Children learning the signs of Easter
By Deb Fox | Wycliffe Today Winter 2023 |
In that day the deaf will hear words read from a book, and the blind will see through the gloom and darkness. – Isaiah 28:18 (NLT)
Do you remember listening to Bible stories in Sunday School? For many Deaf children, there are very few resources available for them to learn more about God’s love for them. So far, only American Sign Language (ASL) has the full Bible available. Australian Sign Language (Auslan) only has a few books translated and does not have any resources to support Scripture engagement. Wycliffe Bible Translators Australia members Saul and Rebecca Thurrowgood want to change that.
Saul and Rebecca Thurrowgood with their children.
The Thurrowgoods have been working in partnership with the Bible Society to create animated Bible stories for children in Auslan. The Christmas story was released at the end of 2022 and an Easter message was recently published. The videos are based on evangelical children’s booklets the Bible Society produced a couple of years ago. They have been created using the motion capture Artificial Intelligence (AI) tool called ‘Chameleon’ which Saul and his team have been refining for the past 10 years ’and which converts the signed movements from a real person to an animated character.
Last year, the Bible Society wanted to see if they could use Chameleon for translation projects and they came to check it out. We trialled the technology with the Christmas story and were thrilled that it worked so well. The second time around, everything worked even more smoothly with the Easter story. All the characters are consistent throughout the series. It’s been a long time building up but we’re finally seeing fruit from all the years of hard work to get Chameleon off the ground.
A screenshot of the Easter video translated into Auslan.
I’ve been thinking a lot about creating resources for kids to put online to equip the church. These videos are like a seed – the first in a way of creating resources for Deaf children. Auslan has its own linguistic style that is very poetic visually that would not translate the same way in spoken English. These videos provide the stories in a form that kids can easily understand. We have a dream for Deaf community to be able to connect with the gospel. The children’s stories we’ve created using Chameleon so far will hopefully be a good start.
- for more people to join the team! We need workers highly skilled in programming, computer science, AI, computer vision and robotics
- that the Auslan translation of the Easter story can continue to be shared with Deaf children throughout Australia and open their hearts to the love of Jesus
- for the languages and countries that have shared an interest in using Chameleon
More: To watch the video, click here. To visit the Chameleon website, click here.
Tennis to translation
By Belinda Fox | Wycliffe Today Winter 2023 |
‘God doesn’t want your money. He wants you!’
It was as though God was speaking directly to me when the preacher spoke those words at my church’s missions conference in 2007. I thought that, by giving financially, I had done what he was asking me to do. But that night in my heart I told God, ‘I don’t know when, where, how or why, but if you want me to serve you, I will’.
One year later, I was chatting with my mixed doubles tennis opponent in between matches. The topic of linguistics (my university major) came up and I learned that he used to be a Wycliffe Australia member involved with Bible translation in Africa. I hadn’t heard of Wycliffe before but I knew that God was behind this encounter. Less than a week later, I had an appointment to meet with Jenny Austin, Wycliffe Australia’s Assignments Coordinator!
My journey since then has not followed the typical route. I got to the field quickly and bypassed language school because I had already studied Indonesian at primary school, high school and university. I was assigned to a project in Papua (eastern Indonesia) largely because I had basic bookkeeping skills from my time as Treasurer of my tennis club! Through that role, God exposed me to a wide variety of ministry and cultural experiences, and to a people and place that won my heart.
I never expected or wanted to be a leader. It was hard enough to believe that God would use me as a cross-cultural worker; let alone a leader! But I knew he was asking me to take on the leadership of the Papuan Malay team in 2017 and that he would equip and teach me as I went. It wasn’t easy and many times I felt I had failed miserably. But when I was forced to take a step back, God stepped in and brought that team to where they are today: thriving, passionate and driven by a sense of genuine ownership of the work God has entrusted them with.
As God was strengthening and growing the Papuan Malay team, he was also working on renewing me through a season of recovery from burnout. With a slight twist on the words he used to call me to ministry all those years ago, he spoke to me again: ‘I don’t need your service. I want you’. I spent a year just enjoying his presence and learning that anything I do for him can only bear fruit if it comes from my being with him (John 15:5).
That is the truth I hope to impart to others, and discover to greater depths for myself, through my new role as Wycliffe Australia Personnel Manager. This is yet another unexpected fork in the road that God is leading me along step by step. I could never have written a story like the one he is writing for me!
Celebrating with our Indonesian neighbours
By Max Sahl | Wycliffe Today Autumn 2023
In this edition of Wycliffe Today we are highlighting our relationship with our close neighbour, Indonesia. The Church is thriving in Indonesia and there are many people groups eager to have the Scriptures in a language they fully understand. There is also a growing Bible Translation Movement (BTM) in Indonesia, with local translation organisations being established to train local translators for this important work. However, training and facilitation, and resourcing and technical expertise are all desperately needed. This is where Wycliffe Australia can come alongside to help our Indonesian brothers and sisters.
I was invited to Indonesia last September to attend the Ambonese Malay New Testament dedication. Despite allowing what I thought was plenty of time to get to the island of Ambon, a series of flight delays, cancellations, and redirections meant that after 50 hours of travelling, I arrived at the main protestant church in Ambon with just three minutes to spare. It was a miracle. The churches all came together to celebrate this milestone and there were choirs, bands, dancers, singing and public reading of the new translation. The speeches even included one from the mayor, such was the importance of this occasion.
It is estimated that the Indonesian provinces of Maluku and North Maluku have 3.1 million speakers of Ambonese Malay. Now they can all hear the life-giving words of God in a language they can fully understand. Thank you, Lord!
Making a way for the Ambonese Malay New Testament
By David and Lilian Saxby | Wycliffe Today Autumn 2023
Ambon city in eastern Indonesia is no stranger to grand openings and official launches. During our time here as translation facilitators, we’ve seen pomp and ceremony for new bridges, hotels, shopping centres, supermarkets, restaurants, and more.
In September 2022, a different, more significant kind of launch occurred. A young boy sounded a conch shell, announcing to all that something special was about to happen. A traditional band stopped traffic as they marched down a main street to the church. Joining the procession were the eight members of the Ambonese Malay New Testament translation team, each carrying a copy of a book that was twenty years in the making. The newly-published Ambonese Malay New Testament was handed over to the church and officially endorsed by Ambon’s most influential Christian leader.
The ceremony was culturally and strategically important. Ambonese people value the symbolism of an official event and the church’s endorsement of the translation is crucial for its acceptance and ongoing use. We feel incredibly blessed to have been part of this once-in-a-lifetime event. It is significant for us because we have both had the pleasure of being part of the team working on this translation. We have ridden the highs and lows and seen glimpses of the impact of the Scriptures translated into Ambonese along the way. But it is so much more significant for the people of Ambon who now have the New Testament in their own language.
Christianity came to Ambon and the surrounding Spice Islands in the 16th century and the church is well established in this region. Churches generally use the national language of Indonesian for the Bible and all aspects of ministry, which means that many Ambonese are left practising their faith in a second, third or even fourth language. As a result, language can be a significant obstacle to understanding the gospel.
Twenty-five years ago, before we joined the project, no one thought that an Ambonese Bible translation project would get off the ground. Yet God made a way for it to happen. Over the years, the project faced numerous obstacles and setbacks. We were rocked by an earthquake and flooded twice. Translation staff came and left. COVID pushed publication plans back by two years. Travel restrictions meant we didn’t even know if we could attend the official launch. Yet again, God made a way.
We believe the goal of Bible translation is not just translating the Bible; it is people growing in their knowledge of God and allowing him to transform their lives. Most Ambonese Malay speakers have only ever heard God’s Word in a language that is hard for them to understand. Now with the New Testament available in Ambonese, language need no longer be an obstacle to them knowing God. We hope and pray that this will be a new and fruitful season in the life of the Ambonese church. God will make a way!
We are returning to Ambon soon. Please pray for:
- David working on Genesis and Psalms
- Lilian who is becoming a homeschool teacher for the first time
- our boys, Joshua and Zack, to feel comfortable in our neighbourhood
- the Ambonese Scripture engagement workers helping people to know and apply God’s Word
- a continued relationship, clear communication and shared vision with the denomination sponsoring Bible translation in the province
- recruitment of passionate Ambonese Christians for Old Testament translation.
Honouring Mesrop: a translation legacy
By Deb Fox
Have you ever heard of Mesrop Mashtots? It might sound like an obscure name but this linguist, monk, song writer and theologian helped preserve Armenian culture and language by creating the Armenian alphabet around 400AD.
Mesrop (also written as Mesrob) Mashtots was an Armenian court secretary with a natural aptitude for interpreting. Despite the favour he received from the king, he left the comforts of the palace to join a monastery and begin preaching.
Mesrop discovered that many people were not following God’s Word as it was not available in a language they could clearly understand. This set him on a path of creating an alphabet so he could translate the Bible into words the people could all understand.
With the support and financial backing of the king and other church leaders, he developed a 36 character alphabet and early translations that led to a full Bible eventually being completed in Armenian. The new script and recording of language also helped to strengthen the country’s sense of national pride in their language and identity. Mashtots wrote and shared a number of hymns in Armenian and led hundreds of people throughout Armenia to Christ.
Mesrop Mashtots passed away on 19 February 441AD. This day is recognised as a day to celebrate Mesrop’s influence on faith, literature and culture.
Britannica, T. Editors of Encyclopaedia (2022, February 13). St Mesrop Mashtots. Encyclopedia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/art/St-Meshrop-Mashtots.
Graves, D. (2019) Armenians Celebrate Mesrob Who Preserved Their Culture in Writing.
Christian History Institute
Image by Ani Adigyozalyan
Monastery at Odzun, Armenia
‘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!
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|
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.