Photo: Natasha Ramírez
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Dear Diary

What do they do at a training workshop for First Nations mother-tongue translators?

Sunday, April 24, 2016 

A well-known Bible verse written in Cree syllabics is taped to one of the laptops at the translators workshop—a reminder of the ultimate reason behind providing mother-tongue Scriptures.
(Photo: Natasha Ramírez)
(Photo: Natasha Ramírez)

They’ve come thousands of kilometres, from sometimes isolated communities, spread all the way from Saskatchewan to Quebec. A dozen First Nations mother-tongue Bible translators (MTTs) have gathered in a Christian retreat centre in Guelph, Ont.

For five days, these First Nations men and women will receive training and encouragement from staff: Bill and Norma Jean Jancewicz from Wycliffe; Ruth Heeg and Myles Leitch from the Canadian Bible Society (CBS), which is sponsoring this workshop; Meg Billingsley, a Wycliffe translation consultant in training; and Matt and Caitlin Windsor of Wycliffe, who are preparing to serve as translation project facilitators in a First Nation community. 

The goal for this Cree Initiative gathering is ultimately to help locally run translation projects move forward in four languages back home: Plains Cree, Woods Cree, Oji-Cree and Naskapi. It will be a busy week ahead, so after having mingled in the lounge this evening, participants settled into their rooms for a night of rest. 

Monday, April 25, 2016 

Everyone took their seats and fired up their laptops in one of the retreat centre’s meeting rooms. “It’s 9:30 and everybody’s here,” said Bill Jancewicz, who leads the workshop. “Praise the Lord.” Like several times daily this week, the group started by singing a hymn in one of the languages represented; this time it’s “Holy, Holy, Holy” in Naskapi. 

This morning’s devotional was based on verses in Gen. 2; John 1, and Ps. 8, read in the various languages of the MTTs here—if they have been translated. The MTTs heard that in Creation, God used language immediately to express His relationship to man, but even before Creation, there was language (“the Word”). Bill asked what these passages might indicate about the work the MTTs are doing. “It’s valued by the Creator,” answered Dolores Sand, one of two Plains Cree translators here. 

The MTTs introduced themselves, including Ruth Kitchekesik, a member of the Oji-Cree Bible translation team from northern Ontario. “I almost lost my language when I was 10 years old, when I came back from residential school,” she explained. “It took me some time to regain my language and that’s why it’s so important to be here. This translation is really helping us.”

Bill led a session on the basics of Bible translation, reminding everyone that God wants to communicate with people in a language they can understand. This was shown by Jesus coming to live with mankind, ministering in a local culture and local language. 

Myles demonstrated the MegaVoice Scripture audio player, for which CBS is the distributor in Canada. He offered to load a few of the devices with translated Scriptures in several of the languages for testing by the MTTs in their communities.

In a Bible translation principles session, Bill taught that translation has essentially two parts: determining the meaning in a source language and re-expressing it in a different language. For example, in Luke 13:31, Jesus describes Herod as a fox. This does not mean that he is a furry, four-legged animal, but that he is sly and crafty like that animal which uses stealth to find prey. The Naskapi translators said they used the actual word fox from their language in their Scriptures. But grinning team member Tshiueten Vachon wondered aloud if “wolverine” would have been better, because he heard an elder on the radio compare the government to that animal!

The day ended with a translation checking time by the teams. Bill showed Sam Halkett, who is just starting a Woods Cree Bible translation effort, how to type syllabics used by Cree languages, on a standard computer keyboard. 

Tuesday, April 26, 2016 

Wycliffe’s Bill Jancewicz, who leads the workshop, spends some one-on-one time with Rev. Sam Halkett, who is learning to type Woods Cree syllabics with a standard computer keyboard.
(Photo: Natasha Ramírez)

Bill shared this morning’s devotional based on Romans 15:4 (read in several different Cree languages): “. . . through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.” “We have been hearing a lot about hopeless First Nations communities,” said Bill, referring to a recent suicide watch in Attawapiskat near James Bay. “Jesus has the answer, God has the answer, the Scriptures have the answer.”  

Myles taught more Bible translation basics, this time focusing on a theory about communication processing effort, benefits and relevance. He said there is a tension in Bible translation between the text being so difficult that people stop engaging with it, or so easy that no effort is required of the readers at all, which can equally cause them to lose interest.  For Scripture to be understood, Bible translators strive for readers to experience enough benefits from it without having to make an unnecessary effort to process the information it contains. 

At day's end, mother-tongue translators Dolores Sand (at computer, left) and Gayle Weenie review some Plains Cree Scripture translation with Ruth Heeg, project co-ordinator and translation consultant with the Canadian Bible Society.
(Photo: Natasha Ramírez)

Guest lecturer Steve Kempf (a Wycliffe translation consultant) began a two-part session on how to deal with various types of names in Bible translation. For some names, the best approach might be to translate them into the target language, to express the meaning that the name has in Hebrew or Greek. But for other names, a translation team will decide either to borrow using English spellings, or to transliterate them (adapt them to conform to the rules of the lettering system in that language). In Naskapi, for example, Adam is transliterated as Atam (ᐊᑕᒻ). With thousands of names in the Bible, it is no easy task, prompting Oji-Cree translator Zipporah Mamakwa to quip: “We’ll all have grey hair after we’re done translating!”

Myles presented another possible way for Cree speakers to engage with God’s Word, this time through a graphic novel called Good and Evil. The 330-page book is a chronological presentation of the Bible message. Myles asked if this paraphrased comic-book-style approach would be useful in Cree communities. Several workshop participants nodded their heads. 

Finishing the day, Bill led the group through the use of Paratext. This computer program is widely used by Bible translators to input their draft translations and review them on-screen with the aid of biblical source texts, various translations and helpful resource materials. The MTTs’ “oohs” and “hmms” showed that they learned some important new things. 

After supper, several carloads of MTTs went to shop at a mall, buying everything from jeans to athletic shoes. It was a special treat for those from isolated communities. “We don’t have stores like that,” explained Ruth Kitchekesik, as she and Oji-Cree colleagues carried shopping bags to their rooms.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Myles gave a sobering, but encouraging, devotional on the topic of suffering and spiritual warfare. The powers of darkness must absolutely hate Bible translators bringing the Word of God into another language. “Because think about what we’re doing . . . we’re opening the doors of the Kingdom of Heaven through the Scriptures,” he said. But “God has called us, He’s given us His Spirit. We don’t have to be afraid. . . . May God give us all joy and peace and discernment as we carry on this work that we are called to do.”

CBS colleague Ruth Heeg led a lesson on Bible translation basics, this time about communicating with concepts, using examples of words in the Bible and in different Cree languages.  “As translators,” she stressed, “we need to understand as far as we can what concept the Bible author was trying to communicate. And think about how that can be best translated, best communicated, into the concepts and structures of the target language.” 

This afternoon Bill introduced the MTTs to a guide from SIL (Wycliffe's key partner organization) that helps groups plan what they want to do with their languages. He stressed that First Nation communities themselves—not outsiders—need to take ownership to direct and plan this. As an example, Bill pointed to the advanced Naskapi language project in Quebec, where he and wife Norma Jean served with local leaders. The Naskapi benefit from a published New Testament used in church and are now translating the Old Testament. Moreover, the Naskapi have also created a dictionary, a legends and stories project, a descriptive grammar of their mother tongue, children’s and adult literacy classes, etc.

“This happened because people in your community cared,” said Bill to the Naskapi MTTs, before challenging all the teams. “You need to support each other in this kind of work. That’s part of the reason we meet like this.”

Bill finished the day with an overview of how members of the Algonquian language family—which includes languages spoken by this workshop’s MTTs—are related. For example, very similar words for rabbit, wolf and knife, among other things, are found throughout Algonquian territory extending through the plains, central and eastern portions of Canada and the U.S. However, he stressed that while the Oji-Cree and Naskapi people, for example, can understand some of each other’s Scriptures, they cannot understand everything. 

Thursday, April 28, 2016

As on previous days, the workshop today featured a devotional, singing (“Amazing Grace” in Plains Cree—see video below), a history lesson on Bible translation in North America’s Aboriginal languages, and more Bible translation training.

But the highlight today was a visit by seven representatives of several Korean Christian churches from as far away as Edmonton. They were brought to the workshop by Daniel Yoon and Gyoojun Lee of Wycliffe Canada’s Korean ministries, who say that increasing numbers of Korean churches are interested in partnering in ministry, including Bible translation, among First Nations. Canadian Korean Christians feel a connection to First Nations people because, like First Nations students at the notorious residential schools, Koreans were likewise prohibited from speaking their mother tongue by Japanese colonizers for 35 years.

This affinity was made very plain by Kwon Choi, a deacon from Antioch Church of Edmonton, as he introduced himself to the MTTs: “You are my people. God loves you and He loves me. My goal, my vision is to worship together, for all the people . . . all the nations, to worship together.”

The visiting Koreans asked the MTTs how they can pray for them, their communities and their language work. The prayer request topics were sobering: social problems, addictions, suicide, illness, greater unity through Christ, healthy minds, bodies and souls for the youth, and more MTTs to advance translation.

Obviously moved by this, the Koreans wanted to pray immediately, forming a large circle with workshop participants for sustained and emotional intercession. (see video above). After their visit, the Koreans met to discuss next steps in supporting First Nations Bible translation efforts.

Friday, April 29, 2016

This half-day morning session was wrap-up time for the workshop before everyone headed their separate ways. Meg led devotions and Bill taught a bit more on Bible translation basics. The MTTs received certificates for participating in the workshop and they completed evaluations to improve future gatherings.

Most importantly, they went home more encouraged, more equipped and more challenged to press forward in providing more of God’s Word in their people’s heart language.

                                                                         •••••

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