‘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.


By Max Sahl  | Wycliffe Today November 2020 |


There is a deep-seated spiritual need in everyone. Jesus reminded Satan of this when he told the deceiver that people do not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God (Matthew 4:4, NLT). A person can have all their physical needs and even their emotional needs met, and still not be fully alive. While the world is rightly addressing issues around racism, protection of the environment, sustainable forms of energy, equitable distribution of resources, and individual freedoms, many seem to think that there is only the physical realm.

Yet, we do not live in the physical world alone but in a spiritual realm that is described by the Scriptures. Every word that comes from the mouth of God is important for our wholeness and spiritual wellbeing. Wycliffe Australia is committed to taking the Word of God to every person on the planet by enabling them to hear every word that comes from the mouth of God in a language they understand best. You won’t see this worldwide movement in the news but you are welcome to join us!


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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 reminder that God saved me for this purpose

By Deb Fox| Wycliffe Today March 2020|

Netty’s Story


The first response for many people with a life-threatening injury is not to praise God. But Netty says it was the beginning of God leading her to the place he wanted her: serving him as a translation facilitator with Kartidaya.

When Netty was 11 years old, she was hit by a truck while riding to school. She was rushed to hospital but her parents were told to prepare for the worst. The prognosis did not look good. Netty sustained severe head injuries. Doctors explained to her parents that she would most likely die or have severe mental problems if she survived, and told them to pray. She spent several weeks in Intensive Care and endured two major operations. Netty’s parents prayed that God would protect their daughter and use her for his glory. To their surprise, she awoke from her first operation and announced, ‘I want to be a pastor!’ 

While she was recovering, Netty had a lot of time to read. One of the books that her father bought her made a particular impression. It was a compilation of stories about a missionary working in Papua, Indonesia. Some years later she read about a group of Bible translators working with different language communities throughout Indonesia. Netty says that sparked questions in her mind. One of these was:

Don’t we already have the Bible in Bahasa Indonesian? Isn’t that enough? I was reminded of the story in Acts 2 about the Holy Spirit falling on the Apostles, allowing them to speak in other languages. It was then that I realised how important it is to hear God speak to us in a language we understand. That is why we need to translate God’s Word—how will others know about Jesus if they cannot understand the words that describe him?

Looking back Netty realised how much her life had been impacted by that accident. ‘It was a scary time but God saved my life and it gave me purpose. So I said I would give my life to him. I prayed to God in my heart, “Please send me!”’

After graduating from Bible College in 2006, God answered Netty’s prayer by putting her in contact with Kartidaya. She attended orientation and completed some linguistics training before travelling to Central Kalimantan to do literacy work. In 2010 she was asked to  facilitate a translation program. Netty is amazed that God used a painful situation in her life to initially call her into the work she loves and to draw her deeper into his Word:

God healed me but my right eye is still impaired. When I feel sad about that I am reminded of Psalm 8. I am no more than dust but God still chooses to use me! God chose to save me that day. He still uses my eye as a reminder of his love for me and his power in my life. He kept his call in my heart and led me to do his will. I know this journey is not about me—it is about him. When the New Testament is finished I believe God will rejoice with us.

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. 

Answers to a ‘utopian’ prayer

Wycliffe Today October 2019

David and Ming Fang Strickland have been concerned about Anmatyerr translation projects, which seemed to be getting stalled. They have been praying for another Indigenous translator to help them with the work. At a recent pastors’ course in Arlparra (also known as Utopia) a number of Anmatyerr men were present. 

One man in particular, Ricky, expressed a strong desire to learn to read and get trained as a church leader! He already has strong English reading skills, and is re-engaging with his grandmother’s language in the Mt Allan community. Perry is an older Anmatyerr man who has a strong calling from God to serve the people at Mount Allan. 

A third man, Ken, is an Anmatyerr man living in Alice Springs, who is very articulate in English. David has started meeting regularly with Ken. They are able to discuss the Anmatyerr language in a way that is not normally possible, gaining fresh insights into the language and the meaning of words. This is helping David as he writes a grammar report for the language. All these developments are encouraging signs that God is stirring up new life in the Anmatyerr language group, which may lead to fresh excitement in the translation work.

David shares:

I felt like I was treading water with not much translation happening. But I’m encouraged that new things have started to happen, and there seems to be hope for the future of this language project!

Bible beginnings in the back of Burke

By John Tan

Boorong was the first known Indigenous Australian to have substantial exposure to the Bible. She was sick with smallpox in 1789 when Governor Philip’s men took her to Sydney for treatment. Rev Johnson and his family looked after her for 18 months. Boorong saw the clergyman’s family reading and studying the Bible, and heard him preach from the ‘buk’ on Sundays.[1]

Boorong, like other Aboriginals in that era, encountered the Bible as colonisers tried to educate and ‘civilise’ their communities. Christian missionaries brought the King James Bible into their society, together with other products of European civilisation. Indigenous Australians learned the Bible as they learned English.[2]

The Bible Society started in Australia in 1817, making the Bible available to the public [3]. For non-English readers, they brought in Bibles in Welsh, Hindi, Scottish Gaelic, Russian, Chinese and other languages[4]. They desperately also wanted to get the Bible into indigenous languages.

Lancelot Threlkeld, together with Aboriginal translator Biraban, finished translating Luke’s Gospel into the Awabakal language in 1831. [5] This could be Australia’s first Indigenous Bible translation.[6]

The list of Indigenous languages grew slowly in the 1930s and 1940s.[7] In 1942, when Wycliffe Bible Translators began in the USA, CMS missionary Len Harris and his best students, Grace Yamambu and Bidigainj, translated Bible passages into the Wubuy language of Arnhem Land[8]. Madi, who heard it read at a campfire, was excited that to realise that ‘Jesus speaks Wubuy’[9].

Wycliffe Australia started in 1954, with some of the first translators sent to work in languages overseas in places like the Philippines and PNG. Others formed AuSIL (Australian Society for Indigenous Languages)* and worked in the languages of Bandalang, Burarra, Kuku Yalanji and Wik Mungkan.[10]

Translation efforts picked up in the 1960s and 1970s. The most significant result of this was the Kriol Bible, the first full Indigenous Australian Bible. This Holi Baibul was published in 2007, after about 30 years of work by people from Wycliffe, AuSIL, the Bible Society and the CMS.[11]

*AuSIL has recently changed names to ATG (Australia and Timor Leste Group)
[1] The Bible in Australia, p43
[2] Ibid, p46
[3] Ibid, p122
[4] Ibid, p126
[7] The Bible in Australia, p323
[8] Ibid, p322
[10] The Coolamon Kids, p8-9
[11] Ibid, p9

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...