry on the task for the future. We are praying for God to bring about this change.
Despite the long hours of study and challenges of Bible college, Stephen and Kidu are excited about what God will do through their time in Melbourne. They are trusting God to guide them but they have asked for prayer for the following:
- for the Lord to help them to focus on their studies and manage their time well
- that they will be able to communicate with their families and provide for the needs of their families while they are away
- that Kidu’s wife will soon be able to join him and that the visa paperwork and finances will soon be sorted
* Wycliffe Global Alliance statistics current as at October 2018