Tuesday, January 16, 2024

2023 Year in Pictures

 2023 was a momentous year for our family, with the loss of my (Jennings') father in May, after he received a cancer diagnosis in March 2022. Back in Congo, a New Testament was dedicated in the Omi language, the Bila and other teams made progress in their translation, and five new teams translated their first Scripture book. Douglas and his teammate Dr Bagamba attended a conference in Thailand, and continued with research to help our partners make better decisions in planning. 

January - the Omi New Testament + Genesis is dedicated! This is translator Pario Pierre.

March - First day of baseball season! My Dad was a lifelong baseball fan (grew up on the Cardinals, converted to the Braves and sometimes Cubs). In my folks' apartment in Birmingham.

There are tens of thousands of displaced people living in camps near Bunia. Children are often sent into town to beg during the day. A group of local pastors are helping vulnerable people, including displaced children, with gifts of food and other necessities. Here, they are with sacks of rice and bars of blue soap. (Photo used with permission)

April - One of Dad's oldest and dearest friends came to visit, one of the last visits he had.

May - Elmwood Cemetery. We were so blessed to have family and friends with us that day.

May - Douglas with his colleague Dr Bagamba and wife Banage, at a Language Assessment conference in Thailand

June - at Duke Gardens with dear friends

Juneteenth at a celebration in Birmingham, at historic Kelly Ingrams Park

June - During a visit to Wilmington, NC, we saw dear friend Doug Wright, who is working on a French Model Translation for Congolese translators. It follows the structure of Sudanic languages, to help translators create drafts that are more clear and natural. Many teams are using it and finding it very helpful for translation.

July - Early birthday celebration for me with my sweet book club friends! 

July - working with the Bila team via Zoom, to check the Gospel of Matthew

July - Saying goodbye to my dear friend Susan, who helped me through a year of caring for elderly parents
August - a woman carrying Tembo New Testaments to a distribution site in Bunyakiri. The New Testament was published in 2017, but distribution has been very slow, especially in the villages.

September - Nyali Kilo translators working on a draft of Ruth

October - A Bible translation student defending his final thesis before a committee

October - ballet lessons with these two girls, such fun!

November - Daniel had worked for us for nearly 13 years. He shares a birthday with Douglas, but is nine years older.

November - Graduation day for the ten Bible translation students!

November - When the president of the largest Protestant denomination in the area died suddenly, thousands of people attended the funeral and burial. An army of ladies mobilized to prepare food for them all. Taking a break after a few hours of peeling and cutting potatoes.

December - flying out of Bunia, with a view of the city. Bunia has grown exponentially in the past few years, as it has become a provincial capital, and also due to many people fleeing war in their villages to come to the city

December: the ministry for widows took up contributions to give each woman cloth, a "pagne", for Christmas, so she can make a new outfit for the new year.
Christmas day with Douglas' sister and her family

May God bless you in 2024!

Thursday, October 5, 2023

Translating Ruth into Five Languages, September 2023

In September,  I (Jennings) helped lead a workshop for five new translation teams, on the book of Ruth. They have all spent more than a year in community mobilization, talking to their home communities about Bible translation and encouraging people to get involved and to contribute. Many of the translators (such as the two above) were in the same class of Bible translation students at the local Christian university, two years ago. 

Our goal was to get them started in their translation projects with good habits, and with a positive and encouraging first experience. We focused on exegeting and translating the book of Ruth. 

Why Ruth? That's what we wondered!! As best we could tell, it was the project's funder who chose Ruth, because it's not too hard, and it's short. We were skeptical that it was a good choice for their first book. But... by the time we got really into it, the translators were finding all kinds of interesting applications. For one thing, the decision of Ruth to stay with Naomi deeply touched them. Also, the fact of being driven from your homeland by famine (or in their case, war), being obliged to live among a different people, even among people who are your traditional enemies such as the Israelites and Moabites were. 

Another thing that struck them was the tradition of deciding family matters in the open, at the city gate. They admired the transparency of that practice. 

So, here's how it went. First, we studied the historical background, themes, key terms, and unknown concepts (such as “kinsman redeemer”, “gleaning”, levirate marriage, and vinegar). A consultant who spent six months in Jerusalem studying Hebrew led them through a discussion of the various names for God, the names of people in the book and their meanings, and various other aspects of the book. The participants had great questions and talked at length about similar traditions they have, such as a younger brother marrying his older brother's widow, to keep her in the family.

Here, one of the consultants is talking with them about how names in the Old Testament had meanings... just as all of their names have meanings. In fact, one of the translators is seriously considering changing his name because of its negative meaning in his language. He wants to change it to a name that means "grace". 

Then the teams translated two chapters into their own languages. We tried a new method of drafting that focuses on listening to each passage several times, re-telling it in your own language multiple times, then recording an oral draft, on their phones. This oral draft is then transcribed and polished, to make a first written draft. We were fortunate to have a consultant-in-training who has worked a lot in Oral Bible Translation (OBT) in another city. He guided the teams step-by-step through the process (below).

This teacher also showed them how to set up a Paratext software "desktop" with the resources they would need: Hebrew with French interlinear, various French and Swahili versions, and a French translator's guide, "Comprendre pour traduire". 

We started each day with singing and a meditation by one of the participants

This pastor (above) told us about the first time he heard women from a neighboring ethnic group praying in their mother tongue, twenty years ago, and his desire for his own people to use their language for worship, instead of the regional language. His denominational leadership asked him to move to Bunia to start Bible translation studies five years ago. It was a big change for his family... their standard of living went way down when he left his church position and became a student. But He knew it was God's calling. Now he and another translator are starting translation.
Most of the participants had been students together at Shalom University of Bunia, and graduated two years ago. They enjoyed catching up with each other.

One of our main goals was to start them off with good work habits, and good relationships, and that they actually enjoy the process of discovering the Biblical text and translating it. We definitely felt that the participants overall were engaged and enjoying themselves, even as they were doing hard mental work.

When they finished their first draft of each section, they went through a team check: one person would read it aloud, while the other made notes on how to make it sound more clear and natural. Then they would do the same process... one translator reads, and the other looks carefully at a "literal" version to be sure that nothing has been left out, changed or added to the text.

Once they are satisfied with their draft, we had translation consultants do an "intermediate" check with them, going verse by verse. Later, they will have a "final" consultant check and be ready to publish.
I worked with this team

This team was the only non-Bantu language, and they worked with a consultant whose language is from the same language family

One of the teams (left) was a dialect of the same language as one of the consultants (right)! They had great exchanges together. 

We also took time each day to do “team building” activities. These included: making a list of what makes a "good" team and what makes a "bad" team. Then we grouped these into 1) work, 2) interpersonal, 3) attitudes, and 4) leadership. Each team wrote a document stating their values and how they will work together. We also did fun activities, like acting out Bible stories, without words, and the others had to guess what the story was. (Below: Jesus calms the storm, and Sapphira explains to the apostles that she and Ananias did not keep any of the money they promised to give.) 

Another group performed "Ananias and Saphira"

Another day, they each interviewed another participant that they didn't know well, and then introduce him to the rest of the group. That was also an encouraging activity.

On the last day, we had a closing ceremony, with short speeches from a consultant, from a current translator, and from one of the students. The consultant, a Reverend Pastor who spent decades on a team that translated the entire Bible into his language, welcomed these new translators. "Some of us have grown old in Bible translation. Welcome, and grow old along with us." 

Then we gave out certificates, took a group ohtos, and had a final meal. 
I'm on the first row, second from the left 😁

What's next: Our hope is for them to finish translating the entire book, test it in their communities to see how well people understand it, and have it consultant-checked and ready for publication by January. We are planning a second workshop in February, this time with the goal of translating Jonah. The other consultants and I are especially encouraged by how sharp these teams are, and by how much pleasure they were taking in studying and translating. 

Please pray for these translators and for their communities, as many of them have fled to Bunia from their home areas due to danger from militia attacks, and others live in areas that are not always safe. 

Sunday, March 5, 2023

Mother Languages Day 2022 (Jennings)

February 21 is International Mother Languages Day. For the past 11 years, we've had a joint celebration with Shalom University of Bunia, including academic papers and cultural presentations. This year there were only 3 papers, two of which were given by Douglas! He described the process by which "new" languages are officially added to the world's list of languages, and he reported on the results of a literacy survey done in the Vanuma language. There was good interest in both of his presentations.

The other presentation was given by a young man who runs a school for the Kihema language. He has trained people in person here in Bunia, and many more via WhatsApp, for people in the diaspora. With the Hema community under attack the past several years, there is increased interest for people to learn their traditions and language. Several of his students presented a sketch, showing the elaborate system of greetings and welcome in a Hema household. Then they described the many uses and benefits of cow's milk (the Hema are herders), and they made butter using the traditional method, in a large calabash (gourd).

Finally came the most popular part of the day... singing and dancing! We heard from the Hema, Ndo Kebhu, Kakwa and Lugbara groups. Here are some video clips. The Lugbara community in Bunia is quite large and enthusiastic. Their leader works at Shalom, and he led them in the singing and dancing. Many audience members came up on the stage to join in.

For the larger groups, especially Lugbara, the dancing started as a presentation, facing the audience, but soon turned into a circular dance. To me, that seemed to show that dance is a communal activity, not just something to present to an audience.


Monday, July 19, 2021

The Amazing Race, Eye Surgery Edition (by Jennings)

Rwanda Charity Eye Hospital (...the finish line)

(Note: This is how I experienced the days leading up to Douglas' eye surgery. He plans to give his perspective in a later post.) 

One Saturday in early May, Douglas told me that he was having blurry vision in his left eye. He had something very similar in his right eye in January 2020, and that turned out to be a tear in his retina that he was able to have repaired in Birmingham. We assumed that he was having the same problem in his left eye this time. He needed to have his eye checked ASAP, and he would probably need treatment. But we didn't know where to go, only that he would most likely need to leave the country. 

At this point, it started to feel like a nightmare episode of The Amazing Race: 

"Your husband's left eye needs urgent treatment or he could end up with a detached retina. You will need to do the following:

 1. Get his passport back from immigration (it had been sent in for a new visa) or get a document to stand in place of the passport.

2. Find out where in east Africa you can get retina treatment

3. Figure out how to get there and buy a ticket

4. Get a COVID test

5. Find a place to stay in a place where you might not know anyone

Also, time is of the essence, as he could end up with a detached retina and lose sight in his eye.

Okay, go!"

Friday, January 22, 2021

Guest post: the Omi New Testament

A dear friend in the UK, Dr. Sarah Casson, has been working for many years as a translation consultant with the Omi Bible translation team, near the border of Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) with South Sudan. She recently wrote a beautiful newsletter about the translators, their community, and how the translated Scriptures are already being used. The Omi are set to publish their New Testament + Genesis in the coming months. I asked if I could repost part of her newsletter here, and she kindly agreed. I have edited slightly to remove names, and added emphasis (bold).


 “By awesome deeds you answer us with deliverance, O God of our salvation; you are the hope of all the ends of the earth…” Ps. 65:5

motorbike travel: the quickest way in north-eastern DRC

There are upsides to being remote, and I don’t mean attending meetings in pyjamas. While much of the world was paralysed by the pandemic in 2020, it was business as usual for the Omi translators in a small town in north-eastern DRC. This meant persevering through the final technical checks of their New Testament in Omiti. It meant travelling by motorbike regularly to the nearest town –  dodging tropical storms and road blocks –  to get a good enough connection to work with me via zoom, as well as fixing the solar battery system when it fried, and pausing work to attend funerals of loved ones, including grandchildren.

Omi language team
Mercifully the coronavirus has continued largely to pass the Omi community by, and in November 2020, seventeen years after two translators first began work on the Gospel of Luke, the green light was given for typesetting. The process was carried out by a Cameroonian colleague, a specialist typesetter. It involved laying out the text, making maps, inserting images, headings and front matter, running consistency checks and much more. A last-minute installation of an internet connection at their office meant that the translators were able to work regularly on zoom from the heart of their community. Our first three-way video meeting with the translators in DRC, the typesetter in Cameroon and me in the UK brought broad smiles to all our faces. Ten years ago this would have been impossible and the typesetting would have been shelved till after the pandemic. I’m not always as thankful for technology as I should be; praise God for it!

preparing the text for typesetting

detail of map of 1st century Palestine in Omiti

The New Testament and Genesis, combined in one volume, are now typeset and awaiting printing. It’s hard to express how extraordinary this achievement is! Before preparation for Bible translation work began in this disadvantaged community, the Omi language had never been written. Speakers were used to their language and culture being despised and overlooked. Even in other parts of DRC, people have rarely heard of the Omi people. Church services in the Omi region are frequently led in more dominant languages such as Bangala and Lugbara, though Omi speakers often only understand these partially. This gives the message that Omiti is not a worthy medium for communicating important information and that God speaks a foreign language. Gradually as the translation has progressed the Catholic church has started to use passages in church services, following the lectionary. Scripture read in Omiti triggers lots of animated discussion outside church. People are starting to grasp that God speaks their language and loves them and their culture!

church choir and traditional harp on the move
The translation has demanded dogged determination from the translators and other members of the Omi project team. They’ve been through many dangers, toils and snares. They were left reeling when an American colleague died suddenly in January 2019. He had been involved with the Omi language from the beginning of the project, and had hoped to accompany the team over the finish line of New Testament publication. There have been many other moments of disorientation: the period when the Lord’s Resistance Army passed through the region in 2009, then another rebel group in 2013, the time when one of the translators nearly died of malaria while at a workshop in Bunia, and moments when highly skilled colleagues have resigned. As I scroll through the pages of precise Omi script with its delicate tone markings I am moved to tears remembering the struggle it represents. Its completion is a testimony to God’s faithfulness and grace. 

May God’s Word in Omiti bring hope, joy and fullness of life to Omi people as they hear about Jesus, who has not passed them by but has come to the heart of their culture.

by Dr. Sarah Casson

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Virtual Scripture checking (Jennings)


A translation consultant (back left) and new translation team in Isiro

Back in March of this year, I was supposed to travel to Isiro for a consulting session with a new translation team on their first translated Scripture portion, Genesis 37-50, the story of Joseph. New teams often start with one of the Gospels. But after much discussion, this group decided to start with Genesis, to give their community a fuller background to God's story before Jesus's birth. They started with chapters 37-50 because it is narrative (mostly), which is easier to translate than more theological passages, such as the beginning of Genesis. Better to start with easier passages first, to hone translation skills, and to create something interesting people will want to read or listen to as their first experience of Scripture in their mother tongue.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

The Calm and the Storm

In March, we watched in horror and wonder as COVID-19 spread through much of the world. In DRCongo, we began to prepare and brace ourselves. But so far, there have only been 2 confirmed cases in our province, and those were months ago. So it was as if we were living in the calm before the storm. Except we had our own storm. Here’s how it all looked to us.

March 31, 2020: Coronavirus had begun to spread in the capital, Kinshasa, and there were 2 confirmed cases in Ituri province, where we live, including one in our town of Bunia. The Congolese government issued restrictions: schools, churches and restaurants were closed; public gatherings of more than 20 people were prohibited. Our administration decided to close our office. We had a final prayer meeting and said good-bye to each other.

Prayer meeting to close our office

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Home Improvement!

Ever since we moved into this house in 2011, we've struggled with flooding every time there is a heavy rain. There has been an incomplete drainage ditch coming off the road and running along the left side of our compound. In recent years, the city widened the drain at the road, and now all the rain water from both directions comes into that hole. Then... it just created a flood that swept water, debris, trash (including broken glass) and layers of dirt into our side yard. Here are a few photos:  
After a storm, layer of dirt and debris on the patio (including broken bottle)
We tried adding sandbags, but they also got flooded

At the end of March, our landlord sent a work team to build a large, cement drainage ditch that would carry all the rain water from our street to the street below, instead of into our yard. Alongside the ditch, they built a brick wall between our compound and the neighbor's. A team of 10 young men did the work. Some of them were high school students available because schools are closed due to COVID-19, others are full-time masons. They worked hard for 5 weeks, 6 days a week, 8-10 hours a day. We kept them supplied with drinking water and snacks, set up a hand-washing station, talked to them about COVID-19, and kept the dogs inside, away from them. 
Drainage ditch on the left, wall starting on right