Unlocking hope through prison ministry
How the Plain English Version is opening doors for the gospel
By Deb Fox | Wycliffe Today Spring Edition 2020 |
Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering. – Hebrews 13:3 (NIV)
The Prisoner’s Journey (TPJ) is an eight-week program run by Prison Fellowship Australia. It is based on the Christianity Explored series, using Mark’s Gospel as a way for helping inmates connect with the person of Jesus when he is presented as someone who was also rejected and despised.
When Prison Fellowship CEO Glen Fairweather met with chaplains at the Darwin Correctional Centre, one of the key messages that came through was that there needed to be a program that Indigenous inmates could connect with. He shares:
We felt an increasing conviction to do more for Aboriginal people who are incarcerated. We wondered how to tailor the TPJ program to the needs of Aboriginal men and women. Then we began reaching out to networks and trying to figure out how on earth we could make this happen. My first phone calls were to Wycliffe and SIL Australia.
Glen discovered the Plain English Version (PEV) translation that retired Wycliffe and AuSIL member David Glasgow helped to create for the Gospel of Mark. He approached Dave to see if it could be used in the TPJ program.
Dave was happy for Prison Fellowship to use the PEV translation but he went above and beyond our expectations, even getting the questions in the course translated into a similar style as the translation itself to keep everything consistent.
Dave says he is similarly thrilled that his work with the PEV translation is being used in such a significant way in prisons:
The PEV allows Indigenous people to read God’s Word in a format they can understand. We edited The Prisoner’s Journey course book using the same principles as those used in the PEV, for example, replacing passive constructions with active verbs. Grammar constructions that are not used in Aboriginal languages but are common in English can be confusing to those for whom English is a second language. These changes ensure that the message of the Gospels is clear to an Aboriginal audience. We would value prayer that when the PEV is available many Indigenous people will hear about it, find out how to get hold of it, accept it as God’s Word to them, and live by it.
Another important aspect of the PEV of TPJ is the visual element of the teaching. The study guide and the Gospel of Mark have been completely overhauled and adapted to suit Aboriginal participants. AuSIL Director Alan Rogers put Glenn in touch with graphic designer Paul Davies. Paul grew up in an Indigenous community in Tennant Creek so he had connections with local Indigenous artists.
Coordinator for TPJ, Richard Boonstra, explains:
Each session has accompanying artwork which helps any participants who are non-literate reflect on it in their own time. Facilitators can also show images in large format so that inmates who aren’t literate can still participate in the sessions.
The project has come together in record timing and Glen is grateful for the partnership of many organisations working together towards the one goal:
We’re not the Bible translators, we’re not the graphic artists but we have a vision to reach this people group and to reach Aboriginal inmates. To have so many other individuals and organisations from Prison Fellowship, Wycliffe Australia, SIL Australia, AuSIL, The Bible League and Christianity Explored all willing to support that vision is the biggest blessing.
Richard adds: ‘Yes, this has happened so quickly! We just think that God’s had his hand on this. Together, we’re unlocking hope.’
The pilot program for the PEV of TPJ is waiting to be rolled out at the Darwin Correctional Centre and Richard is hoping that facilitator training can start and the new booklets can be used once COVID-19 restrictions are eased.
For more information about TPJ go to https://prisonfellowship.org.au/programs/the-prisoners-journey/
To discover more about the PEV of the Bible, head to https://aboriginalbibles.org.au/english-plain/