Jim Laesch is the regional director for southern and eastern Africa for Lutheran Bible Translators (LBT). He’s been instrumental in organizing a New Testament translation project for the Kerewe people who live on Ukerewe Island in Tanzania.
Last year, Jim held a training activity for the New Testament translation team. The exercise was designed to help the group understand the challenge of translating unknown ideas from one language to another. He asked them to translate a story about ice fishing with his son Andy.
Last winter I went ice fishing with my son Andy. He’s a carpenter by trade and has built his own shanty. It’s very sturdy and even has a window and a door. We drilled holes in the ice and fished for hours. Brats were grilled and chili was cooked. We ate a lot and we laughed a lot. Then we went home. Fish? Didn’t catch a one.
The Kerewe people are very familiar with fishing. “But they’ve never seen ice,” Jim explains. They had many questions.
- How can one fish with ice? What? ON the ice?
- What is a shanty? Why is it in this story?
- What kind of hole do you drill in the ice?
- What are brats? (Oh, sausages!)
The translators made a valiant effort to translate these unknown ideas into their local language. But even with photos to illustrate the concept behind the words, it turned out to be more difficult than anticipated.
In cross-cultural situations we can never take for granted that what we say is easily understood. This is of crucial concern when translating Scripture. It takes careful study of a language and culture before God’s Word can be accurately conveyed to people who have no background in Biblical history and languages. Consider the things the Kerewe translators needed clarified in order to translate what to us is a simple story. Then imagine the diligence needed to bring an accurate translation of Scripture to people who may have little or no knowledge of Christianity.
Were they able to do it? Was the training exercise successful? Read more next week!