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From the pulpit

Preaching God’s word to a congregation in Timor-Leste is a complicated task. CMS workers Chris and Grace Adams are training local pastors and leaders with the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Timor-Leste. Chris outlines the unique language challenges faced by these church leaders.

A local pastor in Dili is standing at the pulpit. He surveys his congregation as he gathers his thoughts to preach. He notices one or two people holding parts of the New Testament in Tetun.

Tetun is the mother tongue in the capital city, Dili, and the lingua franca across Timor-Leste. It represents the national identity and the distinctive Timorese culture. It is the language you hear in the streets and markets, in schools and on TV programs.

While a translation of the New Testament into Tetun is nearly complete – and many of the New Testament books are already available for purchase at an affordable price – the Tetun Bible has not been embraced by the local church. It is a simple version (like the Contemporary English Version) and many people feel it lacks depth, clarity and authority compared to the more ‘literal’ Indonesian Bible.

Glancing around the pews, the pastor sees a number of people with an Indonesian Bible. He also has an Indonesian Bible open in front of him. This is not surprising, given that many older Timorese people were educated in this language.

While Timorese society has largely moved away from using Indonesian over the last 16 years since Independence, this language remains integrated into the life of many Protestant churches, through Bibles, praise songs, and theological and church terms. This doesn’t mean, however, that church members and leaders are adequately proficient in Indonesian to delve into the Bible themselves. And the younger generation of churchgoers are even less able to understand the Bible in this language.

The pastor notices that some young people have Portuguese Bible on their laps, and he is aware of the growing influence of the Portuguese language. Along with Tetun, Portuguese has now become a language of instruction in schools in Timor-Leste. However, Portuguese is still is a challenging and often frustrating language for most local people, including school teachers.

Some visitors walk into the church. They are probably from a remote community outside Dili. There’s a good chance that they do not understand Tetun very well, but instead speak one of 20 other Timorese languages as their mother tongue. This means they will not understand much of the church service and will not have a Bible in their language.

As you can see, for a local Timorese pastor feeding God’s flock with God’s word presents many unique challenges. The socio-linguistic situation in Timor-Leste is very complex and there is a great need for God’s word in a language that people can understand.

As CMS missionaries we walk alongside the local church leaders in Timor, facing these challenges together. Through God’s grace, we are working to help bring relief from the Bible drought in this region as we teach, preach, train, translate and live out God’s word.


Learning one new language in-depth is hard enough for CMS missionaries, let alone the language challenges faced by workers in places like Timor-Leste. A word of encouragement could be just what your link missionaries need to hear.