Papua New Guinea (PNG), where I work, is Australia’s nearest neighbour, a former Australian territory, and home to about 12% of the world’s languages, which is a lot of languages in one country! It is a diverse, challenging and welcoming country. I work in Gulf Province with the Kope people, where three times a year […]
Papua New Guinea (PNG), where I work, is Australia’s nearest neighbour, a former Australian territory, and home to about 12% of the world’s languages, which is a lot of languages in one country! It is a diverse, challenging and welcoming country.
I work in Gulf Province with the Kope people, where three times a year I spend up to two months living and working among the Kope. When not in Gulf Province I am in Ukarumpa; this is the organisational centre for SIL PNG. While sent to PNG by Wycliffe Bible Translators, with the support of the LCA, I am seconded to work with SIL when in PNG.
My work is in the delta area of Gulf Province, meaning I live and work in a big swampy network of rivers and creeks. In the middle of this delta is an area that linguists have called “Northeast Kiwai” saying it is one language as everyone there can understand each other. Locals have a different opinion though, for while they can understand each other, they have five distinct identities, as well as many differences between their languages. Some of these differences are minor, but there are some significant ones too. This means that they have five separate needs for translation and literacy work. From among this NE Kiwai group, I work with the Kope people, as well as supporting the Anigibi people with their translation work.
The story of Bible translation work with the Kope covers generations.
In the 1980s, another couple did some Bible translation work with the Kope. They trained Pastor Tiramu (left) and he worked well for a while, but a lack of community support meant the work faded out. Tiramu kept his drafts for 25 years, waiting for someone to come and help the work continue. A new generation became involved when the Kope people had the opportunity to participate in a workshop to start the work of translating and recording the Jesus Film. This is a dramatization of Jesus’ story, mostly based on Luke, which has been dubbed in over 1700 languages. Through the translation and recording process, a new generation of Kope people became excited about God’s word in their language. Samson heads up the Kope translation and literacy work today.
There have also been generations of ex-pats involved in the translation and literacy work in Gulf Province. John and Debbie Clifton (USA) worked with the Kope in the 1980s, training Pastor Tiramu. Robbie and Debbie Petterson (NZ) started work in Gulf in 1984. They were the ones who offered the Jesus Film workshop in the 2000s, and supported the Kope people through the translation and recording of the film. They currently work with a dozen languages in the Gulf Delta, supporting their literacy programmes. My colleague Ruth is working with the Gibaio people to use their version of the Jesus Film to build Biblical literacy. While Robbie and Debbie are heading into retirement, there is plenty of work still to be done in Gulf. I am thankful both for the generation who have gone before, as well as for the new things that God is doing, and the new team he is raising up.
In October 2015, the Jesus Film was dedicated in the Kope language. This was when Robbie and Debbie handed the responsibility as translation advisor to the Kope people to me. It was a day of great celebration, as people watched, listened, and understood the story of Jesus in a way they had never understood it before. I continue to use the Jesus Film, both by projecting it in villages for a crowd to watch, and by watching in on my tablet as part of a Bible study with the women’s fellowship. Our Bible study is most definitely intergenerational, as there are often more kids than women at the study… and the kids *love* watching the film!
My main work is as translation advisor to the Kope people. I am not the translator- my Kope is not good enough for that- I am the advisor. The Kope people are experts at their language; they do the translation. My role is to train, support, encourage, resource and check the work. While my life might sound exciting, much of the time it is studious computer work, just minus the air-conditioning that many others enjoy, and often while seated on the floor!
The Kope translation team is doing well. They continue to learn and grow in their translation skills, and at the end of 2019, had 87% of Luke in draft form.
One of the blessings of being English speakers, is that we’ve had the Bible in our language for about 500 years. We have access to song books, Sunday school materials, Bible colleges, reference books etc for generations. For the Kope people, and for most of PNG, this is not the case. When people don’t have access to the Bible and Bible resources in a language that they understand, Scripture use and Bible literacy remain very low. People may understand the essentials of faith, but not much beyond that.
Part of my work is building Scripture use and Biblical literacy. While being privileged to work regularly with my translation team in this way, I also aim to every one or two years run some sort of workshop for the wider community to be part of. In July 2018, with a team from SIL in Ukarumpa, we ran a two-week Bible Overview workshop, covering the main themes and storylines from Genesis to Revelation. People from all five people groups mentioned earlier attended this workshop, which was held in English. Participants then returned to their villages to teach what they had learnt, doing it in their own language, so that all the community, regardless of age or education, could participate. In May 2020 we will be offering another Scripture use workshop, this time on Christian marriage and family life.
Another aspect of my work is to support the literacy work which my colleague Robbie leads. This means supporting the training of local teachers to teach children to read and write in their own language at literacy pre-schools. If children can start with what they know (Kope), they have a better chance of success when they go to school in English.
Part of building a literacy programme is resourcing the schools. This means collecting stories and turning them into books. Hollie, the intern who worked with me for 18 months, was a huge help in collecting, editing, formatting and organising the printing of about 40 new titles, and over 2000 copies, of books for the literacy pre-schools. In January 2020, I was able to add another 16 titles to the collection.
We also aim to record all the books, so that they can be distributed in an app. When learning to read, we learn best if we listen to a fluent reader. As there are few of these among the Kope, recording the stories and distributing the recordings, makes it easier for children, and adults too, to learn to read.
Another part of my work is learning Kope. It is a complex language, and learning is going slowly, but as long as it is going forwards, I am happy. Most of my learning is through sitting and having classes with women in the village. In 2019 I also wrote my master’s paper on Kope verbs, proving just how complex they are, but also greatly increasing my ability to understand and use them.
The Kope people live in a swamp, so all travel is by boat. Using local boats has presented many challenges, including the quality of the boats. While taking one journey on a canoe, it started leaking, so for the whole journey of an hour or so, it was being repaired… with mud! I am incredibly thankful that in 2018 I was able to buy my own boat. While this brings new challenges, such as navigating the complex river system, is also brings many many blessings.
I spend 5 weeks to two months in my village, Ubuo, each village stay, working alongside the Kope translation team in their complex project. There is only so long I can take the immersion in language, culture and humidity before I need a break. My team probably also need a break from me and the work we do together, as they are community leaders with other responsibilities. They work hard while I am there, but they too have other tasks to tend to. My change of pace is achieved by returning to Ukarumpa, the centre for SIL in PNG.
In Ukarumpa I can unwind. My house there has such lovely things as 240 volt power, a fridge, a washing machine, a couch, the internet… and at 1500m above sea level, is feels like permanent spring. While in Ukarumpa I continue working, not just on catching up on the email backlog, but on processing literacy and dictionary notes I have brought back from the village, in preparing training resources for my next village trip, and in accessing the resources and training that Ukarumpa provides.
Ukarumpa is also a place to connect with my colleagues, who between them work in over 200 languages in PNG. Some of them have been here over 40 years! Everyone has something to contribute, and as different generations and skill sets come together, we can support and encourage each other so that we are able to continue to live and work in PNG. I am blessed to belong to a community of colleagues who are all here to see God’s word transform local lives and communities across Papua New Guinea.
After five years working with the Kope translation team, I am hoping that in 2020 we will finish all the stages of drafting and checking the Gospel of Luke, then record, typeset and dedicate it in 2021. We will have done all this work on the verandah of my village house, under an increasingly leaky thatch roof, often with more workers than there are chairs for them to sit on. I have big dreams for what might come next, and ask you to join me in praying for wisdom, praying for workers, and giving towards the work.
In October 2020, I am planning to build a translation, literacy and training centre in my village, Ubuo. This will contain an office space for the translation team to do their work, an office for the literacy coordinator to do his work, and a large classroom for up to 50 people. We will use this classroom to offer training to literacy teachers, as well as for the Scripture use workshops I mentioned earlier. Building such a facility, in a remote location, with solar power, is expensive. If you would like to give to this project, please visit: COMING SOON!
My (prayerfully considered) dreams do not stop there though, as I would like to reach out to neighbouring languages, so that they too can access God’s word in the language that best touches their hearts and lives. To do this, I would like to start a cluster project, reaching out to 5-8 languages, using an Oral Bible Storying (OBS) method. This means translating a series of Bible stories to then be presented orally. The hurdles between this dream and the potential reality are huge… but God is bigger! Please join me in praying for wisdom to know if this is a path I should pursue. Pray for trainers and advisors, both Papua New Guinean and ex-pat, who can help lead such a course. Pray for a project manager to keep all the details organised. Pray for funders to be willing to support such a big project. Pray for the Kope and the Anigibi people, for their translation teams, and for the people of PNG.
The work I do is complex, but it brings me great joy. I also know that I can only do it through the power of God, who has given me the gifts which I use, and who continues to sustain me each day. When I stop, step back, and look at all I am doing, it can be overwhelming, but God is good, and goes before me, and goes with me.
I also can only do what I do through the body of Christ; through the prayers, gifts and encouragement of people like yourselves, who helped to raise me in the faith, and who continue to carry me along in my work.
Together with God, and with the people of God, we truly can do more than we can ask or imagine. And in that we must always give the glory to God.
Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen. (Eph 3:20-21)
If you would like to consider the opportunity to donate to Hanna Schulz, who is serving as a linguist and translation advisor in Papua New Guinea, you are invited to go to https://wycliffe.org.au/member/hanna/
For more information about Hanna Schulz, go to https://www.lcamission.org.au/about-us/who-we-are/countries/papua-new-guinea/papua-new-guinea-hanna-schulz/