I recently had an excited call from Rev. Jonah Kwotua, one of the Kasem translators, to say that he and Rev. Abraham Ayiakwo (another translator) were watching the Kasem Bibles being unloaded off a truck near Abraham’s home on the edge of Navrongo. This was the first they had seen of the printed Bibles so it was a big day for them, having worked on the Old Testament translation for 15 years.
8,000 Bibles were printed in South Korea and shipped to Tema, the port near Accra. Unfortunately 180 of the Bibles had suffered water damage en route, but 466 boxes containing 16 Bibles each were loaded on to a truck in Accra and safely made the 2-day road trip up to Navrongo.
Abraham quoted the following verse from the Bible (Proverbs 25:25):
Kwor-ywoŋa ná nwoŋi yiga yiga ka ba,
ka pae bochara tigi mo,
ne na-zura na zuri bochare tei to.
When a sweet message arrives from far far away, it causes chests (“hearts”) to be at ease, like how cold water cools the chest.
When we first settled in Paga on the northern border of Ghana in 1972 we had no inkling of the long journey we were then embarking upon. We started to learn the Kasem language and to observe and absorb local cultural patterns. We made plenty of mistakes, both in speaking the language (getting the tones right was a special challenge) and also in meeting expectations of polite behaviour, such as keeping the left hand firmly out of use for public interaction. We persevered through ups and downs with God’s help and in 1988 the New Testament in Kasem was published. By this time there was a growing number of readers as a result of Judy’s work on preparing reading primers and in training volunteer teachers for adult literacy classes. These classes were geared towards those who had not been able to attend school and eventually helped several thousand people to become functionally literate.
When work on the New Testament was completed and the literacy work was established under local leadership we settled in Tamale, which was 120 miles south of the Kasena homeland. Most of our focus was on helping translation programmes being conducted in other Ghanaian languages, but because there was interest from the Kasena churches in having the Old Testament as well as the New, we ran a week’s training in translation principles for 15 or so potential translators before we left Ghana to settle back in the UK in 1990. We didn’t know if we would be going back to Ghana after our two children completed secondary school, but as it turned out …
We returned to Ghana in 2000 and discovered that Rev. Jonah Kwotua, one of those who had attended the translation training in 1990, had made a serious start on the Kasem Old Testament translation. In time he was joined by Rev. Abraham Ayiakwo and later by Rev. James Wechu. However, I had little time to help them other than an occasional one-day 250 mile round trip from Tamale to encourage and guide them. Progress in the translation was steady but not spectacular! In 2006 we returned to the UK to take care of Judy’s mum and this turned out to provide a new impetus for the translation as I could now give 4 days a week to checking over the work of the translators using software that kept each of us up to date with one another’s work. Twice a year I made a four-week visit to Ghana to work with the translators face-to-face.
And so, by God’s grace, we saw the final steps on translation of the Old Testament and revision of the New Testament completed by the close of 2013. After a year of preparation of the print-ready copy, the Bible was sent to the printers in South Korea in December 2014 and production of 8,000 Bibles was finished in March 2015. We have now received two copies by Airmail, while 8,000 copies should be arriving at the port of Tema, near Ghana’s capital city, Accra. We are pleased to see the Kasem Bible finally in print. If it is exciting for us to hold a copy in our hands, how much more will it be for the Kasena people to read God’s Word in their heart language.
Now we wait to hear from the church leaders in Kasena-land to find out when the launch and dedication events will be held. We expect this to be held off until November when the rainy season is over and people are free to celebrate. We hope to be there!
I was leading the morning worship service at our church last Sunday week. In preparation for the service I read through Paul’s prayer for the Ephesian church and thought it would be a good basis for public prayer. So, making very few modifications apart from changing the pronouns, here is Paul’s prayer for the church in Long Crendon, Buckinghamshire, UK.
We praise you God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. You have blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms through our relationship with Jesus. We praise you for the glorious grace you have poured out on us who belong to your beloved Son, Jesus. You are so rich in kindness and grace that you purchased our freedom with his blood and have forgiven our sins. You have showered your kindness on us, along with all wisdom and understanding. You have given us your Holy Spirit, whom you promised long ago. He is your guarantee that you will give us the inheritance you promised, and that we are your own people because you have redeemed us. Through that Holy Spirit we want to praise and glorify you. We thank you God for one another, and we pray for one another, asking you, the glorious Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, to give each of us spiritual wisdom and insight so that we might grow in our knowledge of God. We pray that our hearts may be flooded with light so that we can understand the confident hope you have given to us whom you have called, the hope of a rich and glorious inheritance. We also pray that we will understand better the incredible greatness of your power at work for us who follow you. This is the same mighty power that raised Christ from the dead and seated him in the place of honour at your right hand in the heavenly realms. Now Jesus is far above any ruler or authority or power or leader or anything else—not only in this world but also in the world to come. You have put all things under the authority of Christ and you have made him head over all things for the benefit of the church. And we, the church, are Christ’s body, made full and complete by Christ, who fills all things everywhere with himself. We acknowledge that it is by grace we have been saved, through faith–and this is not from ourselves, it is your gift to us–not achieved by what we have done, so that none of us can boast. For we are your workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which you have prepared for us to do.
So Father help us to know you better, to love you better
and to serve you better,
For the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ,
Rev Abraham Ayiakwo, Judy & Philip Hewer and Rev Jonah Kwotua celebrate completion of work on the Kasem Bible, after working for three weeks with the GILLBT typesetter, John Sidsaya. The text of the Bible was “signed off” at 11 am on Friday 22nd November 2013, to say that no more changes would be made, and giving the go-ahead for final formatting prior to sending to the printers in South Korea. The Kasem New Testament was published in 1988 and work started on the translation of the Old Testament 10 years later.
The Kasem Bible which has been 50 years in preparation is now being prepared for publication. A major milestone was reached at 11 am on Friday 22nd November when the text of the translation was “signed off” to say that no further changes would be made. This took place at the GILLBT centre in Tamale, Ghana. Printing proofs will now be prepared by John Sidsaya of GILLBT, and once approved by the translation team, these will be sent to printers in South Korea. The Bible will include book introductions, maps, a glossary with some pictures, as well as footnotes and cross-references.
Other GILLBT staff gathered around as the signing off took place, praise was sung to God, and a prayer of thanksgiving was offered up. This was the first whole Bible to be prepared up to this stage in Ghana by John, so it was a very special occasion. Of those who joined in the celebration, several were working on the final stages of checking Bibles in their own languages, with the expectation of four further Bibles in Ghanaian languages being readied for printing during 2014.
We rejoice to have reached this stage, and pray for God to watch over the remaining steps until the Bible is finally in the hands of Kasena people.
Continuing my check through Jeremiah I keep coming across the Hebrew word ra’ah. It occurs 99 times in the whole book, appearing in 39 of the 52 chapters. In chapter 44, which I have just finished, it comes 14 times, 5 of those in verse 9. What does it mean? The Brown-Driver-Briggs English-Hebrew lexicon gives: ‘evil, misery, distress, injury’. Perhaps it isn’t surprising that Jeremiah majors on that area of meaning!
What is surprising is that the word is used of God’s activities as well as those of the wayward people of God. There is a balance between the ra’ah, ‘evil deeds’, which the remnant of Judah indulge themselves in, and the ra’ah, ‘calamities’, which God promises to inflict on them as a result. So how does the translator tackle this? It is impossible to use the same word in English to translate all occurrences of ra’ah, unless one is willing to make God the agent of evil activities. Some English versions come close to this, such as the RSV (Revised Standard Version) translation of 11:11 — Therefore, thus says the Lord, Behold, I am bringing evil upon them which they cannot escape; though they cry to me, I will not listen to them. Other versions use words like ‘calamity, disaster, destruction’ when ra’ah occurs in this sense, and interestingly the NRSV (New Revised Standard Version) has made the change from ‘evil’ to ‘disaster’ in this verse.
This illustrates the principle that there is rarely a one-to-one correspondence between words in different languages. The Hebrew word ra’ah has a wider range of meaning than any one word in English, and in most other languages too, probably. The translator has to cope with this all the time. One simply cannot use the same English word, or Kasem word, to translate one Hebrew word in all its contexts and senses. To do so sounds at best stilted, and at worst (in this case) wrongly portrays the character of God. Of course the translator tries to be consistent in translating each particular sense. In fact, I now need to go back and look at all 99 occurrences of ra’ah in Jeremiah and check just that. As far as possible in Kasem we have used lwarem kikia ‘evil doings’ in the one sense, and lɛɛro ‘calamity’ in the other.
As a footnote, we should bear in mind that God’s instrument of calamity in this case was the Babilonian army, and in that sense God was using an evil power to bring just punishment on his much-loved people.
I’ve been working on checking through the draft translation of Jeremiah in Kasem for some weeks now. I’ve just got to the end of chapter 41. Hebrew does like to make double sure you know who is being referred to in narrative. It’s what we call “participant tracking”. Take Gedaliah for example. We get to meet him in 39:14 as “Gedaliah son of Ahikam, the son of Shaphan”. Fair enough, since there is at least one other Gedaliah around (38:1). In chapters 40 and 41 (only 34 verses total), Gedaliah is mentioned by name 20 times. 4 of those times he is given the full works, “Gedaliah son of Ahikam, the son of Shaphan”; another 9 times it is “Gedaliah son of Ahikam”; leaving 7 occurrences of simply “Gedaliah” (and most of those are “Gedaliah at Mizpah”). Add to that the number of times his office as governor is mentioned, and it all gets a bit heavy for most languages. And Gedaliah isn’t the only one being given full-name treatment in these chapters. There’s “Ishmael son of Nethaniah, the son of Elishama”, “Johanan son of Kareah”, and “Nebuzaradan, commander of the guard”, all of which are repeated in full several times. Needless to say, Kasem prefers to keep track of participants in a more economical way. Once we know who it is, just the name will do, with maybe the occasional reminder of their role. Even a pronoun may suffice sometimes!