16 Mar

Why does Bible Translation take so long?

There are many many reasons that Bible Translation takes a long time. A good translation will be accurate and easy to understand. It can take a long time to bring a Bible translation to this very finely negotiated balance. The most 'understandable' phrase isn't always the most 'accurate'. Sometimes lengthy discussions and extensive testing is required just to get one word right.

The story below is from our Wycliffe collegue in the USA who travels to Nigeria to work with Bible Translation projects. 


As the Mbe* translation team in Nigeria was translating the Gospel of Luke, they came to chapter 2, verse 7, where Luke describes the first moments of Jesus’ earthly life: “She [Mary] gave birth to her first child, a son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no lodging available for them.”

The translators took time to ponder how to translate some of the words, but not “manger.” They immediately used the word “ókpáng.”

“What’s an ókpáng?” asked their consultant, John Watters. “Tell me what it looks like.”  One of the translators drew a picture on the whiteboard. It was essentially a cradle hung by ropes so that the newborn could be laid in it and swung.

“Read the Translator’s Notes again,” John suggested. “What do the notes say about the manger?” (“Translator’s Notes” is a series of commentaries in non-technical English that are especially helpful for Bible translators for whom English is a second language.)

The Mbe translators read the notes and saw that “manger” referred to an animal feeding trough. Joseph and Mary apparently stayed near the animals, since there was no room for them in the part of the house where people usually stayed, and so Jesus’ first bed was an animal feeding trough.

Even as the Mbe team read the notes, they objected. “We have always used the word ókpáng. We have used it for years, and that’s what we should use.”

John pointed out to them that it wasn’t just a matter of tradition. God expects us to find the words that express the original meaning as accurately as possible. Furthermore, this word tells us something profound about God. “When He came to live among us and bring salvation to us, He came in the lowliest way possible. He did not come and sleep in a nice ókpáng like every Mbe mother wants for her newborn. Instead, He showed us his unbelievable humility,” John told them. “So we need to find your best word for an animal feeding trough.”

Suddenly the one who had argued most loudly for the traditional term offered, “We feed our animals out of an old worn-out basket that is not usable anymore except to feed the animals. We call it ‘ɛ́dzábrí.’”

“Then try that term,” said John. “Put it in your rough draft and test it with Mbe speakers.”

The next weekend they read the story of Jesus’ birth to all kinds of church groups and individuals in Mbe villages. Often people asked about the word for manger. They understood what ɛ́dzábrí meant, but they weren’t sure it was the right choice. “We always say they laid Jesus in an ókpáng,” they said.

Each time they were asked, the translation team explained the reason they had chosen the new term. Jesus really did lie in a place where they fed animals. In this way, He demonstrated the humility that would characterize His years on earth.

As the Mbe people listened, they were visibly moved. Picturing the newborn Baby lying in the animals’ feeding basket, they recognized in a new way that Jesus was willing to do whatever it took to reach them. As an adult, He would humble Himself by washing the disciples’ feet and then by dying on the cross. And this humility started right from birth, when He was born to a young peasant woman under questionable social conditions and laid in an animal feeding trough.

No word in Scripture is too unimportant to translate carefully and accurately. Even the word for a baby’s bed—accurately translated—can show people the lengths to which God will go to reach them, to reach us.

And no language community is too unimportant to merit the Scriptures in the language they best understand. John says, “Translation in the heart language respects the people who speak it, and through the process it frees them to have a relationship with God in their own words and terms.” 

There is nothing God wants to say to a language community that He cannot say in their own language. The translated Word frees people to respond to the God who humbled Himself for them, and it frees them to worship the exalted God in the language that best expresses their joy and adoration. One day every knee will bow and every tongue—speaking every language—will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.

04 Feb

What, you aren’t a teacher?

ALI – When we headed out here to Nigeria, we though i would get involved teaching at Hillcrest school.  It turns out they don’t’ have need for a high school science teacher.   So we took some time out and explored a few options in the Wycliffe office.

I have a title which is currently ‘data archivist’ and my current project is to gather and assimilate information on Nigerian languages (all 520+ of them!) in order to provide an update for the Ethnologue (if you don’t know what this is, which you  check out www.ethnologue.org).
This is quite a mammoth undertaking as there are 3 pages of questions for each of the languages. For many of the language groups we have little or no information and no easy way of getting it. It is quite a shock coming from a culture where I am used to any information I require (and an awful lot that I don’t!) being available to me following a few clicks of a mouse. It has made me realise that the web isn’t actually as “world wide” as you might think, at least in its content.

I have also had the opportunity of dusting off my rather cobwebby database skills as we try to create a database that can enable us to keep track of what information we do have and show us the gaps of what we need to find out.

I have been working closely with one of our directors, as most of the work that I am taking on used to be done by him. However he and his wife have had to return to the US for a few months so we are now having to work by e-mail rather than face to face. Thankfully we are both quite happy working with this medium but please pray for continued clear communication.

22 Oct

Are we a nation of liars?

2 weeks ago we started our Hausa course. Hausa is one of the major languages in Nigeria (out of 520) and it is the one spoken in the north where we are. I am not a big fan of language learning but I am getting on with it okay for now. There are 5 of us in the class, none of whom are linguists, none of whom are thriving in the environment, but we are doing it to honour our Nigerian hosts and enable us to greet properly – it is very important here.

The first thing we learnt is about greetings. There is none of this hi bye business, but there is a long series of greetings. The bold is a loose translation, don’t over analyse it – it doesn’t work believe me!

T: sannu. hi
A: yauwa sannu. hi to you too!
T: yaya gida. how is your household
A: lafia. fine
T: yaya maigida how is your husband
A: lafia lau. very fine
T: yaya aiki. how is your work
A: mun gode Allah. we thank God
T: yaya giyada. how is your tiredness
A: ba giyada. there is no tiredness

Etc etc. and so it goes on

T: Sai an jima. see you tomorrow
A: to yauwa sai an jima. yup see ya

It doesn’t matter how anybody is or if you are tired or if work is bad, you always answer in the positive. It occurred to me that we Brits often do the same thing.

T:Hi! How are you
A: Fine thanks and you?
A: Great cya.

Sometimes I get sick of the falseness.
Sometimes I’m glad to hide behind it.
Maybe we aren’t so different from the Nigerians.


23 Jul

Trying to get out there :(

Hi folks, sorry for the long silence, I had been hoping to bring you good news of clearance, visas and flights.  However, we have been waiting WAY too long – sorry about that.


Good news:  The personnel team cleared us to leave for Nigeria
Bad News:  We still have a few quid to raise for our monthly support
Good News:  Ali has finished work well.
Bad News: The Nigerian Embassy is requiring one more letter from Nigeria that we haven’t got yet before they will issue our visas.  So we’ve had to postpone flights from Tuesday to Friday next week (at an extra cost of £1100).
Good News:  A few more days to sort things out and relax before we go!


I was very much struggling yesterday to get my head around the change of plans and all the why’s, but constant reminders from so many close people, is that God really does have it in hand, and maybe we won’t understand for a while, but down the line someday, maybe we will.


Please pray with us that the visas are issued as soon as possible without any further complications.



28 Jan

Off to Nigeria Part 4 – What do we need to do before we can go?

We are excited by the possibility to go and serve in Nigeria, playing our part to facilitate Bible Translation for 150 million people.    There are some hurdles to get over before we can go and do it.

  • We have already started getting injections done but have about 6 more each to do.
  • We need to raise the money we need in order to live. Wycliffe UK have a great page explaining about the finance side of things.    We still need to raise another £1400 £1200 a month. Why so much money? Right now, Ali is working as a secondary school teacher, we live mostly from her salary.  When we head to Nigeria, she will no longer have a salary and so we need to raise the money to replace her salary.
  • Ali has to take daily meds to make up for the thyroid they had to take out a few years back.  We have some leads but no final solution yet.
  • We need at least 1 laptop, both of ours belong to work and neither are the recommended brand for us to take.
  • We need to sort out people to rent our house while we are away.  ~As well as a few jobs we need to do in the house before we go!
  • probably other things I haven’t’ listed or can’t remember right now!

There are also presidential elections due on April 2nd.  Normally elections in Nigeria are prone to all the minor issues associated with African elections especially fraud.  Results are normally contested and often violence breaks out.  So as long as  it has calmed down again by the time we want to leave it is all okay.  There are other UK families who are out there, as as long as they are happy to be out there, we will travel.  A great team of people in the office thinking through all these decision, some of whom we have known for a very long time, and we trust their judgement.   It is something to be praying for though!

25 Jan

Off to Nigeria Part 1 – Why Wycliffe?

Why Wycliffe?

We are heading to Nigeria with Wycliffe, but why Wycliffe and not one of the other organisations?

In short – The bible.   We know in our lives just how just important the Bible is.  At different times it is a source of invaluable wisdom, comfort and inspiration.  It is also the best way we know to get to know God better.  I find that the inspiration often comes when we least expect it, but also when we most need it!  The Bible is a lifeline.

In a world of nearly 7 billion people and around 7000 languages we find it a travesty that not everyone has access to scripture.  How are they supposed to find that wisdom, comfort and inspiration.   How are they supposed to get to know God better and live a life that is honouring to him?

We have literally a hundred versions of the Bible in English but there are only 430 completed in other languages.  There are still 2500 translation projects that need starting all over the world.  The work Wycliffe is currently involved in, will impact around 2.5 Billion people.

Wycliffe’s Vision is to see a world where every single person has access to a Bible in the language that best speaks to their heart, sometimes that is called ‘mother tongue’  the most natural language that we understand best.  Why?  well because untill people have it in that language, they simply will not get the full meaning of God’s message of love for them.

Did you know that you probably only know about 80%  all the words in english?  Some people ask why we just don’t teach everyone English, after all everyone use it on the internet these days.  Well, there are 2 problems with that.

1 – it is not the most used language on the web, chinese is.
2 – if we taught them, they would only get to about 40 – 50% of all the english, so much would be missed!

Maybe you haven’t considered the impact of not understanding every word of your Bible.   Take John 3:16 for example:

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his one and only son, so that whoever believes in him, shall never die but have eternal life”

27 words in that version.   So on the basis that you only understood 80% the words there,  you wouldn’t have understanding of the 5 most difficult words in that verse.  What are the 5 hardest words to understand? (you can comment below if you don’t agree with those ones)

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his one and only son, so that whoever believes in him, shall never die but have eternal life”

If you remove them from the verse, what would you end up with?

“For God so the, that he gave his one and only son, so that whoever in him, shall never die but have life”

You might be able to get the gist, but you would certainly miss the full true meaning behind the verse.  You really need to read it in the language you understand best.

Despite Wycliffe Bible Translators being established in 1942, in the past 10 years there has been a big shift in approach to the global task.  This was prompted by a challenge presented to our organisation at our tri-annual international conference.   It was called “vision 2025”, – to see a Bible translation program begun in every language that needs one by the year 2025.  Here is a short video about that.

Wanting to respond to that challenge, we’re heading to Nigeria!

29 Nov

Hillcrest School

The AMAZING people in Nigeria have sent us a little DVD of Hillcrest school.   We thought you might be interested.

You can also check out their website. http://www.hillcrestschool.net/

We are in the process of arranging a coffee and cake do one afternoon in Jan, keep your ears and eyes open for the invite!

22 Nov

More detail on Ali's school post in Nigeria

A few people got in touch after my post about Ali submitting her CV for teaching in Nigeria.   Coming out not long after our newsletter about fundraising, I think I might have caused a bit of confusion. Sorry about that!  Here is my attempt to clear it up.

As Wycliffe members servign overseas we need to raise all the support we need before we can go.
Ali’s assignment we hope, will be to teach at Hillcrest school in Jos.
We hope Dan will be a pupil at the same school.
The school is managed by a collection of organisations working in Jos, Wycliffe is just one of those.
The school won’t pay Ali a salary, but there is a sytem in place to discount the fee’s we need to pay for Dan attending the school.   The more teachers that Wycliffe provide for the school, the bigger the discount can be.
That discount system will apply to all the Wycliffe kids who are in the school, enabling their parents to continue to do their jobs, be it translation, literacy, manager or any of the other hundred jobs that people do in Nigeria.

So it may be indirect, but Ali working at the school will reduce the amount we need to raise before we can head out there.

08 Nov

Ali teaching in Nigeria

Image of a tecern standing at a blackboard

NOT Ali teaching!

So part of what we hope to do when we get to Nigeria, is for Ali to teach in the international school there. The team we’re looking at joining, have just joined as part of the management team of the school. I’m not up on all the details, but it means they et involve din how the school is run, but also have a requirement to provide so many teachers. Everyone is excited that Ali might help with filling that quote, but in order to start the Autumn 2011 term, Ali had to do a rushed job on a CV to email out to the personnel coordinator who is meeting with the head later this week.

  • Please do pray that we can communicate clearly, and that the right post will be open next year, for about the right hours that Ali is happy to teach.
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