Monday, October 27, 2008

Bible Translation Course at Talua College

Wow, this was a really cool experience. I am so thankful to Ross and Lyndal (directors of SIL/Wycliffe here in Vanuatu) for letting me join them as they taught this Bible translation course. Talua College is the one and only accredited Bible college in Vanuatu and they are solid in their teaching and practice, I was impressed and encouraged to get to see it. They are affiliated with the Presbyterian church here in Vanuatu and if students graduate from the full program (3 years, but now they have started a Bachelor's degree program option that is 4 years) they get the title "pastor" and can be ordained.

Ross spent a full 2 weeks teaching the Bible translation course and Lyndal and I joined him for the last 4 days. The regular flight from Vila to Santo island goes on a decent sized plane but I guess it is being repaired now so we went on the smallest plane I've ever been on. Eight people could fit with 4 going in one small door on the right side and 4 going in the other small door on the left side. Looking back behind us I couldn't fathom how the luggage fit in the tiny tail of this thing. The little door closed right next to my arm and actually had a tiny, 3-4 inch diameter round window that you could have swiveled open the whole flight to get fresh air. No pressurized cabin in this thing. :)

Santo is further north than Efate (the island where the capital, Port Vila is where I've been living) so closer to the equator and I expected it to be hotter. It was, but fortunately it rained every day too so that was nice. Wet season is upon us here.

I stayed in the single girls dorm with Joyce, who is originally from Tanna island (still Vanuatu, just really far south). What a sweet Christian she is and such a witness and testimony to God's grace. She was born without her left leg or kidney and with her intestines coming out. Her parents rejected her but she was flown to the hospital in Vila, where she stayed several months and pulled through. Other family took care of her and her education and she now has some friends in Australia who pay for her Bible school. She uses a single crutch to get around but Vanuatu isn't exactly handicap accessible so when it rains (and it has been every day) the ground is muddy and her crutch often sinks into mud. She makes it seem like not a big deal though and is a champ and never complains. She is 23 now and recently her dad expressed interest in a relationship with her again. He seems to be motivated by what she'll do for him so other family and friends have counseled her to stay away from him, but she feels strongly that she should show him the grace and mercy Christ has shown her and be a witness to him. She plans to stay with him several months at least after graduation in November (school years here begin in January). He lives in Vila so I hope to see her again then!

Every morning after waking up, Joyce led us in prayer thanking God for the sleep He gave us and protection through the night. Any new activity through the day she did the same and always ended the day in prayer. She really is one of the most sincere, genuine Christians I think I've ever met. It really was exciting to see students real in their faith and working it out. I got to spend a considerable amount of time with students because I stayed in the girls' dorm and ate all breakfast meals and most supper meals with the single students. Married students are on on their own for meals and most cook in a local kitchen over fires. The single students rotate on a cooking schedule but it wouldn't take long to be a pro at cooking. Meals were always the same. Breakfast is homemade bread and tea. Tea was made in a ginormous teapot with one teabag for all the single students - probably 20? It is heated over a fire. It mostly tasted like smoke with a slight tea taste. :) Bread was super good but not abundant (I tried to just eat one piece every time cuz I figured if I was hungry after the 4 days at least I could come home and eat whatever I wanted while this is all they get all the time). Some did eat 2 pieces but no one more than that and then it ran out. No butter or peanut butter or jam or honey or anything to go on top. Lunch and supper was rice. On top of the rice they made a soup with some ramen noodles, canned tuna, and either island cabbage or bok choy and then some chunks of pumpkin. I didn't realize the students are to provide their own plate, cup and spoon for meals so Joyce shared with me. The first day she had 2 plates and spoons and cups but somehow by the next day it was down to just one plate and spoon so we just shared the one - I'd eat a little and she'd eat a little. I'm not sure what happened to the other plate and spoon but everyone shares everything here so I'm guessing someone else was in need so she lent them out. Washing dishes after the meals is done in the kitchen sink which has water that isn't drinkable (they have a water barrel that collects rain water that they drink) with a sponge black with mold and sometimes without soap. Hmm. I suppose if one person is sick, everyone is sick. All lunch meals I traveled to different staff homes with Ross and Lyndal so got some good variety there!

Living is simple. The rooms in the dorm are just concrete with a bed, a desk, a shelf, and a chair. Bathroom is separate and was not exactly what you would call hygenic. Might have been nicer to have an outhouse, I'm not sure. Two of the 4 toilets worked and 2 of the 3 showers worked. The hardest thing was the design? of the walls where the showers are. In the concrete block are square decorative holes that started at about waist high on me. I was nervous about peepers and did have some boys stop by one day so I guess it was a justified fear - yuck. The next time I showered I went in the one on the end that was just holes in one wall rather than 2 and I used the shower in Ross and Lyndal's once too. They stayed in the Presbyterian Women's Ministries home which is also cement but the bathroom windows were way up high. :)

Morning starts at 5AM when the tam tam is rung to wake everyone up. Breakfast is 5:30-6. Devotions are after that then around 7 a bell is rung and people start filtering to the dining hall/chapel for a short morning chapel service. Everyone sings acappella songs as people lead out then a short message is given and everyone heads off for class. Classes are about 7:30-11:30 with a break at 10. Afternoons are for work and study.

The Bible translation class was 15 students and Ross began each with a devotion. Students had been introduced to some basic Bible translation principles and to the benefit of preaching and teaching and translating the Bible into people's 1st language, or tribal language, heart language, whatever you want to call it. They were given the task of translating the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) into their home village language. For nearly all, this was the first time they had ever written that language down (in the class of 15, 12 different languages were represented) and for some, they were the first person to ever write it down. Cool stuff. I got to sit in while Ross and Lyndal acted as "consultants" to the "translators" when they had the students translate their finished works back to Bislama and then they checked their work and gave suggestions. They especially were looking to see how students had translated words like "oil," "wine," "donkey," and "innkeeper" since these aren't necessarily culturally or practically known words in Vanuatu. When all stories were complete, the finished work was copied into a booklet with illustrations. It was interesting teaching college students how to use a glue stick and a stapler. What a cool thing to look through finished books at all the different languages! Students made comments about how they'd never even thought to preach in their village language before and some were interested in translation works being done in their languages too. We'll see how the Lord uses all the time and prayers Ross and Lyndal put into this class and group of students.

Although this Bible translation course is only 2 weeks each year, it ends with a graduation ceremony for all who completed the requirements. The ceremony included a skit about The Good Samaritan (with the Samaritan pushing a wheelbarrow rather than riding a donkey, among other funny changes they made), a song they wrote representing various languages, a "summary" or short sermon about the Good Samaritan, and a lot of thanks and gifting given to Ross and Lyndal. I was included in the thanks and gifting, which was embarrassing to me since I really was more along for the ride than much of a help or contributor, but culturally it would have been rude to not include me. We were each given a lei (real flowers sewn together), clothing (island dresses for Lyndal and I and an island shirt for Ross, all matching fabric), Ross and Lyndal got some books, and I was given a woven basket. Boy! In the ceremony the lei is put on with the gifter giving a bow, putting the lei on the receiver, then shaking his/her hand. When we were given the clothes, they actually put them on us on top of what we were already wearing so for the rest of the service I was wearing a t-shirt and slip, an island dress, and another island dress - whew! Toasty! Oh, and then they rubbed some kind of white powder on our faces too. Not sure what that was about. After the whole graduation and all the ceremony was over, they had an island style "potluck." All the married students and all the staff brought food they'd made and filled up a few tables with it and everyone dug in. They require constant "fly shooers" though because flies in Vanuatu are relentless. Women who sell food at the market are constantly shooing flies too.

One last note about Talua is that just in this last year some money was donated and a library was built. It is concrete floors and walls like all the other buildings but has screens on the windows and is beautiful. Nice wooden tables inside and rows and rows of great resources. The one struggle Talua is seeing is that although they are teaching solid things, for students to dig deeper and study more, it is helpful to have resources like commentaries, concordances, etc. These types of resources are abundant... for English readers. Students here whose parents can afford to send them to school from primary through high school either have classes in English or French so a lot do know quite a bit of English, but the type of resources I'm talking about require a high level of understanding even for a native English speaker. In Vanuatu English is typically the 3rd or 4th language learned! Talua is on the lookout for a qualified and experienced English teacher who can help develop a program to increase English proficiency, as well as someone to teach study skills and critical thinking skills. One graduate of Talua, Sophia, is working with Talua staff Andrew and Rosemary on a Bislama Bible Commentary. They are off to a great start and are pouring all kinds of blood sweat and tears into the project. Lord-willing, it will be seen to completion sooner than later. Sophia is also planning to be at Equip training with all of our team in Australia for the introductory portion of the course, Lord-willing. She is very sweet and I am looking forward to having her there to be able to continue to practice Bislama!

Not only was the time at Talua great for meeting new friends, getting information about what God is doing through the ministry of Talua, and learning more about Bible translation and consulting, but it was a fantastic Bislama immersion time. From 5AM-10PM only Bislama was spoken - with my roommate, in the Bible translation class, at meals, on campus, everywhere I went. When I had conversations with Ross and Lyndal and with Australian or American staff they were in English, but the majority of my time was spent in Bislama. I think my fluency increased a lot during the week as well as just my ability to cope with being in language all the time without headaches from concentrating so hard. :) Language learning is tiring business but Bislama is definitely starting to feel easier. I still have lots to learn and a long way to go, but this week was a huge help for me in my learning and language process.


Laura said...

What a fantastic experience! And how awesome to see how God is working and equipping people everywhere...I'll be prayin' for Talua College and it's students!

Anonymous said...

It sounds like you truly had a wonderful experience at the college and picked up your fluency in Bislama.We really enjoy your news letter and would have you know that we keep you in our prayers.
God bless
Ed & Dolly

Lindsey said...

Wow, I'm really touched by Joyce's story. Thanks for sharing your experiences. Some of the living situations help me put things into perspective and make me appreciate the things I have in my life.

Thoughts and Adventures said...

I realize that your post about Talua ministry training center was over a year ago, but I wondered if you could answer a few questions I had.
I am thinking about the prospect of spending a semester at Talua in Vanuatu with a friend from college whose uncle teaches there. We would be living in the single woman's dorms and teaching English/helping out in any way they might need us.
If you would like to answer some questions, I would love to chat with you a bit! My e-mail is
Hope to hear from you! :)