(Above photo) Several Ambrym women in Vanuatu eagerly begin using just-published Scriptures in their mother tongue. Photo by Casey Ellis.
In May and June 2016, the Paama and Southeast Ambrym people—who live on the beautiful Pacific islands of Vanuatu—received God’s translated Word in their own languages.
After 15 years of work, they now have the full New Testament, along with selected portions of the Old Testament. The Bible dedications also included much of the two translations in audio form.
Wycliffe Canada members Leigh and Barbara Labrecque began serving as translation advisers in 2001, intending to work on only the Paama language, but ended up working on the related language of Southeast Ambrym as well.
The Paama and Southeast Ambrym people are primarily located in four locations, with several thousand language speakers in each place. For that reason, four dedications were held between May 15 and June 5. Guests at the dedications included other colleagues from SIL (Wycliffe’s key partner organization), plus government, church and village chief representatives from the two language groups.
“The most exciting thing for me,” says Leigh, “was watching the Paama and Southeast Ambrym people come up and joyfully receive their printed Bibles and audio Bible players. Tears came to my eyes as I saw them go, one by one, sit down and begin to read or listen to God speaking to them through His Word.”
Southeast Ambrym-speaker Chief Rueben, who greatly values God’s translated Word, said, “In the colonial days, we learned about God in English or French. He was very distant. Then, after our country gained independence, we began learning more about God through the national pidgin trade language. But today, as we come together to dedicate the Bible in our own languages, God speaks to us directly in our own language.”
Following the dedications, Leigh led nine Scripture-use training seminars in various locations on Paama and Southeast Ambrym Islands. Many people eagerly came to learn how to use God’s Word. During the seminars, people practised reading their Bibles, learned to use the glossary, discovered several significant events on two Bible timelines, and saw how to use cross references to let Scripture interpret itself.
Following one of the dedications, Leigh recalls being deeply impacted.
“In Santo, a place I had only visited once before, a Paama man met me at the airport and said that he was so touched at the dedication ceremony that he felt God prompting him to come and tell me thank you, give me a gift, and speak a blessing on me.
“Wow! I’m truly blessed.”
HEARING JESUS’ WORDS
The Bunong* New Testament in Asia was dedicated in late May. It was an incredible event for those who had worked so hard to produce this book. In a beautiful procession, two young people held the New Testament and were followed by church leaders, villagers and guests. During the celebration, Bunong people gave testimonies about how the New Testament has impacted them. Several had been struggling to comprehend Scripture in the national language, but now they can hear Jesus’ words in their mother tongue.
Todd and Becky, translation facilitators from the U.S., commented on the foreign guests from the U.K., Germany, Australia and the U.S.
“These precious people have stood alongside us and our colleagues, faithfully praying and giving over the past 14-plus years!” they wrote. “What a privilege to see a display of God’s worldwide family gathered to rejoice with a group of people in [Asia] receiving God’s message of hope.”
The Bunong language is spoken by 140,000 people in two countries. The translation consultants for this project are Canadians, who are also working in other sensitive Asian projects.
Of the 2,300 New Testaments printed, 300 were airfreighted ahead of the main shipment and were available at the dedication. About 200 were sold at that event. It is hoped that the audio versions of translated Scriptures on mp3 players will also have great impact. The Bunong people are crafting new songs of praise in their own traditional musical style.
GOD’S WORD FOR THE LENTOMI*
In September 2016, the first copies of the full Bible in the Lentomi language of Asia came off the printing press.
The finalized text of both the Old and New Testaments, together with supplemental study material, totalled 1,968 pages. This was the culmination of efforts by many people over the past 22 years.
Lentomi speakers number roughly 25 million and by cultural background are Muslim. They have long been one of the largest ethnic groups in the world without a full Bible in their language. In 1992 the New Testament, Genesis and Psalms were released in one volume. Two years later, a new project to translate the entire Old Testament got underway with the involvement of personnel from SIL and other agencies. Later the New Testament was revised with the help of Andy, a Canadian who joined the team in 2007.
Interest in the complete Lentomi Scriptures was so great that in 2013, the publisher took the unusual step of releasing on its website a provisional version of all 66 books of the Bible. In late 2014, it was reported that in the preceding year more than 45,000 portions of the Lentomi Scriptures had been downloaded from the Internet, including an average of 24 full Bibles every day. Government permission is needed for the importing and distributing of the newly printed Lentomi Bible in the country where most Lentomi speakers live. Plans to professionally produce an audio version depend largely on the Bible’s legal status, so official approval of the publication is crucial.
God has already been using the Scriptures in the Lentomi language to communicate the message of His love. Though a very small percentage of the Lentomi population, the number of Jesus-followers is now likely in the tens of thousands, and is growing in the midst of considerable opposition and pressure.
One Lentomi speaker wrote, “Though it is possible to learn a foreign language fairly well, still one’s mother tongue is the one language which speaks to the heart and can deeply move. It transforms the message from something foreign to familiar.
“I am looking forward to reading and studying the Word of God in this translation, and will eagerly wait to see how our Lord will use it to build up the Lentomi for many years to come.”
* Pseudonyms used due to sensitivity