Saturday, September 1, 2018

Yes and No

Although most English speakers are completely unaware of it, the way that we respond to questions formulated in the negative is very strange indeed. Let’s say Martha is going to the store and says to me, “Honey, I am going to the store,” but five minutes later she returns to the house. At that point I ask her, “You didn’t go to the store?” (a question formulated in the negative). Now, if Martha did not go to the store, she would reply, “No, I didn’t go to the store.” But if she did go to the store, she would reply, “No, I went to the store.” So whether she went to the store or not, she would answer with the word “No.” (Although the way she says the word “No” will probably be different in each case.) Nevertheless, if I were to ask Martha and say, “You didn’t go to the store?” and she were to reply with the word “Yes,” I would be thoroughly confused! As English speakers, our brains don’t know how to handle it when someone replies with the word “Yes” to a question formulated in the negative.

In Tok Pisin and many other languages of the world, people give the literal, logical answer to the negative question. So, in Tok Pisin, Martha would either reply, “Yes, I didn’t go to the store,” or “No, I did go to the store.” Again, as English speakers our brains cannot handle these types of responses. And I have found it best to avoid asking negatively formulated questions at all, because everytime I do ask one, I regret it. (Interestingly, our children have gravitated toward the Papua New Guinean way of replying to negative questions. It is not uncommon for one of them to answer negative questions in English the way a Papua New Guineans would answer a negative question in Tok Pisin. Again, this makes our brains hurt.) 


In Enga, it is even more complex because there is no word for “Yes”; there is only a word for “No.” So, to say “Yes,” Engans restate the action of the verb in the affirmative. For example, if I were to ask Martha in Enga, “Did you go to the store?” she would reply, “I went.” If she wanted to reply, “No,” she could either say “I didn’t go,” or “No, I didn’t go.” Engans also have shortcuts for the word “Yes.” One shortcut is to utter something in between a grunt and a sigh; the other is to raise one’s eyebrows. I still have trouble with the raising of the eyebrows. Often I find myself repeating a question over and over again when I forget that raised eyebrows means “Yes.” Instead, I think that people have just misunderstood me or perhaps did not hear me.

This makes things difficult when translating Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:37, “Let your word be ‘Yes, yes,’ or ‘No, no.’” This is further complicated by the fact that the context of Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:37 is his command not to swear any oaths at all. Not only does Enga have no word for “Yes,” but Enga also has no proper word for “Oath.” At first, we translated the idea of swearing an oath as “say that you are speaking very truly,” but we soon discovered that such a translation would not work as Jesus himself frequently says, “Truly, truly, I say to you.” So after much consideration, we translated “swear an oath” as “say the name of something and then say very truly that you will do something.” We found this to be an acceptable translation because swearing an oath usually requires invoking the name of God or something else (such as the saying, “I swear on my mother’s grave”). Having solved the problem of translating “swear an oath,” we were then able to translate Jesus’ words, “Let your word be ‘Yes, yes,’ or ‘No, no,'” as “When you say that you will do something, just say that you will do it. When you say that you will not do something, just say that you will not do it.”

Who would ever have thought that the words “Yes” and “No” could cause so many problems in translation work⁈

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

First Draft of Enga NT Complete!

On June 1, when Reverend Maniosa Yakasa of the Enga Bible Translation team completed his draft of the last nine verses of Ephesians, our first draft of the Enga New Testament was complete. We began drafting the Enga New Testament on October 21, 2013, and so the drafting process took us four years, seven months, and eleven days.

We started out drafting together as a team, working only part-time when I (Adam) was with the team in Enga. However, as the translators developed their translation skills, the team of six began working together full-time, even when I was not present with them. And the last few books the team drafted individually, sitting together at the translation table, but working to draft the books independently.

Although our first draft of the New Testament is now complete, there is still much work to be done to check our translation and prepare it for publication. Because the translators are now equipped to draft the translation independently, I am free to focus my efforts on the checking of the translation, which is just as time-consuming as drafting, if not more so. Nevertheless, we are nearly halfway through the checking process, and our goal is to publish the New Testament within the next three or four years. In the meantime, the translation team has begun drafting the Old Testament. They have nearly completed their first draft of Genesis, while also making significant progress on their first draft of the book of Exodus.

In the journey of ministry (and life), it is important to celebrate important milestones that we encounter along the way. While there is still much work yet to be done before we publish the Enga New Testament (not to mention the Old Testament), we invite you to join with us in celebrating this important milestone, because you have played an important role through your prayers and giving to help us reach this point. We thank you from the bottom of our hearts for your faithful support!

Presenting the gospels in Enga at a recent Scripture dedication ceremony
There Are No Words
To understand the difficulty of translating Scripture into a language like Enga, I want to give you a little exercise. Try retelling the following story without using any of the bolded words.

A man had two dogs. The first was named Spot and the second was named Fido. He liked Spot more than he liked Fido. One day the man needed to buy dog food, and so he went to the store and bought some. When he had returned home from the store, he wanted to put on his slippers, but he saw that Fido had chewed them up. And he said to Fido, “From now on, when I leave the house, I will lock you in a cage, until you learn not to chew up my slippers.”

You probably encountered some difficulties in trying to retell that story without using the words in bold, even though the story is quite simple. Enga does not have any of the words that are in bold, and so we would tell the story like this:

Two dogs of a man existed. The first was named Spot and the second was named Fido. He liked Spot. He really liked Fido. One day the potentiality for the man to buy dog food existed, and so he went to the store and bought some. When he had stood at the store and returned home, he was thinking, saying, “I shall put on my slippers,” but he saw that Fido had chewed them up. And he said to Fido, “Sitting at this time, when I leave the house, I will continue to lock you in a cage; when you learn not to chew up my slippers, I will not lock you in a cage again.”

This short exercise illustrates that when we translate even relatively basic stories from the Bible into Enga, we often encounter difficulties because of the differences in basic vocabulary. I am always surprised at the types of things that take a long time to translate, and I am often sitting there wondering why something that is so clear and obvious to me causes such challenges to the translation team. It is easy to forget about all the “bolded” words that they don’t have. (And of course, they have many “bolded” words that English does not have, which can make even basic speech difficult for me.)

By the way, in this brief example, I don’t even touch on the cultural background that most people in America would understand immediately, such as the fact that Spot and Fido are traditional names for dogs and that dogs chewing up slippers is a traditional problem of owning a pet dog. Of course, in Enga culture, a dog would never be permitted inside the house, and “slippers” would refer to what we would call “flip-flops.” And the idea that anybody would buy food for a dog would be considered ludicrous, as would the idea of keeping a dog in a cage when the owner is away from home. While finding the right words to use in translation is difficult, accounting for cultural assumptions in the biblical text can often be just as difficult

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Being a Missionary Kid in PNG

During our last stay in Enga Province, the kids put together a short video about life as a missionary kid in Papua New Guinea. They did such a good job, that we decided to let the video stand alone as our update for July. Enjoy!

Friday, June 1, 2018

A Successful Rescue

On Monday morning, May 7, during my morning devotionals, I (Adam) was struck by the words of Paul in 2 Corinthians 1:9-10, "...we ourselves had the answer of death within ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead, who delivered us out of so great a death, and will deliver, on whom we have set our hope that he will also still deliver us..." In that passage, Paul is discussing the trials he faced in Ephesus and the fact that he was ready to die as he went about his ministry, trusting that God was able to deliver him, and that God will indeed one day raise us from the dead even if we were to die for our faith. For reasons unbeknownst to me at the time, this Scripture penetrated deeply into my heart, and I was praying that God would give me courage to put my life on the line for him, trusting that he would deliver me.

As the translation team and I have been working on a public service announcement to combat the terrible practice of falsely accusing women of practicing witchcraft and then torturing and killing them, we have been struck by the words of Jesus, who said, "For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it" (Mat. 16:25). Jesus makes this statement in the context of discussing the persecution that he and the disciples would face. The thrust of what Jesus is saying is this: If you deny your faith to save your life in this world, you actually will lose your eternal life. But if you give up your life in this world for my (i.e. Jesus') sake, you will find true life. I have been teaching the translation team and preaching in churches that we, as Christians, need to combat this practice of falsely accusing women of practicing witchcraft and then torturing and killing them. If we just stand on the sidelines and let it happen because we are worried about saving our own lives, then we have missed the point of what Jesus has taught us.

On Tuesday, May 8, the day after reading 2 Corinthians 1:9-10, I was at work as usual with the translation team. We finished up work at four o'clock as usual and the rest of the team left. But because of some unusual computer problems, my coworker Nete and I stayed after work for about thirty minutes trying to resolve the problems. As we were just about to leave, Frank, one of our coworkers, returned with the news that two women were locked in a small trade store just outside of town, having been accused of stealing the heart of a young child and eating it, thereby causing the child's death. It was now time to practice what I had been preaching.

We immediately decided to try to rescue the two women, knowing that accusations like this typically lead to women being burned with hot iron rods and ultimately killed. So we went to the police station and picked up a police officer (who was unarmed) to go with us, as well as a relative of one of the women being held, and then we drove my car to the market area where we had heard that the two women were being held. During the short two-minute drive to the market area, I was afraid. Yet I prayed and asked God to make a way for us to rescue the two women. I then called Martha and asked her to pray as I proceeded ahead despite my fear.

As we arrived in the market area, someone pointed out to me the trade store where the women were being held. As I looked, I saw that the store was actually not locked; rather the door was wide open. So I casually walked into the store and saw a woman sitting on a pool table with some men gathered around. One of the men was interrogating her. I asked her, "Are these men saying bad things about you?" She didn't reply, and so I took her hand and began leading her out of the store. I must admit that I was experiencing tunnel vision and did not see the other woman sitting on the other side of the pool table. Fortunately, the relative of the other woman did the same and took her by the hand and led her out of the store as well. We calmly walked to my car and put the ladies inside. Then I sat in the driver's seat and went to shut the door. As I shut it, a man grabbed the door to prevent me from shutting it. But I just pulled the door hard, and he let go. I immediately locked the door, which was good, because he immediately tried to open the door once I had shut it. We wasted no time and drove away, the whole event taking less than three minutes or so. To be honest, I was shocked that we had so easily gone in and retrieved the two women. Praise the Lord for making a way!

After we left, we decided to take the two women to our house for the night. We live about a fifteen minute drive out of town in another tribe, and so we knew that they would be safe with us. I called Martha to tell that we had gotten the women and were coming home for dinner. She was equally shocked that the whole event had transpired so quickly. When we got to our house, the women told us their story, and we prayed with them and ate dinner together—tacos! (I imagine it was the first time either of the women had ever sampled such food!)

Frank, my coworker, returned to the market area later that afternoon to assess the situation. We were slightly amused when he told us that the people were saying that I must be the chief practitioner of witchcraft, who had come to rescue my own, and that my coworkers were my minions. Such accusations reminded me of the fact that when Jesus was casting out demons and opposing the work of Satan, he was accused of doing so by the power of Beelzebul, the prince of demons. And Jesus' words in Matthew 10:25 rang true to me in a way they hadn't before: "If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household."

The following morning we drove the women back into town and met with the Provincial Police Commander, wondering if we should return to the market area to try to clear the names of these two women from any wrongdoing. His second-in-command is in charge of incidents of killings on the basis of false accusations of witchcraft, and he met with us as well. He advised us not to return, but to invite representatives of the tribe who had accused the women to come to the police station to hear our explanation of why we had come to rescue the women. Although we sent word to the people to come, nobody did, probably because they were afraid of getting arrested.

One of the women went to another village in another part of the province where she would be safe. But the other woman has two young grandchildren whom she looks after. So she was determined to go back to the village and get her grandchildren and then go stay in another part of the province where she would be safe. We were fearful that something might happen to her when she went back, but we have not heard any reports that anything has happened to her, and we assume that she is safe.

As the two women spoke with the police, we were able to ascertain the details of why they had been accused. A young child had recently been rushed to the hospital and subsequently died. As the child was being rushed to the hospital, his mother's cell phone had inadvertently been dropped or left behind. The younger woman of the two accused, whom I will call Nancy, went along with the parents of the child to the hospital, and a boy gave her the phone to take care of. Well Nancy had recently been in a car accident, and so she is suffering from memory problems. A friend of hers later asked if she could borrow the phone and Nancy gave it to her. Her friend later returned the phone to the mother of the child who had died. When the mother received the phone back, she asked the woman who had returned it to her where she had gotten the phone. When she heard that she had gotten the phone from Nancy, she accused Nancy of stealing the child's heart and eating it, thereby causing the child to become sick and die. That's it! That is the supposed evidence for which Nancy has been accused of eating the child's heart, thereby causing the child to die. By the way, the mother who made this accusation claims to be a Christian.

Later some other members of the tribe began interrogating Nancy and threatening to kill her unless she confessed to eating the child's heart. So, under duress and fearful of being tortured and killed, she made a false confession of eating the child's heart. Then they began to ask her whom she had been with that day. She mentioned that she had bought a sausage from the other woman who was later accused, whom I will call Patty. And because a sausage is an edible item, they assume that Patty was involved with supposedly eating this child's heart. And so the two were both being accused and interrogated.

This mindset is almost impossible for westerners to understand; indeed, it is hard for me to understand as well. The translation team and I have completed a public service announcement that will be played in market areas throughout Enga and, hopefully, on the radio. The announcement teaches people that sickness and death is not caused by women stealing a person's heart and eating it, but rather by things like bacteria, viruses, diet, etc. We also teach the people that those who makes false accusations are being influenced by Satan and are telling lies, and so people should not believe such things. And in the announcement we urge Christians to stand up and oppose this terrible practice, teaching that Christians who support this practice are not true Christians. (If you would like to read an English translation of our public service announcement, please click here.)

The week after we rescued these two women, my coworker Nete told me that people were accusing a woman in his village of practicing witchcraft. Fortunately, she has not been interrogated or tortured, but Nete invited me to speak to the village about such things, and so I went and urged them to recognize that they have no real evidence, that the accused is innocent, and that such accusations are lies from the devil.

We need your prayers! These false accusations are sweeping across Enga, and many innocent women are being tortured and killed. Please pray for this practice to end, and pray that people will listen to the public service announcement that we have prepared. Your prayers have power, and when you pray, you are directly attacking the enemy, who is wreaking havoc among the people of Enga. Together, let's put and end to his work.

Please know that we are now back in Ukarumpa, our home away from Enga, until September, so we are not in any danger. Also please know that the Police Provincial Station Commander has spoken with the leaders of the tribe that was holding the two women captive and explained that I am a missionary who is translating the Bible into Enga, and that these rumors that I am somehow the kingpin of witchcraft are completely false.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

False Accusations of Witchcraft

When we arrived in Enga in late March, we heard a disturbing report that two women who live across the river from our house had been accused of practicing witchcraft and were then burned with hot iron rods. After asking around, we discovered that one of the women was killed, while the other was still alive.

Unfortunately, this was not the first time we had heard of such activity. For the past few years, reports of men accusing women of witchcraft and then burning them with hot iron rods has been on the rise. Such accusations usually arise when a person unexpectedly becomes sick or dies. Ignorant of the underlying medical causes, some Papua New Guineans seek out what is called a “glass man” (something like a witch doctor who claims to be able to use magic to discern who has caused the sickness or death). The “glass man” performs his “magic” and then accuses one or more people of taking the sick or dead person’s heart and eating it. In Enga, the accused are almost always women, and we have heard reports that the accused women are often divorced, which means that they have no husband to protect them.

While we have been praying about this problem for a while now, the fact that it happened in the neighboring tribe, just across the river from where we live, brought home the reality of just how terrible this practice is.

Jenny showing us the burn marks on her back

A few days after hearing these reports, I heard that Jenny (not her real name), the woman who is still alive, was in Wabag town. I was able to track her down and speak with her. As soon as I met her, I told her, “I know that you have done nothing wrong. My wife and I want to pray for you and help you, so please come to our house this afternoon.” She agreed, and later that day she came to our house. We prayed for her and then listened as she shared her story. With her permission, I took a video of her telling her story, which I am posting online for you to see. It is difficult to watch because of the terrible things that were done to her. But at the same time it is a powerful testimony of God rescuing her when all hope seemed to be lost.

Out of respect for the Jenny's privacy and safety, please do not repost the video online or share it. As you watch, please know that Jenny's young daughter is safe and sound. Also please be aware that she tells her story in typical Papua New Guinean fashion, which means that she repeats the story a couple of times, adding additional details each time. You can view the video at (https://vimeo.com/263589097). You will need a password to watch the video, so if you would like to watch the video, please send me an email to request the password. (Please note that I will not release the password to anyone living in Papua New Guinea because I want to protect Jenny's privacy.)

After praying with Jenny and listening to her story, we gave her some assistance and walked her back to her village. Although she did nothing wrong and there is absolutely no evidence that she has done anything wrong, most of the people in her tribe have decided that she is a witch or “poison woman.” As a result, they don’t want to have anything to do with her. Our hope was that, by walking her back to her village, the people in her tribe would know that we do not think that she is a witch. As we arrived in her village, I made a short speech in the market area. I told the people that Jenny was not a witch and that she had done nothing wrong. I then told the people that they needed to have compassion on her and help her since she was still too weak and injured to work her garden.

In light of what has happened to Jenny, I have decided to begin preaching in various churches in Enga to encourage the Christians to stand against this terrible practice of falsely accusing women of witchcraft and then burning and torturing them. Sadly, many Christians are afraid that these women truly are practicing witchcraft. They are also afraid that, if they stand up for these women, they too will be accused of witchcraft. It is eerily similar to the Salem Witch Trials that happened in America in the late 17th century.

Please pray for Jenny as she recovers from the terrible ordeal she has had to endure, and please pray for her ongoing safety as she is still living in her village, where many think that she is a witch. Please also pray for the Christians of Enga that they will know that such accusations are false and that they will firmly stand up in opposition to the torture of innocent women. Please also pray for us as we do all we can to raise awareness and encourage people to oppose this terrible practice. Thankfully, the government of Papua New Guinea is opposed to this practice and is taking action to curtail such killings and torture.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Inspired Exhibit

At the end of February I received an email from David Addington, a former boss of mine and dear friend who is also an ardent supporter of Bible translation. He informed me that he would be coming to Port Moresby in March as part of his work with an organization called Inspired Exhibit. With a stunning display of over 100 rare biblical manuscripts and collateral items, the exhibit chronicles the remarkable story of how the very words of God, written with His own finger on tablets at Mt. Sinai—were carefully copied, preserved, and through great toil and sacrifice have come to our generation, languages, and the tablets we now hold in our hands. He invited me to come to Port Moresby to be a part of the initial meetings to bring this exhibit to Papua New Guinea. So I flew down to Port Moresby to be a part of the meetings and met up with David and Dr. Scott Carroll, an expert in ancient documents who has been involved in putting together some of the largest collections of Biblical manuscripts in the world.

Dr. Scott Carroll (left) and David Addington (center) presenting to government officials at the National Parliament. (You don't see me because I am taking the picture.)
It is not uncommon for Papua New Guineans to assume that the Bible was originally written in English and that Christianity originated in English speaking cultures. Similarly, Papua New Guineans often have questions as to why they should trust the Bible. In fact, during a meeting at the Parliament building, the Clerk of Parliament shared that his own children had recently been questioning the reliability of the Bible. But the government officials were quite impressed when Dr. Carroll unrolled a three hundred year old Torah scroll written on calfskin and showed them the ten commandments written in Hebrew. And everyone was in agreement that when Papua New Guineans see even older manuscripts of the Bible and learn about how the biblical text has been transmitted through time, they will gain appreciation for the fact that the Bible is not an English book that originated in English speaking cultures, but that God is a God of all people regardless of a person's ethnic background or language. Similarly, they will see that the Bible has been faithfully preserved throughout history and is a trustworthy and reliable record of God's message for humanity.

Dr. Carroll pointing out the Ten Commandments written on a three hundred year old Torah scroll.
Not only will the Inspired Exhibit teach people about the history of the Bible and its transmission over time, it will also be an opportunity for Papua New Guineans to learn about Bible translation into their own languages today. The exhibit will include a station for people to listen to the Bible in their own languages and download Scripture text and audio in their own languages. Thus, Papua New Guineans from the more than eight hundred language groups in the country will be encouraged to become an ongoing to part of the preservation and transmission of Scripture.

Connecting with church leaders and government officials in Port Moresby.
The exhibit is tentatively scheduled for sometime between March and June 2019 in Port Moresby, Lae, and Mt. Hagen, the latter of which is just a two-hour drive from Enga. Please pray for all the many details to come together for this exhibit to take place, which will be a great boon not only to Bible translation efforts but to the Christian faith here in Papua New Guinea.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

The Gospel of John

A couple of weeks ago we finished our consultant check of the Gospel of John. This was the first book that we have checked since moving to a more literal translation approach. It was also the first check in which we were able to include a woman in the checking process. The results were very promising. Both of the people who came to check the work consistently understood the literal translation, including the underlying spiritual meanings. Lovey Reto, the woman who joined us, was particularly helpful in providing feedback into the translation. We hope that we may be able to involve her in checking books with groups of women in the village since the majority of church members in Enga are women. Please pray that Lovey would be available to help us and that we would get helpful feedback from groups of women to counterbalance the mostly male input that we get from the translation team.

Having a laugh while checking the Gospel of John
The Beatitudes
In September, I explained in detail our decision to shift to a more literal translation style by examining Matthew 5:3, which says, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs in the Kingdom of Heaven." The Enga translation at that time was more of a dynamic translation and read, "God blesses the people who are poor in spirit and want him to help them. Those blessed ones will be in his kingdom." Not satisfied with the approach we had taken to this verse, we decided that we were going to attempt a more literal translation. This is what we have come up with: "God blesses the people who are like poor. Does poor here mean “humble”?—that’s how we translated our literal KK. The Kingdom of Heaven belongs to those blessed ones." This is a much more literal translation of the text, but it still sounds very good and poetic in Enga. You will notice that we had to make a couple of minor adjustments to conform to Enga ways of speaking, but, for the most part, it captures the literal meaning of the text in a way that sounds good in Enga. Please pray that God would continue to help us find the balance between translating literally and translating in a way that sounds good and makes sense in Enga.

Future Plans
Later this month we head back out to Enga for nine weeks to finish revising the last half of Matthew to bring it into alignment with our more literal approach to translation. We will also make minor adjustments to the Gospel of John that we discovered in the consultant checking process. Finally, we will review my advisor notes for the book of Acts. After we have reviewed those notes, I will back-translate Acts in preparation for a consultant check of that book. Translation work is moving along very well. The team, working in three groups of two, is nearly finished drafting Romans, 1 Corinthians, and 2 Corinthians. After that, only the book of Ephesians will be left to draft, and then the New Testament drafting process will be complete. There is still much work to be done in checking and correcting these drafts, but finishing the New Testament drafting process is a milestone that we look forward to with much anticipation and excitement! Please pray that nothing would hinder our work. Thank you so much for your ongoing prayer and support which enables us to complete this work.