Nehemiah 8:8-12 says,
8 So they read from the book, from the law of God, with interpretation. They gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading. 9 And Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, ‘This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn or weep.’ For all the people wept when they heard the words of the law. 10 Then he said to them, ‘Go your way, eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions of them to those for whom nothing is prepared, for this day is holy to our Lord; and do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.’ 11 So the Levites stilled all the people, saying, ‘Be quiet, for this day is holy; do not be grieved.’ 12 And all the people went their way to eat and drink and to send portions and to make great rejoicing, because they had understood the words that were declared to them.
Nehemiah 8 may be the earliest record we have of Bible translation. Notice the phrases in verse 8 that point to Bible translation – ‘with interpretation’, ‘gave the sense’ and ‘so that the people understood’. As the people of Israel returned from Babylonian captivity, the language that best touched their hearts had changed. But rather than expecting everyone to learn biblical Hebrew to understand God’s Word, God’s Word was translated in a language and way that the people could understand.
And how do we know the people understand? They wept. It seems that they weep because they are grieved over their sin. Tears of grief turn into tears of joy as they understand fully the relationship that God offers them. Because the joy of their Lord is their strength, they can celebrate his Word being understood.
Weeping is a common emotional response that we find in Bible translation today too. As groups hear and understand the Word of God in their own language for the first time, it penetrates hearts and changes lives. This is part of what makes Bible translation so important. God wants people to understand who he is and the relationship that he invites people to enter into.
In our last newsletter, we promised to share more with you about Bible stories that are being tested in Papua, Indonesia. Our friend and colleague, Bob Cochran, was in Indonesian language school with us and worked with the Papuan Malay survey team with us. He now works as a Bible storying consultant in Papua. Bob shares with us this beautiful story about the impact God’s Word had on a group who were helping to check the Bible stories.
Yair (bottom right above) and Paulus (top right above) are two men with notable differences. One is from the mountains, the other from a vast, lowland swamp region. One grew up eating sweet potatoes as the main staple in his diet, the other a gelatinous mass called sago or papeda, prepared from the core of a jungle palm. One grew up speaking the Walak language as his “mother tongue”, the other speaking Dou. While they differ in these and other attributes, they also have a lot in common.— Bob Cochran
Both come from Papua. Both are on the older side of the age spectrum (probably in their 50s or early 60s). Both come from small, isolated language groups. Both saw the gospel first come to their people group in the 1970s. Both grew up without access to Scripture in their own language. Both volunteered to come and provide feedback on newly developed oral Bible story sets in their respective languages and came each day with smiles on their faces and engaged in the discussions with gusto.
Once during the Walak review Yair said, “When we’ve heard things from the Bible in the past in Indonesian, it was like hearing something that was a long way off; however, hearing these stories in our own language is like hearing something that is very, very close, right here in front of us.” Their enthusiasm and appreciation for what they were hearing in these Bible stories was infectious and a huge encouragement.
As the review process drew to a close, we took some time in each of their groups for reflection. We reflected on what God has done (and continues to do) in their people group…how He raised up a team from among their language group who were willing to expend themselves on behalf of their people…how He provided for, encouraged and sustained them each step of the way…and how He carried them through to successful completion of this major milestone.
At this point, both Yair and Paulus, each participating in entirely separate reviews, found themselves wholly overwhelmed…eyes became moist, tears began to flow down beautiful, dark cheeks, and voices were raised in passionate expressions of thankfulness to God for having this selection of stories from His word in THEIR OWN LANGUAGE. The tears were infectious and began to spread throughout each of their respective groups…heart-felt sobs, wiping of eyes, a lot of sniffling…rolling waves of emotion.
God help us…and you…to never forget moments like these. We swim in a veritable ocean of Bibles and various Bible helps in English and other major world languages. The Walak and Dou people (and many minority groups like them) have had next to nothing…until now.
Paulus stood unbid at the end of the Dou session and spoke in short bursts through the emotion of the moment, “This is what I need…we don’t understand Indonesian well…our own language we understand… God’s Word…I really need this…my parents….they don’t know Indonesian…so thank you.”
Truth is, it is what we all need; God’s Word in a language and form we can use well (and to use it!).
May God grant the Dou, Walak and other language groups in the KemPa cluster ever increasing access to his Word; and may it be the rock-solid foundation upon which their new lives in Christ develop.
Isn’t that just so encouraging?!? We are so thankful that people like you are part the Bible translation movement with us!
May God hear every one of our prayers for this cause and bless every effort to support it. And may the joy of the Lord indeed be our strength.
Graham and Ellie