International Year of Indigenous Languages
‘I want to tell you why I was crying last night. I had just heard them praying and reading in our language.’
Until recently, Yoke had only heard speakers of her language pray and read Scripture in the national language, Indonesian. Yoke lives in the Aru Islands in eastern Indonesia, where her language, Dobel, and 16 other local languages are spoken in addition to the trade language, Aru Malay. While many Dobel speakers also speak Indonesian, they don’t see it as their language.
A lack of access to the Bible in their own language has not been without its consequences. Only having access to the Bible in the national language has given rise to the expectation that faith should be practised in Indonesian, on a par with official matters and schooling.
The idea of praying, worshipping and reading the Bible in Dobel, the language of the home and close relationships, is new to many people. Practising faith in another language affects not only Dobel speakers’ basic understanding of the Scriptures (as they often don’t understand Indonesian as well as their own language), but it also affects their relationship with God and their understanding of who he is. If the Scriptures don’t exist in their language, does God even want a relationship with them? Isn’t he just the God of those peoples whose languages he does speak?
For many, praying, reading Scriptures and holding church services in the local language takes some getting used to. The idea of faith being received and expressed in the national language is often deeply embedded, and many people see their own languages as not being formal or official enough for use with God. (There were similar reactions when the Bible was first translated into English!) However, these long-standing barriers to faith are now starting to come down as more of the Bible is translated into Dobel and distributed throughout Dobel villages.
When Dobel speakers read or listen to God’s word in their own language for the first time, they often say, ‘Oh, that’s what it means!’, as they finally hear God speak to them clearly.
Yoke is a member of the team working on the Dobel translation. She is the youngest member of the team and only joined the long-running project a couple of years ago.
The Dobel translation project first started in the 1980s, when Wycliffe members Jock and Katy Hughes arrived with a passion to see the Bible translated into one of the local languages, and the drive to make it happen. Initially, local churches and church leaders didn’t show much interest in the endeavour and didn’t want to help, and Jock and Katy were uncertain about how much the translation would be used – was it even worth working on?
Over the years, however, things have changed. Interest in the translation throughout the villages has grown slowly but surely, and Dobel speakers are now very enthusiastic about having the word of God in their own language.
The team is currently nearing the end of the New Testament, and the goal is to have it published and in use by 2023.
Jock and Katy have now served in Indonesia for 34 years (with breaks), and raised their four children while learning multiple Indonesian languages, developing a writing system for Dobel, producing literacy materials, working on the Dobel translation, administering basic healthcare, and helping with various community development projects.
Photo: Aru village (Indonesia)
Source: Wycliffe UK