The goal of Bible translation is never simply to have written words on a page, but for the Holy Spirit to use the message to speak to people’s hearts, leading to transformed lives and communities. While much of the work of Wycliffe members focuses on rather mundane linguistic, translation and other office work, it is good to be reminded that God is speaking through his word, which is
… alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires. (Hebrews 4:12)
Recently our friend and colleague Michelle, who works as a translation adviser to various language communities in northern Tanzania, heard of how some draft sections of Scripture were received when tested in a Zanaki village. She writes:
Shem, one of the translators, sat down and started reading a chapter from Luke (I actually don’t know which one; it was either 10 or 11). After the first passage he looked up and was surprised to see everyone in the group frowning. He thought, “There must be something wrong with the Zanaki words we’ve used!”
Worridly, he continued reading. After another section he glanced at his audience again and saw them looking down at the ground and grimacing! Unable to wait, he asked them, “What do you think of this translation? Please, all feedback is helpful, even if it is negative. How is our word choice, our dialect in this?”
“It’s fine, going on reading,” they said, not offering much insight into their facial expressions. He continued with the chapter, and they still had grimaces, to his consternation.
He started asking them questions to see which things in the translation weren’t clear, and they contributed their thoughts and were helpful. However, about half of them said, “Oh, we’re not Christians, we don’t understand religion well, so maybe you don’t want our answers.”
Shem hastily encouraged them to participate, since answers from people who don’t know the Bible are often the most helpful. He assured them that this was not a test of knowledge, but him looking for help with the language. They stayed and listened to the chapters and gave their feedback about the translation.
At the end, he asked again why it was that they looked so serious when he was reading. This time, they answered him. Both the Christians and the non-Christians told him, “Those words of Jesus were convicting us! They burned our hearts as we listened; we know that just like the people in the parables, we need to repent from our sins. How could we smile when we are thinking about our sins and how we are not right with God?”
Some children in (or near to) the Zanaki-speaking area when we surveyed the Zanaki language back in 2005