God Speaks Arrernte –

He Must be Part of Our Community!

by Neil Broad

Most Aboriginal people do not describe themselves as being ‘Aboriginal.’ Instead, they choose to define themselves as part of a group which speaks a common language; their language is their primary means of articulating their identity. So people will call themselves an Arrernte person, a Pitjantjatjara person or a Warlpiri person which means ‘I am someone who speaks the Arrernte language and this is what defines my sense of community and belonging.’ Identity is then shaped through families and kinship systems, through interrelatedness.

Supporters of the Arrernte project

Supporters of the Arrernte project

If community for Arrernte people is defined by their interconnectedness through language then what does it mean to have God’s Word in their own language? Here are some comments, not just from Arrernte speakers, about what it means to have God’s Word in their own language.

One man said, ‘When I don’t want the Scriptures to impact and challenge me, I read English, ’cause in my mother tongue the Bible speaks to my innermost being.’

One woman said, ‘When I listen to this Scripture [in my own language] it makes me want to go to sleep.

‘Is it boring?’ the translator asked.
‘No’, she said, ‘it makes me so peaceful and secure, I could just drop off to sleep.’

Co-translators being gifted a Bible each

Co-translators being gifted a Bible each

One of the Arrernte co-translators once told me after she had read the Passion readings at Easter, it had taken her a long time to get through them. My first thought was, Uh oh, what’s the problem with the translation? I knew that this woman was a very good reader, and a competent speaker of English. She explained that, while she has heard the readings many times in English, she was so moved as she read the Passion story in her own language for the first time that she kept crying and it took a long time to get through it. How thrilling is that?

If people connect to each other through the use of a common language, and this is their primary means of defining their interrelatedness, and from this connection their sense of community emerges, then what happens to that community when God speaks their language? They connect to him as being integral to who they are.

Paintings celebrating the Arrernte Bible launch

Paintings celebrating the Arrernte Bible launch

After close to 28 years working as translators with Eastern and Central Arrernte speakers, we are hugely thankful that the entire New Testament, all of Genesis, parts of Exodus, and the book of Ruth have now been published and Arrernte speakers sense of community and identity is being shaped by the God who speaks their language. The task of Bible translation involves working with people at some of the most fundamental human levels of interaction, namely language and culture. God’s kingdom, His perspective, and His values, when expressed in the language of the heart, have the capacity and opportunity to shape who the Arrernte people are and what their community can become. God is an integral part of their community because He speaks their language.

Return to Living Words September 2017

John 1:1

In the beginning was the Word

Verse for today

All hard work brings a profit, but mere talk leads only to poverty.