Morris and Wendy Johnson work with Wycliffe Bible Translators in the US now (they used to work abroad), and from time to time I get an email from them about their whereabouts, their work or a story. On Easter they sent out a wonderful Easter story! It embodies how vital effectual translation is.
Linguists and Translators (which the Johnsons are) don’t just deal with words, but ideas, for ideas are communicated, seen, and felt through words. But say you come to a culture in Paupau New Guinea who has never heard of Jesus Christ, never heard of Christianity, doesn’t even have a reference point of sacrificing things for their wrong-doings, how do you begin to communicate ideas like that to them. This wonderful Easter story shows that struggle, and the surprising response of the people.
A Sacrifice that Commands Attention
Adapted by Borghy Holm from an excerpt from In Search of the Source by Neil Anderson with Hyatt Moore (Chapter 16: Broken Bodies).
“How could villagers in a Papua New Guinean rain forest grasp what it meant to “flog” someone? As our Folopa translation team was gathered one day, we became mired in a passage in Mark 10 where Jesus predicted what was about to happen to Him.
“…the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles, who will mock him and spit on him, flog him, and kill him. Three days later he will rise” (Mark 10:33-34, NIV).
We were stuck, I didn’t have a word for “flog.” What do you call it,” I asked, “if someone hits another, say an enemy, with something like a rope?”
That drew a blank. Apparently hitting someone with a rope was nothing that sounded familiar to them. But it was about to happen to Jesus and it was part of the passage, so I cast about for other ways to describe it. My eyes fell on a piece of rattan vine left over from tying the thatch on the roof. It was lying on the old woodstove. The vine was about three feet long and as thick as my little finger. I picked it up, and instructed the men to imagine the vine was a piece of rope and the woodstove was the back of Jesus. Then with all my might I started beating the iron stovetop.
Immediately Owarap Ali – his eyes wild and his nostril flaring – shouted out: “That’s not hitting with a rope, that’s fokoso sirapo!” He was indignant, staring up at me from his place on the floor.
Fokoso sirapo. I wrote the words down. “Tell me more about it,” I said. But when I looked up, they were all just staring at me. It was as if it had taken them right back to the old days of revenge and bloodshed. “Wait a minute,” someone said. “Do you mean they did that to Jesus? But here it just said they were going to do it. Did they really do it to Him?”
Quiet fell on the room as I answered, “Yes.” Finally Eleke Whi Ali said, “We used to do that. But we only did it to our enemies, and then just before we were going to kill them.” Yes,” I said, “that is coming, too.”
They hung their heads. In the corners, the large shell earrings of the old men swung back and forth in stunned sadness. The memory offokoso sirapo “floggings” was too fresh in their minds. They were seeing a deeper vision of the awful cruelty – the enormity of it all- than I had ever understood. And that this would happen to Jesus…someone they had grown to respect and like. He was a Man who would put little children on His lap, who would reach out and heal those in need. These men knew what torturing and flogging were all about . That this Jesus would come to suffer like this was too much to take in.
We had to stop work for the morning. They couldn’t go on.”
There are thousands of languages like this, that are largely unwritten and no one is doing work in. Wycliffe needs your help should you chose to give it.