Alan Hood
Feature

From the Prairies to the South Pacific

A young Saskatchewan family pushes through adversity to help Bible translators in the Solomon Islands.

Growing up in Moose Jaw, Sask., Naaman Brignall loved geography. Like an eager contestant on “Wheel of Fortune,” he would spin a globe, press his index finger against it and wait expectantly until it stopped on some mysterious, far away place.

“One of the places I really liked to land on was the Solomon Islands,” he recalls. “And I always thought, ‘Man, I’d really like to go there.’”

Last summer, those boyhood memories flooded back as Naaman and his family stepped off a plane and onto the island of Guadalcanal. Their assignment as Wycliffe missionaries: help translate Scripture for one of 70 languages spoken in this South Pacific nation.

(ABOVE) Flanked by partly submerged wreckage from the Second World War, Naaman and Lorae Brignall enjoy some beach time on Guadalcanal with their daughters, Thacia and Kyrie. To travel between islands, most Solomon Islanders book passage on ships (like ones pictured here) or smaller boats. However, to reach some outer islands, the journey can take from several days to a full week.
(Photo: Alan Hood)

The Second World War battle zone is just a temporary home for Naaman, his wife Lorae and daughters Thacia, 7, and Kyrie, 4. Ultimately, they hope to settle on neighbouring Makira Island and support translation efforts for more than 7,000 speakers of the Tairaha language.

“The prairie stomach suffers during sea travel."

The Brignalls thought they’d be there by now. But a world away from Saskatchewan, life in these islands isn’t all palm trees, pineapples and papayas. At times it can be unpredictable, and even dangerous—but for both Naaman and Lorae, the privilege of working towards Bible translation makes it worthwhile.

Childhood sweethearts

As children, Naaman and Lorae each sensed God’s calling to missions. The specifics of that calling began to take shape in 2010, after they witnessed the impact of Bible translation firsthand in Cameroon, Africa.
(Photo: Alan Hood)

When Naaman was in his early teens, his family moved to Estevan, Sask. There he met Lorae at a local church.

“He was 14 and lanky and kinda homely, but I just thought he was amazing,” says Lorae, laughing.

After high school, Lorae studied nursing in Regina while Naaman worked for a local well drilling company and even sold vintage stamps for a few years. They maintained a long-distance romance until they married in 2008. Two years later, they visited a Wycliffe Bible translation project in the African nation of Cameroon. That experience led Naaman to study linguistics and anthropology at the University of Regina, setting the stage for their current assignment in the Solomon Islands. 

Dedicated partner

Since arriving in the Solomons, the Brignalls’ daily routines in the city of Honiara include homeschooling their daughters and learning Solomon Islands Pijin, widely spoken throughout the island chain. Occasional power outages and seasons of frequent, torrential rain add to the stress of daily life.

Ben Wasimane is a Tairaha man who felt compelled to begin translating the Bible for his people more than 30 years ago.
(Photo: Provided)

Naaman and Lorae serve with the Solomon Islands Translation Advisory Group (SITAG), a Wycliffe partner formed in 1978. Linguists from SITAG serve as advisers and consultants to local translators—like Ben Wasimane on Makira Island.

More than 30 years ago, Ben (LEFT) began translating the New Testament into Tairaha. Despite no formal training and little support, he has translated about 60 per cent of the New Testament by hand. He is thrilled that Naaman will be helping to refine his translated notes before they’re published and made available to Tairaha-speakers.

Working at his kitchen table in Honiara, Naaman types Ben's handwritten translations into his laptop.
(Photo: Alan Hood)

“Ben really has a heart to provide God’s Word for his people,” says Lorae, who hopes the translations will help Tairaha believers deepen their understanding of Scripture and overcome their fears of the spirit world.

Slow start

From Guadalcanal, supporting Ben’s efforts is not easy; travelling by boat to Makira can take 30 hours or more (see “Adventures at Sea"). For Naaman, it’s an ordeal he could do without.

“The prairie stomach suffers during sea travel,” he says wryly.   

Additionally, logging activities on Makira have fuelled disputes over land rights. The resulting tensions have forced the Brignalls to cancel some planned visits.

On their first visit to Makira in fall 2018, Lorae helps Kyrie and Thacia get acquainted with local schoolchildren. Lorae says her girls enjoy some aspects of village life, while others are more difficult. “There are lots of challenges,” Lorae says, “but lots of blessings, too.”
(Photo: Alan Hood)

Naaman and Lorae are also giving careful thought to their future living conditions on Makira—because Kyrie has already contracted malaria three times.

Protecting their daughters’ health is a high priority. They do their utmost to protect the girls while they trust God to watch over them—as He did during Kyrie’s most frightening bout with malaria last fall (see “He’s With Us Here").

Family and ministry

While Lorae shares Naaman’s vision and calling to Bible translation, she admits it’s not always easy to balance ministry demands with her children’s needs.

“I really enjoy our times in the village,” she says, “especially with the women. I get to help with cooking and they show me how to do things and I really enjoy that.

“But sometimes the things my kids need from me compete with my love of interacting with people in the community. When we’re in a new place, the girls just want me. So sometimes it’s hard to find the balance. . . .”

Naaman seizes opportunities to show the “JESUS” film—in churches, hospitals and even inter-island ships. Here, nearly everyone in a village east of Honiara has turned out to watch a children’s version of the film, translated into Solomon Islands Pijin.
(Photo: Alan Hood)
“It’s so good              to see people understanding    God’s heart for them.”

Pressing on

As Lorae and Naaman work through such challenges, they do all they can to keep Ben’s work moving forward. Naaman has been transcribing Ben’s handwritten translations into a laptop, to preserve them and make them more accessible for future checking and revision. He’s thankful that this past March, Tairaha Christians formed a committee to help translate Scriptures, check them for clarity, accuracy and naturalness, and promote literacy in the previously unwritten language.

One tool Naaman has found helpful in stirring up interest in the Scriptures, both on Guadalcanal and on Makira, is the “JESUS” film (ABOVE). He has shown the Pijin version of the film as well as other gospel films in a variety of settings—including the boats that transport him to and from Makira. Using a plain white sheet for a screen and a small projector, he can show the films almost anywhere.

“It’s so well received by people . . . and it’s so good to see people understanding God’s heart for them.”

Choosing daily

Lorae admits that sometimes, the family’s new life in the Solomons is overwhelming. When times get difficult, she has to choose to persevere.

“It’s not a choice you just make once,” she says. “I feel like it’s a choice you have to make every day.”

Discontentment can even rise when she starts thinking about certain foods back home and special treats unavailable in the Solomons—like her favourite chocolate.

“Chocolate is good . . . but it certainly can’t be compared to making an impact on someone for God’s glory, or having God impact you through somebody.”


VIDEO: Something Different

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