By David Pryor
In 1974, our family was enjoying a week of Christian Service Camp. During the missions time, Al Hamilton, the founder of Pioneer Bible Translators, spoke about the need for Christian Churches to get involved in the desperately needed work of providing the Word of God in the languages of people who did not even have a written language, let alone any portions of the Word of God in their mother tongue. Both of us and our two children as well felt a strong need to do what we could to give one more of these groups of people the opportunity they needed to learn of the Word of God in their own language. Two weeks later we left a ministry in Virginia to begin training for the seemingly impossible task of Bible translation and literacy.
Although we did not know where we would go when our training was completed, God had been preparing a people who would say “Yes” when asked if they would like to have the Word of God translated into their language. God led us to the Kire language group and the village of Garati.
The Kire language group is located in the lowlands of Madang Province about 17 miles inland from the north coast of Papua New Guinea. Their tribal lands occupy about 100 square miles on the northern side of the lower Ramu Valley. There are approximately 2,500 people in the language group and two dialects in the language. Scattered throughout the rain forests are nine major Kire speaking villages and numerous hamlets of about two to ten families.
The Kire language has some features in its sound system that thus far are unique in Papua New Guinea and are rare in the languages of the world. In the initial analysis we observed thirty-three different classes of nouns and twenty-eight different classes of verbs. This has made learning the language and the complexities of the grammar somewhat difficult.
The Kire are animists. To them the spiritual world is a very real part of the physical world. They are strongly bound with the bonds of fear–fear of ancestoral spirits; fear of spirit beings in the forests, swamps, and rivers; fear of men who work in league with the spirits to kill others with poison or animal attacks; fear of neighboring language groups; and fear of each other. These fears permeate every realm of activity of their lives. Planting and protecting gardens, hunting, causing and curing sicknesses, seducing women, disciplining children, feasting, dancing, finding a murderer, and numerous other activities are all connected to the spirit world.
However, there are now strong churches in five of our villages. David has worked with the church leaders in our village for years, and they continue to learn how to be better shepherds to their people. Now there are also children in the area who are being raised by second generation Christians. They are being taught to pray to God only, rather than invoke the help of the evil spirits. Some are learning to depend on God to give them wisdom each day to know how to fight against the powers of darkness. They are learning how to be lights in a place that once had no light at all.
Core beliefs change slowly, but they do change. God is at work continuing to show the people that the Holy Spirit of God living in us is stronger than any spirit that is in the world. Many have come to believe in God and are finding that having a relationship with God, who wants us to serve Him out of love instead of fear, is a wonderful thing.
Though a translation of the Bible in Tok Pisin is available, and most of the Kire people can speak and read Tok Pisin, there are many passages that are not clear to them. It has been so encouraging to see the increased attention, smiles, and looks that say, “Now I understand” when we have been able to conduct Bible studies using translated portions of Scripture. Portions of the Word of God in the Kire language are beginning to be an effective tool for the us to use in teaching the people about the God of Love. In 2002, the Kire people received the whole New Testament in their own language.
Kire speaking people are teaching vernacular literacy classes in the two community elementary schools in the Kire language group. They have begun prep-school programs in two villages to teach the children to read and write in their own language. Four more will be starting next year. Many adults have already learned to read the Kire language.
There are still many language groups that do not have even a portion of the Word of God in their language. Maybe God could use you to reach another language group so that they can also hear the Word of the Lord in the language they understand best — their own mother tongue.