Lily wants to keep her language going. This is how she is doing it

New hymn book and kids book for Adnyamathanha people

More than half of all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are Christians. Only one Indigenous language in Australia, Kriol, has a full Bible translation.

Let that sink in.

The vast majority of First Nations peoples do not have God’s Word in their heart language.

While about 22 Indigenous languages have, at least, one complete Old or New Testament book, there are about 120 Indigenous languages spoken in Australian today.

Bridging this gap in access to scripture is why Bible Society Australia has been intent on backing translations in Indigenous languages. It sees the importance of this language preservation for identity and culture, as well as the spiritual and eternal value of providing scripture and Christian material in mother tongues.

Recently, the Adnyamathanha people – from the area now known as the northern Flinders Ranges in South Australia – had a big breakthrough. Not only was a hymn book of church songs published in Adnyamathanha for the first time (Tyurtya Udiapinha) but so was a children’s book and CD, God’s Story for the Outback.

Critical to both was sole translator Lily Neville. After surprising herself years ago about how she could translate the Lord’s Prayer into her heart language, Lily hopes to inspire others to translate more and more.

“Once you put your mind to it, you can really translate anything into Adnyamathanha,” says Lily, who grew up speaking Adnyamathanha with her parents. A regular at church “from Sunday School up”, Lily feels a sense of pride about being able to put Christian resources into her people’s own words.

“I didn’t think it would be easy like that; well, I find it easy anyway to translate anything. I do my best. I travel by the grace of the Lord and that’s how I’m getting that work done. I believe that by faith you can do anything, especially keeping the language going.

“It’s very important to me. I don’t want to lose the Adnyamathanha language.”

According to the 2006 census, only 113 people spoke Adnyamathanha at home. But the number of First Peoples who identify as Adnyamathanha is much higher. Lily hopes God’s Story for the Outback is one positive way for the next generation to do two things at once: nurture the words of Lily’s heart language, and also be changed by words of God.

“I would like them to get the knowledge and understanding and pleasure out of reading this book,” Lily says of a book that’s all about “Jesus’ story”.

“I really was excited to get this published.

“Now, my little ones – the grandkids – can read it and learn. I know there are a couple of them on the road to doing the Adnyamathanha language. I’m thinking positive that they will get involved in this.”

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God's Story for the Outback

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