Words and the Word in Papua New Guinea
TEACHING TRUTH IS A MULTILAYERED, MANY-FACETED STORY.
The words of Scripture, as scribes and faithful followers of Jesus have preserved them for us through the centuries, are foundational. And Bible translators all over the world discover that God’s Word delivers His story in contexts of languages and cultures. The translation process is inextricable from loving well, building a community that brings together different skills and interests. People motivate one another to keep moving forward to ensure that the gospel is communicated clearly, deeply, and beautifully. One such translation story now approaches a major milestone on an island in the South Pacific. The Notsi of New Ireland Province, Papua New Guinea, eagerly anticipate the completion of a decades-long Bible translation story—and one part of their community is Kevin (MABS, 2008; MACM, 2008) and Gertrude (attended, 1990) Nicholas, members of Wycliffe Bible Translators.
Kevin and Gertrude came to the Notsi project through following God’s leading to specific niches of ministry, one step at a time. Growing up in Texas, Gertrude caught the vision for cross-cultural ministry from a missionary mentor. Her vision then energized her church in Dallas, and in 1986, she moved to Papua New Guinea to work with literacy—helping people learn to read God’s Word in their own language, sometimes for the very first time. Meanwhile, Kevin’s journey started in New York and led him to ministry in the Philippines.
The Lord brought Kevin and Gertrude’s stories together when they met and married during a furlough in the US in 2001. Working with Wycliffe in the US, Kevin’s increasing speaking opportunities led him to see the vital importance of a seminary education. His Dallas pastor, Eddie B. Lane (ThM, 1974), wouldn’t hear of him going anywhere but Dallas Theological Seminary, where Kevin would graduate with two master’s degrees.
At that same time, translator Ed Condra (ThM, 1982; PhD, 2001) was building the New Ireland Translation Institute (NITI) to cultivate momentum in the Bible translation projects among the province’s many languages. In 2009, he invited Kevin and Gertrude to come to Papua New Guinea and join the Notsi translation team. The next step flowed naturally from relationships Gertrude had already built with Notsi people through literacy. The Notsi project had begun in 1986, and with the synergy of NITI and the assistance of the Nicholases, the time to complete this part of the translation story had come. The final checking is currently underway, and the Notsi look forward to celebrating a multimedia publication event—print and audio New Testament, hymnbook, and Jesus film, all in the Notsi language—in the next year.
Kevin and Gertrude look back on their coursework at DTS with gratitude for the confidence it has given them to get involved in the Notsi Bible translation. “Our dynamic professors challenged our thinking about cross-cultural ministry in a variety of ways,” affirms Kevin. “And I’m surprised how my Greek comes back to me as we work on the translation.” Gertrude finds that exegesis proves to be a most vital skill for ministry in New Ireland. “Whenever I’m asked to teach from the Bible,” she says, “I always teach through a passage of Scripture, verse by verse. People are so eager for that kind of thorough teaching.” Solid exegetical exposition leaves little room for confusion about what’s being left out if the teaching skips over some verses. Working through each verse also corrects misunderstandings based on language barriers or even simple mispronunciations when reading the English or Tok Pisin Bible.
Bible translation always tells a story—the story God shares with us through the Scripture and the story of each translator, each reader, each hearer of the Word. Teaching truth demands good exegesis from a skillful translation of God’s Word, in a language that’s understood, all within the context of loving, personal relationships. For the Notsi and the Nicholases, the Notsi translation shows how to teach truth and love well, and that story will continue to be told.
“Balawaa totorie uul watwat iaa ta tali sin gim: Gim na etiitii ngien gim tsaa, malen iaa ta tiitii gim, ma gim na etiitii gim tsaa.” John 13:34 (Notsi Translation)
About the Contributors
Neil R. Coulter
Neil R. Coulter served as an ethnomusicology and arts consultant for twelve years in Papua New Guinea, with Wycliffe Bible Translators. He is now senior writer and editor at DTS. He and his wife, Joyce, have three sons.