CHRISTY ARMSTRONG | Cleveland Daily Banner
WHETHER OR NOT THEY BELIEVE what it says, many Americans are somewhat familiar with the Bible. Verses are often emblazoned on bumper stickers, and copies of Gideon Bibles still occupy drawer space in many hotel rooms.
However, Cleveland resident Danielle Jennings has discovered that people in some parts of the world are not familiar with the Bible at all.
A 21-year-old Lee University student from Bel Air, Maryland, Jennings spent part of her summer helping translate the Bible into a tribal language in Papua New Guinea, joining a group of others on a trip with Wycliffe Bible Translators.
The group of seven young women and three leaders from Wycliffe visited a village called Lavege in the West New Britain Province.
The Wycliffe group spent a week in Dallas preparing for the trip by learning about Bible translation and memorizing as much of the village’s language as they could.
After the group left the US, the events of the trip played out like movie scenes rife with action, drama and comedy.
“The first day we were there, our van was attacked,” Jennings said.
The van was surrounded by three men carrying a gun, a machete and a large rock. Their intention was to rob group members of their belongings and steal the van.
Jennings said there were some very tense moments, but all escaped safely. That event just confirmed for them that the Bible translation work they would do was important, she said.
There were a few more uplifting moments that happened while the translations were taking shape and even some humorous ones that happened when both trip participants and villagers ran into language barriers.
Papua New Guinea is home to many different languages. There are 863 languages spoken in the country, close to 10% of all the languages spoken in the world.
Villagers from Lavege have to speak different languages when they visit other villages and many are multilingual. Children learn multiple languages, including at least one of the country’s three official languages. Still, residents of many small villages can only read in their first language.
While the Wycliffe group learned some of the Mangseng language during their time in Dallas, Jennings said it was sometimes difficult to understand what people were saying because languages were often mixed together in conversation.
“It was kind of hard to pick up when they switched between languages,” Jennings said.
According to the US Department of State, 96% of Papua New Guineans classify themselves as Christian. However, language barriers mean many Christians do not have access to the entire Bible.
“They are very spiritual people,” Jennings said. “But they don’t have the Old Testament yet.”
She said some verses were difficult to translate because there are words in English that do not exist in the Mangseng language. One example is a verse in Psalm 1 that uses the phrase “and its leaves do not wither.”
In Lavege, the trees do not wither; they just turn yellow when they die. Since there is no Mangseng word to describe withering, the translated verse will say “its leaves do not turn yellow.”
As part of the translation process, group members would often take newly translated verses around to villagers to make sure they could easily understand them. Jennings said she will never forget talking to an elderly woman who had happy tears streaming down her face because a particular verse was especially meaningful to her.
“Seeing them hear the Psalms for the first time was an unbelievable experience,” she said.
Jennings said it was very hard to leave the village because the travelers had built good relationships with villagers in a short amount of time.
She also said she left with a new perspective on what it means to serve other people, both through her own service as well as the hospitality villagers showed to the group.
“I learned the true meaning of selflessness from the people — just them giving up so much for us,” Jennings said.
“I hope they see the impact we made on the culture and the impact they had on us,” she said.