Earlier this month, Wycliffe Associates was hosting a translation workshop in the highlands of Papua New Guinea with five language groups. Already, the workshop was defying generations-worth of challenges when chaos broke out.
Bruce Smith, President and CEO of Wycliffe Associates, says, “Historically and traditionally, these groups have lived in competition and in– for many generations– in animosity against one another. So the mere fact of them coming together at a workshop was really quite a landmark, in terms of their history, of working together to see God’s Word move forward.
“And we love to see that, when Christians work together in harmony and when the Gospel really transforms and impacts the cultures.”
But while these translation groups were coming together with a like goal in mind, underlying tensions erupted into violence around them.
“While the workshop was underway, two of these tribal groups actually in their home community areas ended up with a sort of a resurfacing with these tribal animosities. And people were shot, they were fighting with knives and with spears.”
And so it was no surprise that the translation project was disrupted by the violence going on at home. In fact, homes were burned, family members killed or injured, and crops destroyed. Smith says it was necessary to pause the workshop so members of these two tribes could grapple with the heavy emotions they were feeling.
However, he says for these translators, it was a reminder of why their work to translate Scripture for their people was so important. Only God’s Word is capable to bring true and lasting peace to this earth.
“They also took a field trip. Our trainers went to these communities, along with these Christian elders from their churches to begin the reconciliation process, and were part of bringing prayer, bringing Scripture into the actual immediate the aftermath of this warfare.”
For groups like this who have been warring with their neighbors for generations, the peace of the Gospel is more than just an abstract concept. It’s absolutely necessary.
For many of these translators, the first response upon hearing of the renewed violence caused deep feelings of anger, hatred, and reminded them of the antagonism towards other tribes that they were born into. These kind of emotions are not easy to just shrug off.
“So, they turn against one another, but within the context of realizing, hey, God’s Word speaks directly to these issues. And so, that initial emotional response is met by the truth of God’s Word and the exhortation to live in peace with one another, to forgive one another, to create harmony within the Body of Christ.”
And so, once the translation workers decided not to retaliate, they had to consider how to bring this truth back to their people and convince them of the need for reconciliation.
“People are still bleeding and still hurting from the actual physical battles and so this is where the truth of Scripture for them comes to bear directly, not only with their history, but their current experience and the anger that they’re still dealing with. So, only God can bring peace into those kinds of situations.”
Translation is changing in Papua New Guinea
Events like this make it clear why Bible translation is so important. But the way Bible translation happens in PNG is rapidly changing.
Smith says that historically, translation has taken place in the difficult-to-reach highlands. This is because this part of the country is central to many of the different language groups. However, Wycliffe Associates is looking to start translation work up in the city of Port Moresby.
Local Christians have requested this move because they believe it’s the best way to see the translation work go forward. Therefore, Wycliffe Associates is seeking church partnerships in the area. But there is a lot of work ahead.
“There’s more than 800 languages that have been researched and documented that need Scripture in Papua New Guinea. But when we talk to the tribal leaders, to the Christian leaders in that country, they actually think the number is probably two to three times that many.”
The local insight into the issue is just one more clue that it’s time for the Church of Papua New Guinea to take over.
Smith says, “For generations, for decades of my life and your life, the Bible translation movement in this part of the world has been completely dependent upon foreigners. That is no longer the case. The church is rising up. They’re ready, willing, and able to do this work. They’re asking us to come alongside with training, with technology, with some physical infrastructure that I’ve described, with prayer and encouragement and financial support.”
Do you want to be a part of supporting this work? Start with prayer.
“Pray that God’s Word and the truth and the peace that passes understanding from God’s Word can penetrate that violence and that hatred and that sin, in order to reconcile these people, not only to God, but also to each other.”
Pray also for the translators who risking their lives and making sacrifices in order to do this work. Pray for their courage and protection as they speak against the flow of their cultures. Pray that this violence would not hinder their work, either.