“Why must we translate the Bible into local languages? Why is it important?”
“Isn’t there already a national language Bible? Why not just use that?”
“Why not just use the national language? It will help them become proficient in that language and you won’t have to go through the trouble of learning their language.”
I have often been asked these questions and, in the past, I had similar thoughts. The first time I heard of a team translating the Bible into a local language, I too had asked the same questions. I believe many of us are, quite naturally, bewildered when we hear the stories of missionaries – those who are willing to leave their countries, learn the national language for a few years and go to a people group. They live with them and live like them, learn their language and culture, translate the Bible and teach it in the local language. However, we are able to understand their reasons and realise the importance of translating Scripture when we see and experience the impact of this work first-hand.
The first Celana* Bible translation workshop was held in 2016, and it was there that I became involved in the translation project as a team member. During the workshop, I witnessed the enthusiasm of the participants as they took part in the activities. Their faces shone with amazement each time they translated something, or when they heard someone retelling a passage in the local language, and when they expressed their opinions during the various activities.
One of the participants said in Celana, “Thank you so much for involving me in the workshop. It made me so happy to finally hear stories from the Bible in my own language. Now I truly understand what they mean – there is no confusion! When I listen to my friends retelling the Bible stories, it’s as if the words no longer reach just my mind, but have also reached into my heart. I am truly amazed by God.”
These words left a deep impression on me. Just imagine: how many people read their Bibles diligently, go to church faithfully, and hear God’s word yet understand none of it? What they do know are Bible stories, but only just that!
A year later, in 2017, we began reaching out to the Celana in one village. There were only eight families, not more than 20 people, living in disparate groups. They were still steeped in ancestor worship, superstitions regarding owls, and the interpretation of dreams. Because of these beliefs, a couple of families were at odds with each other for many years. Even so, these families came faithfully every night to study God’s word (from the Creation to the time of Jesus) that was being taught in the Celana language.
During these Bible studies, they were more often than not quiet, only answering if asked. Sometimes they would make remarks as they looked at the pictures on the screen. After many months, being challenged to receive Christ, eight of them confessed themselves to be believers. Then, one night, when it was time for the Bible study, no one showed up – we were bewildered. It turned out that two of the feuding families decided to make peace with each other and showed up late because of that!
Now they no longer live in their divisions; the two families are now on friendly terms and some have left their old beliefs and have come to believe in Jesus Christ. Looking at this transformation, we should be asking, “How can we not translate God’s word into a language they understand?”
Praise God, for His words are ‘Yes’ and ‘Amen’! (Isaiah 55:11) *Celana is the pseudonym for a people group in Southeast Asia. The author is a member of the translation team. Reproduced with permission.