This Sunday morning brought a new experience for us. The Pastor at a local church plant visits our centre regularly as our organisation assists him in his role of coordinating the prison ministry in Lae. We gladly accepted the invitation to speak about the work of Bible translation and our supporting role. It was then made clear that he wanted me to autim tok (preach) and, yes, the service is in tok pisin. [ At the end of the service he threw me the task of publicly dedicating a newly married couple ….. that was certainly a new experience! ]
Preaching in a second language may seem a little daunting at first, but as I started preparing I realised that the vocabulary necessary for a tok pisin sermon is all there in the Scriptures. ‘Church speak’ is less involved than the tok pisin used in day-to-day living. From day one, the Tok Pisin Bible has been a primary source of becoming familiar with the language. Writing out the sermon – taken from Philippians 2 and Ephesians 4 – using the Bible to clarify certain phrases and expressions proved helpful.
Yupela olgeta i mas holim wanpela tingting tasol, na bihainim wanpela pasin bilong laikim tru ol arapela. Yupela i mas i stap wanbel tru. Filipai 2:2b
What turned out to be difficult was the actual preaching. Presenting what I had prepared was not the issue, but being content with the simplicity of the language proved to be the challenge. I wanted to say so much, to challenge the church with the need to be serving each other while focused on building each other up in Christ. To be looking to Christ as the source of that true Christian love for their brothers and sisters. The language and cultural barrier seemed to leave me searching for ways to fill the words with meaningful emotion.
It gave a real insight into why Bible translation is so critical. Many Papua New Guineans can read tok Pisin and even English, yet texts in these languages are often just a collection of words – individual meanings may be understood, but the emotion and expression behind phrases, sentences and paragraphs can be lost in the labourious task of reading. I was able to construct a tok pisin sentence, and combine sentences into a sermon….. but could I truly make it say anything meaningful?
Yet speak the Scriptures to someone in their heart language, and their minds are opened to the full capacity of expression and emotion. They hear truly the heart of God speaking to them in His powerful and beautiful word.
Please pray …
- that the people of PNG would be enabled to receive God’s word in a meaningful way
- that individual Christians, and churches would be strengthened by sound teaching