When a language dies out, a culture generally dies with it. It’s feared the ancient Nanai language of Russia might be on its way out, as younger generations seem to use it less and less.
But translators believe oral Bible stories may help save Nanai souls and perhaps their entire culture.
As a Wycliffe team of translators began meeting Nanai people in remote villages along the Amur River, some conversations took them by surprise.
‘Yes, I tried,’ she said. ‘I have this book.’ She showed him a translation of Luke’s gospel – the only portion of Scripture available in Nanai. Next, Anton thought he’d hear the woman say that God’s word came alive for her as she read it in her heart language.
Not this time.
‘In my own language I couldn’t understand anything,’ she told him. ‘Our language usually is not used in written form. If we had something in audio format, or some video, I could hear it and I could use it with pleasure. But we don’t have it.’
Therein lies the reason Wycliffe Russia is working to translate oral Bible stories into a disappearing language. The Nanai people, especially older generations, have their own cultural identity. Their ancient language is spoken only in a few homes, or for cultural display. Just a handful can still read or write it.
The Wycliffe team has been talking with older Nanai people and listening to their stories and family traditions. The work of translating helps Nanai storytellers craft accurate Bible stories to share with their people.
The intent is to help create a bridge for the Nanai elders, so receiving Christ as Saviour doesn’t have to mean rejecting their culture and assimilating into someone else’s.
So why spend time and resources to help preserve a language if the next generation isn’t overly concerned about losing it? Anton has heard a common answer from the elder Nanai people.
‘They understand that their language and culture is dying,’ he says. ‘If their language does not exist, their culture also cannot exist. They’re at a checkpoint in time when they could completely forget their language and culture or they could raise it back,’ he says. ‘What if, he asks, no one around the throne of God is worshipping in the Nanai tongue?’
‘That would be a pity,’ he says.
This story originally appeared on our partner The Seed Company’s blog. You can read the original here.
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