Below is a letter from two of our missionaries, Leigh and Lea Betts, serving in Northern Thailand. They have been working with other nationals on a Bible translation in the local dialects for their village.
It is our privilege to work as Bible Translation Facilitators for one of the Pwo KaRen languages of Thailand where we have lived and served as missionaries since 1996. After years of language and culture study in both Central Thai and Pwo KaRen languages, we have begun to assist native speakers in the work of Bible translation with one goal in mind: The Eastern Pwo KaRen Bible.
Our job is to connect Pwo KaRen speakers with the meaning and intent of the original languages the Bible was written in. Computer programs give us access to many translations as well as the earlier Greek and Hebrew texts on which our modern English translations are based.
First, our KaRen team members use bridge-language Bible versions like Thai or Burmese. Then the conversation starts as we talk our way through Uncle Cheet’s (one of our translation partners) initial hand-written rough draft. There are many levels of meaning to be considered and sometimes we get hung up on the names of people, places, titles, or locations.
“How do we spell that?”
“How should we transliterate that Hebrew name into their sound structure and alphabet?”
Other times, the amount of meaning packed into Greek words can be hard to express. Can a KaRen word carry the same amount of Jewish cultural baggage, or do we need to explain the depth a bit more?
For example, in the book of Luke, Elizabeth praises God for the baby in her womb. Many of our English versions say, “He has taken away my disgrace.”, but Uncle Cheet has used the word which is denoted as “embarrass”, and that seemed too shallow a word to us. However, our team partner, Dee, assures us that it is really a deeper shame-like meaning encompassing disgrace as well.
In KaRen culture to be shamed is to have people talking about you, and that is very disgraceful to them. Taking another look at the translation helps us see that the original cultural meaning could also include the feeling of being cursed—or even punished. No wonder Elizabeth was praising her Father God–she had been saved from being cursed! Does our translation convey the emotion that she must have been expressing? Or does it downplay the relief that she must have felt?
The work of Bible translation is both a challenge and a blessing as our team continues to learn and work together. We are thankful for the opportunity to study deeper into God’s Word. We pray that God will enable us, through His Spirit, to produce a translation of His Word that is both accurate in truth and meaningful in the Pwo KaRen language.
Leigh and Lea Betts