Moving Mountains in India
A network of Bible translators is bringing God's Word to some of the most remote language groups on earth.
For the Tiwa people in Northeast India, placing a phone call can be as difficult as climbing a mountain. Literally.
“I need to climb up the mountain nearly 500 meters and get the network,” says Francis Maslai, a pastor in the Tiwa community, explaining what it takes to get phone reception. Maslai has gotten plenty of exercise placing those precious calls.
But if you were to follow him into the leafy green mountains of Assam, you wouldn’t find Maslai chatting about the weather or catching up with an old friend. You would find him talking about Bible translation.
Maslai is just one of the many Bible translators in Northeast India receiving support from Bible Society of India. While translating the New Testament into his heart language of Tiwa, Maslai would call one of the Bible Society’s translation consultants whenever he got stuck on a difficult word.
Yet when it comes to equipping Bible translators in Northeast India, a telephone call is only the beginning. Bible Society of India, with the financial support of American Bible Society’s faithful partners, provides Bible translators with comprehensive support, including a consulting center, technological resources and continuing education. Through this partnership, God’s Word is taking root in one of the farthest corners of the world.
“This region is so important for us because they are responding to the gospel,” says Head of Translation for Bible Society of India Jonadob Nathaniel. “Different communities keep coming and asking for the Bible.
Tools of the Trade
To reach the 96 language groups scattered throughout Northeast India, Bible Society of India has established a centralized translation center in the city of Shillong, which boasts access to the Internet and a stable electrical current—not a given in the rural hills of Northeast India.
“When there is no [power] current, I used to write with my own hand and wait for the time when there is a current,” says Maslai, describing how difficult it is to rely on the computer when translating the Bible in his rural village.
The translation center in Shillong, which offers support to more than 50 translation projects, can house translators and their families for 3 to 4 months at a time. The retreat provides translators the time and resources to tend to God’s Word with the help of Bible Society translation consultants.
With access to the Internet, translators can also rely on a powerful translation software called ParaTExt, which displays multiple Scripture texts on the same screen and even suggests possible translations based on context.
In addition to making the translation process easier, ParaTExt makes completed translations more secure. With their new biblical texts stored safely online, translators, such as Francis Maslai, don’t have to worry about fires or floods sweeping away years of handwritten work.
Scriptural Shop Class
In addition to leveraging the resources in Shillong, Bible translators in Northeast India recently started gathering for an annual training seminar presented by United Bible Societies and American Bible Society’s Nida Institute of Biblical Scholarship. Through the seminar, the remote band of translators stays up-to-speed on the latest in translation technologies and biblical studies.
“The training is, first of all, to train the translators to read the original languages,” Nathaniel says. He explains that this basic training helps translators understand the role of context in translation. For example, Nathaniel says, when Paul writes, “Beware those dogs,” in Philippians 3:2, it’s important to know he’s warning against false teachers, not rabid animals.
The annual training seminars also provide translators with the tools they need to excavate the treasures of Scripture—and to share them with their people. Attendees learn how to dig out the root word of a biblical text, how to contextualize the Bible’s ancient culture into local cultures, and how to make a new translation into a manuscript.
“[The seminar] gives me a new insight and new perspective on translation work. … It is very interesting and very useful too,” Maslai says. “Without knowing these things, we would not be able to translate the right term in the right way.”
The Bible Transforms Lives
As language groups in Northeast India engage with God’s Word for the very first time, people’s lives are changing forever.
“Before, we learned from other [dialects],” says Galo Bible Translator Gode Doke. “But now, we are reading ourselves, so we are very happy.” In 2007, Doke finished translating the New Testament into his heart language of Galo. Now he’s working on the Old Testament—a task his people are eager for him to complete.
“In the New Testament, we learn that God sent his son, Jesus Christ,” Doke says. “But without creating, how did God send [him]? They want to know how God created his world. … We want to know more about the whole Bible.”
Nathaniel has seen God’s Word ignite this spiritual transformation throughout Northeast India.
“The Bible Society is meeting the needs of these people…especially the poor, exploited and oppressed,” Nathaniel says. “You can visibly and tangibly see the transformation of their physical life.…This is the impact of the gospel on people’s lives.”
Striving Towards the Goal
As God’s Word takes root in this distant region of the world, translators in Northeast India know that they do not labor alone. Just as he placed calls for help from the heights of a mountain, Francis Maslai and his fellow translators ask for continued prayer and support as they seek to finish the task of Bible translation in India.
Maslai is thankful for those around the world who support this essential work. “The New Testament will help [us] know more about Jesus in the Tiwa language.”
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