by Kate Lim, Methodist Message
Animated banter in Mandarin and Teochew, punctuated with laughter while someone searches for the most appropriate dialect word as a Bible story is re-told from memory—this is a common scene when two full-time workers at Wycliffe Singapore, Beatrice Wong and Grace Lim (not their real names*), collaborate with a team of volunteer translators from Paya Lebar Chinese Methodist Church (PLCMC) to re-tell Bible stories in Teochew.
A demand for Bible stories in Chinese dialects
Are you able to tell Bible stories about Jesus’ ministry in a Chinese dialect, such as Teochew? Not many people will be able to answer in the affirmative. And yet, there are still dialect-speakers in Singapore who have yet to hear the gospel, due to illiteracy, language barriers, or a lack of resources in their dialect.
Wycliffe Singapore, an organisation known for its Bible translation work and Bible literacy programmes, embarked on a Teochew translation project, starting with classic Bible stories. “We want to improve each person’s access to God’s word in his or her ‘heart language’,” Beatrice said, referring to the native tongues of the dialect-speaking communities.
Wycliffe Singapore ran a series of training workshops with speakers from various dialect groups (Hokkien, Hainanese, Teochew) in late 2020 and early 2021 because it saw the need to develop oral Bible stories to reach out to the dialect speakers. A project involving the telling and recording of Bible stories in Teochew, a commonly-spoken Chinese dialect in Singapore, came about when a group of Teochew-speaking participants was interested and committed to do more oral Bible stories in Teochew after the workshops.
Currently, a group comprising 4 Teochew-speaking translators form the core team for the project. These volunteer translators, led by Mr Tay LM, are senior citizens with ages ranging from the 60s to the 80s, and attend PLCMC’s Teochew service. The team is also supported by some overseas translation consultants and facilitators.
The story-crafting process
The translation of the Bible stories into Teochew is more than a literal exercise. It involves a painstaking process of choosing the story, story crafting, and several rounds of testing and revision. Bible stories about Jesus healing the sick, exorcism and wealth are chosen because of the “cultural bridges” that help to connect with the Teochew audience, according to Beatrice.
Story crafting—the process which involves multiple group discussions around the key themes, words and concepts for each Bible story—forms the bulk of the work. The team members also have to grapple with different worldviews between themselves and the target audience, and select the most appropriate phrasing to use in the translation.
“We put in considerable effort to prepare for each discussion. We try to read many different versions of the Chinese Bible and anticipate as many potential discussion points as possible with the translators,” Beatrice said.
The team of translators are guided through the processes of reflection and internalisation of the selected Bible passage. They are asked to listen to, re-tell, reflect on and discuss the chosen Bible passage.
“The process of reflection and internalisation includes exegesis, understanding the key Biblical concepts and jargon, the key themes and the historical-cultural background of the passage,” Grace, an intern at Wycliffe Singapore, explained.
The translators and facilitators also create storyboards which help the translators visualise the events and remember the details of each Bible story.
Being personally engaged with the story helps the translators to retell the story from memory, expressing it naturally and fluently in colloquial Teochew.
Ann Goh, a translator in her 70s, said, “Through the exploration of the key points of the Bible stories and my own reflection, I developed a deeper understanding of the Biblical truths. Sometimes, I also discover something about a Bible story that I had known for years. These all help me to tell the Bible story without a script.”
Another translator, David, who in his 60s and a relatively new believer, said, “The whole story crafting process is helpful for my own discipleship.”
Being part of the Great Commission
“I feel blessed and motivated by this mission of improving access to Scripture in a language that is not commonly used in Bible translations,” Grace said.
“I am thankful that each working day is spent discussing the Word of God to devise more ways of sharing the Gospel,” Beatrice told Methodist Message.
Ann said, “After all these years of reading the Bible in its printed form, I am not used to telling the stories from memory. That was something very new to me. I felt inadequate and was not keen to participate in the storying project initially. I am glad that I picked up a new skill and grew in my walk with God. It has also been fulfilling to contribute this way to the Great Commission.”
More workers needed ahead
There are seven more oral Bible story projects in the pipeline that are now in the process of being checked and revised, with plans to work on the Creation and the Easter stories.
The team members hope that more Teochew-speaking members from various churches will join them. This will contribute to a richer discussion of the Bible stories to meet the increasingly diversified needs of the target audience.
“We hope to see more people join us!” Mr Tay said.
If you know someone with whom you want to share the gospel in Teochew, share the video in this link, https://www.wycliffe.sg/post/first-fruits-teochew-storying-project
If you are interested in joining this project, please contact email@example.com.
*Beatrice and Grace are protecting their identities as they prepare for future postings as missionaries.
Kate Lim worships at Aldersgate Methodist Church and is a volunteer writer with Methodist Message. / Photos courtesy of Wycliffe Singapore
Reproduced with permission from Methodist Message