A kerosene lamp flickers in the dark as men and women sit on a tin container or palm mat for an evening session of translation checking.

Leo and Greg have already spent weeks translating the first drafts of several passages of Scripture and then checking their resemblance to the original Scriptures. Now they’re ready for the third step of translation: checking the passages with people in nearby villages.

Lote speaking men and women listen to Scripture portions read aloud. They offer constructive criticism to ensure clarity and accuracy. They wrestle with the words to find just the right expression to convey the message while preserving the richness of their language. These Lote experts, humble men and women who live off the land and cook by fire, sit in the shadows, now interacting with God’s word in their own language for the first time.

‘Before we only had God’s talk in someone else’s words. Now God speaks our language!’

For this people, Scripture is typically reserved for Sundays, read in a trade language that is not necessarily clear or easy to understand. The Bible they use is not usually expected to evoke emotional responses. Thus, the people’s reactions ranged from jovial to profound as they interacted with the Scriptures written in their language at one of the checking sessions:

‘This doesn’t sound like God’s word because it seems like John the Baptist is truly angry.’

But the translators were encouraged by this, because that’s the way it’s actually supposed to be; John really was angry, which shows that true emotions come across in the vernacular that weren’t captured in the trade language.

‘When we hear it in our language, it cuts straight into our hearts and gets into our blood.’

Men sing and dance at the launch of the Lote New
Testament in 2012, wearing traditional clothing for
the occasion

‘When we read the trade language, it’s like the words bounce off our skin, but when we hear it in our language, it cuts straight into our hearts and gets into our blood,’ one person said at another session.

For one checking session, Greg spent two days travelling to a village deep in the mountains by bike and on foot. Gathered around the village that night, an elderly man heard the Scriptures read aloud in his language for the first time.

He called the children of the village over and said, ‘Children come! Listen to this. Before we only had God’s talk in someone else’s words. Now God speaks our language!’

Rachel Greco