first got to know Y. two years ago as his father, who was one of
Mark’s old village papas, was dying of heart failure. His father’s
name was Baday Jaye, and whenever we went over to visit Baday in his
last weeks, there was Y., holding him up in his arms so he could sleep.
Baday had against all odds become a believer and was baptized only a few
months previously, so it was our habit when we visited him to sing in
Kwong, read Scripture, and quietly remind Baday, who knew that death was
approaching, that he had nothing to fear, since one day, Christ would
raise him from the dead. Even now, the memories of those visits are
precious to us. Y., for his part, would listen silently, cradling his
aged father in his arms.
the night came when wailing and drumming from Baday’s quarter of the
village announced that the end had come. In the morning, his family came
and asked for some wood to make a coffin – a luxury which only the
most important personage is ever accorded in
Kwongland. We were able to oblige with a brand new 20 foot plank
– the least we could do for the man who for 17 years had been our
advocate and counselor in every manner of civic conundrum that a white
missionary living in an African village encounters as a matter of
course. They also asked that Mark preach Baday’s funeral service, the
occasion of which revealed for the first time that Y. had not been
entirely indifferent to the Christianity of his father during the final
weeks of his life.
Jaye at his baptism, Nov. 2007
Mark stood up to preach, the crowd of perhaps 500 or more people which
had been shuffling and wailing in a slow circle around the coffin,
spontaneously separated – the family members, who were pagan for the
most part drifting to the left, and the church people drifting to the
right. Just for a second, Y. drifted deliberately to the right, and
then, in a fit of self consciousness, joined the family members on the
left. Mark preached on the resurrection – that Baday whom we were now
burying in the sandy soil of Chageen in a wooden box would one day come
out from the grave, because he had thrown in his lot with the Firstborn
from among the dead.
evening, we prayed earnestly for Y., and in succeeding weeks, Mark
expressed to him the hope that he would follow in his father’s
footsteps, something Y. said he was reflecting on a great deal. We
continued to pray, and occasionally to encourage, but as the months
turned into years, it seemed by all appearances that the good seed had
fallen on not-so-good ground.
this past November, a year and a half after we buried Baday, we were at
that stage in the translation of Luke where we needed to test the
translation to make sure it actually
said what we thought it said.
To do this, we hire a couple of educated young men who know French and
Kwong well. We have them translate from Kwong into French, and sit back
to see what they come up with. As
we considered candidates, Y. came to mind.
and his buddy Gal Sungo proved to be good testers. Over a week, they
plowed through the first half of Luke with us and saw Jesus portrayed in
a way which no-one else in Kwongland, excepting of course ourselves and
our translators, ever had. This was not the Christianity of trite,
nonsensical formulas, church attendance, and a dozen hoops to jump
through. It was the stunning portrait of an extraordinary man who with a
juxtaposition of magisterial tenderness and severity called forth by the
very force of his character either unstinted allegiance or contempt,
mockery or holy worship. He was in every respect, as we rendered the
Messianic title “Son of Man” in Kwong, “ba
bbok kina køløm” – the “ultimate, quintessential man of
is more to the story, but suffice it to say that in the ensuing weeks Y.
began to appear at Sunday services – the last fruit of his father’s
witness and, in some small measure, the first fruits of the Gospel of
Luke in Kwong.
of a Translation
It shouldn’t come as a great surprise to many of you that the task of
translating a very old document in a dead dialect of Greek into an
African indigenous language isn’t exactly a straightforward endeavor.
We offer here, for the reading pleasure of the more cerebral among you,
two examples from the Gospel of Luke – one where we were obliged to
make a judicious “addition” to the text, and another where we
decided to leave it alone.
is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed…” (Luke 8:17 - NIV).
Who hides? Who discloses?
What is hidden and disclosed? There
is no such thing as a passive construction in Kwong, so just leaving the
answers to the first two of these questions ambiguous is not even an
option. However, verse 10 (“to
you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God; but for
others they are in parables” RSV) seems, in subject
matter, to be the twin of our verse, and here, it is quite evidently God
who is in the business of revealing to some and hiding from others, and
furthermore, the object of this activity (stumbling thus on the what)
is knowledge of the kingdom of God.
The beauty of making God the explicit subject of
our passive in verse 17 (i.e. – there
is nothing God has hidden that God will not
disclose…”) is that the entire text suddenly pulls together in a
way it doesn’t in say, the NIV. Here is the flow of thought: It is no
more sensible for God to hide knowledge of the kingdom than for a man to
hide the lamp he has just lit (vs 16). God does make known the hidden things of the kingdom (vs 17), and if, as
verse 10 seems to suggest, he hides the knowledge of the Kingdom from
some, it is only because he reserves it for those who have paid
attention to what little is already at their disposition (vs 18 – “whoever has will be given more…”) . The application then is
obvious: “be careful how you listen” because if you aren’t, you will surely
be numbered among those of whom it is said that God has hidden from them
the knowledge of the kingdom.
And so, as is often the case, unraveling one
translation issue – in this case an untranslatable passive – pays
rich dividends in terms of understanding the teaching of the text as a
whole, shedding further
light on a perennial theological issue (divine sovereignty and human
responsibility), and making good sense out of another enigmatic verse in
the wider context (vs 10).
and if I have cheated anybody out of anything,
will pay back four times the amount (Luke 19:8 - NIV)
Did Zacchaeus cheat
anybody, or didn’t he? Apparently, Zacchaeus made the forgoing
declaration in the presence of a lot of people, at least some of whom
were thinking, if not exactly voicing, that he had bilked a lot of
people out of a lot of money (as tax collectors in any era are wont to
do). Traditionally, he is regarded as here confessing to his avarice and
promising to make restitution. However, left as it is, and translated
more or less literally into Kwong (which is possible in this particular
case), this statement, far from being an admission of guilt in the Kwong
context, is an unequivocal
protestation of innocence. This is exactly
what a person accused of thievery and brought in judgment before the
chief would offer as unassailable proof that the charges were false. As
one Kwong guy put it, after hearing such a declaration, the trial would
So, did Zacchaeus cheat anybody? Not a single
commentary even suggests the possibility he was an honest, but unfairly
ostracized gentleman. Jesus’
final statement that “the Son of man came to seek and save that which
was lost” is the best evidence that he was (formally) a scoundrel, but
it does not require it. In fact, the commentaries point out that this is
an allusion to the negligent shepherds of Israel in Ezekiel 34, and has
(together with the bit about being a son of Abraham) as much to do with
Jesus’ ministry vis-à-vis the outcasts of the Jewish establishment as
anything else. In the end,
we translated Zacchaeus’ declaration more or less literally and let
the chips fall where they may, since if we were to change Zacchaeus’
words to make his guilt explicit, it was not at all clear what we would
change them to. But frankly, there is something intriguing in the
notion, however novel, of him being essentially honest. We could almost
hope that every now and then a Kwong person reads this wonderful passage
through wholly Kwong eyes.