Hearing the melody
Posted on: 12th December 2022
Norm and Janelle Gorrie are CMS missionaries in Marsabit, Kenya, where Janelle’s focus is on enabling people to read the Bible in the local Boran language. Here, she describes the deep joy of believers hearing God’s word resonating with the familiar notes of their mother tongue.
I see people’s eyes light up with understanding when they encounter God’s word in Boran. Although they may have heard the same passages in another language, their mother tongue has a naturalness for them, learned from their early lives in the comfort of their families.
I strongly believe that learning a local language pays rewards, seen and unseen. Our aim is to introduce people to our Lord Jesus Christ. Bible translation, producing literacy lessons, a Children’s Bible and large print prayers for churches are my concern.
I have been working amongst the Boran people for over 30 years, but even today, I continue to revise and learn Boran language and culture with growing awareness and sensitivity.
Stories that ring true
This is essential for meaningful translation. For instance, when Jesus meets his disciples in the evening after his resurrection, most English translations render his greeting as “Peace be with you.” (John 20:19) In the Boran language, which has developed in the context of the people’s dry lands pastoral culture, this is translated the only way to greet people at night: “How was the coming in of the cows?” To translate it another way would not be authentic. It would strike a discordant and distracting note.
To both the educated and not, hearing Jesus speak Boran sentences with correct word endings addresses the heart. Boran has a particular word order or melody, and stories must sound authentic. If a translation of a sentence into Boran doesn’t put the verb at the end, the genre doesn’t fit. The melody is lost. It becomes something to be endured, like the textual study of a love song at school aimed at getting a grade. It’s all just academic.
Norm and Janelle at an evangelist training event.
In my early days while learning Boran, my friend Fatima* and I were reading John 11, taking turns to read a few verses at a time. When it was my turn, I read lifelessly, stumbling along. But as she listened, Fatima became animated, with a loud “Amen” at the end. I had just read Jesus’s claim to be the resurrection and the life. She explained that she had heard the words in church, but now, having heard them in Boran, she knew they came directly from the Bible. While she was happy to see my progress, she was fascinated that she too could read the words of Jesus. She read them aloud herself many times.
As followers of Jesus in Australia, we can access God’s word and question our teachers. But this is not true for many believers. Fatima and her friends had learned the words of their religion by rote, with little thought. She already knew Jesus the life-giver, but when she encountered God’s word in her own language, the contrast was clear and refreshing—she was now more determined to learn to read the Bible for herself.
Now that she has portions of scripture in Boran, Fatima is growing in faith and teaching her family. She reads God’s word while fanning the charcoal fire into life early in the morning. She speaks life-giving truths to her five children in the language of their home.
One day we met up, and we both happened to have read about God’s forgiveness from Romans 8 that morning.
It is hard to express the joy of sharing a relationship based on understanding God’s love for us as revealed in the word of God. My hope and prayer is that many more Boran-speakers like Fatima might also hear the beautiful melodies of Jesus in their own language.
* Name changed for privacy reasons
Give thanks to God for the ongoing work on the Boran Bible, and pray that the resulting translation would be read with joy by Boran speakers, recognising God’s love in Christ through the authentic notes of their own language.