by Rosie Schefe
In Papua New Guinea a selfconfessed ‘nerd in hiking boots’ wends her way along steep and narrow mountain tracks, putting to work her trust in God every time she steps onto a bridge.
In the Northern Territory town of Katherine, another woman listens joyfully as 800 Aboriginal men, women and children from across the north gather to share their experiences and understandings of the gospel.
As linguists and translation workers, Hanna Schulz and Margaret Mickan are carrying on a vision of cross-cultural mission which has been part of the Lutheran Church for centuries. They are sent out to do this work—in Papua New Guinea and northern Australia respectively—by Lutheran Bible Translators Australia (LBTA).
From the beginnings of the Reformation, Martin Luther recognised the importance of the ‘language of the heart’—of being able to hear and read Scripture in the language spoken by families in their homes. Luther’s first translation of the New Testament (from Greek to German) took just eleven weeks to complete, but he continued to refine both it and his later translation of the Old Testament for the rest of his life.
As the Protestant movement grew, the work of translation also grew. Many of the missionary societies of the 19th century understood the importance of linguistic studies for their missionaries, wherever they were destined to serve. Today LBTA works in partnership with Wycliffe Bible Translators, a non-denominational Christian organisation working internationally in the field of language development and producing local translations of Scripture where possible.
When talking about the importance of having the Bible available in heart (first) language, Margaret quotes the words of Elcho Island (NT) woman Yurranydjil Dhurrrkay:
‘Through this language I can hear [God] talking directly to me. Now I am sensing through the language that he is like my close relative.’
‘Do we see God as our close relative?’ Margaret asks. ‘This shows the impact that Scriptures in heart language can have.’
In March this year Margaret celebrated 30 years of work, first as a literacy worker and then as a translation worker, specialising in Kriol. Kriol is a language shared by many Aboriginal people living in northern Australia— from Queensland’s cape to the West Australian Kimberley, and roughly south to Tennant Creek in the Northern Territory. Many Kriol-speakers have lost their own language, but plenty have not, using Kriol as a tool for communication across language groups.