Sharpening My Acts


But I mean just what I wrote: “Sharpening my Acts” (not “axe.”)

Here’s the deal… these past couple months, we have been working on translating the book of Acts. “We” being the whole team of us: me, Donna, our partner Tim and a number of Palawanos who help in various ways.

We’re furiously pushing ahead to meet our deadline for a consultant check schedules in mid-September. But actually, that means I have to send it off to the consultant in mid August, to give her time to prepare. So the countdown has begun and we hear the ticking of the clock as we work.

But then, we’re also having fun. (I don’t know if you ever thought of Bible translation as “fun,” but it is!) All three of us missionaries have had a great time working with a total of 8 different Palawanos in the translation process recently. We enjoy their fellowship and friendship for one thing, but also, as we pour over the book, discuss it’s meaning and relive those stories (powerful stuff!!), it’s a blessing and a challenge to them as well as to us. And hey, you gotta admit that “study the Word of God” is not exactly the most unpalatable job description for a Christian, right?

Fun… and yes, of course for me, a member of the linguistically-enthused branch of the human race, the other aspect of the project is great fun, as well: searching out the words, the grammar, the turns of phrase in another language–a very, very very different-from-English language–is like a huge enjoyable puzzle. The New York Times Crossword ain’t got nothin’ on ‘dis, baby.

And so that’s where the pun about sharpening my “Acts” comes in. We’ve had a rough draft of Acts for years. Now we are “sharpening it,” revising it, getting it into more natural Palawano, making sure it communicates and that it does so with the intended impact, etc. And yes, it should have impact!! Have you read Acts lately? If all you can remember is Pentecost and then a string of travelogues where Paul & Co go from unknown island to never-heard-of town, preaching and getting shipwrecked, then it’s been too long. Grab your Bible, sit down to a good read and prepare to be enthused.

These guys had nerve! They were bold to a degree we can hardly imagine. Well they were, after all, eye-witnesses of the most startling and most significant event in history: the literal, physical resurrection of the Lord Jesus. But if you put Peter, Stephen, Paul and their co-workers into a modern context, it puts it into perspective:

Imagine going as a missionary to the Middle East. (You know, that tourist-friendly, religiously-tolerant place with the touchy-feely “all-races-are-brothers” mentality… NOT!) Then you pick a town, walk into the church (well, the holy religious meeting place) of the local Middle Eastern religion and you start preaching… you start preaching another religion. In fact, you basically tell them that they are hard-headed, sinful hypocrites who are not only on God’s unhappy list, but that when their God actually happened to visit them recently, they killed him. Hmmm… this doesn’t sound like good missionary strategy, but that’s how the did it. They had impressive results, too… lots of converts, and the rest of the people tried to kill them. And so then they did not “learn to be more subtle,” they went to the next town and DID IT AGAIN! …and again. …and again. As I said, powerful stuff, and quite a challenge to anyone’s faith.

And it’s a long process, is this sharpening (to use the British turn of syntax my friend Karl loves so much, does Karl). For one thing, Acts is 1007 verses… fully 1/8 of the entire New Testament. That Luke knew how to burn up the papyri. His other book wasn’t exactly a pamphlet, either. And then the multiple steps in the translation procedure are time-consuming, as we work our way verse-by-verse through all 1007.

One of the procedures we’re doing now is “recording” (used to be called “taping” in the pre-digital age.) Donna reads the draft of Acts, one chapter at a time, to Rini, her language helper. Tim’s doing the same thing on different chapters with a guy named Susing. Then they have the Palawano tell it back to them and record that. This is a painstaking process, as you often have to go a few verses at a time and build up to longer sections (recording and rerecording and rererecording…)

Why are we doing this? Well, for one thing, it is a preliminary check of understanding. Is the draft even good enough for them to get the gist and tell the story back to us? Hopefully it is! And then, while they may frequently change details in an unacceptable manner or forget some details, they will quite often use a different word which turns out to be a better choice to express the intended meaning. This feeds into the revision and is a big help to me.

But a more significant help that comes from this step is that we hear the story summarized and retold as a free-flowing Palawano discourse. And unconsciously, Rini and Susing use different connective words,  mark thematic divisions more clearly, tie paragraphs together more tightly, etc. (Only figures, since the do kinda know the language better than we do!)

So I listen to these recordings and make notes. Lots of notes. Then after all that, we don’t actually wind up using all these changes; not even close. But we use enough of them do to make the time taken well worthwhile. And in the process, I’m continuing to learn more and more about the language’s deeper and more subtle intricacies. Then, I take those notes and meet with my committee of 5 Palawano guys and we discuss all the options and decide which ones to incorporate into the final draft. Then it’s on to the next step in the procedure.

Sharpening our Acts… verse by verse. All 1007 of ’em.

And meanwhile, we sense God sharpening us, as well, as we and the Palawanos spend all this time so deeply concentrated on His Word.

Please pray for us in all this… for wisdom; for the plain raw mental energy to do this hour after hour, day after day; for good health, for quick progress, and mostly, that we are led of God to faithfully get His Word into the hands (and hearts) of the Palawano People.


About billdavisthoughts

From San Diego, CA. I've been a missionary and Bible translator in the Philippines for over 30 years and have travelled as a language learning consultant to 15 countries. I play piano and guitar. I write, read voraciously and love to work on word puzzles. Married for 35 years, we have two daughters and two grandchildren.
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