The Menshevik* project serves up to ten minority people groups in the Russian Federation.
Country: Russian Federation
Speakers: 2.5 million
Start date: 2016
Projected end date: 2018
Each of these groups has its own language that people use in everyday life, which they dream and think in. Portions of Scripture (and, in some cases, complete Bibles) have been translated into each of these languages. God’s word is still not easy for the people in these groups to access, however, because most speakers of these languages have only learnt to read and write in Russian. In order for the gospel to reach their hearts, they need to hear God speaking to them in their own language.
The Menshevik project will use new technologies to make the existing Scripture texts and audio recordings more readily available, and to strengthen literacy in these minority people groups. This will open up the Bible to speakers of these minority languages, training them through three core workshops. Topics to be covered will include:
- A Scripture App for mobile phones that combines audio, pictures and text. This is an excellent literacy tool, as a weak reader can follow the text as it is highlighted and hear it being read at the same time. It is also an evangelistic and discipleship tool, using translated Bible stories as the content. The main benefits of this tool are that the end result can easily be distributed, it makes mass production of completed stories cheap and it is free.
- A programme that facilitates the production of short books in local languages. This allows field workers who do not necessarily have an extensive computer background to create books. It also helps to introduce readers to new letters, words and longer sentences in a controlled manner.
- The creation of online literacy initiatives and language group websites.
Each workshop will be held in a different region of Russia so that individuals from all of the Menshevik groups will be able to take part. It is hoped the third one will be attended by people from some of the larger Muslim-majority groups.
- For the lives of people in minority groups in the Russian Federation to be transformed through God speaking to them in their own language
One of the participants at a recent workshop in a city in northern Russia was a young lady called Svetlana. She arrived with determination written all over her face. She wanted to learn how you could make mobile apps that allow you to read and listen to a Bible story with pictures on your phone. Her computer, however, had all kinds of problems that slowed down the work. Her husband worked, so she had brought her little boy. She needed to divide her attention between the needs of her son, the stubborn computer and the instructions given to the other participants who had more cooperative computers. In addition, during the week, she injured her back while pushing her car out of a snowdrift and was in constant pain. The team really felt for her, and expected her to give up in exasperation. This was more than one could ask from a young mother. But she did not lose her cool, and with seemingly effortless patience, dealt with all the challenges one at a time. Her desire to learn how to use this app so that she could bring Bible stories to life in her own language was stronger than all the challenges she faced.
- Pray for the selection of local participants. The best people to attend workshops are often already very busy people. Pray that planning, schedules and availability will synchronise beautifully.
- Pray for safety in networking. Translation work in the south of the Russian Federation needs to be done with the utmost care in order not to endanger the lives and the futures of the translators.
- Pray for creativity in sharing new mobile apps and digital books in a way that is not dependent on outside input.
- Part of the software has a Russian interface, but not all of it. Pray for the work involved in making the Russian interface available for all the computer programs that are used in the workshop.
*The name Menshevik comes from the Russian word for ‘minority’ and is used here as a cover term for these ten distinct groups.
The second training seminar took place in St Petersburg in late May, with participants attending from seven of the ten language groups covered by the Open Bibles project. Some had travelled by plane (leaving behind snowy weather), some took up to 30 hours on the train and others came from the locality. Including the staff team, there were 28 participants. There were team members from Christian backgrounds, including Orthodox and Baptist, as well as non-believers.
A range of practical teaching was given on using technologies to strengthen literacy. Scripture App Builder can integrate audio, pictures, and text to improve reading fluency. Bloom (an open-source, basic publishing tool) enables anyone with basic computer skills to publish locally material that introduces readers gradually to new letters, words and longer sentences. Throughout the workshop assistance was available for those who experienced computer issues.
After the initial week some participants had to leave, while others stayed three more days to get additional help and practice in using the new technology tools they had been taught.
Praise and prayer
Give thanks for:
- the opportunity to bring together individuals from so many different language groups
- all that the workshop participants learnt during their training
- encouragement for the team members, that they will be motivated to continue with their translation and literacy projects, making use of the new techniques that they have learnt
- that people will have a real desire to read and listen to the Bible in their own languages so that God can speak into their hearts and lives.
A first workshop targeting six languages will take place from 21-29 May this year. The participants and instructors are already excited and enthusiastic about the event.
Workshop organisers are trying to ascertain how best to focus the training sessions – whether on developing Scripture apps for mobile phones, or producing books to help with literacy, or whether both are needed. Pictures and audio tracks integrated into Scripture apps can be a powerful tool in helping people to improve their reading fluency. Such an app allows the user to follow along in the written text while listening to the audio version – each phrase or sentence is highlighted as it is read aloud.
Praise God for:
- the provision of funding for these workshops
- the growing number of workshop participants and the good cooperation between the agencies involved in planning the event
- the publication of a book of traditional tales in another of the Menshevik project languages. The aim is to generate more interest among speakers of that language to read in it so that they will be more likely to use the already translated Bible.
Please pray for:
Preparations for the workshop
- wisdom for the leaders in pulling together the details of what material to present and how
- no obstacles to prevent anyone from coming; safe travel for all involved (some from great distances). The arrival day is 20 May.
During the workshop
- logistics to go smoothly (accommodation in several local hostels, transportation, meals); computers and other equipment to work well
- rapport and trust to develop quickly as instructors and participants interact in training sessions and in more informal settings such as mealtimes
- the five instructors (three nationalities) to teach effectively so the participants will be able to use the technology tools with confidence
- as many participants as possible to stay for all three days of practice after the five days of basic instruction which end on 25 May.
After the workshop
- all participants to feel excited about the potential benefit of these new products for their language communities, and to share that vision with others
- good communication with local authorities and educators about ongoing language development activities, including the use of Scripture for that purpose.