Bible Translation and WHAT?

It is a truly weird thing. Whoever thought of World Toilet Day? Who thought that it could catch on? In spite of the weirdness, the World Vision Blog on the topic is interesting reading. There is even more weirdness. Why am I as a Bible translator writing about World Toilet Day in a blog about the Heart Language? I’m so glad you asked!

On its blog, World Vision notes that children living in households with no toilet are twice as likely to get diarrhea as those with a toilet, causing more deaths every year than AIDS, malaria, and measles combined. Toilets, of all things, save lives, especially the lives of children. In addition to installing over 30,000 toilets last year, World Vision also trained more than 165,000 in proper hygiene practices.  — keeping kids and communities safer and healthier.

Training is good, but only if people heed it. Studies have shown that often people do not change after receiving training. One of the reasons for that is the language used. A language is  not just a means of communication, it is also a way to reach people’s emotions and deepest values. When training is given to promote some change – like better hygiene practices – the language needs to be one which touches the emotions and values of the person. Unfortunately, using language people have learned, rather than their heart language, often reaches the intellect, but not the soul. It is very difficult to change behavior without touching the emotions profoundly. Those of us who have always been taught in our heart language do not realize what a powerful advantage we have.

Another problem is understanding. In one case a family planning project in Africa encountered problems because the term “family planning” had been translated as “bar the road to children”. That flew like the proverbial lead balloon. A little cultural research,  of the kind we do when seeking for key terms in Bible translation, discovered a phrase for spacing plants in the field so that they give better yields. A switch to that terminology made all the difference. Sometimes those in evangelism or development complain that people are resistant to change when we have not done our homework to discover their cultural perspective. See my blog on Eternal Life, for a great example.

Recording Mangbetu HIV-AIDS song

Choir singing newly written song about AIDS in their heart language - Mangbetu

Finally, often change involves new beliefs. Many people have never heard the germ theory of disease. They believe that disease is caused by all sort of things from curses, to failure to appease the ancestors or breaking taboos. Teaching hygiene to such people involves getting them to accept a new understanding of the cause of disease. Doing that in a language which might not even have terms for their traditional beliefs and which does not have the power to touch their culture will produce limited results. When we first did AIDS training in the heart language, the group went to prayer and repented at the end of the first day, then went out and began ministering to HIV positive people in the community that they had shunned. They had received the same information in another language but it did not have the that effect.

Our God communicates. He reveals himself. He talked through the prophets in people’s heart language. On the day of Pentecost, everyone heard in their own language. For that reason, missionaries have long used the heart language to communicate and they have translated the Bible into the heart language of many peoples. It is hard work and takes time, but the results are long-term, sustained impact. Plus, it is communication like God himself would do it. It took me two decades in Africa to realize that the power of the heart language can be leveraged for other changes – such as better hygiene – that save lives.

The languages of the world are not a problem, they are God’s vehicles given to each people to “save” them in all kinds of ways. So my focus has expanded. Bible translation is still at the center, but I now work with churches and language communities on all kinds of stuff they want to change wherever the heart language can have its powerful transformative effect even if that has to do with toilets and hygiene. Hence our byline: Connecting at the deepest level – the heart language – for lasting impact.