The last two weeks have been spent running an Oral Bible Storytelling (OBS) workshop here in Wewak. We had nineteen people representing seven different language groups and seven Papua New Guinean trainers. This is the first of four workshops for this group. The students learned the story of God creating man and woman, how sin entered the world, and the story of Cain and Abel. For some of the students, this was the first time they had ever heard these stories.
Oral Bible Storytelling is a way to get the Bible into different languages and have it make an impact quickly. Papua New Guinea is primarily an oral culture. Oral storytelling is the way their information is passed down from generation to generation. This includes information such as where the land boundaries are and how the boundaries came to be there, how man and woman were created, how they learned to grow their food, and information necessary for life. OBS allows the Bible to come to them in a format they can all learn and a format that is culturally familiar.
The students spent time hearing the story, learning the sequence of events, learning background information, and creating story boards that help them tell the story. Then they practice and record themselves telling the story in their language. When they believe they have told the story well and accurately, they create a back translation. The back translation is taking what they have recorded and translating it into a common language. The story is then checked for accuracy and help is given for finding a good translation for difficult words. How do you translate “sheep” when they have never seen a sheep? How do you translate “one flesh” as in “the man and woman will be united and become one flesh” and have it convey the full meaning? How do you translate a rhetorical question (“Am I my brother’s keeper?”) when there is no such thing as a rhetorical question in their language?
At the end of the two weeks, the students were ready to take the stories and practice telling them in their villages and receive feedback and help in finding the right wording. But most of all, the students themselves had been challenged and changed by the truths in the stories they learned.