Four hundred ninety-nine years ago today, October 31, Martin Luther nailed 95 theses on the door of the Wittenburg church, challenging the Roman Catholic hierarchy’s sale of indulgences. He didn’t do this with the intention of starting what we know now as the Reformation. The nailing of these papers to the door of the church wasn’t as revolutionary an act as it might seem. At that time, the church door acted as a sort of bulletin board, and he was posting his theses there to get a discussion going and try to stimulate reform. They were written in Latin, the language of academia and liturgy, and not in German dialect, the language of the people.
We had the privilege of visiting this church in Wittenburg a couple of days ago and are showing a picture here that we took. The actual wooden doors burned down long ago and were replaced with iron doors on which the 95 theses are engraved. Martin Luther’s tomb is inside the church.
The Reformation really got underway because the church hierarchy insisted that Dr. Luther recant what he had written, and he said he could not comply, because his position was supported by Scripture and theirs was not. And so he was forced to split from the Roman Catholic church, and found many followers, and the rest is history.
We have checked the translation of Romans and 1 Corinthians into Kriol on this trip to Guinea-Bissau, and now these books are ready for publication. My first week here we worked in Bissau, at the office where the Kriol team normally works. Then for the next (nearly) two weeks we worked in a place in the countryside near the town of Bissora. Meals at this rural translation center were provided by a small team of women cooking on traditional charcoal stoves. Water came from a well and electricity came from solar panels that JAARS installed several years ago. This picture shows the solar panels on the top of the building we worked in:
At first when JAARS sent a couple of men who installed the solar panels about six (?) years ago, they worked well. But then the batteries used to store the electricity went bad, and they weren’t much good for several years. But recently they were able to get new storage batteries, and now the system works great. We had electricity for lights, fans and computers around the clock, which makes it possible to work there.
There are many favorite passages in Romans and 1 Corinthians, but as we finished our checking today, we especially appreciated 1 Corinthians 15:58, which reads in Kriol:
Asin, ña kiridu ermons, bo fika firmi; ka bo bulbuli; bo pega tesu na tarbaju di Siñor, suma ku bo sibi kuma, kusa ku bo fasi pa Siñor i ka amonton.
“So, my beloved brothers, you remain steady; not you be jostled, you hold firm to [the] work of [the] Lord, as that you know thus, [the] thing that you do for [the] Lord be not in vain.”
(Note that there is no definite article in Guinea-Bissau Portuguese Kriol.)
I’ve been working in Guinea-Bissau for two weeks and we have checked the Epistle to the Romans and half of I Corinthians, and we have a few more days of working together to finish checking I Corinthians in Creole. It is going well. These are wonderful epistles.
I work with a translation team of three, led by Pastor Cutsau, who has had extra training in translation and linguistics. Pastor Papa is also on the team, who has excellent intuitions about how to say things the best way in Creole, and Jeremias, who represents the younger generation. We are able to check about two chapters and a half each day. Some verses are no problem and we just read through them without discussion, and for other verses we spend a lot of time discussing it and sometimes making adjustments for the sake of accuracy, clarity and naturalness.
When we got to the passage about whether or not to eat food that had been offered to idols, Pastor Cutsau commented that he can relate to that. I Corinthians 8:4,7,8 says, “About eating food sacrificed to idols: We know that an idol is nothing at all in the world and that there is no God but one…. But not everyone knows this. Some people are still so accustomed to idols that when they eat such food they think of it as having been sacrificed to an idol, and since their conscience is weak, it is defiled. But food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do.” Pastor Cutsau is Balanta, and when he was growing up, a mixture of rice, palm oil and milk was something offered to idols. He said that when he became a Christian, he felt guilty about eating rice, palm oil and milk. But as he matured as a Christian and got to know the scriptures, he got over his guilt feeling about that.
Where we are working on the Creole translation right now is away from the capital, in Balanta territory. Pastor Cutsau’s mother, who speaks only Balanta, and his nephew came by to visit him yesterday afternoon, and I took a picture of them:
We have been working in Nigeria for two weeks already, and I’m afraid this is our first report from here this time. We have been fully occupied, working with three translation teams between the two of us. Our first day of work here was July 4—a holiday back home, but not here. Our second and third days were national holidays in Nigeria, commemorating the end of Ramadan. In fact, Ramadan didn’t end when it was supposed to (determined by sighting the moon) so the Nigerian national holiday was extended for a third day. But since we had come all this way to consult, we and our translation teams didn’t take off July 5–8 when the rest of the country did. So now we have had two weeks working with our translation teams and have Monday through Thursday left to finish our goals, as we head to the airport (four hours away by car) at noon on Friday for a late-night overnight flight back hom.
Pictured here is Lynn in a KK, which is a kind of taxi here. (No, that’s not what we took from the airport in Abuja to the translation center in Jos.) These three-wheeled KKs are all over the place and are the most normal means of transportation. When we went out last Sunday, our KK ran out of gas and the driver had to catch another KK to fetch some more. As long as we were waiting there for the driver to return so we could finish our trip back to the translation center where we are staying, I got out and took a picture.
The weather here has been very nice. Nigeria is in the tropics north of the equator and most of Nigeria ranges from hot to very hot this time of year, but Jos is in the Plateau state, and at this altitude the temperature has ranged from warm to chilly. It is rainy season and we have had some powerful downpours, usually in the afternoon. Due to the altitude and geography, hail is common here. A couple afternoons our work has been interrupted by deafening rain and hail on the tin roof.
We have been taking malaria prophylaxis every day but we have hardly seen any mosquitoes. There is electricity only a fraction of every day. A generator is turned on when needed during the working hours. Where we are staying, there is a very nice battery system that provides light and power for our computers almost all of the time. Last weekend the power was off for so long that the batteries gave out, so we had to get out our flashlights and candles. The next day the electricity came on again for long enough to recharge the battery system.
We’ll try to write more about our translation work within the next couple of days.
Presently we are in Mainz, Germany, in between China and Nigeria. Mainz is proud of its native son Johannes Gutenberg, creator of the printing press with movable type, which is considered the greatest invention of the second millennium. We visited the Gutenberg Museum and saw a Gutenberg press and a couple of original Gutenberg Bibles in Latin and an original Luther Bible in German. Gutenberg is traditionally portrayed with a beard, but they say that as a member of a patrician family he wouldn’t have really had a beard. One reason for the tradition of portraying him with a beard is that nobody knows what Gutenberg really looked like, and it is easier to represent him with the kind of beard worn in those days. The printing press made the the Bible much more available than before. The museum covers not only the great accomplishments of Gutenberg and the place of his printing press in history, but also the history of book making and printing, from hand-written manuscripts to modern 3D printing.
Katya and Mark in Tibetan home
We were able to spend a little over a week in Sichuan Province, China. We mostly were in the city of Chengdu, but we also took a trip for a couple of days to see Jiuzhai Valley National Park, which was beautiful. It took a day to get to Jiuzhaigou by bus, and while there we stayed in a Tibetan home for two nights. In Chengdu we visited the Panda Breeding Center that Chengdu is famous for. The occasion for this visit was to spend time with Mark, who is doing doctoral research, and Maria, who is teaching English, and Katya, who celebrated her 3½ year birthday while we were there. We wanted to visit with our family and experience where they are living for about two years. Mark has a Fullbright Research Grant and spends his days reading in the government archives. Mark is able to speak and read Chinese fluently. If I understand correctly, Mark’s research topic is the historic relationship between agriculture and culture in central China.
Katya is growing up multicultural and multilingual. She mostly speaks English at home and with her father’s family, Russian with Maria and Maria’s family, and Chinese at school and with her friends. She does an amazing job navigating all three languages. She prefers to eat with chopsticks; once when we bought a watermelon and offered her some watermelon cubes, she rejected the fork we gave her to eat them with and found chopsticks to use instead. Chinese people are so enthralled with Katya and she gets lots of positive attention. Very often when a mother with children comes across Katya, the mother pushes her child together with Katya to pose for a picture. Katya isn’t eager for so much attention and has gotten shy of being photographed.
Jiuzhai Valley National Park
We are thrilled that the Gullah New Testament is now available as an app on android devices. The simple way to download it to your cell phone or other android device would be to go to the Google Play Store (play.google.com/store/apps) and search for Gullah Bible. SIL media specialists have developed a methodology for converting any published Bible translation into a cell phone app. As a bonus, for the Gospel of John, the audio is available to go with the written text, and as you play the audio, it will highlight the phrase being read in Gullah. The audio doesn’t automatically download to your phone. You have to navigate to the Gospel of John and then press on a button to download the audio. So far, only the Gospel of John is available in audio. This motivates us to try to mobilize a recording project for the whole Gullah New Testament. Fortunately, the SIL media specialists have also developed a methodology for making this really easy. If we can manage a modest investment in equipment and get volunteer readers, we can imagine a project to get the rest of the Gullah New Testament translation recorded in audio form to go with the text in the cell phone app. Meanwhile, we encourage you to try out the Gullah Bible cell phone app!
Pastor Djeme is big and strong and intelligent and quite dedicated to evangelizing his people, the Jola-Felupe. He’s a leader, and he inspires others to join him in the evangelistic work. I met with him a couple of days ago, and he told me about what he has going on back in his home area in northeastern Guinea-Bissau near the border with Senegal. After listening to him for a while, I had to go get some paper to take notes. They are putting their efforts into the children. Reaching out to a wide area, at this point they have gotten up to 40 classes in 31 villages, with a total at this point of 1164 students and 74 teachers. Last year they held a one-week conference for the kids and 300 came. This year they are planning on 400.
I’ve worked with Pastor Djeme and the Jola-Felupe translation on previous visits to Guinea-Bissau. I wrote about working with them in a piece from a year ago called Jola-Felupe in Guinea-Bissau that has a picture of Pastor Djeme and his men, and another one called The Jola-Felupe Church that has a picture of these young students.
Now I will get to the “mysterious thing.” There were crocodiles in the river that were killing people. The Jola-Felupe people had to give up on bringing bags of rice up the river from the islands for food. The problem was that the large crocodiles would knock over the canoe and kill the people. They weren’t getting their food, and people were getting killed. Pastor Djeme would have none of that, so he undertook a campaign to rid this area of crocodiles. The townspeople urged him not to disturb them, because they were “mysterious things,” that is, something supernatural. But he took a large hook on a heavy chain and some bait, and he snagged 12 large crocodiles, and shot them with a rifle. Then he strung them up so everybody could see that they weren’t so mysterious and were mortal. Now the Jola-Felupe people can use their boats on this river to bring in rice.
Pastor Djeme says that the biggest need in their outreach program is bicycles. The teachers have to travel 8, 14, 20 kilometers to lead their weekly classes, and without bicycles they have to walk. Last year they set as a goal to get 15 bicycles, and they got 6. They are still praying for more, and planning on it. They also need 2 motor scooters, for supervisors. I asked how much these cost, and Pastor Djeme said that a sturdy bicycle costs the equivalent of $70, and a motor scooter $700 to $800. If anyone wants to contribute to this cause, let me know.
Portuguese Creole, also spelled various other ways like Krioulu or Kriyol, is the national language of Guinea-Bissau. Portuguese is the official language of Guinea-Bissau, but Creole is spoken here way more than Portuguese. According to the data I have, there are only about 5,000 mother-tongue speakers of Portuguese here and more than 230,000 mother-tongue speakers of Creole, and that number is growing. Portuguese Creole isn’t necessarily the most populous language group of Guinea-Bissau; that honor goes to Balanta. But if you combine mother-tongue speakers with another 600,000 who use it extensively as a second language, then Creole is the biggest language group here in Guinea-Bissau. There are a number of other large, vigorous language groups here as well.
Christianity isn’t the dominant religion in Guinea-Bissau, but there is a large, dynamic Evangelical Christian church here, and at least in the capital of Bissau Creole is the language of the church. Shown above is just one of the many full Creole-speaking churches on Sunday. The reason I am in Guinea-Bissau now, and have been coming since 2009, is to help with the Creole translation of the Bible. This week we finished checking the translation of the Gospel of John.
A month after getting home from Nigeria I left for Guinea-Bissau, where I am now, this time, unfortunately, without Lynn. I have returned for my umpteenth time to consult on the Portuguese Creole Bible translation. We are checking the Gospel of John in Creole, and if we still have time, we will check a couple of short epistles. Today is a national holiday here: International Women’s Day. (Back home in the States it is National Pancake Day.) I am staying a little distance from where I work with the translation team and am given a ride every day to and from work. Today kids are out of school and businesses are closed, but since I came all this distance for only three weeks, we worked. In the car ride to work today, along one short stretch of road there were four different places where women’s groups had set up roadblocks to collect a toll to pass through–a little donation. Everybody was in a festive mood, including those who were collecting the donations and those who were giving them. Today we made good progress on the Gospel of John and are about half-way through. The temperatures have been getting into the low 100s every day, and I appreciate being able to use a fan.