Wednesday, July 1, 2020

More Baptisms!

Although we are on furlough in California, the translation work that we have completed thus far continues to bear fruit in Papua New Guinea. A few weeks ago I (Adam) received news from my co-worker Nete Talian that he had been conducting more evangelistic outreaches in various places. During the week-long evangelistic outreaches, Nete preaches a different message each night from the Enga translation and also plays various films and recordings such as the Enga Jesus Film, the sorcery public service announcement that we recorded a couple of years ago, and films raising awareness about the problems of AIDS and tribal fighting.

Reporting on a recent outreach, Nete sent me the following message through Telegram: “I was running a week-long Evangelistic meeting at Yaramanda every morning and every night. 23 people accepted Jesus Christ as their personal Savior and went down into the water of baptism. They were baptized by Pastor Thomas Waion, pastor of my church in Rakamanda. At the same time I started the Enga Bible Literacy school. At the moment they are meeting two times per week. Every Tuesday and Thursday they have their Enga Bible Literacy School class.”

As you can see from the picture below, when Nete says that they “went down into the water of baptism,” he is not only talking about going under the water, but also about going down into the valley where there is a natural pool of water where people can be baptized.

Baptisms in the village of Yaramanda
When Nete conducts these outreaches, he preaches from our Enga translation, and it speaks directly to the hearts of the people. Join with us in praising the Lord for the fruit we are seeing from our translation work. And please pray for Nete as he tirelessly works on the translation, while also conducting outreaches and starting literacy programs in various churches throughout the province. Pray that many more will be baptized and learn how to read in the coming years.

A new convert being baptized
Translation Progress
Even though we are on furlough, I (Adam) continue to work daily on the Enga New Testament. Because we are far along in the translation, we qualify for remote consultant checking, which means that a consultant can review our translation from afar and make suggestions and recommendations. I am still responsible for doing a face-to-face check when we return to Papua New Guinea, but this process opens up many more options for us to complete the checking process. It also allows for me to work with a consultant even while we are in America, which is a great benefit. We have just completed the remote check of Romans, and we will continue with more of the Pauline epistles in the coming weeks and months. As I read the consultant’s notes, I write notes to the translation team in Papua New Guinea. They in turn respond to my notes, and I respond to the consultant again. Praise the Lord for technology that connects us, even overseas!

Return to PNG
With all of the uncertainty surrounding the Coronavirus, our plans to return to Papua New Guinea are up in the air. Our desire is to return the first week of August once Wycliffe’s international travel restrictions expire. But there are other obstacles standing in our way. Please pray that our visas will be approved quickly, so that our return date is not hindered. Pray also that we will be able to find flights that will not be canceled. Some of our friends have had multiple flights canceled in their efforts to return from PNG to America. Pray also that we can navigate all of the restrictions on international travel in PNG and Australia (which we will probably fly through), as requirements change rapidly. Pray also that members of our organization will be granted permission to quarantine at our home in Ukarumpa rather than at a government-approved hotel in Port Moresby. We do not want to be locked in a hotel room in Port Moresby for two weeks as it would be very expensive. Not only that, but it would be hard for the five of us to basically be locked in a hotel room for two weeks. With all of the uncertainty, we struggle a bit to be at peace in our daily lives. The missionary life is already one that is full of transition and uncertainty, and it is difficult to add to that the further uncertainty brought about by the Coronavirus. Pray that God’s peace would reign in our hearts, and that we would be content no matter what the circumstances.

Monday, June 1, 2020

You Already Speak Pidgin

One of the languages that I (Adam) don’t talk about much, but use quite often in Papua New Guinea, is a language called Tok Pisin (Talk Pidgin). A pidgin language is one that is used for communication between people from different language groups, and it is generally not anyone’s mother tongue. It is almost always a simplified form of an already existing language, with limited vocabulary.

It can be quite entertaining for English speakers to learn Tok Pisin as it is a simplified form of English. It is fascinating to see how English words have been appropriated for other uses with a change in their meaning. To give you a small taste of what Tok Pisin is like, I am copying the Lord’s Prayer below in Tok Pisin. First, I will write it with the standard spelling, and you will probably have difficulty understanding it—but give it a try. (You will understand more if you read it out loud.) Then, I will write the prayer again spelling all of the words that come from English with their normal English spelling. You will be amazed at how much Tok Pisin you already know, simply because you speak English.

Papa bilong mipela,
yu stap long heven,
Nem bilong yu i mas i stap holi. 
Kingdom bilong yu i mas i kam.
Mipela i mas bihainim laik bilong yu long graun
Olsem ol i save bihainim long heven.
Nau yu ken givim mipela kaikai inap long dispela de.
Na yu ken lusim ol rong bilong mipela,
Olsem mipela i save lusim ol rong ol arapela i mekim long mipela.
Na yu no ken larim ol traim i kamap long mipela,
Tasol yu ken kisim bek mipela long ol samting nogut.
Kingdom na strong na biknem
Em i bilong yu tasol oltaim oltaim. I tru.

How did you do? I imagine it was pretty difficult for you to make much sense out of the prayer. But now I want you to read the prayer again with standard English spelling. Believe it or not, there are only four or five words in the entire prayer that are not derived from English. (Those words are defined below.)

kaikai = food
na = and
save = regularly (pronounced sah-vay)
i = untranslatable (ignore this word)
-im = perhaps from the English word him (ignore this word)

Papa belong me-fellow,
You stop along heaven,
Name belong you i must i stop holy.
Kingdom belong you i must i come.
Me-fellow i must behind-im like belong you along ground
All-same all i save behind-im along heaven.
Now you can give-im me-fellow kaikai enough along this-fellow day.
Na you can loose-im all wrong belong me-fellow,
All-same me-fellow i save loose-im all wrong all another-fellow i make-im along me-fellow.
Na you no can let-im all try-im i come up along me-fellow,
Thats-all you can catch-im back me-fellow along all something no good.
Kingdom na strong na big name,
Him i belong you that’s-all all-time all-time. I true.

Did you understand more this time? Are you surprised at how much Tok Pisin you already know? Even though it was probably not entirely clear, in just a few short minutes you are already well on your way to understanding the Lord’s prayer in another language. But just in case it is still a bit foggy, let me write out the prayer one more time in a literal word-for-word English translation.

Father of us
You are in heaven,
Name of you must be holy.
Kingdom of you must come.
We must follow desire of you on earth
As they regularly follow [it] in heaven.
Now you can give us food enough for this day.
And you can release wrongs of us,
As we regularly release wrongs others make against us.
And you can not let trials come up upon us,
But you can take us back from things [that are] no good
Kingdom and strength and big name,
They belong [to] you alone, [for] all time, [for] all time. [It’s] true.

Did you notice that in just this short prayer I had to translate the word long (along) with six different English words (in, on, for, from, against, upon)? That is the nature of Pidgin languages: they are simplified. And that is one of the greatest shortcomings of Pidgin languages: they don’t have the precision that other languages do. Hearing the Bible in a Pidgin language rarely sounds as sweet and clear as it does in one’s own language. And even if the general point comes across, the depths and riches of God’s word are often lost, just as they were when you struggled through reading through the Lord’s Prayer in Pidgin, even though it was spelled out in English. That is why I am so thankful for your partnership with us to translate the Bible into Enga, so the people of Enga can hear the Word of God clearly and know what they need to do to behind-im it (I mean, ‘follow it’).

Friday, May 1, 2020

Back-Translation Complete

As we shelter-in-place here in Alhambra, California, waiting to see when things might open back up, I (Adam) have continued working with the Enga translation team remotely to complete the back-translation of the remaining books of the Enga New Testament. Just two days ago, we made the final edits as we prepared the back-translation for consultant check. To refresh your memory about what back-translation is and why we need to do it, let me remind you about the checking process for Bible translation. As we complete portions of the translation, we must have them checked by an outside consultant. The consultant is an experienced translator who goes through the translation line-by-line with a couple of Enga speakers to make sure that they are understanding the meaning of the text. But because the consultant does not speak Enga, he or she must have access to a very literal English back-translation of the Enga translation. The consultant then works from the English back-translation as he or she asks questions of the Enga speakers about the Enga translation. We have now completed back-translating the remaining books of the Enga New Testament so that they are now ready for consultant check. We praise the Lord for helping us to complete this work, which can be very tedious (but also very beneficial). We now wait for the time when we can have the remaining books of the Enga New Testament checked by a consultant. This is, of course, all up in the air right now as we wait to see how Coronavirus pans out both here in America and in Papua New Guinea (where there are eight confirmed cases).

Biblical Terms Checking
As we wait to see how things will pan out, there is another check that we will be working on, which is the Biblical Terms checking process. This is a process in which we use translation software to make sure that every word in the Greek New Testament is accounted for in the Enga translation. This process is slow-going at first as I work through Matthew verse-by-verse. But the more Enga terms I match up with Greek terms, the easier the work gets as I go along. So far this process has shown that our translation is quite accurate with only minor words here and there that we failed to account for. Of course, as we identify any words that we accidentally overlooked, we make notes to add them into the translation.

Future Plans
Before Coronavirus hit, we had been planning on returning to Papua New Guinea in early July. Now, we are in a holding pattern, waiting to see what will happen. Our heart's desire is to return to Papua New Guinea sooner, rather than later, so please pray with us that we will be able to return before the beginning of the next school year. Pray as well that the Enga translators will remain safe and healthy and that the number of Coronavirus cases in Papua New Guinea will not increase. We appreciate your continued prayer and support of our work. Please know that we continue to move toward our goal of completing the Enga translation, even as we shelter-in-place here in California.

May the peace of Christ be with you!

Sunday, April 5, 2020

Dealing with Fear and Anxiety in the midst of Coronavirus

This morning I had an opportunity to preach via phone to a small group of believers. The title of the message was Dealing with Fear and Anxiety in the midst of Coronavirus. You can listed to it at the link below.

Wednesday, April 1, 2020


March 15th was supposed to be an exciting Sunday where Adam preached the 1:00 service at the Brooklyn Tabernacle. Adam and I were going to stay in New York City for four days, while the kids stayed with a friend. The day before we were scheduled to leave, we heard the news that we had been nervously anticipating: The governor of New York had banned gatherings of five hundred or more, and so our trip was canceled. A few days later we were supposed to spend a week in San Diego—a family vacation, but also a time to see several very dear friends, and once again, Adam was going to preach at a church. We thought we could pull this one off. Adam would co-preach with the pastor via video, and we would meet friends in an open area of a park. If anything, we could quarantine at the Airbnb right on the coast that someone had gifted us for a week and just go the beach. But the night before we were supposed to go, the governor of California called for a statewide lockdown, and we felt we needed to follow it. Another trip canceled. Another disappointment. The next two days I found myself curled on the couch, watching the news and feeling frozen in time.

We were so looking forward to seeing many more friends and spending more time with family. Our time in the states is precious, and we feel robbed because this rare opportunity is now being taken away from us. Though we are grateful for our apartment, it feels small. We felt stir crazy after just the first week of lockdown, and we will most likely have several more weeks, if not months, to go.

When I finally braved the grocery store, I was shocked by the empty shelves. It had been a while since I had gone to the store, and I guess I thought that once the hoarders calmed down, people would return to shopping as normal. But I was wrong. Despite the many empty shelves, I was able to get almost all the food I needed. I guess there isn’t a run on broccoli and green beans. That day at the grocery store left me feeling sad, but fear came the next day. All of a sudden I began to look at our food supply. We have plenty of food, but what if the grocery stores really do run out? I regretted not buying those pinto beans I saw, and those noodle packets. I should have gotten potatoes. What was I thinking? My kids forgot to eat lunch that day, and I was secretly thankful.

Fear is a funny thing. It is like a small animal living inside your head. If you give it enough food, it will grow. I feed my fear with what if statements. What if my dad, sister, or husband gets sick? What if we can’t get back to PNG before Jacob’s 10th grade year begins? (He hates online school.) What if our support goes down? And of course, what we are all worried about, what if I can’t find toilet paper? I could sit and watch the news all day and grow that fear exponentially, or, I can feed it something else. I can feed it hope, faith, and trust. How do I do that? By looking at all the ways God has orchestrated his timing, and by being thankful for the gifts that have sprouted during this crisis.

This virus could have happened while we were overseas, but it didn’t. I am in awe of God’s timing to allow us to be here to look after my niece while my sister is at work, and to be close to my dad in case he gets sick. I can’t imagine being halfway across the world from my family during something like this. Our furlough was becoming busier and busier, and I wasn’t spending as much time with my niece as I had hoped. But now we will be spending lots of time with her, and I have the opportunity to help her with her reading and math. Our lives were super busy before this, and it seemed like we had something planned for every day. That was hard on the kids. Though I am saddened by so many canceled times with friends, we can also appreciate the slow and calm life for a season. These are gifts that I am grateful for.

Jacob, Bella, and Asher at the park with their cousin Somaya two days before the lockdown order in California
In many ways living in PNG has prepared us for living in social isolation and grocery store shortages. In PNG, no eggs and bread in the store are regular occurrences, and every year the store shuts down for two weeks over Christmas break, and for two more weeks during the annual stock take. We must buy enough food and plan meals to last that whole time. Cooking every night and not going to restaurants is a way of life for us on the mission field. We are used to it. I could complain that once again we were robbed from the wonderful freedom of eating out during furlough, but since it is March, and we have been here since July, our plumper bodies testify to that lie. The funny thing is, just the other day I told Adam I had tasted all the food I wanted to taste. The sense of urgency and thrill of eating out is gone. (But I would be lying if I said I didn’t still love the convenience.)

One day before all this talk about Coronavirus, I was reading the book of James, and the word endurance stood out to me like a neon sign: “Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.” I read a little further and there it was again: “God blesses those who patiently endure testing and temptation.” There are a lot of things you can take from those verses, but for me, the word endure continued to stand out. I ended up lingering in the book of James for a while and wondering with a bit of nervousness what it was that God was going to have me endure. I had pretty much forgotten about it until a couple of weeks ago while video chatting with a friend about the spiritual aspects of this virus. All of a sudden it became clear what God was telling me I would have to endure. Never in my wildest dreams did I think it would be a worldwide pandemic.

So far, enduring hasn’t been that difficult. It has been inconvenient, disappointing, and lonely, but we are safe and healthy, and we have everything we need, including toilet paper—for now. The hard part is trying not to worry about what the future holds. The hard part is hearing your 14-year-old say, “I hope we can go back in July. I don’t want to stay here any longer.” And all you can say is, “I know you do.” It is hard not to imagine worst case scenarios of close family members dying or having long hospital stays. And when I think about this virus possibly hitting Papua New Guinea in full force, it hurts my heart.

Just when I thought I was finally getting somewhere in my spiritual life with trusting God, He reminds me that I still have a long way to go. There is so much in this world that we have come to depend on instead of Christ. Our health care system, our jobs, and our investments to name a few. We lean on the things of this world, but God’s word tells us not to rely on the things of this world, but to depend on Christ alone. Never before has this message rung so true, as we are seeing firsthand how fleeting the things of this world really are.

This pandemic is a test of our faith and a chance for all of us to grow as we patiently endure. I still believe that God is in control. He is our solid rock, and our anchor. He has not moved or changed. He is still with us and will not abandon us. Let us put our hope and trust in Christ alone, because when our jobs are gone, and our hospitals are full, and our bank accounts are empty, the Lord will continue to provide his eternal grace and meet our every need. I am not sure what else any of us will be called to endure, but I do know that God never wastes our pain. I pray that none of us misses what God has for us during this time, and that we receive with open hands all the blessings and lessons He pours out. Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, may you find the strength and courage to patiently endure, and, as a result, grow deeply in your faith.

Prayer Requests
Please pray for protection over my sister Ruthie who works at Lowe’s, and my father Charles and niece Somaya who live with her. My father is 85 years old. Pray also for my friend and neighbor Roberta who watches Somaya a couple of days each week.

Keep Papua New Guinea in your prayers. So far, we know of only one confirmed case in the country. Pray specifically for our translators: Maniosa, Martin, Nete, Rueben, William, and Frank, and for the community of missionaries and Papua New Guineans who live in Ukarumpa, our missionary base.

Pray for us as a family living and homeschooling in a two-bedroom apartment on the second floor. Our only outlet is going for a walk around the neighborhood, during which we constantly tell our kids not to touch anything or go near anyone. Living on the second floor means constantly telling our kids not to jump, wrestle, or dance. We are basically living life telling our kids not to be kids. Pray that we can all patiently endure each other’s presence with joy and thanksgiving.

Sunday, March 1, 2020

Textual Criticism

When translating the New Testament, the key question we are always asking ourselves is, HOW do we translate the Greek text into the target language. But there is a secondary question that we must also take into consideration at times, namely, WHICH Greek text do we translate. This secondary question is addressed by the field of Textual Criticism.

The books of the Greek New Testament were all composed within the first century AD. But as copies were made, changes were introduced in a few different ways. First, scribes made errors when they copied the text. For example, Papyrus 66, which was copied around AD 200, is full of basic errors because the scribe who made the copy did not speak Greek and was copying letter-by-letter (rather than word-by-word). Given that early manuscripts had no spaces between words, it would be very easy to skip over text inadvertently, which is exactly what the scribe did. (Fortunately most scribes did speak Greek and did not make errors like this.) Other changes were introduced by heretics, who were seeking to bolster their false doctrines. And still other changes were made in an attempt to “correct” the grammar and style of the text. But whether the changes were accidental or intentional, the vast majority of them were introduced before the year AD 200.

As the Greek New Testament spread throughout the Roman empire, three different types of texts emerged in three different areas: the Western text in the western part of the Roman empire, the Alexandrian text in Egypt, and the Byzantine text in the eastern part of the Roman empire. The Western text often shows signs of paraphrasing the original Greek and exists today more in Latin translation than it does in Greek manuscripts (although there are a few Greek manuscripts of the Western text). The Alexandrian text is often short and terse, having readings that are harder to understand, and it is represented by only a small minority of Greek manuscripts. The Byzantine text is represented in the overwhelming majority of Greek manuscripts, and it is longer than the Alexandrian text with smoother Greek.

One of the most famous editions of the Byzantine text is this 1550 printing by Robert Estienne known as the Royal Edition because of its beauty and intricacy
While it appears that none of these text types preserve much in the way of the false teachings introduced by heretics, it is clear that minor scribal errors and intentional changes to grammar and style are preserved in at least some of the text types. The vast majority of these changes are extremely minor and cannot even be translated into English. And of the changes that can be translated into English, the vast majority are again extremely minor and do not affect the meaning of the text at all. Only a small minority of the differences between the three different text types affect the meaning of the text, but even then, none of the teachings of Jesus and Apostles are obscured by these differences, and so we can have great confidence in Scripture as it has been preserved. Nevertheless, as translators we must choose which text to translate.

One of the most notable examples is the ending to the Lord’s prayer in Matthew 6:13. The Byzantine text, which is supported by 98.7% of the Greek manuscripts, reads, “For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.” But the Alexandrian text and the Western text lack this ending to the prayer. So that leaves us with a question: Did Matthew include this ending to the prayer in his gospel or not? That is the question we as Bible translators must ask ourselves. Unfortunately, the answer to that question is too complicated to address in this short email, and even the best of scholars do not agree on the right answer. Translations like the King James Version and New King James Version include the longer ending, while translations like the English Standard Version and New International Version omit it.

Textual Criticism is just one more factor that Bible translators must wrestle with as we seek to translate Scripture into the minority languages of the world. Thankfully, textual differences are so minor that they do not affect the trustworthiness of Scripture. Therefore our confidence in the inspiration of Scripture is not shaken.

Saturday, February 1, 2020

John 3:16

John 3:16. It is the most famous of Bible verses, well beloved and eagerly memorized, proudly displayed on posters at public events, a beautiful summary of the saving work of God through Christ. In its most famous translation it reads:

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

Yet how well do we understand this verse, which so many of us have hidden in our hearts? The crux of the interpretation lies in the little two-letter word so. When most of us hear this word, we think of it as a word of degree, indicating the amount of God’s love for us. In other words, we typically understand this word as do the translators of the Contemporary English Version (CEV) and the New Century Version (NCV), who translate the beginning of this verse as “God loved the world so much.” But the Greek word translated as so in the King James and so much in the CEV and NCV is more commonly an adverb of manner and not of degree. Consider for example the sentence, “I want you to do it just so.” Here the word so is describing the manner in which the speaker wants something to be done. Another way we might communicate the same idea in English would be to say “like this” or “in this way.”

While it is possible that the word so in John 3:16 communicates the degree of God’s love, it is equally possible that the focus is on the manner in which he demonstrated his love, namely by giving his only begotten Son. Actually, since the word can have both meanings, it is quite possible that John the Apostle wanted his readers to consider both senses of the word. But in most English translations, readers only get the sense of degree and miss the sense of manner.

Although it is not nearly as poetic as the traditional King James translation, the New English Translation (NET) captures well the sense of manner that so often gets lost in translation:

For this is the way God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.

A secondary issue in which translations of John 3:16 differ has to do with who is actually speaking these words. Are they the words of Jesus? Or is it the voice of John the Apostle providing further commentary about Jesus’s interaction with Nicodemus? While most translations consider these words to be a quotation of Jesus, translations such as the NET Bible and the Revised Standard Version (RSV) end the words of Jesus in verse 15. The original King James translation did not have quotation marks, nor did it use a red font for the words of Jesus, and so this question is left ambiguous in the King James. Similarly, the Greek manuscripts provide no indication of where exactly quotations end.

There are interesting arguments to support the idea that verses 16 to 21 are actually commentary from the Apostle John rather than the words of Jesus. First, there is some phraseology that is never spoken by Jesus, but is used by the Apostle John in other places, such as only begotten Son, do the truth, and who believes in him. Second, there is an abrupt shift of tense from present to past. Verses 1 to 15 are in the present tense, while verses 16 to 21 are in the past tense. This gives the sense of an outside observer looking back in time to what had happened in the past and providing explanation.

Ultimately, it doesn’t really matter whether Jesus spoke these words or whether John did; in either case it is still the inspired word of God. But it is interesting to ponder through whom God chose to communicate these words; and in translation it is necessary to make a decision if the target language employs quotation marks or other devices to indicate the conclusion of quoted speech.

John 3:16 is an excellent example of how translation can be more difficult than it might appear at first. One would think that a verse as well known as John 3:16 would be quite easy to translate; yet there are nuances that often escape the attention of the English reader, but which must be decided when translating into another language. This verse proved to be particularly difficult to translate into Enga, particularly as it relates to the little two-letter word so. Ultimately we translated John 3:16 in this way:

God loved all the people of the world; by means of that, he gave his one [and] only Son. He gave [him], saying [that] any person who shall put trust in the Son of him, that [person] shall not die and become lost, but rather he shall receive the life that exists forever.

And, by the way, we did end the quotation of the words of Jesus in verse 15, but there are certainly good arguments to extend the quotation through the end of verse 21.