I serve at Faith Comes By Hearing as the International Language Recording Coordinator, overseeing Scripture recording projects in Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, and the Pacific. Before accepting this position three years ago, I lived with my family in a remote village on Tanna Island in the South Pacific archipelago named Vanuatu. I spent 12 years there and facilitated a New Testament translation of Nafe with a committed group of mother-tongue speakers.
I believe in Bible translation. I’m also passionate about working hard to see those translations recorded because recording Scripture is powerful. It is able to overcome the obstacles that often hinder the effectiveness of God’s Word in print alone.
The first obstacle that recording the Scripture overcomes is illiteracy. According to recent statistics provided by UNESCO, 758 million adults remain illiterate in the world today.1 These people live in developing nations where minority languages are spoken. When given a printed Bible, they smile and look at the pictures; but they are not able to comprehend the life-giving message by reading the words.
What can be done? Can they be taught to understand the writing on the page? Yes, and in most Bible translation projects around the world, literacy is part of the program plan.
For whatever reason, however, many do not learn, and indeed many will not learn, how to read fluently in their mother tongue. This struggle with illiteracy can be overcome quickly by providing oral people with an audio recording of God’s Word.
The second obstacle that recording the Scripture overcomes is unnatural renderings. Unnatural renderings creep into Bible translations primarily by: (1) non-native speakers who are heavily involved in the drafting process, and (2) native speakers who draft while trying to make the translation follow source language structures that might not match the regular patterns of their mother-tongue speech. Ideally, all these unwanted, odd-sounding expressions will be discovered before the text is printed.
And recording the Scriptures before typesetting and printing them is a very helpful way to facilitate this discovery process.
On Tanna Island, every time the translation committee completed a portion of Scripture in Nafe, we would record it before printing it. The books of Mark, Luke, Acts, James, and others, were released both in print and audio well before the entire New Testament was completed. In all cases, it did not matter how many times the printed drafts had gone through community checking and public readings, the recording process always revealed barriers to understanding created by odd-sounding expressions. These unnatural renderings uncovered through the recording process were corrected before the text was typeset for printing the final version.
In partnership with Seed Company and Pioneer Bible Translators, we have created an oral Bible translation software called Render so that the need for literacy in the Bible translation process can be removed.
The third obstacle that recording the Scripture overcomes is Scripture-use norms that militate against using vernacular Scripture. In many places where Bible translation is taking place today, there are already Scripture-use norms that have been established.
These norms include, for example, reading the Bible in the national language during church services, or perhaps a foreign-language Bible that is considered more prestigious (e.g., English, Spanish, or French translations). It is often normal for churches to appoint pastors who do not speak the vernacular language. This requires that he speaks the national language. The church members will often do likewise as a courtesy when the pastor is present.
Often times these norms do not leave much room for vernacular Scripture initiatives. It is not that the speakers of the language are not interested in mother-tongue Scripture.
It’s not that they do not need the vernacular Scriptures to understand more clearly God’s message.
The problem is they are not accustomed to using mother-tongue Scripture in church, or during other events when interacting with Scripture is appropriate. However, recording the Scriptures removes the obstruction of what is normal Scripture use and opens the door for new patterns to be established. These new patterns might include listening while cooking, while gardening, while walking through the forest, while lying on one’s bed at night, or at specified times in Faith Comes By Hearing listening groups.
We watched these new norms develop overnight on Tanna, and it was a joy to see!
Finally, recording the Scripture overcomes the devil and brings glory to God. The Scriptures teach us that deception is the work of Satan. He is a liar and the father or lies (John 8:44). For this reason, he rejoices when the inability to read keeps God’s message from being comprehended. He likes it when people are unable to understand the Word because the translation is full of unnatural renderings. He probably chuckles when for practical reasons, or perhaps for prestige, foreign and/or second language translations are read to people and they have no heartfelt response.
Ah, but how Satan must be frustrated when the obstacles to understanding the Good News are removed through audio recordings. He must get in a rage when he sees men and women who cannot read listening to a high-quality recording of a Bible translation that speaks God’s message naturally, piercing to the heart of the listener and changing their lives for God’s glory!
This is the goal.
And this is why I serve at Faith Comes By Hearing.
1 “Overview of Literacy,” UNESCO eAtlas of Literacy, accessed April 10, 2017, http://www.uis.unesco.org/data/atlas-literacy/en.