Archive for the ‘Culture’ Category

International Mother Language Day 2017

Tuesday, February 21st, 2017 by Alfred

February 21st is the UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation) International Mother Language Day.

It is a day to celebrate the diversity of languages around the world and to communicate the importance of valuing and protecting mother languages as being a vital part of culture.

The Director General of UNESCO reminds us of the personal and cultural importance of the mother languages:

‘The mother language, in which the first words are uttered and individual thought expressed, is the foundation for the history and culture of each individual…. Languages are the best vehicles of mutual understanding and tolerance. Respect for all languages is a key factor for ensuring peaceful coexistence, without exclusion, of societies and all of their members.’

UNESCO also notes the importance of mother languages in education:

‘Children who start off learning to read and write in their mother language do better in school. Literacy programmes in mother languages bring learners the self-confidence they need to participate in their community and make informed choices.’

The work Wycliffe Bible Translators does is part of preserving mother languages around the world, not for the sake of language alone, but so communities can know that God values them, and values their languages, as they are. Language should be a way of coming to God, not a barrier hindering people.

Wycliffe works not only to translate the Bible, but to develop writing systems in language groups that have never been written, to encourage literacy and to help communities with health care, agricultural information and learning their human rights.

Wycliffe is working on behalf of minority language groups worldwide; to provide God’s word in the mother tongue of every remaining language group that needs it.

Find out more about Wycliffe’s work and how you can support it.

Martin Luther (1483 – 1546)

Saturday, February 18th, 2017 by Alfred

On February 18th we commemorate the death of priest, theologian, and Bible translator Martin Luther (b. November 10, 1483 – d. February 18, 1546).

Luther is most famous for nailing his 95 Theses to the church door at Wittenberg – 500 years ago this year – which many people cite as the primary starting point of the Reformation.

Yet Luther’s later work translating the Bible was also fundamental to the Reformation.

Luther loved the Bible but knew that, at the time, the Bible was not accessible to everyone. So he concluded that a new translation, in the common language of the German people was necessary.

His focus as he worked on the translation was to enable the ‘tailors and shoemakers, yea, even women and ignorant persons’ to be able to read God’s word for themselves. Indeed, he was so committed to the ordinariness of the language in the translation, he would take trips into local towns and villages to listen to the way people spoke.

Luther’s translation marked a shift in the church’s approach to the Bible, as Philip Schaff notes:

“The Bible ceased to be a foreign book in a foreign tongue, and became far more clear and dear to the common people. Hereafter the Reformation depended no longer on the works of the Reformers, but on the book of God, which everybody could read for himself as his daily guide in spiritual life.”

It spurred on Bible translation in Europe, especially in French, Dutch and English.

Yet now over 1.5 billion people – more than the entire world population when Luther was alive – still do not have the Bible in the language they speak and understand best. Wycliffe Bible Translators is working so that all peoples around the world can engage with the Bible in the language they most understand.

Find out how you can be part of Bible translation.

Thatched huts, wood fires and solar panels

Monday, June 6th, 2016 by Camilla

If you’re hankering for a night in front of a wood fire in a traditional thatched hut but can’t bear the thought of having to manage completely without electricity, maybe you could try a trip to Kuyawage in the highlands of Papua, Indonesia. Wycliffe UK member Alice Eastwood tells us about her recent visit.

alice eastwood‘The Lani-speaking people there live in thatched huts and keep pigs. They eat potatoes, sweet potatoes, sweet potato leaves, cabbage, rice and very little else (pork and crayfish occasionally). All cooking is done over wood fires, and in the evenings people sit around a central fire to keep warm, eyes streaming from the smoke if they stand up to move around (only crouching is possible).

The daytime temperature averages perhaps 15 degrees Celsius, so visitors from elsewhere in Indonesia (in our case, two colleagues and me) have to mix hot water from the cauldron above the fire with cold water in a bucket in order to brave having a wash. Locals walk far and fast, often barefoot, despite the cold. Western-style clothes have only been worn in this area for about 30 years; previously, the Lani people wore traditional clothing such as grass skirts.

lani people alice eastwoodIt might, then, come as a surprise to know that many of the traditional thatched huts in this area have solar panels by which they light their huts at night. Assuming you had brought your international socket adapter, you could plug whatever you needed to into the socket at the back of the hut before heading in the twilight into a nearby field or down to the communal bathing spot at the river. Alternatively (and this was our preference), you could make do without power for just a night or two.

Wycliffe members and Indonesian partners have initiated a mother tongue literacy programme in Kuyawage, which was the reason for our visit. As in many other remote areas of Indonesia, the national language (Indonesian) is scarcely used here. The Lani people are fortunate enough to have the Bible in Lani, and for most it is their only reading text. Helping young children to learn to read in Lani will help them to transition to readinlani people alice eastwood2g and writing Indonesian in school. This new-found literacy will enable them to read the Bible in the language which speaks best to their heart.’

For more on why multilingual education (MLE) is important and how you can be praying about it, take a look at Jo Johnson’s great post Stepping stones through primary school and beyond.

If you want to know more about Alice’s work or connect with her or another Wycliffe member, please use our Connect page.

Biblical Sheep became Chukchi Reindeer

Monday, March 16th, 2015 by Nick

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 by Nick

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 by Nick

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 by Nick

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 by Ruth

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 by Nick

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 by Ruth

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.