New course to raise up indigenous Bible translators

“It would be good that every language group, every clan, has its own Bible.”

A new diploma of translating is set to inspire the next generation of Indigenous Bible translators.

It has been over ten years since Indigenous Christians have been offered the opportunity to learn the inner workings of Bible translation through an accredited course. An older, certificate-level course had been offered but , it was unable to continue, due to ever-increasing and complex requirements for vocational training accreditation.

“If the work of translation calls me and has changed my life, then it can change other people’s lives too.” – Yurranydjil Dhurrkay

In 2019, a new diploma is set to begin, thanks to a partnership between Bible Society Australia, Nungalinya College, Wycliffe Bible Translators, CMS (Anglican Church), AuSIL and Coordinate (Uniting Church).

“The cohort of students who were trained [in Bible translation] years ago with the old certificates are now often very old. And they’re dying,” says Jude Long, the principal of Nungalinya College. “So we’ve got an older generation of Bible translators with no young ones coming through. Without this training, Bible translation projects simply won’t be able to succeed.”

Yurranydjil Dhurrkay is a Bible translator from Galiwin’ku on Elcho Island, off the coast of Arnhem Land. She was one of the translators who went through the old course, and says it changed her life.

“If I didn’t do that course, I would not be a translator who loves the work. I did it, so I feel like I can do the work well. And I love that work. It is my life,” she tells Eternity.

Yurranydjil completed the Gospel of Mark in Wangurri, a Yolŋu language, in 2015 but says there is much more work to do.

“We need more translators,” she says. “It would be good that every language group, every clan, has its own Bible.”

“When I talk about translation, there’s a light in me. And if the work of translation calls me and has changed my life, then it can change other people’s lives too.”

There is only one full Bible completed in an Indigenous language, in Kriol, spoken by approximately 20,000 Indigenous people across the northern parts of Australia. Central Australia’s Pitjantjatjara language has a full New Testament, with work well underway to complete the Old Testament. And only last month, the full New Testament in Kunwinjku, a language of West Arnhem Land was dedicated. Work continues on Bible translation in many other Aboriginal languages, including in the Yolŋu languages of North East Arnhem Land.

Louise Macdonald is a resource worker with Uniting Church’s Coordinate, which supports Indigenous scriptures. She says Indigenous people have been asking for Bible translation training for a long time.

“This is an ongoing project to increase the quality of translation work, but also to bring in a new generation,” says Macdonald. “And because the students [who do the course] are usually also key church leaders within their communities, it will increase the profile of Bible translation work within those communities. It’s going to be really significant.”

“[The course] allows us to provide the skills on the ground.” – Jude Long

The new diploma of translating is a government-accredited, secular course. Students at Nungalinya will graduate as translators in the secular world, giving them employable skills to work in sectors like health, law or education as translators. The course at Nungalinya will use the Bible as the text for the course, says Jude Long, which will give the students “many of the skills required for Bible translation, too, which is by and large their first passion.”

The new course requires previous completion of a Certificate IV in Christian Ministry and Theology at Nungalinya, ensuring students are accustomed to the rigours of study. Long says there are about 60 people who currently meet that requirement. In 2019, the course will admit 15 people, with a further 15 in 2020 and 2021.

In addition, unaccredited Bible translation workshops will be held in Aboriginal communities with active Bible translation projects.

“The workshops will target some of the younger Bible translators who don’t have their certificate IV, to give them some skills and get them started and excited about Bible translation. It allows us to provide the skills on the ground, and is more accessible for those who can’t travel to Darwin.”

Yurranydjil says that Bible translation is a calling.

“I think it’s the number one gift. Because there’s no other work in the world that can inspire people like this. Translation work is the words of the Almighty speaking to us, enabling us.”

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