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Adventures in Borneo

Stories from the Field, 6 Sept 2022

The Bible translated into many different languages

Esther, born and raised in Malaysia, has been serving in Borneo as a linguist and Scripture Engagement coordinator. Over the years as a Christian, she noticed that Bibles are often put on the shelves and not used frequently – especially in majority languages that have different versions of the Bible!

In Papua New Guinea (PNG), there have been several books of the New Testament given in the local/minority languages. From a 2017 survey conducted with the locals in PNG, 30% of the locals shared that they read the minority language Scriptures frequently, while the rest of them read it occasionally or rarely read it at all.

Esther said that one shouldn’t assume that once the Bible is translated, that people’s lives would be transformed.

The book of Mark translated into one of the minority languages in Sabah, digital Bible version in Scripture App

In 1 Timothy 4:13, where Paul says to Timothy: “Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture to exhortation, to teaching”, it tells us that we should also continue with the work of discipleship and teaching; the work does not stop at the point at which you share the gospel, instead, it goes further than that.

Additionally, while it may seem that Christians are always eager to use the Word in their own language, it isn’t always the case too. It can be difficult to get people into the habit of reading, more so in countries where many people rely on oral forms of their language such as storytelling and listening to stories being told to them, or in places where there are limited reading materials.

So… what is Scripture Engagement all about?

Part of Esther’s job as a Scripture Engagement coordinator for the B* group is to explore meaningful ways to find ways to share the gospel with locals by tying Scripture with their culture. This can be done through various mediums such as music, drama, crafts and visual arts. One of the ways they did this was by creating Christian music in their traditional music styles, which made it more familiar so they could connect better with it.

Linangkit (traditional embroidery) made by one of the locals

They also host storytelling workshops to teach people how to share the gospel in their language. This also helps the locals understand the gospel better since they can relate to the stories. This went digital during the pandemic, connecting with the locals by posting pictures and narrations of Bible verses in their local language on social media.

While the work is meaningful, they also face many challenges. Many church members, especially youths and young adults, tend to move away from the village to seek job and education opportunities in the city area. This has made it difficult for the pastors and leaders of the churches as the church members are constantly changing.

With smaller churches, there are also often fewer people and resources. While the family-like environment means that everyone gets a chance to play a part, many of them also get burnt out quickly since it’s always the same few people doing the work.

A village church in the north of Sabah

Being in a village with strong beliefs and practices, many people also find it hard to move away from their traditions. Esther and her colleagues try to help churches use Scripture to teach and disciple their members about how to be free from their old traditions and superstitions.

There are many other religious groups in Sabah, and Esther and her co-workers hope to be able to tap on their skills and experience, and get input and feedback on cultural matters. This would help ensure that their translations are accurate.

Esther shared that in doing Scripture Engagement, there will be times that you do not see results, and sometimes they just have to accept that and pray that the people will be ministered to somehow.

On a positive note…

While the work comes with a lot of different challenges, Esther also shared what she is thankful for in her life in Sabah.

Ambuyat (traditional staple - starch made from sago palm tree)

Sabah is a beautiful place with lots of nice sunsets and has a little bit of everything, especially for those who love the outdoors!

There are also unique foods that you cannot find in West Malaysia. One of them is ambuyat, which was a traditional staple food made with starch from sago palm trees. Another unique food is sinalau bakas, which is a roasted wild boar dish.

Some prayer items for Sabah:

  1. Pray for the local authorities: for good governance and integrity

  2. Pray for the local churches: that they remain focused on God’s mission and be strengthened in Christ

  3. Pray for those labouring in the ministries of translation, teaching and discipleship: for spiritual discipline, steadfastness, boldness and protection

  4. Pray for the people: for God’s word to be shared and used and for lives to be transformed

* Not the actual names.

The Scripture Engagement activities of this group are part of a project being supported by Wycliffe Singapore’s R200 Programme. To find out how you can help support this and other projects, please contact us.

Stories from the Field will be held on the first Tuesday of each month. Get on our mailing list to be notified of future events.


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