Much has changed since Mike Linden*, director of the Bible translation effort known as “Kinsha,” began working in a sensitive Southeast Asian country more than two decades ago.
Doing work with a national translation team there, Linden remembers the “very limited-access” environment that existed. Much of this was the result of unrest in the countryside, home to minority language groups of interest.
“Back then,” Linden told Word Alive writer Nathan Frank, “I couldn’t be seen in public with anybody local. I’d go in someplace, we’d work, I’d leave by myself, go eat by myself. We wouldn’t hang out.
“If they saw me with somebody, local authorities would sometimes interrogate them afterwards: ‘What are you doing with this foreigner?’ ”
In the past few years, however, the country has opened up to foreign trade, investment and activity by non-governmental organizations, including Kinsha's Bible translation ministries, featured in this issue of Word Alive.
These days Kinsha expats and local staff are working in 28 languages, says Linden. “And then there are other languages that we would like to engage but we don’t have the personnel or the funding for that yet.”
This is why Kinsha—and the Payap University MA linguistics program also featured in this issue—are focus projects sponsored by Wycliffe Canada. Much work must still begin before it can all be finished.
Besides translation of God’s Word, mother-tongue literacy is advancing through Kinsha’s efforts in church or community-based literacy programs.
Tens of thousands of people in more than 20 language groups can now read and write—some of them even unintentionally. Linden recalls the story of an adult literacy class led by a mother whose four-year-old daughter was sitting on the ground, quietly writing words in the dirt that her mother was teaching.
“Her mom asked for somebody to come up and write words on the blackboard,” says Linden. “Well, nobody came up so this little girl came up, took the chalk and . . . wrote the whole sentence on the board. Everybody was shocked. ‘How did this little girl do that?’
“The kids, they learn so fast. Because the methodology we use is, I think, a very good methodology.”
Kinsha’s broader methodology is also very good: training people from within local language groups to translate God’s Word and promote literacy in their own communities.
With dozens upon dozens of languages needing these ministries, it makes sense to work this way, even if access to the country is much better than what Linden and his colleagues faced in those early days.
It’s an opportunity Kinsha staff are seizing like never before. ***
* Pseudonymn used due to sensitivity