Steps to serving: A taste of Bible translation in Papua New Guinea

By Helen Sahl and Ewa McMaster  |  Wycliffe Today Autumn 2024 Edition

A smiling Helen Sahl (Wycliffe Australia) sitting in the pilot’s seat of an SIL Aircraft at Aiyura Airport

Papua New Guinea is recognised as one of the most linguistically diverse countries in the world, with over 800 languages still being spoken in a country with a population of fewer than 10 million people. The language needs in the region are vast. Ukarumpa is an international SIL community that was created to serve as a hub for Bible translation throughout Papua New Guinea. It was chosen as the location for a short-term exposure trip to give Aussies a taste of the work Wycliffe Australia supports and discover the range of roles needed for Bible translation and language development to happen.

As soon as we began talking about the possibility of running a trip to PNG, we made prayer a priority. This needed to be God’s trip and we were going to follow him. As Moses said to God in Exodus 33:15, if he wasn’t leading us then we didn’t want to go. We saw answers to our prayers as a team of 12 came together, person by person, from Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria from all ages and all backgrounds. We saw God’s hand in everything from the team dynamic, to the program, the travel arrangements and meeting people all along the way. 

The impact on the participants was overwhelmingly positive. They had opportunities throughout the trip to visit many departments in Ukarumpa, including a training centre, medical ministry and to make village visits. This opened their eyes to the needs for more people to help with finance, information technology, teaching, maintenance, building, management, mentoring, linguistics, literacy, Scripture engagement and much more. They were challenged to consider how they could be involved in helping Bible translation happen in PNG. 

Hearing the hearts of our Papua New Guinean brothers and sisters was so special. We visited homes, villages, gardens and walked places together. Our team were great listeners and learners. A bonus was seeing the team reach out to others who were staying at the Ukarumpa guesthouse, including a film crew and visiting linguists. Many of the Ukarumpa residents interacted with the group, inviting us to their homes and spending time with us over meals in the evenings. We thank God for the privilege of leading this team and pray that many more will consider how they could serve others in the Bible translation task. Several of the group are seriously looking at how they might be able to serve at Ukarumpa, or follow a path into Bible translation and language development.  

The Australian team with workers from the Bible Translation Association of Papua New Guinea.

Feedback from participants:

We have made friends for life on this trip. I wouldn’t have changed anything. I loved the way you gave us time to process what we were seeing and learning, to chat, to share with each other, to debrief each evening. I loved getting to know everyone on the team so much!


Since my trip to PNG, I have come to the realisation that it is so important to ‘do life’ with people. I felt stirred to offer comfort to people around me not just in words but in action – that’s where the kindness of God has the capacity to touch a human soul. I ask God that this stirring within me will continue so I can put it into action.


Planting seeds of hope in the local garden.

I secretly thought, ‘Why am I doing this? Oh well, I’m committed now, I’ll just go through with it. When I come back I will probably say, “Well that was inconvenient … and costly … and nothing will come of it”.’ I was so wrong. Right from the outset, I realised that God had put me into a very special team of people, diverse in age and background, skills and personality, but all with a generous passion for God and the people his heart yearns for. What a valuable investment of two weeks! I am pretty sure something wonderful will come of it.


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