Alex and Karla Watt
Working from Scotland with the Maiadomu translation team in Papua New Guinea
‘I trained as a physicist, and I never thought that God could use me in Bible translation,’ says Alex Watt. ‘I worked in radiation safety and latterly as a medical physicist in the National Health Service overseeing quality assurance for breast screening equipment units in Scotland.’
‘Recently, I realized that my journey with Wycliffe began nearly 40 years ago.’ Alex learnt about Wycliffe when he was invited to a Wycliffe prayer group that was connected to his church in Linlithgow. ‘The decision to join that group was life-changing in many ways! Not only was it the beginning of a life-long interest in Bible translation, but I met my first wife, Joyce, there.’
I never thought that God could use me in Bible translation
The group leader’s sister, Joyce Huckett, was working with the Iduna people in Papua New Guniea (PNG). She came home to Scotland to share the exciting news that the team was nearing the completion of their New Testament. It was a divine appointment. After the launch of the New Testament in 1983, Alex and Joyce were married.
‘We visited PNG together in 1985 and hoped to start work in a second language project, but the Lord never opened that door.’ Instead, Alex continued to work as a physicist and served on the Scottish Wycliffe Committee while Joyce served in the Scottish office. They also led a Wycliffe prayer group in their home.
In his spare time, Alex’s continuing interest in mission led him to complete a BA in Theology. When he lost Joyce to cancer in 2007, he decided to take early retirement from the NHS and explore what else God might have for him. He enrolled in a Master’s program in Biblical Interpretation in Glasgow.
Start with what you know
‘I really enjoyed doing the Master’s degree and considered doing a PhD, but I sensed God nudging me in a different direction. He seemed to be saying, “Start with what you know,” which was Wycliffe, PNG and the Iduna team,’ says Alex.
So, in 2009, he traveled to PNG to visit the Iduna team at a VITAL course in Alotau, the capital of Milne Bay Province, where they had started work on translating the Old Testament. VITAL was a cluster project helping 11 teams from the province do Bible translation. These teams met together three times a year at a centre in Alotau to be trained as translators, and they did all their translation work in more than 30 courses held over 10 years.
Alex’s arrival at VITAL caused a bit of a stir. ‘I lost a pair of reading glasses when Peter saw me and bear-hugged me. Thankfully I had a spare pair with me,’ says Alex, who was thrilled to see his Iduna friends again. Peter Mikie, chairman of the Iduna translation team, struggled to find words other than, ‘Good to see you, brother,’ as he and the team had a tearful reunion with Alex and once again mourned the loss of Joyce.
‘No one had to go it alone. The synergy was amazing!’
Over the next two weeks, Alex says, ‘I was very encouraged by how committed the Iduna team was to continuing with the work, and I was equally impressed by the VITAL Project – there were 11 teams in one huge classroom all working together on translation. No one had to go it alone. The synergy was amazing!’
After the course, Alex traveled by boat with the Iduna team to one of their villages called Wakonai on Goodenough Island. There he had the opportunity to sit in on checking sessions as the team that had just returned from VITAL checked what they had translated with the wider community.
Returning to Alotau a week later and from there to Scotland, Alex realised that he had lots to think about. The time in PNG had convinced him that he wanted to pursue involvement with Wycliffe. He was also prayerfully considering another divine development from his trip – his involvement with the VITAL Coordinator, Karla Sligh.
Karla, who was the VITAL Project Manager, was also a translator with the Maiadomu language team. She had begun working in PNG in 1999 as a language surveyor, but she had always dreamed of being a translator. She followed that dream by starting to work with the Maiadomu people in 2000. When the project had to be closed temporarily due to security issues, Karla worked as part of the regional administration team, which set up the VITAL cluster project. She then served as VITAL’s Project Manager for 10 years.
‘I really enjoyed having the chance to explain the Bible’
Karla says, ‘You might not believe in love at first sight, but the very first time that I shook Alex’s hand, the Lord showed me he was the one for me! Of course, it took him a bit to catch up.’ After Alex returned to Scotland, he and Karla began corresponding by email and then chatting on Skype. A year later they were married at Karla’s home church in Oklahoma and then returned to PNG together to continue their work with VITAL.
Over the next two years, Alex finally had a chance to put his degree to work by teaching translators, preparing translation notes, helping teams with checking, and helping Karla manage the VITAL course while she also continued her work with the Maiadomu team. ‘I really enjoyed having the chance to explain the Bible to the teams and helping them come to grips with the challenges that they might face in translating a particularly difficult passage,’ says Alex.
Playing a part
In 2013, Alex and Karla returned to Scotland on a furlough to find that Alex’s mother was suffering from Alzheimer’s and needed care. This led to Alex and Karla taking up a remote assignment in Scotland. For the next two years, they did what seemed like the world’s longest commute, flying from Scotland to PNG twice a year to lead courses and help the VITAL teams finish up what those involved in the project called Mini-Bibles – a panorama of the Old Testament, Mark and Acts.
You too can play a part in Bible translation
On their last commute, just as the VITAL teams began typesetting these Scripture portions, Karla was diagnosed with breast cancer, requiring her to take an extended medical leave while she was treated and recovered. Sadly, when the Mini-Bibles were published and launched for the 11 VITAL language groups in 2016, Alex and Karla were not able to make the long journey back to PNG. ‘Not being able to go and celebrate the launch of the Mini-Bibles with our brothers and sisters was heartbreaking,’ says Karla, ‘but we look forward to a huge heavenly celebration with many more brothers and sisters whose lives have been transformed by having some of God’s word in their heart language.’
After her recovery, they decided it was time for Alex to finally move from volunteering with Wycliffe into membership and for them both to take a home assignment. ‘It was a huge blessing to finally have the opportunity to be involved in Bible translation at that stage of life and to be a part of the VITAL team! I’m so glad that these groups have some of God’s word in their languages and hope that they will press on to the finish,’ says Alex.
Alex and Karla spent some time working as Coordinators for Wycliffe Scotland, engaging the Scottish church in the work of Bible translation. They now focus their work, both remotely and for several weeks each year in PNG, on translation with the Maiadomu team.
Alex says, ‘I don’t want to create expectations that you’ll find a wife, but like me, you too can play a part in Bible translation!’
Pray for Alex and Karla:
- Please pray for the Maiadomu team as they continue working on translation – for good communication with the team on Fergusson Island, for the Lord’s protection for the translators and their families and for us as we travel to PNG to work with them.
- Pray for Wycliffe to continue to build on Alex and Karla’s work in Scotland and to have many opportunities to share about what God is doing through Bible translation around the world.
- Ask the Lord of the harvest to raise up workers for the harvest field – we long to see more people like ourselves have a second career in Wycliffe and to see the next generation inspired to invest their lives in helping God’s word reach those who are still waiting for the Bible in the language that speaks to them best.