Archive for the ‘Culture’ Category

Biblical Sheep became Chukchi Reindeer

Monday, March 16th, 2015

How do you bring Bible stories to a people group in their own language? For nearly two years Zhanna, a Chukchi woman from the village of Kolymskoye in north-east Siberia, has been working on crafting Bible stories in to her own language. Two translators, Michal and Geneviève, have been assisting her. Now, with 25 stories completed, it’s time to take them to the Chukchi people for some feedback.

Geneviève writes,

“When the villagers saw our helicopter coming they thought there must be some Very Important People on board. Rumour had it that a group of Canadians were coming. In fact there were two Chukchi students, Zhanna and just one Canadian – me…”

In this great article, Geneviève tells us how the initial stages unfolded – from having the drafts checked and improved by two Chukchi ladies to having the stories recorded by a Chukchi language school teacher. Then finally they put down the papers, picked up the recordings and sat down with Chukchi villagers.

“In the process of crafting the stories from the biblical text, we made them more streamlined, made sentences shorter, anticipated questions that Chukchis would ask, made some adaptations to Chukchi culture… And so it was that biblical sheep became Chukchi reindeer. This made the ladies laugh. We wondered whether… But they said they liked it very much. It made the story real to them…

“They had heard about the Bible, but these stories in their very own language brought it all alive!” (Read Geneviève’s story in full on

The next stage of this project involves a consultant who will look over the text. Her task is to ensure that the stories are still true to the Bible, even when retold in different words. Revised stories may be tested in another village trip. Eventually there will be the final, definitive recording which will be circulated around the Chukchi villages and reindeer camps.

It’s encouraging to read about the work that is happening among the Chukchi community, however, there are still over 1,860 languages that are yet to have any Scripture in their own language. Find out how you can be involved in the work of Bible translation.


International Mother Language Day 2015

Saturday, February 21st, 2015

Today is International Mother Language Day. What is it? It’s a day founded by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 1999, designed to raise awareness and celebrate linguistic and cultural diversity. Each year on February 21st UNESCO sets a theme; this year is “Inclusive Education through and with Language – Language Matters”.

How fantastic that the diversity of languages is celebrated in the world! But it’s not often that we consider how much language forms an important part of our identity. It helps us to communicate and teach, to share culture and history.  And when languages are developed in a written form, rich cultural heritages are documented and preserved.

However, there are still millions of people whose mother tongue is not developed in a written form. No alphabet. No dictionary.

Help raise awareness and celebrate language diversity by sharing International Mother Language Day with your friends and family. Jump into the action on twitter by tweeting your favorite phrases, greetings and translations in your mother language – find out more at about how to tweet in your #MotherLanguage.

Languages are the most powerful instruments of preserving and developing our tangible and intangible heritage. All moves to promote the dissemination of mother tongues will serve not only to encourage linguistic diversity and multilingual education but also to develop fuller awareness of linguistic and cultural traditions throughout the world and to inspire solidarity based on understanding, tolerance and dialogue. – UNESCO

So much happens when Bible translation gets underway in a language community.  Wycliffe Bible Translator’s commitment that all should have access to God’s word in the language they understand best opens amazing doors, as we celebrate today. Find out more about International Mother Language Day on UNESCO’s website.

Teaching through Stories

Monday, January 26th, 2015

Stories have the amazing ability to take us on a great adventure to make us laugh, make us cry and enrich our thoughts and conversations. They are also some of the most effective ways of teaching. Jesus often used stories to speak to the people around him through parables.

Nanai dancers

For a large proportion of people in the world, oral communication is their primary and sometimes only way of sharing their history and teachings. They pass these accounts and tales down from generation to generation. Often, it is far easier for them to engage with Scripture and understand it when they can hear the message.

In 2013, whilst in a meeting about Siberia, God spoke to three men about ‘feeding’ communities by using stories.  Then in July 2014, teams were commissioned and sent to four communities in Eastern Siberia with the goal of translating stories from the Bible. Anton was part of the team that visited the Nanai people. Here’s a short extract from Anton’s story about his experience:

During our visit to one village, we met two Nanai women, who invited us to tell them about God. We had blessed discussions and prayers. But there was one interesting detail, which touched me very much and showed the importance of the particular kind of work we are doing. When we were talking about God’s Word, I asked one of the women, “Do you ever read the Bible?”

“Yes,” she said, “I tried to read the Russian Synodal Bible, but I didn’t understand anything.”

Of course, my next question was, “Have you read the Nanai Gospel of Luke?” and I was ready to get the classic Wycliffe example of how reading in the language of the heart makes such a great difference. But I was really surprised to get the answer, “Yes, I tried, but it was even more difficult than reading the Russian Bible! I wasn’t even able to finish the chapter.”

Amazing! What had gone wrong? She explained: “The situation is that we never use the Nanai language for reading; it’s an oral language. Of course, if I had audio recordings with Bible stories in Nanai, I would listen to them with pleasure!

When we told her that the main purpose of our project is to produce such audio stories, she was very happy, and said that she desired to have these stories very much. She would share them with all her friends.

You can read more from the team members in the full article at

Enabling communities to learn and engage with Scripture is vitally important.  Recording audio versions of Bible stories is one of the ways this is achieved. Find out more about Scripture engagement and how you can help.

PS Why not share this story with someone you know using the Share or Twitter buttons below?

Something New with Instruments of Old

Monday, January 12th, 2015

In 1940 a number of people of the Mono-speaking community in the village of Bili gave their lives to Christ. But when the visiting evangelist had called the people to Christ, unfortunately they were also told to ‘put away their old life’, which they understood to include all their traditional instruments.

With this, they made a decision to leave behind a part of their voice. How could they now authentically express their worship to their Saviour and Creator? They sang to God in unfamiliar languages and danced in unfamiliar styles, until inside of church looked very different from their cultural expression outside it.

Years later, the Schrag family arrived, and they encouraged the local church to explore what the Bible had to say about culture and God’s plan to redeem it all. As a result of this process, the church leaders decided to reinstate traditional instruments for worship.  The results?

I remember the first time I sang with them in a church service, a song about God reaching to earth and creating man and woman, and it was unusually silent, which made me nervous. Had we somehow made people think we were singing about Zugwa the god of the forest? So afterward I asked a friend why everyone was so quiet and he said, “What could we do? It cut our hearts.”

Today, in all of the Mono churches, we see a radical change in how Christians live, because God’s message communicated through kundi songs directly touches their hearts. Many declare by their actions that the Spirit has used this to bring them back to the foot of the cross of Jesus Christ.” – Reverend Gaspard Yalemoto

Read Brian Schrag’s story.

Translating Bibles is only part of Wycliffe’s goal. After a translation has been completed it’s just as important to enable them to grasp Scripture and apply it to their lives, both individually and in the life of the church. As shown in this amazing example, song is just one of the ways this is achieved. As Reverend Yalemoto said, the Kundi songs directly touched the peoples hearts and brought many to realign their focus.

Find out more about Scripture Use and how you can be involved, whether through prayer, support or by going.

Keep the Word of God near you

Wednesday, January 7th, 2015

The Pope’s Angelus address (given at the mass celebrated on the Solemnity of the Epiphany, 6 January) turns us once more to Jesus and to the Scriptures which point to him.  He called believers everywhere to cherish God’s word and keep it near every day of our lives:

“The Magi’s experience evokes the journey of every man to Christ. As it was for the Magi, so for us to seek God means to walk, fixing our gaze on heaven and seeing in the visible sign of the star the invisible God who speaks to our heart. The star that is able to guide every man to Jesus is the Word of God: it is the light that directs our path, nourishes our faith and regenerates it. It is the Word of God, which constantly renews our hearts and our communities. Therefore, we must not forget to read it and meditate it every day, so that it becomes for each one of us a flame that we carry within us to guide our steps and also those of one who walks beside us, who perhaps finds it hard to find the way to Christ.” (read full speech here)

The Scriptures, when in a language we understand, are precious and powerful to lead us to the God who gave them, yet millions worldwide still do not have access to them.  Why? It’s not just because illiteracy bars the way, but because the Scriptures do not even exist in their mother tongue. Of nearly 7,000 languages worldwide, only 530 or so have the complete Bible.

It is for this reason that Wycliffe Bible Translators and thousands of individuals and partners worldwide continue to work together.  Our vision is that all people will have access to God’s word – the star that leads us to Jesus –  in a language that they truly understand. Through Bible translation, we too have seen hearts renewed and communities revived as God’s word becomes available in the mother tongue.  Would you like to join us?  Find out how you can be involved.

For unto you a multilingual son is born

Monday, December 8th, 2014

It’s the time of year when we celebrate the birth of Jesus, however, unless you have an insatiable passion for linguistics, we probably don’t think about the different languages and dialects that were in use around Bethlehem when Jesus was born. As it turns out, there are more similarities to the multicultural environments we find ourselves in today than we may have considered.

In an interesting article for the Ethnologue, M. Paul Lewis sheds some light on the multilingual society Jesus was born in to.

The world into which Jesus was born was (and is still) a multilingual one. Jesus, no doubt, grew up navigating a language ecology that included at least four languages:  Aramaic, Hebrew, Greek, and Latin. The Bible tells us that he read from the Hebrew scriptures and it is probable that his conversation with Pontius Pilate at his trial was at least partially conducted in Latin.

Christians believe that in Jesus, God took on human form. That He became a multilingual man is only one of the ways, but an important way, in which that identification with humanity is fully demonstrated.

Have a read of the full article: For unto you a multilingual son is born.

Our God is a multilingual God, but there are still people who do not know this as a reality. That is why it is our vision that, together with partners worldwide, we aim to see a Bible translation programme begun in all the remaining languages that need one. (Find out more about Wycliffe).

God speaks in your language. In what way is God communicating to you as we enter into this Christmas period?

If you feel a prompting to mission, why not check out one of our First Steps events taking place in the new year? (and you don’t have to be a linguist). There are also plenty of other ways you can get involved, have a look.


What’s in a name?

Saturday, November 22nd, 2014

Living and working cross-culturally involves a huge amount of adjustment, giving up your own norms and familiarity for what is normal and familiar to those in your host country.  Rachel writes in her blog about how even her name got lost in translation.

A bracelet with lettered beads“Why is your name Rashid? You aren’t a man. Are you a man?”

Eventually I got tired of explaining that I was, indeed, a woman, despite all nomenclature to the contrary. Someone suggested I needed a Somali name and I took the first one they offered, Lula. It means diamond, or light.

In all other cases in Djibouti, my name is Rachel. It isn’t always easy for people to say and they forget it easily. I don’t mind, I forget theirs, too. Sometimes it does sound like Rashid. Sometimes it sounds like the French name Rachelle. That’s fine, too. Its my name, however it sounds on someone else’s lips and I appreciate their effort in trying it, appreciate my freedom to hold on to at least my name when I seem to have let so much else go in this expatriate life.

I feel like telling someone your name is giving them a gift. I’m saying I don’t care how you pronounce it but this is me. My name along with all the other foreign and strange things about me are what you get when we develop a relationship. I’m saying, let’s explore those differences and learn from each other, even as we learn how to say each other’s names.

She goes on to share an alternative perspective from an American woman,

[who] used to engage with Chinese students in the United States and struggled to pronounce their names, to remember their names, to remember who went with which name. They would go back and forth, battling through tones and consonant combinations, and she would still slaughter their name.

She said that when one of them would say, “Please call me David,” she felt an immense relief, sorry that she couldn’t master their original name, but thankful that they could now move beyond her embarrassing attempts and into a relationship. She knew full well what they were giving up and wished they didn’t have to. But, honestly, felt thankful. (Read full post.)

These experiences put a very human perspective on what it can feel like for the millions of people without God’s word in their language as they try to get to know God for themselves.  Without God’s word – or even name – in their language, so many think they need to talk to him in another language, or struggle to pronounce unfamiliar sounds to call on his name.  Imagine their relief when they discover God is happy for them to use his local name and for them to converse in the local language.

He is known by the names Isa, Jisas, Jesu, Jezu, Jisasɨ, Yesus, Sisa and Azezi to mention just a few.  As one who ‘became flesh and took up residence among us’, (John 1.14) he still wants to break down the communication barriers and come into relationship with people of all nations, languages and cultures.

Holding multilingual church services

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2014

Increasingly in the UK, multi-ethinic churches are faced with a dilemma.  Should everything be done in English, or should prayers and songs in another language be incorporated?  It’s a challenge faced the world over, and we in the UK have much to learn from those who have wrestled with this very issue for years.

Ghana is a country with over 60 languages, and these languages are not expressed in well-defined, discrete areas of the country.  Language communities overlap, people groups intermingle, and there is significant cultural and linguistic diversity in many churches.  Ed Lauber, working with partner organisation GILBT* shares some ways the church in Ghana has embraced this challenge.

Singing hymns in two Ghanaian languages as the same time. This was at a business meeting conducted in English.

Figuring out how to be one, unified church while making sure that everyone hears the message in a language they fully understand is a challenge. There are many approaches, such as having more than one service each in a different language, then once a month having a unified service in a regional or national language. Some churches conduct services in two languages. But translating everything is time consuming plus it is difficult for listeners to stay focused when every other sentence is in a language they don’t understand. Others have church services in a regional or national language, and home Bible studies in local languages. There are no easy answers. But some ignore the issue altogether and do everything in a regional or official language. But that leaves those most disadvantaged in that language to fend for themselves. It is hard to imagine how a person can become a thriving Christian while understanding only a fraction of the Bible and the teaching and preaching in church. (Read whole post here)

English speakers have the hardest challenge of all.  As the speakers of a dominant world language, it is almost impossible for us to imagine what it’s like to be a minority language speaker, where we are not widely understood.  Let’s not ignore the issue.

The Bible paints a picture of unity and diversity, of God reaching out to great and small, bringing us together as one Body.  The Good Shepherd leaves the 99 for the one lost sheep, and Revelation describes this:

After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no-one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb… they cried out in a loud voice: “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.” Revelation 7.9-10

That great shout will be in thousands of languages! What will the overhead projector look like for that worship service?  Somehow I don’t think we’ll be needing words on a screen, and it’s just as well!
Nevertheless, the Wycliffe website has some helpful suggestions for churches here: Support Non-English Speakers.

* the Ghana Institute of Linguistics, Literacy and Bible Translation (GILLBT)

Learning more about God with music from the heart

Wednesday, September 3rd, 2014

Music provides an opportunity for groups to memorise Bible stories. Just like the songs we sang in Sunday School helped us to remember truths from the Bible, Wycliffe use music to help communities get to grips with the Bible.

Rob Baker is a school music teacher and ethnomusicologist. An ethnomusicologist is someone that helps a language group develop Bible songs in their own language and culture. For his summer holidays he’s spending some time in the Ivory Coast helping a couple of communities with their worship.

He starts with some teaching…

Next day, and teaching began. I started off as I do with most courses of this kind I have taught, by asking two questions:

(i) What is culture?
(ii) Is music a universal language?

Ethnomusicology in Ivory Coast

Ethnomusicology in Ivory Coast

The answer to (ii) is almost always given as ‘yes’, until I explain more clearly, giving examples from across the globe. After this, participants realize that, whilst music is a universal phenomenon, it is not a universal language, as every culture of the world defines, composes and makes music in a different way.

We then make the logical step on to the importance of one’s own culture and how, when artforms from the local culture are used, it speaks to members of that culture in a powerful way, and communication is improved too.

After this, we list all the song genres present in each culture. A song genre is just a style of song linked – in Africa – to a specific event. Songs for weddings, funerals, harvest, initiation, hunting, war, and dancing in the moonlight. Once listed, we see how many of these have already been adapted for church use and which ones could be used. Sometimes they are almost all already used in church, sometimes almost none have been used. But the idea is the same as that of Charles Wesley: to use the music closest to the heart of those we are trying to reach. We call this contextualization. Or, as William Booth said: “Why should the Devil have all the good tunes?”

You can read more about the workshop Rob was involved in, and listen to examples of the songs they recorded, on his blog.

Wycliffe aren’t just interested in translating a Bible and leaving communities to get on with it. We want them to be able to understand and learn from it as well. You can find out more about Ethnomusicology and how other art forms help people to get to grips with God’s word on the Wycliffe Global Alliance website.

If you’d like to get involved in ethnomusicology, have a look for opportunities on the vacancies page of our website.

Starting translation

Monday, August 11th, 2014

This is the second part of a series of posts about the translation, launch and impact of the Scriptures in the Mankanya language of Senegal. The story is told by Maggie Gaved, a translation advisor for the project.

A monk of devotion: Father Ange-Marie Niuky

In 1995, Father Niuky – a Mankanya speaker who at that time was a monk in a monastery near Dakar – started working on translating the Gospels into Mankanya, working with the help of a cousin. He spent most of every night for five years translating even though he had no training in translation and there was no agreed way of writing Mankanya down.

After a year, another Mankanya man visited the monk’s monastery. While the two men talked, it emerged that this man’s son was studying languages at university and was currently trying to create an alphabet for the Mankanya language. He and a friend had thought that if English and French and Portuguese and Spanish could be written down, couldn’t their language be written down too?

The monk convinced the two graduates that the most important thing they could do was to translate the Bible into their language, and so they started working with him, particularly helping the monk to write it in a more scientific way.

SIL involvement and the official alphabet

Father Nuiky and the director of SIL Senegal

Father Nuiky and the director of SIL Senegal

More Mankanya people based in Dakar became interested in being part of the translation. Fifteen or so started working together with the monk and formed an association to translate the Bible into their own language.

Between 1995 and 2000, the translators came into contact with SIL Senegal, an organisation specialising in linguistics and translation. Gustave Campal and Georges Kampal, the two graduates, came on a couple of basic linguistic training courses SIL ran and started asking SIL for help with the translation work. In early 2000, just after my husband and I arrived in Senegal, we were asked to help them as they worked on their language.

By then, Gustave and Georges had worked out a basic alphabet so that the Mankanya cultural association, Pkumel, could request that the Senegalese government officially recognise their language. (This is a different association to the translation one, but many people are members of both.) Along with a linguistics consultant from Wycliffe’s partner SIL, we worked with them on improving the alphabet they had developed and helped them submit the necessary documents to the government. In 2001, the written form of the Mankanya language was officially recognised by the government and gained the status of a national language.

My husband continued working more with the cultural association in linguistics and on producing the first literacy books so that people could learn to read and write in Mankanya. I worked on the translation, initially with Gustave and Georges. Georges left to study in Portugal, but Gustave remained working on the translation for the whole time along with a series of other people.

Father Niuky leaves the team (formally)

At the same time that we were asked to work with the team, Ange-Marie Niuky became the abbot of his monastery. He felt that, because his first responsibility had to be to his monastery, he couldn’t keep spending all night working on the translation. He stayed very committed to the translation though, praying for it and encouraging the team, particularly Gustave. The abbot, as he became then, saw the arrival of my husband and me as God’s timing for the project.

The story continues next week, when Maggie discusses how the project came up against some of the frequently asked questions about Bible translation.

Read the previous post in this series: Meet the Mankanya people