Translation talks at the Tok Pisin Table

Posted on Posted in Translation

During April we’re focusing on being sensitive to God’s leading. Please see the Prayer page to read our strategic prayer request for this month.

By Delaina Spence

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Marsha with John and Martin

Papua New Guinea has a way of sticking with you; once you’ve been there, it will always be a part of you. Here in Dallas at the International Linguistics Center, there are quite a number of people who have spent time in PNG, some for decades, some for only a few months or years. You can often identify those who have spent time in PNG by the bilum they carry or the Tok Pisin words they accidentally slip into their English sentences.

Every Friday a group of people gathers together for lunch in the dining hall to practice Tok Pisin, or, for those who are preparing to go to PNG for the first time, to get a head start on learning it.

This month, the Tok Pisin table has been a pretty popular place, mostly due to the fact that John and Martin, two Papua New Guinean national translators, are here in Dallas for six months. John and Martin have both been members of the Aruamu translation team for many years and have worked with Pioneer Bible Translators to translate, publish, and record the Aruamu New Testament. The Aruamu have a large national translation team, including people from every major church denomination in their language area. The large team has enabled them to split up the work and make speedy progress on drafting the Aruamu Old Testament, and including representatives from multiple denominations has increased the acceptability of the translation for all of the church groups. Now John and Martin are here in Dallas for six months working on checking and revising numerous books of the Old Testament (currently Isaiah and Zechariah).

Last Friday, nearly a dozen of us crammed in around the Tok Pisin table, pulling up extra chairs and scooting our taco-laden trays around to make everything fit. We ranged in age from less than one year all the way up to around 80. Our group consisted of SIL people and PBT people, three children, a retired missionary, missionaries on home assignment, a missionary kid who grew up in PNG and is preparing to return as a missionary herself, others in the training process, and John and Martin, who are from PNG and have brought such depth to our conversations, not only in knowledge of the language, but also cultural insights and advice to us current and future missionaries from a national translator’s perspective.

On Friday, John and Martin recounted the very beginnings of their language’s translation project, when missionaries John and Marsha Relyea moved out to their language area in the mid-1980s. God very clearly led John and Marsha to make their new home in Tiap, Martin’s home village, instead of any of the other villages they visited on their survey of the language area, and that decision has had a real positive impact on the entire translation project and the spiritual transformation of the Aruamu people. Martin looked at my husband Aaron and me and challenged us that two years from now when we are deciding which language group to work with and where in that language group to set up our village home, during that first exploratory trip, we need to listen for God’s leading. God knows in advance all of the factors that make a certain village an ideal location, based not only on things we can see and measure, such as ease of travel to or from one village over another, but also factors such as which churches are there or will be there in the future, which brilliant village kid will grow up to be a vitally important part of the translation team in 5 or 10 years, etc. God can see the end from the very beginning, and He will direct us. Our job is to listen, and when He leads, to follow.

I’m reminded of the song “I Will Follow” by Chris Tomlin. The chorus goes like this:

Where you go, I’ll go
Where you stay, I’ll stay
When you move, I’ll move
I will follow you

Whom you love, I’ll love
How you serve, I’ll serve
If this life I lose, I will follow you
I will follow you

May we all be sensitive to the Lord’s leading, whether it be about long-term decisions such as which village to choose for our home and ministry base, or those daily promptings to reach out to a certain friend, coworker, or stranger with God’s love.

Delaina is trained as a Bible translator.

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