Do you remember our Work/Obla Series? Well, in case you don’t, it is our attempt to feature our kailiyans who are doing interesting jobs. For those new to this blog, you might want to read our introduction of the series here and you might want to read our interview with Jay Watan, an Internet entrepreneur here. Incidentally, Jay has a blog (Blog of a Siomai Addict) which you might want to visit.
The second person we are featuring is Margie Abella Lumawan (above right). Margie is a Bible translator and, if you don’t know already, she is blogging at Gandang Igorota. Her blog was among the first blogs I visited before I started this blog and I was touched by her post, Kalanguya Dreams where I made my first ever comment in a blog. Well, I was encouraged by her response and we became blogger friends since then. Thanks Margie.
Anyway, what’s it like to be a Bible translator? How are concepts alien to our culture translated? What process do they follow in translating the Bible? What are the rewards and challenges in being a part of this endeavor? Read on as Margie graciously answered those questions for us.
How did you end up doing the challenging work of Bible translation? Was it something you pursued or dreamed about (as in, “When I grow up, I’d like to translate the Bible.”)? Or did it happen by accident?
I dreamt to be a Kalanguya writer but I was under duress to go to nursing college and go abroad and give my family a taste of the ‘easier’ life (if there ever is.) Therefore, did getting into translation happen by accident? Nope. Bible Translation and I have a history.
When I was yet to start primary school, my dad was one of the language helpers of the American missionaries working in our village who were translating New Testament into Kalanguya at the time. Language helpers read the translated manuscript to see inconsistencies and if the words and their construction flows naturally. I used to go with him in the office while they were doing this work and they would ask me to do little things.
I would burn the thrash for them (they were printing trial versions and so there were loads and loads of paper to burn.) If I am not being asked to do something, I would fool around and mimic my father’s actions like I would take a heap of printed paper, put it in front of me and then act as if I am reading them one by one and making pencil marks on the pages.
When I started school, I say my dream is to become a teacher when people ask me what my ambition is. The reason is that it’s the only profession I know.
Then later on, I got hooked on reading books and from then on, I dreamt of writing stories, maybe novels that will entertain people and that people will love. But when the time came for me to plunge into the study of writing, it wasn’t among the choices open to me. My path was chosen for me and so I went into the caring profession.
When I finished, a Christian missionary couple who established a center for discipling students from the tribe where I came from, offered me a job as the center nurse. There wasn’t much nursing work for me and so my boss asked me if I can help him with the work he was doing.
Without any hint about what I am getting into, I said yes. And so he told me to get my Kalanguya Bible, turn to the Gospel of John and write the whole book back into English and warned me strongly never to peek at any English Bible. I went like, “Oh, my goodness! He doesn’t think that I can write in English good enough so I had to practice by writing the whole book of John from Kalanguya to English!”
When I finished back translating the book of John, my mentor slowly introduced me to the basic translation principles; that meaning is the name of the game in translation. I continued back translating the rest of the Kalanguya New Testament; at that time, I have learned that it wasn’t a test of my English writing skills but rather one of the important activities in the translation process.
During the revision of our New Testament, my mentor introduced me to the intricacies of translation as we went along the revision process. I began loving the work. I would ask myself, “Where can you have a job that makes you have your quiet time the whole day? Only in translation!
When the revision of the Kalanguya New Testament was coming to an end, my boss told me that when we finish, I may go now to anywhere I want and should not feel obliged to stay on at the Center. But while we were doing the finishing touches in the revision, he received a call from a friend telling him to attend a workshop on Proverbs. He asked me if I want to see the Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL). I tagged along never knowing that in that workshop, the Lord will tag me.
In that seminar, I met people who are doing a great job of translating the Old Testament in their mother tongue. I never knew that that’s possible. I always have this idea that only a foreign missionary, educated in another land, expert in the Bible should translate the Word of God. But when I saw the dedication and fervor of the mother tongue translators, I just can’t help being challenged and asking myself what is it that I really wanted to do; if that which I planned to do will be the maximum thing that I can do with my life.
Not without much difficulty, I committed my life to Bible Translation.