I’ve tweeted a fair bit lately about Scripture recordings and the need for them. Our area is home to many indigenous tribes, speaking dozens of different languages. In our district, people in most villages speak Spanish as a second language. (This was not the case where we were last weekend, however, where not many people spoke good Spanish.) Some thoughts on the need for recordings:
- The tribal people of this region are oral learners. They best assimilate information by hearing it, not by reading it. This is a very important point.
- Those among the tribal people who are educated have learned Spanish as their second language. Scripture is much easier for them to understand in their first (heart) language, though. If you’ve ever somewhat mastered a second language, which language is easier for you when talking about deep things and matters of the heart?
- In light of this, any effort to get Scripture into the first language of tribal people is a worthy undertaking. Wycliffe has been diligently working for decades in our region to get written Bibles translated into the tribal languages of our region.
- The limitation with written Bibles is that most tribal people learn things much more effectively by hearing them rather than reading them. Indigenous people here who read tell me they have a much easier time reading Spanish (their second language) than reading their tribal languages.
- An example of the difficulty oral learners experience with written texts was given me by an indigenous pastor in the area who is helping with a Bible translation. This man is quite educated. Mixed People language is his first, but he’s also fluent in Spanish. He spent several years in a Spanish-speaking Bible school and reads well. He told me that when he’s helping translate into his (first) Mixed People language, he can’t tell if something is correct until he hears the entire passage read back out loud.
- As best I understand, then, these are the main ways tribal people in our region can learn the Word of God, in order of effectiveness:
- hearing their tribal language spoken
- hearing Spanish spoken
- reading Spanish
- reading their tribal language (for the very few who become proficient in reading their tribal languages, this probably jumps up to second or third)
- The Wycliffe folks are doing a nice job making audio recordings of their translations, but much of their work remains unrecorded. Some dialects in our region have not had any translation work done in them yet. The problem of Scripture access is two-pronged: 1) languages not being translated, and 2) Bibles that have been translated sitting in warehouses because those who don’t read their indigenous language (almost everyone) can’t use them.
- The strength of oral learners is not reading a passage of the Bible and analyzing it, but they are great at remembering stories they have heard. Playing to this strength is the idea behind the OneStory Partnership. Their vision is to help people produce sets of 40-60 Bible stories that can be transmitted orally in their languages.
- Faith Comes By Hearing has produced a really nice piece of technology, the Proclaimer. The Proclaimer is a device for playing audio recordings of the New Testament. It can be charged by A/C adaptor, solar power, or hand crank, making it very useful for people in underdeveloped areas.
- A long-time national missionary in the area and our team were discussing the need for more recordings. Our thought was that a trained person could rotate living in different villages two or three weeks at a time, helping produce a couple of recorded stories each time. While those newly recorded stories are propagated through the language group of one village, this recording facilitator can move on to other language groups to do the same. Every few months, new stories could be produced in each language group being targeted until an adequate set has been produced.
- Many Christians are very set on our Western ideal of each person having a full printed Bible in hand in their own language. While this isn’t a bad goal, being on the mission field with illiterate people who don’t have Bibles in their heart languages tends to make you more pragmatic. The Church was able to expand greatly across several continents for many centuries without people having written Bibles in their hands. The current (largely) underground church movement in China is said to be the greatest in history, outpacing the growth of the early church in the book of Acts. In this movement, many examples exist of churches feeling blessed to have one written Bible or of individual Christians owning only one page of Scripture which they periodically trade with other believers. Obviously, it’s possible for people who can’t read to know the Word of God and for believers to grow mature even without a written Bible.
Please join us in praying that God will make His Word easily propagated in the heart languages of all Mixed People and Tree People in our region. We believe recordings are a key to this, but God may have other means of which we haven’t thought.