Saturday, June 20, 2015

Bible Translation Update

One of the goals of my trip was to continue with the translation work I started during our first term. Before leaving Liberia last July, my language helpers and I completed a first draft of Matthew in Manya. After returning to the States, I created a back-translation (word for word Manya to English) and sent that to a translation consultant for review. He looked at our work and left comments and questions about various passages. This provided a starting point for revising the translation. (For more details on the translation process see

It was hard to find time for translation work with the huge home renovation project going on, but thankfully I was able to review the first 12 chapters of Matthew. I started working with A.S., a new language helper who is one of the few Manya believers I know. As I read through Matthew with him, I found that some of the terms we had been using in the translation were unfamiliar to him. Whereas my other language helpers are older men with a deep knowledge of their language, A.S. is about my age, with an “everyman” grasp of Manya. The Manya language has been changing significantly in recent decades as a result of increased contact with speakers of other related languages. It is fine art trying to the right vocabulary to use in the Bible translation that will is acceptable to the older “purists”, while still communicating clearly to a younger audience.

Even more challenging is to find key terms that adequately convey Biblical truth. We still have not settled on the right terms for “Christ/Messiah”, “Son of Man” and “holy”. On this last trip, we also spent a lot of time trying to find a better way to talk about the Kingdom of God. The term we had been using, Alla ya Masaya, was based on a term used in Bible translations in related languages that translates literally as the “Kingship of God”. Upon further review I found that in some passages, this term would give readers the totally wrong idea. For example, Jesus often talked about entering the kingdom of God. But to “enter the kingship of God” as we initially translated could be understand as taking over God’s position as King!

In studying the “Kingdom of God” (Gk. basileia tou theou) in the NT, I learned that it is a small phrase with a long history, packed with a lot of meaning for 1st century Jews. Interestingly, it rarely if ever references the territory or realm over which God rules. Rather it primarily refers to the authority or ruling of God over his people. God’s people today can experience aspects of it, while waiting for its final future fulfillment.

Given the problems I mentioned with first term, one of my older language helpers suggested another word, sebaaya, that translates as “authoritative power”. And interestingly, one of the titles the Manya use for God is Masa Fɔnisele “Gracious King”. By using this title in combination with sebaaya we can retain the kingdom imagery, conveying the idea of enjoying the blessings and benefits of being a person under the authority of a Gracious King.

One of my favorite verses of the Bible is Matthew 6:33, “Seek first the Kingdom of God…” I was never satisfied with the way we had initially translated this verse. It sounded like Jesus was telling people to “look for the kingship of God”, which didn’t make a lot of sense. I love the way we have translated it now. Here is the back-translation; “You should do everything you can to humble yourself under the Gracious King’s authority and to look for his straight road. When that happens, he will give you the other things.” Now those are words to live by!

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Liberia trip update (part 2)

One of the main goals of my trip was to make our house feel more like a home, and less like camping indoors. We built the house shortly after moving to Voinjama in 2013, not knowing the best contractors in town. As a result, the quality of work done on our house was quite poor. For example, we had toilets, but they had to be flushed with a bucket since they were not set properly and leaked from the tank. And a terrible odor would leak up into guest bathroom from the septic tank.
Thankfully this time around, I have more contacts in Voinjama and I was able to find skilled contractors. One of the first things I did was to hire some actual plumbers, and now we have working toilets and a non-smelly bathroom. I also installed a washing machine in our guest bathroom, so Sara will not have to wash our clothes by hand again.  The original builders did not follow the blueprints we gave them. As a result, the location of front door and living room window made for a very awkward and small living and dining spaces. I hired Eric, one of our security guards, to rebuild the front wall according to our original design. As you can see, it was a big and messy project! 
But now we have a much better living room, and ample space for a dining area.
The biggest project however was a complete remodel of the kitchen. Here is a picture of the original kitchen. 
There was only a single sink. The counters were made from cement and tile, with no overhang for wiping up messes, and since it was not level, any water that was spilled would pool up against the wall. The drawers and cabinets underneath were terrible as well.
I began by busting the cement, and removing the sink. 
I then covered the remaining tile with large pieces of rubber tree wood I had bought in Monrovia and cut to shape in Voinjama. The only power tools I had were a circular saw, hand sander, and drill.  While I was working on the countertops, local carpenters built the upper and lower cabinets and drawers (as well as a bunch of shelves for more storage throughout the house). Our other security guard, Steve, was a big help with removing cement and tile, painting, sanding, and other odd jobs.
After many days of cutting, planing, drilling, and sanding, I was finally ready for the finish. I used a couple layers of wood sealer and then brushed on several coats of lacquer. I wish I would have had a sprayer to use, as it would have made for a smoother finish. But overall, I’m happy with the results.
 I even had enough wood left over to make a new tabletop.
I was also able to test our new 12 volt refrigerator, and found it to work well. Unfortunately, I still need to figure out what to do for a larger battery bank to run the fridge and other appliances. (We do get power from a neighboring compound during the day most weekdays, but not at night, the weekend, or holidays). We are just using a couple of truck batteries now to run our 12 volt lights and small fans. In 2012, while were were still in the US, we actually purchased $1,200 worth of batteries for this purpose. They were sent on the same container that was delayed for two years. Unfortunately, we were not present when the container was unloaded, and someone else who sells photovoltaic systems picked up our batteries (along with their other batteries of the same model). After sitting in storage for so long, they deemed the batteries unfit to sell and gave them away to charity projects. So we are looking at buying new batteries whenever we can find a way to ship them out.
And last but not least, I built a cage for Jack the monkey (although I must admit, Steve did most of the work on this).           
I worked very long days, and went to bed exhausted every night. But I’m thankful to say now that our family now can look forward to returning to a much more comfortable home. I also found time for ministry, but since this post is getting long already, I’ll have to save those stories for another day.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Liberia trip update (Part 1)

            My life is one of extreme contrasts. Just a couple weeks ago I was in our dusty town of Voinjama in northern Liberia, eating rice and sauce every day from “cold bowl shops”. On Saturday I found myself at a fancy wedding reception in downtown Milwaukee, feasting on a marvelous spread of appetizers, salads, pasta and cake. But as nice as that was, you might not be too surprised hear that eating cassava leaf sauce from a plastic bowl feels more natural for me. 
            My five-week trip to Liberia was very busy and productive. I spent a few days in Monrovia purchasing supplies for our house, and then sending up a Land Cruiser to Voinjama loaded with our belongings that had arrived on a container last year. It was great to catch up with missionary friends I haven’t seen since last year, and make new friends as well. Then after five days in Monrovia, I took a Samaritan’s Purse flight up to Lofa county. Our vehicle was still in good working condition, thanks to my friends at the Samaritan’s Purse base in Foya who were looking after it.  I then drove the forty miles to Voinjama and finally reached the end of my journey.
            The next few days in Voinjama were spent visiting friends, and finding skilled workers for various projects in our house. Our security guards did a great job keeping up our house and yard. As most of you know, our neighbor Ansu passed away from Ebola in September. We shared a yard with him and his family. His wife and four kids still live there, and I was happy to find them doing well. Earlier this year we had arranged for the oldest three to continue going to a local Christian school, and they seem to be doing well there. I also visited his extended family in a nearby village to offer my condolences and bring some gifts. They received me warmly and sent me home with a huge stalk of bananas.
            Besides those affected by Ansu’s death, only a handful of people I asked in Voinjama had lost loved ones to Ebola. There is a general sense of relief and gratefulness to God that it did not get worse than it did. Economically, our area was devastated and many are trying to re-establish their businesses and farms. People spoke often of the fear and tension of that time, hearing the wail of ambulance sirens and seeing drivers in full protective gear, as yet another victim was carried to the Foya. Many said the fear was worse than what they experienced during the civil car, since this enemy was invisible, and every visitor was a potential carrier. But thankfully Lofa county has been free from Ebola since October, and Liberia as a whole was declared Ebola free on May 9th.
            I did have a chance to visit Barkedu one day to bring a gift a friend sent for his mother who lives there. Barkedu was one of the hardest-hit communities in Lofa, with about 150 people who died from the disease. (For a very informative feature about the ongoing affects of Ebola on this town, visit: On the day I visited, they happened to be having a big program to offer sacrifices and pray for the souls of those who died from Ebola. I was invited to say something at the program, and I briefly expressed my condolences to the elders gathered there. I have a deep burden for this community, and pray that when I return I will be able to share the “samakan kein” (Good News) with them in a meaningful way.