Despite not being able to meet in-person, Wycliffe Singapore held a virtual workshop to give participants an opportunity to try their hand at telling a Bible story in a Chinese dialect (or Singlish).
First, participants were asked to think about how people living in a multilingual society use different languages in different contexts. Those of us who grew up in multilingual environments instinctively understand that individuals respond differently to different languages.
Indeed, the past months of Covid-19 have shone a spotlight on how certain groups can be isolated by language. Even if people have some understanding of one of the four official languages, important information often has to be communicated in the ‘right’ language to be accepted and acted upon. For those who are less literate, information is also better communicated orally and in a colloquial style. This was, of course, about physical health; what more when it comes to spiritual things?
During the breakouts, participants tried their hand a retelling the story of Jesus healing on the Sabbath (Mark 3:1-6) in an oral style. Most found it difficult to avoid translating word for word from the Bible text, and most found some Biblical terms (e.g., Sabbath, Pharisee) difficult to translate. All realised that getting a story into a form suitable for oral retelling was a challenge!
Of course, there are Bible stories and other resources in Chinese dialects from elsewhere, e.g., Hong Kong, Taiwan, Malaysia, etc., but these dialects will differ in vocabulary and usage from the Singaporean varieties. To really communicate spiritual truths to the hearts of listeners, there is a need for materials which minimise the barriers of language, time and culture, education and even learning styles.
That is why Wycliffe Singapore recently launched a Chinese Dialect storying project. The aim is to start story fellowship groups using oral retellings of Bible stories in a Chinese dialect to impart biblical truths to those whose ‘heart language’ is a local Chinese dialect. Currently, there is one group working in the Teochew dialect.
If you or someone you know is interested in participating in this ministry, contact us.