Saturday, July 04, 2009

Tirrim, part 1: Bible Translation

Every time I think about beginning this post, I am overwhelmed. There is so much to tell, so much to explain. So many things are interconnected that if I start with one area, it’s understanding is dependent on another, and then again dependent on another. Where do I begin? I want to do an adequate job of explaining how truly exciting and - yes, I’ll use this word yet again - amazing the Tirrim project is. So it takes time. Time to understand it myself, time to put all the pieces together, time to collect photos to help bring it alive, time write it all down. But it’s more than time to begin. So where do I begin the story? I suppose I must begin with Nick and Lynne.

Over thirty years ago, Lynne read the following verses from Isaiah 18 that speak of a people “just beyond the rivers of Ethiopia:”

Go, swift messengers,
to a people tall and smooth-skinned,
to a people feared far and wide,
an aggressive nation of strange speech,
whose land is divided by rivers.

The Rendille at the time, and to some extent now, were known for their aggressive revenge campaigns. If another tribe raided them, revenge would be swift and severe. As a result, many neighbouring tribes feared them. And, as someone trying to learn as much language as she can, sometimes the speech sure sounds strange, too! :) As far as rivers go, there’s not a whole lot of water here (ok, nearly none), but the land is certainly carved up by riverbeds! Make what you will of the similarities, but for Lynne, these verses were a confirmation for her.

God doesn’t use these verses for the same purpose in everybody’s life, but Lynne knew that God was calling her to Northern Kenya. Both Nick and Lynne wanted to work as missionaries in Africa, and decided that they wanted to work in Bible translation. Through God’s leading and provision, they arrived in Korr in 1980 to begin work on Bible translation. What God has grown up in this place in the past twenty-nine years is astounding.

Bible Translation. Adult literacy classes. Evangelism. Veterinary care. Nursery schools. Primary school. Secondary school. Boarding for the schools. A nomadic nursery and lower primary school in the goobs (villages). Tirrim School of the Bible. Church planting and development. Medical care. Building programs. Water projects. Child sponsorship. Higher education sponsorship. Plans for a medical clinic and laboratory… are you beginning to see why I’m so overwhelmed when I start to think of how to explain it all???

Bible Translation

For years, Nick worked on learning Rendille (and he still learns new things all the time!). He is humble and won’t say this himself, but he is extremely fluent in the language and communicates easily with anyone. He, along with a small team, has systematically mapped out the structures of the language and has established a phonetic alphabet that has allowed Rendille to move from being an oral language only to a written one. When at one time the language was in danger of disappearing, having it written down has now preserved it. Even the most traditional, uneducated Rendille elders have realized this, and have given Nick gifts of great honor in gratitude for preserving the language.

With Rendille now possessing a written system, translation work could begin. While the focus for the first stage was the New Testament, the translation committee also decided to translate Genesis and Exodus 1-20.

They chose these books for a number of reasons, a few being that they gave a good foundation of who God is and a good history of our faith. It also describes people living a lifestyle very similar to their own – nomads in a desert land.

To date, they have published Genesis and Exodus 1-20, the book of Mark, and the book of Acts (and maybe John?). Only a few books are allowed to be published until the whole thing is ready (for cost reasons, they can’t print each book individually and then do a second printing of all the books together), which hopefully will be about a year and a half from now. Twenty-nine years, and this process is almost done (well, the New Testament, anyway)!!! Very soon the Rendille will have the Bible in their OWN language! (click to enlarge)

It is beyond cool to see what an impact God’s word has on people’s lives. Indubaayo is one lady who got a copy of the book of Mark when she was in the literacy program. All throughout the course, she kept telling the teachers, “This reading and writing is great, the health stuff is great… but we have our OWN god! Stop telling us about this Jesus guy!” Then one day she was reading the book of Mark when she was extremely sick in her hut, and she was hit with an overwhelming realization that this was true! She decided to devote her life to Jesus right then, and since has grown to become the most amazing lady. She is now one of the four evangelists for the Tirrim project and goes out to villages six or seven times a week to tell people about Jesus and the new life he’s given her.

Indubaayo has a copy of the books of the Bible that are available, and she carries them with her everywhere she goes. They are tattered and worn and falling apart, but she refuses to let anyone give her a new copy. “No! These books are TOO precious!” she’ll tell you. I am so convicted by this. Her absolute LOVE of God’s word is so challenging! How wonderful it will be when the entire New Testament is available!

Although she has read what she has over and over and over again, there is so much more that Indubaayo is longing to learn. The Rendille religion focuses a lot around sacrifices, and it’s a big question that she has been facing when she is telling people about Jesus. They thing what she’s telling them is great, but they just can’t fathom a religion without sacrifices. Time and time again, they ask her, “But what about sacrifices?” “But what about sacrifices?” She’s tried to answer them as best she can (and I’m confident that this woman has a solid answer for them), but still she questions exactly what to say, how to make them understand that the death of Jesus is the final sacrifice – we don’t need anything else! We’re forgiven – the. end. But still the people ask, “But what about sacrifices?”

A few months ago, Nick had just finished translating Romans 12. He printed off a copy of the chapter from the computer and gave it to Indubaayo to read to a group of Rendille people. (One of the many steps involved in Bible translation is to take the translation to the public and sort of test it on them – see if it makes sense, if it uses the language that they would use, and to see if there are any tweaks that need to be made.) As she read it, her face lit up. This was it! THIS was the answer she’d been looking for!

Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.(Romans 12:1-2)

God doesn’t want our sheep, our goats, our camels… he wants US! Alive! He wants our lives, dedicated to Him! LIVING sacrifices!

Excitedly, she clutched the printout to her heart and informed Nick he wasn’t about to get it back. The very next day she used this passage – one she had just read for the first time in her life to speak to the secondary school students in their devotion time. Though school kids can sometimes look down on traditional people, they were all ears as she spoke about living sacrifices. In large part through her talk, fifteen of those kids indicated that they wanted to make a new or a stronger commitment of faith.

There is powerful stuff going on here! God’s word is transforming lives! But transformation doesn’t come without opposition.

Since beginning this post, we have learned that as of two months ago, the translation funding has been stopped. The translators and all the support staff that are covered under this project are now out of work. The organization that has been funding the translation has seen a 70% drop in their donations during this economic downturn, and has had to cut many projects. Heartbreakingly, the Rendille translation project is one of them. Nobody is quite sure what this means for the future of this project. We’re praying really hard.

Nick and Lynne are heartened somewhat in knowing that SO many times with Bible translation projects like this, as the Bible nears completion, calamity seems to strike (the translation project is not the only one with funding issues right now – it seems the Tirrim project is being hit on all sides.). It’s happened time and time again, and now they’re seeing it happen here, too. Hmmm… kind of like someone really doesn’t want the word of God to get out!

But! … God is building His church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it!
* Photo of Indubaayo courtesy Nick Swanepoel


anne said...

This is a beautiful story...obviously not finished yet! Prayers for finances and the ability to push through.

Jamie said...

Oh my goodness. This makes me so stinkin' excited to come to Korr! The Lord is SO faithful...I'm praying.