by Ian Flaws1
I used to worry that the Cemuhi translation group was too confined: just a few closely related families coming from only two villages. Would this make the work too insular?
Then I read John Wenham’s Easter Enigma2, and realised that my thinking was very Western. Wenham makes a good case for a significant number of key figures in the early church being from Jesus’ own extended family: aunts (Elizabeth, Salome, ‘the other’ Mary), uncles (Zachariah, Zebedee, Clopas), brothers (James, Jude), and cousins on either side (John the Baptist, the disciples James and John, James the Younger and Simeon, the second Bishop of Jerusalem.
I would imagine this is how many non-Western communities work. It is only in our Western societies where close ties with kin have been lost that work teams with no family relationships have become the norm.
It is in large part through his own kin-relations with the entire group of Cemuhi translators that Paicî translator, Jacques, has been able to coordinate and lead the group so effectively. In the Kanak kin system, Jacques is called uncle, father, and elder brother by the various translators—all roles that command respect. We really see the sovereign hand of God at work in this.
There are challenges working in small kin-based communities: everyone knows each other’s foibles and there is a social clobbering machine that makes our tall poppy syndrome look very tame. But we see many strengths in New Caledonian Kanak society, as shaped by the coming of the gospel 150 years ago.
So many of the attributes of community encouraged by Jesus and the New Testament writers are things we struggle with in our material-rich, time-poor, individualistic Western world: hospitality, spontaneous generosity, respect for elders, a strong sense of interdependence, and valuing people above all other things including work schedules, money, possessions, time and comfort. It’s hardest to live out the gospel among your own people (just ask Jesus), and yet that is exactly what communities like this do.
1 Ian and Marietta Flaws have been advisors to two translation projects in New Caledonia. The Cemuhi New Testament is being prepared for typesetting and printing for a dedication in October 2018.
2 Wenham, J. W. (1984). Easter Enigma: Are the resurrection accounts in conflict? (p.40). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.