Books I have Read: Carnival Kingdom

I have to declare a slight interest here. I know a number of the authors and editors of this book and they were kind enough to let me have a copy for free.

That being said, I can honestly say that Carnival Kingdom is an excellent book and one which will interest many readers of this blog. Subtitled, Biblical Justice for Global Communities, the book explores why in which the topsy-turvey, first-will-be-last Kingdom of God can and should interact with the world we are living in. This isn’t a comfortable book and calls us to reassess the way in which the Christian faith should impact all aspects of social and political life.

This isn’t a ‘page turner’, you are unlikely to stay up all night wondering what happens in the last chapter, but it does repay careful reading and reflection. The various essays which go to make up the book are through provoking and creatively presented. As with any multi-author book, different sections will appeal to different readers, but there is something here for anyone who is open to being Biblically provoked.

Carnival Kingdom is also available for The Kindle, though it isn’t so easy to make notes in the margin. The book is a product of the Justice Initiative a group that are well worth following; you can find links to their Facebook page and other things here.

Team work in Madagascar

A couple of days ago I got back from Southern Madagascar where I spent two weeks working with a translation team helping them check their translation of Luke’s Gospel for accuracy so that it can be made ready for publication in the next few months. We certainly had our work cut out in order to reach the end of Luke, resolving all the issues that came up along the way, but with God’s help and by working long days we made it, finishing around 6.30 pm on Saturday evening!

People often ask how I can check a translation when I don’t speak the language, so I think it’s helpful if I say something about the translation process. First of all, one of the translators studies the passage in the original language, also taking a look at different versions in Malagasy and French, to get an overall understanding of the passage in its context. S/he will look up any specific exegetical problems in commentaries and translation helps before making a first draft translation in the language. This first draft will then go to the rest of the team for their comments and suggestions. When the team are agreed on the amended draft, the translated text will then be tested in the community to see what people understand. Of course the translators are already familiar with the Biblical text and know what they intended the translation to mean, but reading the text aloud to members of the language community and asking what they have understood can help reveal expressions which are not clear to the hearer, as well as any unintended ambiguities. It is also an opportunity for people to offer suggestions of words or phrases which may improve the translation.  When any changes have been incorporated into the text it is then translated word for word into French so that the translation consultant (in this case, me) can see how it has been translated and can ask questions of the translators based on that.

So we went through Luke, reading section by section. I raised questions when I thought the translation was missing some element of meaning from the original text, and the team made suggestions for improvements. At times it was frustrating with 10 people sitting around the table, each wanting to have their say! But there are definite advantages to working with a broad team  – the resultant synergy means that we ended up with a much better translation than any one or two members of the team could have produced on their own.  Sometimes I would suggest a way of restructuring a verse to make it clearer, one of the translators would come up with a different option and we would finally settle on a third expression which was even better! Yet there was more than synergy at work among the team – we had been specifically asking God’s Spirit to help us make his Word clear, and our prayers were certainly answered!

It was a very busy time and I came home exhausted – it was getting towards the hottest time of year in Toliara -  and I’m sure the rest of the team returned to their regular duties fairly tired too. There were definitely some lighter moments when we enjoyed a joke or teasing one another. Yet it was also a special time of being challenged and amazed by God’s word once again as we worked together on finalising the text. What a privilege to be involved in Bible translation!

News from Sue in Madagascar

It was strange being out of the country during the election and even stranger that there is still no clear outcome yet! Fortunately the political situation here in Madagascar remains fairly stable even though things are not resolved: talks between the ousted president and the current leaders didn’t seem to come to anything. News about the local language situation however is more encouraging. Many of the translation teams reported that in the different language areas people were starting to use their own language more. The Betsimisaraka team told us how before people did not dare use their language to pray in church, (Official Malagasy being the only ‘acceptable’ language of church), but now, encouraged that some Scripture has been translated into the language, they are starting to pray in Betsimisaraka. This is a real breakthrough, and very freeing for them to be able to pray in their mother tongue.

There is also good news from the Bara area. The churches are making good use of the Jesus Film and the Scripture booklets in Bara that I was involved in producing a few years ago. Although there is a lot of resistance to the gospel in the area and the people tend to be suspicious of church workers, especially if they are from another region, more people are showing interest. After the Jesus Film was shown in one particular village, a local ‘ombiasa’ (traditional priest/shaman) was really struck by the section based on Luke 8 where Jesus casts demons out of a man and they go into a herd of pigs which plunge into the lake and drown. That night the ‘ombiasa’ couldn’t sleep. Realising that Jesus had far more power than he did, he went to the pastor to find out more. Eventually he and all his family were baptised as believers! Another ‘ombiasa’ was also converted after being challenged by the Jesus Film and the Lord also healed his arm. Do pray for the Bara believers as they have very few pastors and workers to cover a very wide area with many isolated villages.

This workshop I am working with the Tandroy team, checking through the translation of Luke in preparation for publication. At times it is painstaking work, but when it comes to dealing with God’s word we can’t take short cuts. We come across some interesting expressions in the language along the way, for example, the Tandroy term for ‘hypocrite’ translated literally is a ‘cat hiding its claws’, and when you ‘take something to heart’ you let it ’sleep on your heart’.

It is also fun chatting over meals and hearing more about the different languages and cultures. Apparently Tandroy now has 2 Charlie Chaplin films: silent films with a commentary in Tandroy!  It is also humbling to observe the real commitment to the work that many of the translators have. Several members of the team travelled 2 days and nights non-stop by bush taxi to get here to Toliara (SW) from different parts of the island! Most have left their work and other commitments on one side and left family at home to concentrate on translation during this workshop even though they are doing this work on a voluntary basis.

Finally let me give you an example of the kind of reactions we’ve seen here when people hear Scripture in their own language for the first time. When the Tandroy team were testing their translation in the area a few months ago, at the end a teacher came up to them and wanted to know more about what he had heard. ‘Who wrote this?’ he asked. ‘It sounds like something that really happened!’ The man was a history and geography teacher, and he had always thought that Jesus was like a god and we couldn’t know where he lived. So he was amazed to hear the translators explain that Jesus had really lived on earth and to have them point out on a map of the world the physical place where Jesus actually lived. Hearing the message so clearly in his own language made him realise that God is closer to the Tandroy than he ever thought!

Beware the Headlines!

Does anyone else find newspaper headlines annoying? You would think that as well as trying to grab our attention they were also designed to give a hint about what the article actually contains. All too often, though, they mislead, as I discovered when I read this Reuters article about the political situation in Madagascar.

The headline reads: ‘France backs Madagascar’s Rajoelina – Former Leader.’    At first glance it appears that France have declared their backing for the current leader of the ‘Transitional Authority’, Andry Rajoelina, which would be surprising, because France had already denounced Rajoelina’s grab for power as a coup. It turns out that it is ousted President Ravalomanana who is accusing France of supporting the new leader and of wanting ‘to enslave the Malagasy people’. To be fair the headline did include ‘Former Leader’, implying where the comment came from, but at first glance the news seemed more substantial than it actually is.

Diplomats ‘tweet’ down Madagascar embassy rumours

It seems that more and more people are using Twitter as a way of getting their message across (not me yet though…). When US diplomats became aware of  rumours on the Internet that the deposed President of Madagascar, Marc Ravalomanana, had sought refuge in the US embassy in the capital Antananarivo,  they decided they had to act quickly. If people believed the former President was in the Embassy there was a risk that opposition supporters may attack the building, so to dispel these rumours US officials used Twitter. Read the full story here.

The Best laid plans of mice and men…

Recently, I’ve posted a couple of articles on the issue of planning in Christian mission (here and here). Today brings us a concrete example of why any plans have to be held lightly. Sue was due to fly to Madagascar next month for her next translation workshop. For the last couple of months, the country has been in a state of upheaval as two factions have fought for power. In fact things got so bad that they even made it onto the British domestic media! Today, we learned that the elected president has stepped down:

Madagascar’s President Marc Ravalomanana has said he is standing down and handing power to the military.

But military leaders were reported to favour a direct transfer to 34-year-old opposition leader Andry Rajoelina.

Mr Rajoelina has installed himself in the president’s offices, seized on Monday by pro-opposition troops.

A BBC correspondent in Madagascar says it seems clear Mr Ravalomanana is stepping down, but there is confusion over how it will be done.

It is unclear whether the generals chosen by Mr Ravalomanana to head a new military directorate are willing or able to take over, the BBC’s Jonah Fisher says.There were unconfirmed reports that those generals had been arrested. (read more)

As you can imagine, this is not a good time to try and organise a workshop, with lots of people travelling across the country and a number coming in from abroad. So, having planned for this for months, organised our diaries and such like, we find at the last minute that Sue won’t be going to Madagascar. I must admit that it’s nice to think that Sue will be home for that period, but I know how much she enjoys and is stimulated by her translation work and I realise that this is a huge disappointment to her.

However, it would be wrong to focus on the effect that the upheaval in Madagascar will have on the Arthur family. There are 20 million Malagasy people, most of whom are living in extreme poverty. The events of the last few months have badly affected tourism which is one of the main sources of income and the fact that the country seems unable to maintain a stable government will do nothing to promote investment. Yes, these events upset our plans, but we can’t begin to calculate the effect they will have on the lives of millions of Malagasay people. It is a huge temptation to dwell on the effect that hardship and disturbance has on the lives and plans of missionaries, but as we have noted before, it is the local people who suffer far more.

One great blessing in all of the events in Madagascar is that the transition to a new government has been achieved without a lot of bloodshed – let’s pray that it carries on in that way.

Madagascar reaches a new crisis point

Madagascar is renowned as ‘the country of rumours’ and rumours are certainly rife as the prolonged political crisis  seems to be edging towards some sort of climax.  Thousands of opposition supporters are out in the streets of the capital, Antananarivo, again today where they are being addressed by opposition leader and former mayor of the city, Andry Rajoelina, who has been demanding that President Ravalomanana resign. This is the first time in a week that Rajoelina has appeared publicly for fear of arrest, hiding at one point in the French Embassy, and then in unknown locations in the city. He is today claiming to have toppled the President, but the government refutes this, saying that the President is still in place and is preparing for a national conference between the two sides with the help of church leaders. In fact this was scheduled to start on Thursday, but didn’t go ahead as Rajoelina refused to attend.

The situation became even more unstable a few days ago as the army replaced their own chief of staff and declared they would no longer take orders from the government but would protect the interests of the people, though it was not clear whether or not a coup was being contemplated. The US Ambassador believed the army to be divided and feared the country was on the verge of civil war. On Wednesday he advised his citizens to consider leaving the country.

Meanwhile people are trying to go about their daily lives – they have to make a living, and keep feeding their families, but it is so hard living through the uncertainty of the situation, not knowing what the outcome will be nor when or where violence may flare up.  This political stand- off is having a devastating effect on the country:  lives have been lost and public buildings, shops  and homes looted or burned. Tourists are canceling their holidays and foreign investors are having second thoughts. Much else is being lost to the country too, like the national radio archives that were destroyed when the station was burned down; not to mention damage to the democratic process, and trust between fellow Malagasy. Protest can be healthy, but at some point there must be dialogue and reconciliation, or there will be no future. The country needs leaders on both sides to show restraint and not lead their supporters down a route of no return.

There are lots of articles around – you can read more about the situation on the BBC website here or the Independent Online here.

I’m due to be traveling to the south of Madagascar for a translation workshop at the end of April, but I’m not buying my ticket just yet….

Hopeful signs in Madagascar

There are encouraging signs that the political power struggle which has been going on in Madagascar over the last few weeks may be moving towards resolution:

Madagascar’s president and his political rival have agreed to try to calm tensions that have seen about 100 people killed in the last month.

It was the first meeting between President Marc Ravalomanana and Andry Rajoelina, the sacked mayor of Antananarivo, since the crisis began.

Interesting too, that it was a church group that was instrumental in bringing the two sides together. Read the full article here.

Unrest in Madagascar

I was disturbed to hear news a couple of days ago of political unrest in Madagascar’s capital city, Antananarivo. It seems like the mayor of the city, Andry Rajoelina, and President Marc Ravalomanana are at loggerheads following the closure of the mayor’s TV network Viva after it broadcast an interview with former President Didier Ratsiraka.

“More than 20 charred bodies have been found in a looted shop in Madagascar’s capital Antananarivo, following violent anti-government protests, reports say.

The bodies are thought to be looters trapped in the burning shop when the roof fell in. There is no confirmation.

Police have shot in the air in an attempt to disperse angry crowds and looters in the city.

It was the fourth day of unrest amid a growing political confrontation between the city’s mayor and the president.”

Read more here.

From Tulear

It’s been a long time since I had to do so many things by candlelight. I can remember struggling to do my homework during power cuts due to strikes back in the 1970s, trying to read by the light of a paraffin lamp when we lived in Ivory Coast in the 1980’s and 1990s. Right now I’m in southern Madagascar at a translation workshop and unfortunately the power has been more off than on. Not only does this mean we can’t use fans in the heat, boil a kettle etc it also makes translation work difficult, because although we work with books and papers, we also rely heavily on computers for handling the translated text and for using special programmes to display the biblical text in various languages at once on the computer screen. Having access to more than a dozen different versions of the Bible, including in the original languages, as well as commentaries and other resources on my laptop when I travel is very convenient – far preferable to paying excess baggage on a suitcase full of Bibles!

I’ve been working with the Bara translators again this workshop, helping to finalise the translation of Luke’s gospel. A preliminary version was published a couple of years ago. Since then lots of people have given feedback and a committee of reviewers have been weighing the suggestions and improving the style. My job is to do a final check for accuracy against the Biblical text, working through French to make sure that the meaning of the translation is no more and no less than the original Greek. It is painstaking work and you really need an eye for detail, but along the way there are interesting expressions to be discovered as Malagasy languages are full of images. Tears (ranomaso) are literally ‘eye-water’, the sun (masoandro) is ‘the eye of the day’, the expression the Bara use to talk about the edge or bottom of a garment is literally ‘the lip of the garment.’

Meanwhile it’s good to know that the Bara people are eager to have Luke in their own language and are really happy to have the Jesus Film in Bara too. The film is being shown regularly in a number of villages and VCD copies are in demand and even selling out in various bookshops!