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.


For more information about upcoming short-term trips, visit or contact

A call for peace: ‘retribution is in God’s hands’

By Deb Fox  |  Wycliffe Today Autumn 2021 |

Matt and Andrea Torrens met as singles in Papua New Guinea, fell in love and developed a passion for Bible translation. He was from Australia, she was from Germany, but now PNG feels like home for their familyThey have been involved in a variety of jobs over the years but their heart has always been to help language groups with Scripture Engagement projects, which is now their full-time work. When international lockdowns were announced in March 2020, they decided to stay in PNG rather than fly back to Germany or Australia.

Matt shares:

The hardest part was seeing so many other families and friends leaving [PNG] en masse. But despite our concerns, God protected us and opened up some incredible opportunities. 

One of these opportunities came about when Matt organised a Healing the Wounds of Trauma workshop for a local village in the Sepik region. The course had originally been designed to help people who have experienced horrific events like war, conflict, abuse and natural disasters to engage with the Bible ‘to find God’s healing for wounds of the heart’. Participants in the course were from two warring villages. A ceasefire had been in place but it had been broken. Many lives had been lost on both sides.

The future for the region looked grim. Yet, when the leaders heard what God’s Word says about his mercy and forgiveness, their hearts were transformed. Their eyes were opened to the call to ‘never pay back evil with more evil’ but to ‘do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable. Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone’. Romans 12:17-18 (NLT). Matt shares: ‘As they were taking their burdens to the cross, leaders from both sides stood up and said, “Now we know that retribution is in God’s hands”.’ 

Leaders from a local church involved in new ceasefire agreements have been trained in the Healing the Wounds of Trauma material, should any tensions arise in the future. The community also recognised that the healing between the tribes took place during the time that the new Prime Minister for PNG, James Marape, called for three weeks of prayer and fasting for the nation. 

Matt notes: 

We all agreed that it was God’s timing that they were completing the workshop and were now able to reconcile as a community. After the reconciliation had taken place, there was also a brilliant rainbow stretched out across the two villages. It was like God was smiling on us, reminding us all of his mercy and faithfulness. It gives me so much joy being able to share about the freedom we have in Christ and see people grasp hold of his grace. 

When we first started this journey, I didn’t think we would be where we are today. We are so thankful for everyone who prays and supports the work of Bible translation and enables us to be here. We are privileged to see firsthand how much God’s Word impacts people’s lives. So many people here have suffered incredible hardships and yet, because of our amazing God, we can bring them a message of hope, love and forgiveness. 

Honouring Gwen

By David Cummings | Wycliffe Today March 2020 |

Gwenneth Marjorie Gibson
24 January, 1927 – 30 December, 2019


Gwen Gibson was a special colleague who served faithfully with Wycliffe and SIL for 45 years, working with the Kanite and Inoke languages in Papua New Guinea. Gwen committed her life to the Lord at the age of 16 and grew up in a home where God’s Word was highly valued: her father even represented the British and Foreign Bible Society.

Initially, while unsure of where the Lord would take her, Gwen worked as a bookkeeper and a housekeeper in a mission hospital in Vanuatu. She soon realised she would need further training if she was to be effective in the work to which she felt called. 

When she returned to Australia, Gwen studied at the Melbourne Bible Institute before joining the Summer Institute of Linguistics. She was accepted for translation work and the Lord then called Gwen to team up with Joy McCartney to live in a remote village among the Kanite people of Papua New Guinea. 

Gwen and Joy both recognised the loving way the Lord brought them from such different backgrounds to be on the same team. They were among four or five translators that helped unlock a major grammar ‘code’ in the verbal system of the Eastern Highlands of Papua New Guinea. This was a huge breakthrough for other translation teams working in the area. 

Twenty-two years later, they celebrated the Kanite New Testament dedication. The next 12 years was devoted to translating the Inoke dialect—sufficiently different from Kanite that the people wanted the Word for themselves. Gwen also gave much of her time to teaching people to read and write as well as cooking, sewing, first aid and other life skills. 

Gwen’s life here on earth is finished but her work lives on in the two language communities that now have Scripture and a growing interest in the gospel. Gwen was so pleased to know that the New Testament is now being recorded into audio format so people can listen to God’s Word in their own mother tongue.

What a great comfort and joy to know that this is not the end of Gwen’s story! ‘For [her] it is the beginning of the real story. All [her] life in this world … had only been the cover and title page.’ We have been inspired by the loving and gracious servant heart of Gwen Gibson.


The legacy of a 60-year friendship and Scripture engagement

Dr Joseph Havel is a retired forestry officer now living in Western Australia. He has been a faithful supporter of Bible translation through the years, giving in various ways to Vision 2025 projects, Next Step Development projects and Wycliffe members, including friends, Richard and Aretta Loving (d). Dr Havel shares the story behind the deep friendships he formed in Papua New Guinea that gave him a heart for Bible translation:

By Dr Joseph Havel, Western Australia

My contact with Richard and Aretta Loving started rather informally but it lasted for 60 years. Back in 1957, I was working as a forestry officer for the Australian administration of what was then the Territory of Papua and New Guinea. I was working at Bulolo, a gold mining and timber town. 

The project employed several hundred local workers, mainly hired in the highlands for a period of 18 months at a time. Some of the people we employed were from the Awa language group. On Sundays, I used to drive up to their camp in the rainforest above us, to run an adult Sunday school class. This was only possible because of an Awa translator and foreman, Yeda.

I used a New Testament in Neo-Melanesian (now called Tok Pisin)—a trade language used for contact between locals, administrators, traders and missionaries. I would read the lesson and make comments on it in Tok Pisin and Yeda would translate it into Awa. 

A few months into our lessons, I had a visit from a rather tall American, not unlike Abraham Lincoln in looks, who introduced himself as Dick Loving. He explained that he was involved in translating the New Testament into the Awa language and he wanted to know who was running the Awa Sunday school class. When he found out that I was theologically sound, Dick gave me a partial copy of the Awa NT translation, and showed me how to read it phonetically. 

After the translation for the Awa New Testament was completed, the Lovings moved around PNG before eventually heading to East Africa. By 1997, they were back in Papua New Guinea at the Ukarumpa centre, working on a revision of the New Testament translation. We continued correspondence and I supported them through Wycliffe.

I kept my contact with the Lovings afterwards until replies stopped in 2018. It was only recently that I learned that they passed away to be with the Lord ahead of me. I am grateful for the contact I had with them. Our friendship opened doors for me to experience firsthand the power of people receiving God’s Word in their own language. My connection to Wycliffe over the years has influenced my understanding and appreciation for mission and how we can all play a part in God’s work.

If you are thinking of leaving a legacy to Wycliffe, go to for details. If you would prefer to talk directly with someone about this, please contact

Leaning on God to light the way: Introducing Max and Helen Sahl

Wycliffe Today – June 2019 (PDF

Max and Helen have been on quite a journey since they first met. These former Queensland teachers are Wycliffe members who have lived in Papua New Guinea for 20 years. Their adventures have included a short stint in professional rugby, moving to a new country, raising a family, serving in a variety of roles, several near-death experiences and establishing a new training program for local translators. They are now living at the National Centre for Wycliffe Bible Translators Australia where Max is the CEO. Come and meet the Sahls.

What was it that first inspired you to become involved with Wycliffe?

Max: Before we went to PNG, we had no idea about Wycliffe or SIL. When we first heard about the need for teachers to educate mission kids, we simply followed God’s call. We thought we would only be there short-term. When we arrived, we didn’t know much about Bible translation . . . but it was almost impossible not to catch the vision. I went from being a PE teacher to Principal of the Primary School and High School to overseeing the training program for the Pacific Institute of Languages, Arts and Translation (PILAT) and now stepping into the role of CEO for Wycliffe Australia. I would never have imagined that for myself but God obviously knew what he was doing!

Helen:  During our time in Ukarumpa, we saw people’s lives changed, both at an individual and at a community level, through the power of the gospel. But the gospel is only effective when the people can understand it. Our eyes were opened to the physical, spiritual, educational and emotional needs surrounding us and we developed a heart for making God’s Word clear for all people.

How did your sports career help in that transition?

Max: I was a professional rugby league player in Queensland. My team won the grand final in the biggest sports event in Queensland at the time. This helped me to connect with my new community in PNG, as rugby league is the biggest sport in PNG and most of the people barrack for the Queensland State of Origin team.

Helen: Our experiences as PE teachers also enabled us to spend time with people in more informal ways. Max has hiked the Kokoda Trail and four times has hiked Mount Wilhelm, the highest mountain in PNG. A strong endurance for hiking helps to support translation teams by sharing the Jesus Film with remote villages. Teaching Missionary Kids was a big part of our lives as we worked in PNG and we loved the opportunities to input into their lives.

What was it like overseeing the training program for PILAT?

Max: This was a real highlight of my time in PNG. The Pacific Institute for Languages, Arts and Translation was set up to train Papua New Guineans for Bible translation, literacy and other language development work. It involved taking a huge risk but it was worth it. The program welcomes translators from all villages – the languages literally come to you! The people are hungry to learn but they are geographically isolated and educationally poor. They often make incredible sacrifices to get there, taking a boat, bus and plane. But we’ve found a real synergy in training local translators which is gaining momentum with the local churches. Last year, nearly 500 people attended courses at PILAT.

What are some of the biggest adjustments you’ve had to make going to PNG and now coming back to Australia?

Max: There is a massive cultural shock when you first move into a third world country. It can be very difficult to know where to invest with your giving and your personal social justice program. There are just so many needs.

Helen: It was hard being away from extended family and friends but transitioning back into your home country can be just as difficult. When you’ve been exposed to communities lacking food, water and basic needs, hearing about first world problems in Western media is very grating. Experiencing the hardships other people go through on a daily basis has put things into perspective for us.

Your journey has involved a great deal of change. What does this new transition mean to you?

Max: There are many transitions in life. It can feel a bit overwhelming – but you learn that God always turns up. You need him when you’re stepping out of your comfort zone. You need to pray for supernatural wisdom. One of the most challenging things as I move into this role will be to also transition the organisation. We need to be looking for new ways to do the same job in a new world. I think we also need to be more respectful of the minorities we are working with and to ensure that we are listening to the churches and enabling them to be more involved. Partnerships with other Global Alliance organisations will also be a big focus as we work with other agencies interested in Bible translation.

Helen: I also love the idea of enthusing people in the task of Bible translation. But I know that this won’t come without its own difficulties. This transition is exciting because we are relying on God to show us what he wants for the future of Wycliffe Australia. Proverbs 3:5-6 has been a verse we try to live by: Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him and he will make your paths straight (NIV). When you surrender your will to him, trust and make yourself available, he lights the path ahead.


Click here to support the Sahls

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

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...