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When human delays are God’s timing

CMS missionaries Wim and Maaike Prins have served in Cambodia since 2004. Much of Wim’s work has involved the translation of Bible commentaries, Christian books and the New Bible Dictionary into Khmer. Earlier this year the Prins family were due to return to Australia for final Home Assignment, however border closures and flight cancellations forced them to postpone their plans. Wim shares how these delays have enabled their ministry to continue and an important project to be completed.

Translation takes time

It took King Solomon seven years to build the temple. While I wouldn’t say that writing a glossary (word list) of biblical and related terms is a bigger enterprise, it was about ten years ago that Fount of Wisdom (FOW) Publishing House made a start with this list.

This glossary is part of a much larger project, the translation of the IVP New Bible Dictionary which I have been working on with a FOW translation team for about five years.

David Painter—a fellow CMS missionary—was involved in this work from the start. In 2016 he handed over both the glossary and the dictionary translation and checking work to me. As I checked the dictionary articles, I continually added key terms to the word list.

Highlights of translation work

It’s been a joy to work on the glossary with FOW: I wasn’t constrained by an overseas book publisher telling me how to translate or when to finish, and it’s also been a pleasure to do the research and interact with my Khmer editor, Ms S*.

On the other hand, the translation work has faced several challenges as well. Because I was both the translator and checker of my own work, I had to do many tests to pick up mistakes.

The challenge of translating words and ideas

Translating books is not just a matter of converting English words into Khmer. There are significant cultural considerations. Western thoughts and biblical concepts need to be adapted for an Eastern setting.

A perpetual problem is also that Khmer is a very concrete and descriptive language, which made it hard to translate biblical idioms and abstract words and concepts. In this way the Khmer language reflects part of the character, culture and history of Cambodian people. Cambodia is still recovering from the 1970s genocide which initially targeted the academic, professional and intellectual sectors of society. The nation continues to face considerable issues of poverty. Few people here have had the opportunity to become avid readers or abstract thinkers.

The privilege of translation work

It has been a challenge and a privilege to participate in the Khmer translation of the New Bible Dictionary and the corresponding glossary. It’s my deep hope that they will enrich the Cambodian church.

The glossary was a project I had imagined would be finished remotely from Australia, consulting with my editor online. However, several months after we were due to leave Cambodia, I approached Ms S with some final questions, and with that finished a project that had begun about ten years ago.

The ‘list’ has grown into a book of 350 pages.

While it was initially intended to help with the dictionary translation, by providing consistency in definitions, spelling and grammar, it is now its own publication. We’re excited it will help Bible school students, pastors and other leaders to understand biblical terms better, in order to grow in their knowledge and service of our Lord.

We rejoice in the fact that our delayed flight has enabled me to finish the project in Cambodia.

* Name removed for privacy reasons.

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CMS has a long history of involvement in translation work both in Australia and overseas. There are many locations where the Bible and Christian resources are not available in the local language. Do you have linguistic skills or the heart for bringing God’s word to other cultures? Get in touch with your local CMS branch and start a conversation.