The Aru people live on remote islands in the south-east corner of Maluku Province, Indonesia. There are 28 inhabited islands with about 90,000 people, who, between them, speak 17 languages. Most Aru villages are coastal, so the people make their living from the sea. Nearly all travel is by boat since there are virtually no roads outside the one town in the islands. During both the east and west monsoon seasons, travel can be very difficult. In addition to fishing, the Aruese are subsistence farmers, practising slash-and-burn agriculture.
- Country: Indonesia
- Speakers: 5,680 Dobel speakers and 7,400 Kola speakers
- Start date: 2001
- Projected end date: 2025
There are primary schools in most villages in the Aru Islands, and a small – but growing – percentage (25%) of children go on to secondary education. Historically, girls were often not given the opportunity for further schooling, although this is changing now. Many different languages are spoken, but until recently, there has been no literature of any kind in any of the local languages.
While there has been a church in these islands for over 100 years, many of the 75% of people baptised as Christians still hold to traditional beliefs. Their grasp of the Bible is limited as it was only available in the national language, which they struggle to understand. There is also a Muslim minority (about 25%). Christian outreach work has been done in the national language and, consequently, many local people think of Christianity as an outside religion. Most do not see Jesus as someone who understands their own culture and language, and with whom they can have a personal relationship.
This project supports work in two of the Aru languages: Dobel and Kola. Christians in both language groups are keen to have at least the New Testament, and preferably portions of the Old Testament as well, to strengthen the church and help disciple new believers. The team is also helping the churches by translating the liturgies currently used into the local languages.
At present, the translation work is making good progress in both languages, with significant percentages of the New Testament, as well as Bible stories and translated liturgies, now translated. In addition, a Christmas-story booklet, the books of Jonah and Ruth, and the Joseph story from Genesis have been translated into Dobel, and the Christmas story, Jonah and portions of Genesis have been translated into Kola. As a growing number of Aru people have smartphones, a Bible App has been made available for Dobel speakers, and there are also plans to create a Bible App for Kola speakers.
- To make the Bible (New Testament and at least parts of the Old Testament) available for everyone in the Aru Islands in the language they understand best
- To ensure that all who are motivated are capable of using the Scriptures in the local language, in whatever formats are appropriate for them
- To equip the local churches of the Aru Islands to use their local-language Scriptures as a normal part of their church life
- To help Dobel and Kola Christians grow in faith and become mature disciples of Christ
- the steady progress the translation teams are making
- good relations with the local church, which is vital for the use of translated Scripture
- a good reputation among the local people (this is very important in Aru).
- people’s ability to accept a new way of ‘doing church’ by using the local languages
- God to speak through the translations into people’s hearts, bringing them close to Him
- God to confirm the truth of his message by revealing himself to people so that they may grow in faith
- God’s people to mature, and to boldly seek unity among the different denominations present in the Aru Islands
An unwavering promise
The promises found within the pages of the Bible have been coming alive among the Dobel community. Just as we are reminded in Romans 4 that Abraham never wavered in his conviction that God is able to do what he promises, so too were a number of Dobel people taking part in a recent translation checking stage of Romans.
Reading the verses in Dobel shed new light on the meaning of these promises.
‘I have memorised Romans 4:21 in the national language, but it wasn't until I heard and memorised it in my own language that I really knew that is was true!’ – Dobel participant
Some taking part shared how this impacted their own lives – despite being faced with sickness, strife and having no money to buy food for their family when they arrived home, they still gave glory to God that he had amazingly provided for and taken care of them.
A milestone to celebrate!
With the completion of Matthew, the Dobel team rejoices that they now have a first draft of the whole New Testament!
The milestone also brought new understanding for Dobel translator Yoke. For the first time she realised why, so many years ago, a family from overseas decided to step out in faith and begin translation among the Dobel people and why there is such a need for more people to do the same;
Go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely, I am with you always, to the very end of the age. – Matthew 28:19–20 (NIV)
Alongside completing a draft of the New Testament in Dobel the Aru teams have been busy making progress in all sorts of areas of work. Some highlights of the last few months have been:
- translators being able to receive training in translation principles
- completing a first draft of Acts 1–4 in Kola
- the Kola team identifying a new local person to join their team
- the Dobel team being able to visit 10 churches.
Chatting with God
During translation, multiple stages of checking take place, one of which is done in collaboration with local native speakers who have not been involved in the translation, in order to give an objective view. This also gives teams the opportunity to connect with the community and share Scripture.
The Kola team saw the fruit of this after they recently enlisted the help of a young man called Ambri Wamir to take part in an oral checking of Luke 20–24. Following the checking Ambri shared how hearing God’s word in his own language had given him a new understanding. He felt as if he were chatting with friends, and his heart was lit up by all that he heard.
Pairing up with local churches
A key area of focus for the Aru teams is to encourage and equip churches to confidently read Scripture and pray in their own language. Churches are often spread across islands making travel to them difficult, but the Dobel team praises God that in July they were able to visit 10 churches in Dobel villages.
This time around the team used a creative method to introduce key biblical terms. Using a pairs game, people were asked to match up Indonesian terms with the Dobel term – a game which proved popular and helped people to better understand the Dobel translation.
Praise and prayer
Give thanks for:
- the progress which has been made with translation
- visits made to a number of villages to share Scripture and encourage people in prayer
- the opportunity for local translators to take part in training
- people applying Scripture to their own lives and seeing God at work.
Please pray for:
- local people to use the Scriptures that have already been translated
- the Kola team, who feel that whenever work is going well, obstacles start to appear
- the teams to continue to work well together and make progress
- healing for Dobel translator Yoke who often has painful stomach aches.
Project and progress
Teams continue to work with two of the Aru languages, Dobel and Kola, with the hope that one day soon the New Testament will be in the hands of the local community and churches.
Over recent months the Aru teams have been making progress with translation and encouraging communities to engage with Scripture. They have been working on:
- the initial drafting of 1, 2 and 3 John in Kola
- community checking of Luke in Kola
- drafting Matthew and Exodus in Dobel
- adding translated passages to a phone app to increase their reach
- making visits to Dobel churches to help encourage them in their use of Scripture.
Connecting to Scripture
Although the road to completing a Bible translation may be long, there are many stops along the way which enable local people to connect to Scripture before it is even printed.
For Kola speaker Shinta Wamir, connection came during a community checking session. A stage of translation where local speakers read through translations to check they sound natural. Shinta shared her happiness and the impact of the words she was reading:
‘They skewer my liver and penetrate my heart.’
This may seem unusual, but in the Kola culture, the liver is seen to be the centre of emotions. Shinta also her shared her joy at being paid for participating as this allowed her to buy a Bible.
Confidence in prayer
Having access to Scripture has not only been helping the local Aru community to engage with the Bible, but also to develop their prayer life.
During the recent oral checking of Luke, where Scripture was read aloud to local speakers of the language, one of the checkers, Upi Mahwill, declared that this had given him the confidence to pray in Kola. This brought a new side to his prayer life:
‘When I prayed, I felt this was something unusual within myself. I felt that the Lord was very close to me, which made me very happy.’
To increase the reach of the portions of the Bible which have already been translated, the Dobel team have turned to technology.
The team has been working hard to consistently update a Bible app which will enable local people to read Scripture at the touch of a button. Alongside this, the team translates and sends readings and liturgy in Dobel to church pastors via Whatsapp. The islands often remain cut off for many months due to turbulent weather, so these resources can be a lifeline.
The Kola team has welcomed two new people in recent months, who have both brought cause for celebration.
A new member has joined their team from a local village, who is due to start work this month. This in response to there being a large proportion of Christians from the new member’s area who speak a slightly different dialect from that of the current translation team.
Kola translator Aca has just returned to work after giving birth to her fourth child, a healthy baby boy. The team praises God for their growing families and team!
A forgiven and transformed life
For Dobel translator Yoke, life since knowing Jesus and working on translation has been changing. Yoke has been on the Dobel translation team since 2015.
Yoke’s life used to be filled with days fighting friends, which left many scared of her, and arguments with her family. Today Yoke’s life looks very different, characterised instead by taking the time to talk to friends and sharing in their problems, love for her family, and a growing faith. Yoke’s family and friends have begun to notice a change and wonder why. Yoke responds:
‘It’s because of God’s word, and I’m not like I used to be. I know God has forgiven me for what I used to do, and I can receive that. He looks on me and sees my life is slowly changing.’
Praise and prayer
Give thanks for:
- the provision of a new Kola team member from a local village to help with translation
- the completion of the next stage of the Dobel translation – Ephesians, Galatians and Jude have been consultant checked
- visits made to 10 Dobel churches to encourage them in their use of translated Scripture
- the transformational impact which God’s word is having on the Dobel and Kola people.
Please pray for:
- Kola and Dobel speakers to use and engage with the translated Scriptures
- good progress on the exegesis of 1 and 2 Corinthians for the Dobel team
- safety for the Dobel team as they continue with church visits, and for the enthusiasm for God’s word to grow in these churches
- the Kola team to overcome some problems with their computers and that this would not be a distraction.
Churches are scattered across the Aru Islands, often many hours’ boat ride apart from each other, so building relationships with communities and helping churches stay connected is crucial. Kola translators Nus, Aca and Omi ventured across the seas in September and spent five days visiting villages and providing training for church leaders. During their time they focused on equipping leaders in how to pray, read Scripture and share Bible passages in their own dialects of Kola.
Gradually the team saw people’s confidence grow and eyes open to the power of using Scripture in their own language. One leader from the village of Warialau, Mrs Martha Sintimir, said:
‘When I hear them reading the Bible in our language and praying in our language, I feel like the words pierce and cut my heart in two.’
As confidence grows, churches are moving away from communicating in Indonesian, giving more people the chance to hear the good news in their own language. Both the Dobel and Kola teams aim to visit churches each year to encourage them in this.
Local communities have been engaging with translated Scriptures in all different ways. Most recently, people gathered at a local school to take part in a reading competition using translated Bible passages as the chosen texts. Three languages were represented, including Dobel and Kola. One Dobel participant, who read Luke 8:16–21, shared the difference it made reading the passage in their own language:
‘When I first looked at the book written in Dobel I thought it was going to be very difficult. But after I had read through the passage a couple of times and I realised that it was God’s word in my language, I was able to understand it better because it was in simple, easy-to-understand language.’
The team are rejoicing that the event was enthusiastically welcomed by the local school and a request has already been made for it to be repeated in the next year.
Building enthusiasm and fluency
Support for teachers and new literacy resources have meant more and more Aru people have been learning to read and write. This in turn helps to increase fluency and builds enthusiasm for their own languages.
Alongside distributing newly translated books of the Bible, the Kola team have also been sharing easy-read books in Kola. The team hopes that this will increase people’s desire to read more in their own language, preparing the way for even more Scripture to be welcomed and shared among the community.
Due to the remoteness of islands and the changing seasons, the waters between islands are often too dangerous to traverse. This can lead to delays for teams. Earlier this year, for example, church visits and distribution of translated Scriptures had to be put on hold as the wind stirred up dangerous seas.
Praise and prayer
Give thanks for:
- Kola translator Omi’s computer being quickly repaired after needing to be sent over 2,000 miles away to Jakarta
- the training of local church leaders and their confidence growing in sharing Scripture and prayers in their own language
- God’s protection over the teams as they travel between islands on sometimes dangerous seas.
Please pray for:
- good progress on Romans in Dobel as the team prepare for community testing
- Kola and Dobel speakers to use what has been translated
- another person to join the Kola team
- a consultant to become available to check Luke in the Kola language
- guidance for the missionary couple working with the Dobel people as they face potentially losing their house and having to resettle.
Progress for the Dobel
Revelation and John’s gospel are ready for the final consultant check, and work is continuing on Ephesians, Galatians and Romans. The team has also been working on a trial translation into Dobel of the liturgy used by the main church denomination in the region (the Protestant Church of the Maluku) incorporating Scripture.
Last year, the Dobel translation team visited all 12 of the Dobel-speaking churches to train church leaders in using the Dobel Scriptures, and to teach Dobel Christians how to pray in their own language and to use the translated liturgy. They distributed the Dobel Gospel of Luke, a booklet of 12 Dobel epistles and the book of Ruth, and encouraged people to read the Scriptures and to use the Bible App (a small but growing number have smartphones).
The visits were such a success the team decided to make a return visit to each church every year. They have just finished visiting all the Dobel churches again this year.
Progress for the Kola
Despite a few setbacks, the Kola team’s hard work on the five Ts (1 & 2 Thessalonians, 1 & 2 Timothy, and Titus) has paid off, and it has just been printed. They are now working on translating Luke and Acts. They would like to get these two books ready for the final consultant check in the coming year. They are also working on liturgies for the main Protestant church.
The team aims to make at least two village visits for the community checks of the translations, and will also encourage people to use the portions of the Bible and Bible stories already printed. They would also like to create a Bible App for Kola speakers.
God has been at work in the translation team’s lives. One member said: ‘Before I started this work, I used to get drunk. I kept doing things that were wrong. Then I decided, “No more. I’m going to give up drink now!”’ Another said, ‘When I began working in the office, I understood that the important thing is what’s in our hearts.’
Give thanks for:
- the steady progress each translation team is making, and for the work on the liturgies
- the positive response from the Dobel church visits and training sessions
- How God is working to change the team’s lives
- the Kola booklet of 1 & 2 Thessalonians, 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus is now printed and ready to be distributed in the villages.
- the Kola team to continue to get the help they need, including help producing a Bible App
- God to speak to people’s hearts in both languages through the translated Scriptures
- God to help Dobel Christians grow in their faith through prayer, reading the word, and prayer and worship in their own language
- the possibility of a team going to the Aru Islands to hold a song-writing and recording workshop.
The team did further checking of 1 and 2 Thessalonians, 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus (the ‘5Ts’) with the community. One of the things this exercise showed up was the use of obsolete words, so they tried to replace them with words the current generation can understand the meaning of without changing the sense of the sentence.
They are making sure the key terms (words for major themes we find in the Bible, such as salvation, glory, Kingdom of God) used in the 5Ts are consistent with those in Luke, Acts and other books they are working on.
The Kola team would like to get these 5Ts books published. The typesetting has been done, and the next step is printing, once they have a letter of permission from the main Protestant church in the province.
In early May last year, the consultant and the Dobel team went to three Dobel-speaking villages. The goals for this trip were:
- to distribute Luke's gospel and a booklet called Twelve letters from the New Testament
- to train church leaders to read the Dobel Scriptures aloud, to pray in Dobel, and encourage them to use Dobel for ministry where possible
- to model good practice to the Dobel team, so that they can do this on their own in the future.
At the end of July, more copies of Luke and Twelve letters were printed and taken to the remaining nine Christian Dobel villages. The book of Ruth was published as a booklet and also taken out to the villages.
The community check of Revelation was finished in September. John’s gospel has been drafted.
Nothing is hidden any more
When the consultant and the team went out to check the 5Ts with the Kola community, one of the people, Mrs Lin, was delighted to read the practical advice in the books. She went on to say,
‘An ramau tanga yeramona iya ahpina tu, an mau hawih aka sita’, meaning, ‘Nothing is hidden any more, everything has been revealed to us.’
Give thanks for:
- God’s help with the successful checking of the 5Ts
- Twelve letters from the New Testament in Dobel being put onto a Bible app; Ruth is to be added soon.
- the internet situation in Dobo; they are able to connect most days, but sometimes they just can’t get a good-enough connection
- the team and the consultants as they seek to publish the 5Ts in Kola
- the translated Dobel and Kola Scriptures to speak clearly to people.