After many years of waiting, the word of God is finally coming to the Dobel people of the Aru Islands in eastern Indonesia in their own language. Join us as we look back on more than 30 years of God’s faithfulness and pray expectantly for what is to come.

Eka at work on the Dobel translation

One night I had a dream; I saw the Lord Jesus coming to me and lifting up his hand towards me. Then he said, ‘Come and follow me’.

When Eka woke up, he told his wife about the dream. For many months they pondered together what it could mean. Eka already considered himself a follower of Jesus, so what could this calling be?

Another call

On the other side of the world, God had also been preparing Jock and Katy Hughes. Before they had even met, Jock and Katy both felt they had a calling to mission. They became members of Wycliffe Bible Translators, and in 1984, they went to Indonesia with their first child, Rachel, who was just a baby at the time. After spending some time learning Indonesian and conducting language survey, they decided to work with the Dobel people. One of the crew on the sailing boats which took them to the village in the Aru Islands where they settled was Eka.

One day I was passing their house carrying water. Jock said, ‘Friend, can you help me?’ I discussed it with my wife: should I help him or not? She said, ‘I think you should work with him; this might be what that dream was about.’

Swimming against the tide

Indonesia is the world’s largest island country, with over 13,000 islands. In 1945, the country declared independence. One way the government tried to unite the newly independent country was through the national language, Indonesian. Indonesian is used in formal situations and has therefore gained status as a ‘higher’ language. This often meant people believed their own language was not good enough to speak to God in; that it was more respectful to use Indonesian, even if that meant they did not really understand the sermons, songs or even the Bible.

Nus at the office

Nus, leader of the local partner organisation and a translator for the nearby Kola language, describes the result. ‘People didn’t really understand what was written in God’s word,’ he says, ‘because the language was far too high and formal for them. It was difficult to understand.’

This was the situation when Jock and Katy arrived, hoping to partner with some local people to create a written form of the language and begin translating the Bible into Dobel. Initially they saw little interest from local churches and church leaders. Some people were even suspicious of them. Why had these foreigners come? What did they want?

God gives the growth

After we had been working for a while translating God’s word...into Dobel, that’s when I fully put my trust in the Lord. That’s because we were reading God’s word in Dobel, and I understood it well.

Eka’s dream had come true – God was showing him how to follow Jesus. Others gradually joined the team one by one, and experienced the power of God’s word for themselves. Abua originally linked up with the team as a community checker, listening to portions of the Bible translated into Dobel to ensure the meaning was clear and the translation sounded natural. At this time he committed his life to the Lord, and caught the vision for translating the Bible into his own language.

As with many Bible translation projects, the journey hasn’t always been easy, and it has taken longer than expected. In the early years it was sometimes hard for Jock and Katy and their very slowly growing team to see where the project was going: Were people really going to use the Dobel Bible? How could they know if it would be worth all the time they intended to invest in it?

As the work has progressed, though, God has added to their number. Recently, during another stage of community checking, the team met a young woman called Yoke, whose intelligence and awareness of the nuances of her language made her a valuable addition to the team. After two weeks of checking translated Scripture, Jock invited her to join the Dobel team. Among other things, she is now involved in producing the first drafts of the translation.

Lives transformed

Dobel translator Yoke

As Yoke has worked on the Dobel Bible translation, she has seen God’s word change her: ‘Previously, my character was bad. If I bought anything to share, I wouldn’t share it with my family…But now, since I’ve been working on translating God’s word, when I get things, I share them with all my family and I share them with people outside the family, too.’ She has also seen God at work in her sister’s life, and in the wider community.

The old reluctance to use languages other than Indonesian in church is giving way to expressions of faith in the languages people know best. ‘I heard one of the people here praying in our own language,’ says Yoke. ‘It made me very emotional…in the past people have only prayed in Indonesian, so hearing them reading God’s word and praying in my own language made me cry.’

‘Sing to the Lord a new song,

his praise from the ends of the earth,

you who go down to the sea, and all that is in it,

you islands, and all who live in them.’

– Isaiah 42:10

Diving deeper

One Wycliffe member describes how the Pacific Ocean around Indonesia is a bit like the Bible. It contains many wonderful and beautiful things that can only be discovered by diving deep under the water. For many people, he explains, reading the Bible in Indonesian is like swimming at the surface of the water. But when they experience it in their own language, they can dive deep into the truth of God’s word and discover precious treasure they never knew was there. Jock has confirmed this to be the case in the Aru Islands as more and more Scripture has become available in Dobel: ‘People have said on numerous occasions, “Oh, that’s what it means. Now I really understand what this is about.”’

A new dream

It has been over 30 years since Eka first dreamt of Jesus reaching out and calling him to follow. The meaning of his dream now seems clear, but the full extent of God’s plan for Eka and his people has yet to be revealed. The New Testament in Dobel is in sight – the aim is to launch it in 2023 – and when we see what God is already doing in the life of this community, we can’t help but join with them in eager anticipation of how he will use the Dobel New Testament to draw many more people to him. And even this is not the end. We pray that the Lord will raise up more Dobel men and women with a passion for his word so that the next generation can continue this work and so that one day Dobel speakers will have the whole Bible in their own language.

In the past, many people in the area felt distant from God. Now, in the words of one Dobel-speaking man, ‘We speak to God in our own language. We don’t have to talk for long, because he hears us straight away.’

Bryony Lines / Camilla Lloyd

 

This story originally appeared in Words for Life, our magazine, which comes out three times a year. Sign up for Words for Life here or find out more about the Aru project below.