Launch to Timor-Leste: Embracing people, culture and language

By John Tan  |  Wycliffe Today Autumn 2024 Edition

John and Remy Tan are Wycliffe Australia members based at the National Centre in Melbourne. They recently took a short-term assignment, spending six weeks in Timor-Leste to assist in the Australia Timor-Leste Group (ATG) office in Dili. John explains how SIL Australia’s Launch language learning and cultural awareness course prepared them for their short-term assignment. 

We found our ‘workation’ in Timor-Leste was a refreshing time with the Lord. I helped record and edit the books of Ruth and Mark in the local Mambae language. Remy led an in-house staff training session on record keeping and management. 

When you spend time with people from a different country and language, it helps to immerse yourself in their culture, and SILA’s Launch course was great preparation. At the end of our short-term mission assignment in Timor-Leste, our hosts reported that we connected positively with their team. They enjoyed our friendliness and willingness to learn their language, eat their food and sing their songs. I thought SILA’s summer Launch course prepared us well for this assignment. The four modules of the course laid the foundation for our positive service in Timor-Leste:

Language Learning

Most Timorese people know many languages, but they are more comfortable using their national language of Tetum Dili. While they practised English, we practised Tetum Dili by getting used to sounds over lunchtime conversations and attending church services. We added to our vocabulary by using ‘power-tool phrases’ like ‘how do you say … ?’ then reviewed everything by reading Scripture and a dictionary.

Language Awareness

As time went on, we learned to construct our own sentences, as we learned how to arrange noun and verb phrases and other words in the right order.


My assignment in Dili was to record two books of the Bible in the Mambae language. The phonetics training helped me listen for voiced and voiceless consonants, aspiration and plosives. This helped me know what to look for in the audio wave diagrams as I was editing.

Cultural Anthropology

I found it interesting to learn about the Timorese people: their worldview, mythology, geography and history. They also invited us to weddings and welcomed us into their lives. We felt embraced by the people and will treasure the time we spent in Timor-Leste.

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‘On the right path’: translation in Timor-Leste

By Deb Fox  |  Wycliffe Today Winter 2022 edition  |

The Australian Society for Indigenous Languages (AuSIL) has one non-Australian family serving with a local translation organisation in Timor-Leste. Peter* explains that an opportunity in 2007 to teach in Portuguese at the national university in Timor-Leste led to where they are today:

During that time, we realised the large number of languages and the translation needs on this little island. We put it all before God, and since then, we have been involved in the language work and translation ministry in Timor-Leste.

Peter’s wife, Maria,* is a translation coordinator and looks after administration and finance. Peter coordinates two language projects and has the enormous task of language documentation and research for more than 20 languages indigenous to Timor-Leste. He shares:

We are producing literacy books and small books in about eight different languages and looking into the production of dictionaries and language material. At the beginning of the pandemic, SIL produced a booklet about COVID-19. We were fortunate to have a great team that could put together this booklet in nine local languages.

The language work among Timorese language communities has been an ongoing task for many years but Peter says he is grateful to ‘see the seeds of our work growing in different soils’. At the end of the checking process for John’s Gospel, Peter was moved by a Timorese pastor who had been involved in the translation for more than 20 years:

This pastor started to pray so powerfully of the Holy Spirit, expressing his commitment to the Word of God and desire to have it fully translated for his own people. Everyone in the room could feel the honour of being part of what God is doing through this project. When we see people using the translations and testifying that they are understanding in a clear and natural way, we can see we are on the right path.

Please pray for:

  • ongoing safety for Peter and Maria and their young daughter
  • the COVID-19 situation in the area to soon be controlled
  • adaptation and creativity in a changing ministry
  • encouragement and strength for the seven local Timorese people on the project
  • more people to join the work.   
*Names have been changed for security reasons.

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...