Stories from the Field, 7 March 2023
How do you start working on a Bible translation from scratch? How can you start translating the Bible into a language that has no existing writing system? Why would you leave your comfortable life to start anew in a country with a culture you barely know?
This is exactly what Greg and Rosie Blok faced when they responded to God’s call to become Bible translators. They went to seminary for three years and brought their two young children with them. When God opened a door for them to reach out to the Eastern Lawa people group in Thailand, they entered!
The Eastern Lawa people group numbers around 10,000 and is found in north Thailand at an elevation of about 1,000 meters above sea level. Their livelihood is mostly farming, mainly rice which they grow for their own consumption.
Their traditional beliefs are animistic. For example, they will consult a witch doctor if a family member is sick, and may be told to offer a sacrifice to ask for healing. A water buffalo can cost up to around S$1,000, which is a huge sum for the family. As a result, many families fall into debt.
The people mostly speak their native language – Eastern Lawa. Although there is a school in their village, Thai is the language of instruction, not their spoken language. Because of this, the children find it hard to cope with the lessons taught in Thai, and this results in lower confidence. Most of them only attend about six years of schooling before stopping.
At the time the Bloks started their work among the Eastern Lawa, the people’s language was entirely oral. There was no alphabet or writing system. So, for the first 10 years, the couple worked on studying the sounds in the language and creating a writing system based on the Thai alphabet. However, they discovered that the language contains 15 consonant and 14 vowel sounds that are not in the Thai language, so the alphabet had to be modified. Once the alphabet was completed, they started making literacy primers to teach the people how to read their own language, and translating Christian worship songs.
They also went on to craft 50 oral Bible stories in the Eastern Lawa language taken from across the Bible, starting from the creation account to stories about the early church. However, as the Christian teachings counter local beliefs, the couple and believers face persecution. They also experience spiritual attacks in different forms. Those who came to hear the oral stories are often anxious as they fear the spirits will be angry with them if they stop making offerings to them. Still, the couple press on. They have translated the book of Ruth and have begun translating the Gospel of Mark.
Aside from Bible translation, the couple are also serving the felt needs of the community. The local school has reached out to them for help in developing resources for teaching 3 to 5-year-old children in their own language, and the teachers have begun using the materials. Rosie also pioneered a sewing project which aims to help the local ladies generate more income. Other efforts to open up opportunities to build relationships with other Christians and people from other villages include initiatives such as a mushroom-growing workshop!
Greg and Rosie have now lived in Thailand for 15 years, and can see how much more work needs to be done to complete the translation work and to help the local people. Although God has faithfully sent them people to help carry the burden, more help is needed. Much of the work requires long-term efforts, but short-term missions could potentially help the people, especially in finding ways to generate more income.
If you are trying to discern God’s call to go to the mission field, may God build your faith as you respond to God. Perhaps you will be challenged to leave your comfortable life and go somewhere to start from scratch!