I am very interested in what enhances, and what inhibits, the impact of a program to translate the Bible into a language in Africa. A while back, I was reading an evaluation of the impact of a translation of the Bible done in Ghana, for the Chumburung language. It was very interesting, but one thing puzzled me. The researcher doing the evaluation used the year 1989 as a baseline because that was the year the New Testament in Chumburung appeared. The Old Testament came later. But the translators started work on the language in 1972. So a period of 17 years (1972 to 1989) is left out of the evaluation. Presumably because the evaluator thought that the impact would start with the publication of the Bible. Bible translation is a long-term endeavor with long-term impact. Still, 17 years before seeing the first benefit seemed way too long.
Town of Banda where the Chumburung Bible was translated
In fact, the process of doing the translation usually has impact. In November, Wycliffe put a series of stories on their blog in which national translators in Papua New Guinea tell of the changes in their own lives. Changes which started around the translation table. In one of them, a national translator resisted a cultural imperative to revenge the burning down of his house, because of what he had learned while translating the Bible.In another case, a church leader listening to the draft translation being read so that they could comment on it (a step called checking), said:
“Wow! It would be very good if all the church leaders were here checking this translation! We would be evaluating ourselves, not just the translation. We leaders might think that we are righteous men in the eyes of the people, but in the eyes of God, it may not be so!”
In Congo, one group was under a tree practicing reading various parts in preparation for the recording of the Jesus Film. A crowd gathered to listen to the practice. Some people came to faith and one person who had left the church and Christian life repented and renewed his faith.
The very first translation in the Nyangbo language, written on a blackboard
Too often, missionary translators have seen the positive impacts of the translation process as wonderful by-products – encouraging ‘accidents’, but they make few, if any, planned or systematic effort to use the translation process itself to impact the community. In fact, some might consider that a distraction.
Fronting and deliberately planning early use and impact of translation is coming to the fore in Africa, with some interesting results. Translators have tried several approaches, including translating the Gospel of Luke, then producing the Jesus Film, based on the Gospel of Luke. There are also attempts to get more pastors involved in the testing process. Recently, a Cameroonian friend posted on Facebook that they had recorded the first 100 verses translated in the Mpumpong language. He wrote:
[We] went out on the dusty streets of Yokadouma to test it out. And before we knew we had gathered a crowd – they were all excited to hear the Word of God in Mpumpong! The people shared what they had heard, what it meant and what they thought about it.
This story points to the impact that can happen when the translation gets into the community quickly – as soon as even one story from one Gospel gets translated, then bringing out more little pieces as they become available – getting them read in the church, recording them and playing them in the streets, performing them as skits, reading them to listening and discussion groups, or getting choirs to make new praise songs from them. In fact, a translator in Tanzania printed a few chapters, took them to a funeral and read them with amazing results. Here’s a short video of what happened: https://vimeo.com/13483359
Planning and implementing immediate use and impact into translation programs in Ghana is one of Ed’s tasks.