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.

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...