Tuesday, October 12, 2010

PNG: Translation

What's Happening in Papua New Guinea?
By Phil King with input from the PNG Strategy Team

SIL has been involved in completing 203 New Testaments in Papua New Guinean languages in the past 50 years and we are currently involved in some 167 further Bible translation programs

We've made great progress but there is still much work to be done!  Requests, like this one from Josek, continually come in:

"Please now, we want to ask for a workman – can you help us or not?... I am praying.”

Our goal is a Bible  for every language in their heart language but the reason for this goal is so that lives can be transformed. Nafian Saremo, Papua New Guinean advisor for the Madi Language Group and translation trainer says it well:

“I thought translation was about turning God’s Word into our languages. However, our goal is not translation, but transformation – a tool for taking the Gospel to our people. If people don’t change – our translation is not working.”

There are still around 300 languages in PNG with no Scripture at all so the PNG Branch is trying to figure out how to reach them all with the resources that God is giving.  With traditional methods, relying on new expatriates allocating to each community,  these 300 programs would not be started until 2160!

What is God showing us to do?

In working through the issues, we feel there are areas that can be strengthened and new ideas are being considered too. These areas are:


In January of 2010, SIL and BTA (the national Bible translation organization in PNG) hosted the first ever PNG Scripture Use Conference. 69 participants came from 35 church and para-church organizations around the country. During the conference and in follow-up visits, we are seeing more and more Papua New Guinean Christians motivated to be a part of getting God’s Word to the remaining people groups.

‘The missionaries had a vision many years ago to carry God's Word to us.   But we (the church) have failed. It is our turn to catch the vision and carry God's Word to our own people.’

Pastor from Evangelical Brotherhood Church, March 20


“Can the expats who are coming here become trainers rather than doers – so that SIL is a mentoring and training institution rather than doers?”

Steven Thomas, PNG BTA Operations Director

Buka Training Center (since 2006)

Offer translation training to the remaining languages in the Autonomous Region of Bougainville, as well as other workshops, such as this one about trauma healing.

Project VITAL (Vernacular Initiative in Translation and Literacy, since 2005)

Hands-on training in translation and literacy to twelve languages working together in the East Papua region.

NITI (New Ireland Translation Institute, since 2006)

On-the-job translation training for 14 language communities in New Ireland.

Ukarumpa Training Campus (since 1980s)

The Ukarumpa Training Center offers practical translation and literacy training focusing on the Highlands, Madang and Morobe regions, as well as higher level courses (Biblical studies, literacy, translation and leadership) at a national level.  When complete, there will be capacity to train hundreds more Papua New Guineans to be involved in Bible translation.


Reaching the last 300 cannot be achieved by our working harder or doing more of what we are now doing. So what innovative approaches are we using?

Working Together More

New expat teams are working in teams with clusters of languages, not just a single one, as in VITAL, NITI or the West Erap multi-language translation project (started in 2010).

New Technology and Communications

For example, members of the 11 language groups in the Aitape West Translation Project use solar powered netbooks to translate, communicate with each other, and communicate with consultants in the US via satellite connections.

Engaging the PNG Church

As we share our passion for the Bible in churches in the major cities, new personnel and resources are being discovered.
Revised goals

Starting many smaller scale projects in areas like the Sepik - with still over a hundred Bibleless languages - could help provide them with at least a portion of God’s Word sooner.

even this innovation is not enough to reach the remaining 300 languages.

Will you pray with us as we seek new ideas?

Investing in People...

 through improved, Integrated Human Resource Management.  We want to invest in our team of expatriates and Papua New Guineans, by targeted recruitment from inside and out of PNG; recruited towards a strategic plan.
Appropriately deploying people to match needs with personnel skill-sets 

Mentoring and professional development

           Re-tooling, Retraining, Re-deploying


As we look at the remaining 300 languages across the country, we are beginning to make plans with our partners to complete the languages in one area first – the Autonomous Region of Bougainville.

We in PNG are entering a time of dedicated prayer, asking God to show us the way forward.

“I invite you to join me in praying boldly –like you’ve never prayed before - a Joshua marching around the walls of Jericho kind of prayer - asking God to reach the Bibleless peoples in Papua New Guinea so they can have access to His Word.

Ask Him to start a program in each one before 2025.

Tell Him you can’t do it.

Tell Him SIL can’t do it.

Tell Him it is up to Him to make a way.”

Mark Taber, SIL Pacific Area Director

With approximately 300 languages likely still needing translation in PNG, the need for ideas, people, finances and other resources is staggering.

The task before us is humanly impossible.

We need prayer.

Will YOU pray for the Bibleless people of PNG?

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