The summer of 2008 was my third time around the bush (intern in ‘04 and an intern coach in ‘07 and ‘08). I learned language and culture, chased kids, and developed friendships with some amazing women. Sometimes I thought, “These people seem happy. They go to church. Why do they need a Bible in their language?” But, I had not had extended contact or spiritual conversations with them.
Working with the Abu in the Literacy In-Service was a wake-up call. I was supposed to help them produce 10 picture books based on stories about Jesus. It seems easy. Simplify the story. Make it match the pictures in a pre-formatted book. And slap in the text. But it has been anything but easy. The Abu do not have a translated gospel to use as a starting base for their stories.
So we were translating as well as simplifying the story. We would pick an easy story like when the ten lepers are healed. But even an easy story has translation problems like “belief” or “leprosy” or “praise” or explaining what exactly a priest is.
The most shocking was the story of Jesus blessing the children. The parents wanted Jesus to pray for their kids. Well, the Abu guys translated pray literally as talking with your eyes closed. I said, “But you can talk to God anytime. Your eyes don’t have to be closed.” They disagreed. These devout, educated, churchgoers were convinced that prayer is more than simply talking to God. Much time and persuasion convinced them to change the story but I am not sure their understanding of prayer and God is changed.
If these educated teachers misunderstand prayer, what does the child or mother who doesn’t know how to read understand about Christianity?
Like a slap on the face, working with these guys made me vividly aware of the need for the Gospel to penetrate the hearts of Papua New Guineans.
Lindy is a Bible translator.