by Gary & Glenys Sweetman
‘Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel …’ Philippians 1:27 (ESV).
During our 40 years on the global Bible translation team we have observed that disharmony among partners can be a key factor in disrupting God’s work. This was one factor that led to SIL’s withdrawal from New Caledonia in 1996. However, God was not taken by surprise and translation work continued, especially among the Paicî people, nurtured by Wycliffe NZ members Ian and Marietta Flaws. SIL continued to seek a way to engage with the more than 20 Bibleless people groups in New Caledonia and, in 2012, they contacted Dr Michel Kenmogne who was the Wycliffe Africa Area Director at the time concerning the needs in this francophone country in the Pacific.
At the time Dr Kenmogne led the Francophone Initiative. This initiative is a collaborative platform between United Bible Societies, International Fellowship of Evangelical Students in French-speaking Africa, Wycliffe Global Alliance, and SIL International. It was catalysed by Wycliffe NZ member Gary Sweetman who was SIL Area Director for Francophone Africa at the time. This platform of agencies worked with top-level theologians and church leaders from across Francophone Africa in a consultative process which led to mobilisation of the church to understand its role in Bible translation. Today more than 40 seminaries and Bible colleges across the region teach The Role of the Church in Bible Translation as a core subject.
Dr Kenmogne was keen to respond to SIL’s request to engage in New Caledonia, but when he discovered the distance and costs involved he recommended that the SIL Pacific Area Director contact Gary Sweetman who, in 2013, was relocating to New Zealand. The Sweetmans had just transferred to work under the Seed Company (another Wycliffe affiliate organisation). One of the Seed Company’s core values is partnering effectively so they immediately made a percentage of Gary’s time available to engage in New Caledonia.
In 2015 having begun to understand the complexity of the situation in New Caledonia, Gary and his wife Glenys met with the leadership of the Seed Company and Wycliffe NZ to explore a possible Oral Bible Storytelling (OBS) strategy to mobilise the church across New Caledonia. The leaders of Wycliffe NZ suggested that the pastor of Grace International Church, Auckland, might have some helpful contacts and insights. Out of a joint meeting it was decided that Grace International would host an initial OBS workshop for speakers of Pacific Island languages in Auckland, plus two bilingual (French/English) New Caledonians known to Grace International: Billy Cava and Jacques (Koko) Wabete. The Sweetmans, Flaws and the Seed Company OBS consultants led this event. During the workshop God gave Billy and Koko a vision for an OBS strategy in New Caledonia. Today the Seed Company supports Wycliffe NZ as a technical and funding partner in a two-year OBS project led by Billy and Koko who are being mentored by the Sweetmans.
None of us knows what God is going to do among the churches of New Caledonia through this project but already stories from God’s Word are being told in seven different languages. Interest in Mother-Tongue Bible translation has also significantly increased. Meanwhile the Flaws continue to facilitate a second New Testament with the Cemuhi translation team. Other Wycliffe NZ members¹ and the Seed Company staff², along with some local church leaders contribute to this ministry in New Caledonia. Who could have imagined that a partnership approach which began in Africa would one day be replicated in the South Pacific!
Pray for us that the message of the Lord may spread rapidly and be honoured … 2 Thessalonians 3:1 (NIV).
¹ Ross McKerras – Translation Consultant; others previously worked in literacy.
² Dunc Pfantz – Field Coodinator; Jim and Janet Stahl – Oral Bible Storytelling Consultants.