Friday, October 26, 2018

Clarity overnight

Storytime with Zach

This weekend we traveled to a visit the Gbari, to facilitate a meeting to help them plan how to use their newly translated Gbari Scriptures.  The Gbari and Gbagyi languages surround the nation’s capital, Abuja.

It had been a crazy week before going down, so I didn’t have time to write a prayer request and get it sent out before leaving.  I happened to be traveling with my friend and neighbor David, a prayer letter checker, so I just wrote a request on the way down, and he helped me to clarify what I was writing. (Thanks to David and Mike by the way, who often help make my words clearer!).  I couldn’t send the prayer request out, because the internet connection was a bit spotty on the road.  Besides, I wanted to put in a photo from a place we where were going to stop on the way.

When we arrived in Abuja, I was busy in the night and early the next morning preparing audio stories [link] that we would use during the facilitation.  Before sleeping I uploaded the prayer request I had prepared on the road earlier.  But I was too tired to read through it carefully.  I decided to send it out in the morning, but that wasn’t possible either.

We’ve done all we planned to do, but…

The rest of the day passed by quickly.  We did a Bible study using the recently drafted translation of the John’s gospel in Gbari.  Then we facilitated several discussions which laid the background for good Scripture engagement planning:  how the Scriptures apply to challenges in Gbari, what languages are used in ministry, and what is helping and hindering them in achieving their goal. 
That goal was one sticky point.  In every step we tried not to tell them what they should say, including in the statement of the goal.  Helen simply reminded them of the previous conversation and noted a theme that they wanted to use Gbari Scriptures more in their ministry.  How would that state that goal in their own words?   “Having the Gbari Bible so lives would be transformed.”  Helen wasn’t content with that goal so she stopped facilitating to quietly ask Princeton and me if it was okay.  It seemed a bit more focused on translation than using the translated Scriptures, but I remembered how much time we had wasted once in the past trying to get a better goal without much success. “It sort of ends with Scripture engagement; it should be okay,” I whispered.
After reflecting on things helping and hindering them from reaching their goal, they broke into small groups and they finally got to listen to some Scripture engagement stories we had recorded in the morning.  This sparked further issues of things that were helping and hindering them towards their goal.  Finally, they identified four areas and developed proposals on how they wanted to work on them.
About five in the evening, I stood there looking at their plans.  Something didn’t seem right.  We had followed the exact process that we had planned, carefully facilitating observation, analysis, and the initial steps of planning.  The observation had gone great, as usual.  But looking at the analysis, it just didn’t seem focused on Scripture engagement.  Even the Scripture engagement stories [link] about others’ experience hadn’t sparked ideas clearly linked to Scripture engagement.  Some were broad such as “Frustration”, “Total involvement”, “Flexibility in accepting our flaws”, and “Knowing our challenges”.  Was all the effort on facilitated discussion and Scripture engagement stories still not working?  So many things can affect how people use (or don’t use) Scriptures, so technically everything they had listed did apply to Scripture engagement.  Yet still, we didn’t seem close to practical plans.
On the bright side, there were several items which seemed they could lead towards a Scripture Engagement focused plan.  For example there was “Universal acceptability of terms” which could lead to activities to ensure agreement on words that are difficult to translate into Gbari.  Also there was “Culture” which they explained to mean the influence of their traditional religion.  One could design Audio Bible studies to focus on meeting these needs.  There was also “Stories” a wonderful cultural resource which can be used to communicate Biblical truth to all ages.  
However, in the end they had chosen to focus their plans on “Funding” (Is that for Scripture Engagement or generally for the whole Gbari programme?), “Bible in Gbari” (Does that mean getting the Bible in Gbari?), “Literacy” (Truly important, but there should be a separate plan for that), and “Training” (What kind of training and for what?).   It was hard to imagine these topics leading to detailed plans that focused on helping people to engage with the translated Gbari Scriptures.
I felt a keen need for others to join in prayer by the time I got to my room.  I had been busy non-stop since I had drafted the prayer request on the road down the previous day.  Thankfully, I already had an approved prayer update to send out, and it asked for just the right things.  I clicked “send”, happy that while it was 5pm here it was only about noon or so for most of you who are praying with us.
After dinner we all met as facilitators to discuss the way forward.  We all agreed that we were not content with the direction this planning was going.  We suggested many different ideas on how to improve the planning, but as the evening got later, we realized we were all too tired to think clearly and we had not yet come up with good way forward.  Looking at what was left to do, we also thought we needed more time than we had originally planned on.

Joy comes in the morning

I begin to realize I will be spending another night here
The next morning, we sat as facilitators outside at a nice table in the shade of some trees, feeling much more optimistic. “I have an idea,” I said, “but it might involve breaking a few of the rules of participatory methods.”  We always try to keep our own ideas out of the discussion with communities, so that we don’t manipulate the conversation.  “Listening to all they have been talking about, there are a number of helping and hindering things that we have heard that apply directly to using the Scriptures in their language.  Why don’t we facilitate the helping and hindering discussion again?  But this time we can start out by listing our own ideas?”
“Also, why don’t we give them a choice of three goals?” Someone else suggested “These goals can be more clearly focused on Scripture engagement.”  Soon I was listing the helping and hindering items in a notebook as we all discussed together.  
Handing over the proposed plans the group drafted
We still felt we would probably need to stay a bit longer.  A difference of even an hour or two would mean we couldn’t travel back the same day, since we cannot travel after dark.  So three of us volunteered to stay on while others agreed to return, having appointments in Jos the next day.
 The changes worked even better than we anticipated.  When the four original plans were presented, they were all right, but all of them focused on producing products, such as literacy primers and translated portions of Scripture.  As we hoped, our input to the conversation led to further discussion on each of the points we raised under the trees that morning.  We got better insights into opportunities and challenges the people faced than we had even expected.  By the end of the day, we had four goals, still chosen by the community, that all focused on activities that would help Gbari people to engage with their newly translated Scriptures:  Audio Bible studies, children’s ministry, youth ministry, and the Jesus film.  
We wouldn’t repeat this exact process again.  But we came away grateful that God allowed our messed up process to be patched.  Thank you for praying with us!

An unexpectedly fun stop on the way

Storytime with Zach

Princeton was supposed to share about Scripture Engagement in a seminary on the way to Abuja for some planning meetings we had there.  They were observing an International Day by celebrating their own ethnos (nations) within Nigeria and the nations around the world.  I briefly sat in the chapel sanctuary and watched Princeton’s presentation, and some of the songs and dance that followed.  I even got to taste a special traditional bean dish with black sesame seeds.  Delicious!
But I quickly slipped outside to our display at the entrance.  Several people were looking at our banner with all the languages that have some portion of Scripture translated already.  I wanted to engage them in discussion so they could learn more about the importance of Bible translation.

I asked one man, “Do you see your language?”  We found his language, Tyap, quickly on the banner.  “Did you know there are audio Scripture available in your language?”  I asked.  He didn’t.  “Do you have a phone that plays songs?  Shall it put it on there for you?”  He was quite thrilled to accept.
Sadly, he didn’t have space on his memory card, but I soon found myself putting audio Scriptures on many others’ phones in their languages.  It “just happened” that we had a stack of papers along with us with questions for leading an audio Bible study on them.  I had more than enough to give one to each person who collected the Scriptures. 
Two or three hours passed so quickly I hardly noticed.  For this one, I sent Scriptures through an app on my phone.  For that one, I explained that Bible translation is just starting and they should try hard to find out who is doing it and encourage them.   For the next one, I demonstrated how to use a solar-powered audio Bible device.  For the yet another one, I made a call to find out the price of a Bible we had brought for display, but decided to sell instead. I felt surprised.  I had just come to watch a short presentation, but here I was surrounded by a crowd of people, helping them all to access Bibles in their own languages.

I can't hear you

Storytime with Zach
Have you ever wanted to look like you have it all together?  I felt that way a little bit as we tried something new this last weekend.  We wrote up some fictional stories a few years ago based on real experiences.  Each story gives an example of problems some communities have had in using their Scriptures.  Then we play the stories and give people time to think about how they might apply in their own communities.  My friend and colleague Rev. Linus had the great idea a few years ago that these stories should be recorded in an audio format in the local language of the people.  His idea was that people may feel the stories happened closer to home if they hear them in their own language than if they hear them in English or even in Hausa.

In the morning before we traveled, I remembered I still didn’t have a printed copy of them.  There hadn’t been any power in the office because it was closed due to the elections.  So there I was on the morning of our journey with no printout.  Since the person who usually takes our children to school was sick, Christy was doing that, and I was home with Mari and Lydia.  This meant I couldn’t even go early to print.  So, as I hurriedly packed my things, I also e-mailed the document to someone in the office asking her to print it.  As we passed by the office to pick some people up, I literally ran in and grabbed the printout.

After dinner we were supposed to meet with Mr. Dako to record some stories in his language.  He showed up with his wife, and at about 9:30pm we all met to discuss the stories.   I had those printouts and we all looked over them together.  We were all already too tired for the careful work, so Linus had the wise suggestion that we not attempt to record the stories that night.
The next morning we met at 7am.  We sat outside in a lovely, shady garden environment.  We were planning to translate the stories orally, but Mr. Dako showed up with a hand-written translation of six of the ten stories.  Wow!  As we worked through the translation, his wife commented on small mistakes of accuracy, and we got the stories just right.  

However, we had one small problem.  I was planning to use my laptop to record.  I often use my laptop for making calls, so I knew the microphone worked.  What I had forgotten about those calls is that I usually lean in close to the screen and half shout into it, so that the other person could hear me.  Mr. Dako read in a perfectly natural voice, just the kind I used to love when recording word lists.  But even when I amplified it on my computer, you could barely hear his voice at all. 
I didn’t let on that I was a bit worried.  I just had him practice the next two stories while I tried something else.  My phone makes nice recordings too, why not use that?  Sure enough the phone was able to play back a story loud and clear.  While he got ready for the next story, I transferred the file from my phone to my computer.  I opened the file expecting to see the waveforms, but I just got an error message… a very unhelpful one at that.  I had reached a dead-end.

I grabbed my colleague’s phone, and found it had a voice recorder, too.  I recorded a sample file, and saw that it ended with “.ogg”.  That should work on my computer!  But when I tried to connect his phone to my computer the image on the phone screen danced up and down and even turned upside down.  I had never seen anything like that before!  I’ve learned not to be too surprised and still tried to connect it.  It wouldn’t go no matter how I coaxed. By now Mr. Dako had practiced a few stories, but I still didn’t know how we would record them.

I confessed to the group that I wasn’t sure how we would record the stories, and asked if we could pray together specifically for the technology.  We prayed, and Dako continued getting ready.  At this point, I picked up Princeton’s phone.  This one didn’t have an audio recorder at all!   But that could be fixed easily.  Princeton connected his phone to a wifi hotspot on my phone and downloaded a popular sound recorder from Google Play (the android app store).  The sound recorder worked fine, and the recording played on my computer. Even better, when I pulled out the mp3 radio we had brought for small groups to use to listen and discuss the stories, the test file worked there, too!
After each story, we played it back and asked what he had said.  In only two cases did we need to make corrections.  It wasn’t as careful and accurate as Bible translation, which would require a written back translation, consultant checking, and community testing (among other things).  We just wanted stories about challenges people face in using Scriptures that sounded as if they could have happened right here in Gbari-speaking land.  
All the paper below (to the left) of the rope were added after discussing the stories

We did end up using the stories.  The responses didn’t lead quite as much as we hoped to bringing out challenges in using Scriptures.  However, as we worked on back translating the stories I was impressed that they were right on target.  Also, at the end of the day two people happened to comment how striking it was that these stories sounded “just like they had happened in Gbari land”.  Please pray with us as we continue to develop ways of working with communities to identify their Scripture Engagement needs.  Pray that God gives us success… and humility!
(By the way, do you want to see the stories?  I can e-mail them to you. Just e-mail me, or write a comment below)

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Now We Can Go

The young people of Rigweland are committed to using the Bible in their own language.
"Now we can go back and share the Gospel with everyone in our own language," Gloria said.  Gloria was one of two "mommy's" in the group.  She had been part of a group of older women in a listening group, and has now been trained to go and lead her own.
"Now I know how to reach people in my own language," said Danlami, who only two days before the training started was awakened in the night with people attacking his village. He attended all three days of the training.

More tech savvy participants helping each other learn to operate the audio device.
"What are you going to do, now that you've heard" -Question 6
We prayed for people of vision, who would share what they have been trained with others.  God answered this prayer in such a dramatic way, sending many young people with passion for his Word, for their language, and for reaching others with the Good News of Jesus.  They submitted plans on the second day of the groups they were starting.  I can't wait to hear testimonies of the footballers, Sunday school children, Girls Brigade members, youth, old women, siblings, and pre-literate neighborhood women who hear and respond to God's Word through these listening groups.

Augustine reviewing the questions.

We prayed for the Irigwe trainers, who we had prepared to facilitate many topics of the training.  I can't count the number of times joy surged through my heart, and tears came to my eyes as they competently lead discussion and animatedly facilitated participatory sessions.  One of them brought his wife (above right) to be trained to start her own group because he believes so much in the power of it.
 "Can you lead this whole training next time?"  I asked during our debrief of the training.  A resounding "Yes!" came from every one of them.  They requested I, Christy, come to encourage them, and encourage the participants, but there is no need for me to train the Rigwe people in SLRG's.  Encourage I will, and how encouraged I was at their confidence because I, too, feel they can carry the Scripture Listening Group movement forward in their own language.  

I, Christy, felt an overwhelming sense of God's love for me as the training wrapped up, with participants singing long established, vibrant songs in their language, rejoicing in what they have been given the opportunity to do.  He joyfully invites me into his vineyard, though my knowledge of the Vinedresser and his ways is so limited. He masterfully unfolds his artful tapestry of a plan to my unsuspecting heart through flinging wide a window into the beautiful culture and faith of his children.  He patiently teaches me to release control of outcomes as he raises those he's called and sets them on the path to bring in the harvest.

I stand back amazed at his work in Rigweland.  This is a land that has seen enormous suffering over the last year, one that lay beyond a road that was blocked Friday evening because of unrest, a land that has been farmed generation after generation, a land that God is going to bring bountiful harvest through the power of his Word.  Now is the time, we are all part of it.

Thank you Jesus.

Please continue to pray for the participants as they go forth with new knowledge.  As they encounter challenges or resistance, may God's Word burst forth and heal, restore, and build his church in Rigweland.

Participants sharing their plan with each other of how they'll start their group.

Collaboration, vulnerabity and trust

From Tuesday through Thursday, leaders of 24 Bible Translation organizations have gathered to discuss how we can work together more intenti...