Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Failed Greetings

"Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ."

That sounds simple enough to translate, right? But it's worth noting that this little sentence found within the first two verses of Ephesians poses some difficult problems. The words by themselves aren't that difficult. Key terms such as 'peace' and 'grace' have already been ironed out. So what's the problem? The problem is that where Paul's purpose was to express a God oriented well wishing in the context of a greeting, it actually comes across in the Mibu translation as though he is already starting to teach or exhort. While I'm sure that Paul did want them to know about grace and peace, he certainly wasn't expounding on the ideas or even exhorting them to do anything here. It was simply a well wishing as part of a greeting. As it is now, this is not a faithful rendition of the text into the Mibu language.

Stepping back and looking at it some more, it's clear that the problem has to do with the whole of these first two verses which form the opening of the letter. You see, each language has it's own patterns and structures for communicating ideas. The Greek language had a certain pattern which clearly indicated the opening of a letter, with greetings, introductions, well wishings, etc. Well the Mibu language will have a different pattern for the same ideas to be communicated just as clearly. In the Mibu language, this will look very very different than the pattern for the same in Greek. Our job is to get these ideas restructured in a way that comes across the same way in the Mibu language that it did in Greek.

Add to the problem the fact that currently there IS NO standard letter writing genre in Mibu! It was only recently that the Mibus began to read and write in their own language. Patterns for letter openings and greetings are only just beginning to emerge. For now, we're mostly shooting in the dark here. With each attempt at translating a letter opening, and each process of checking and refining, the 'standard' gets better and better, communicating more and more clearly and effectively. Sesi and I have to 'invent' the right form to make this work! Since last week's first check for comprehension, we've revisited the section with this in mind and have what seems like the best letter opening yet, which further checking will either affirm or contradict.

Once this form takes the right shape and the letter opening and greeting come across clearly for what they're supposed to be, then the pieces within, such as, "Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ," will be easier to iron out so that rather than come across as an abrupt jump into teaching, it will fit in the context more appropriately as the well wishing God inspired it to be.

We find it possible to translate all the words accurately, yet put them together in a way such that the author's purpose fades into ambiguity. Yet the purpose is fundamental to every successful communication. As you can see in the above example, we find that often it's not just finding the equivalents of words and phrases and ideas, but presenting them in such a way that the purpose is kept clear that presents the biggest challenge in translation.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Ephesians in Mibu

No, while we may live at the ends of the earth, we've certainly not fallen off the face of it! While there have been inspiring things to write about, putting pen to paper, or in our case, fingers to keyboard, has been a challenge. Call it writer's block or whatever. Regardless, God continues to work here in Mibu and we are committed to keeping you updated.

Being the only expat family serving in a ministry where the workload could keep three families busy, takes some prioritizing to make things work. The big push for us has been staying in the background as much as possible as far as the church is concerned and focusing on bible translation. God's word in the Mibu people's language is foundational to all the rest of the church development efforts. It's easy to get bogged down in other details, important though they be, and see translation become one of those 'closer than they appear' objects in the rear view mirror. Our goal as the only full time family here right now is to keep the translation in the forefront of our efforts.

Since mid-January we've been working on translating Ephesians. Finishing the first half of the letter last week felt like a major accomplishment for Sesi and I. The task wasn't without it's great challenges what with seemingly impossible long sentences, difficult concepts and logical connections that seem far above my pay grade! Relief might be a word to add to how we felt when we finished; Not because we don't enjoy the work, but because of its difficulty, and because all throughout you're concerned that you're going to hit an insurmountable wall, or make a really bad mistake navigating through it all. When you do eventually finish, when you're convinced that God's word is accurately represented in the Mibu language, a sense of relief can certainly be added to that of accomplishment.

Now it's time for another step. It's time to put the text to the test. Yesterday we began checking these first 3 chapters of Ephesians for comprehension and possible misunderstanding. This involves working with several people, reading portions of the text and having them tell back what they heard, asking them questions about the main point, specific terminology used, flow of thought and other details that indicate the text is being understood. This is where we find that while the text might be accurate in the sense that it contains all the details of the original, it may not actually be communicating those things very clearly. There may be confusion or misunderstanding. The point being made may prove elusive. Or... what we really hope for is that the text is indeed communicating clearly, where large portions can be read, understood, and talked about clearly. It's a rare thing that all this comes together really well on the first check. But yesterday, when we checked the the first two chapters we found things going very smoothly with only a few places that needed corrections, and the few corrections that are needed were pretty easy to pinpoint!

Please pray as we continue the checking process, with chapter 3 today, and further checks with different people over the coming week or so. Also be in prayer as we begin to get ready to move into translating the second half of Ephesians. It's a huge and difficult process. We need your continued prayers for all the work that remains!