“Massive need” for more First Nations Bible Translators

Darwin’s Nungalinya College is training workers to Open The Bible in Indigenous heart languages. 

“The course here is helping me build my capacity. It’s helping me build my courage.” – Yurranydjil, Translation student and Wangurri translator 

Across this wide brown land, aspiring translators like Yurrandjil long to Open The Bible in their heart languages.  

But while some aspiring translators have the passion to make Scriptures available, they lack the formal training to make it a reality. 

That’s where Nungalinya Theological College in Darwin comes in.  

The need is great 

The need for Bible translation work in First Nations heart languages is great. And Nungalinya College is heeding the call by training more Bible Translators.  

These projects have the potential to transform communities — breathing new life into languages and Opening The Bible to many.  

Principal of Nungalinya College, Ben van Gelderen, explains why this training is so important. 

“Hearing God’s word in your own heart language is vital to a life of faith,” he says.  

“It clearly embodies the major gospel idea that God wants a connection with all peoples, languages and tribes of this world.” 

But while some translations have progressed significantly, other languages have very little Scripture available 

Translation work has a long history in the Northern Territory. But the approach has been what Ben describes as “dependent on whitefella missionaries working with local Indigenous people.”
But translators who speak a heart language as their first tongue are essential to the success of any Bible translation project. 

“There is a great need to continue this translation work,” Ben explains. “Especially work led by trained Indigenous people so the whole process is owned by local communities.” 

Louise MacDonald, a resource worker with the Uniting Church, agrees. She says the program is increasing the quality and quantity of Bible translation work in First Nations heart languages. 

“This project is really significant,” says Louise. “Because the students are key leaders within their home communities, it’s also increasing the profile of Bible Translation within those communities.”  

How translators are being equipped 

In 2019, Nungalinya College commenced formal translation training through the Diploma of Translation, with students graduating in 2021. While this course was suitable for experienced translators there was a desire for an entry level course for the younger generation of translators.    

In 2022, Nungalinya College introduced the ‘Certificate II in First Nations Language’. The course teaches students to read and write in an Indigenous language. It forms an introduction for those interested in training as Bible Translators – enhancing the heart-language literacy they’ll need. 

From there, students can enroll in the newly approved ‘Certificate II in Indigenous Translating’. 

Resilient women train as translators 

In 2023, 25 students from two language groups – Murrinhpatha and Yolŋu Matha Languages – began the Certificate in Indigenous Translating course.  

A stand-out for Principal Ben from this first cohort was an inspiring group of Murrinhpatha ladies. 

Traveling more than 8 hours from Wadeye to Darwin to study, these women faced many obstacles.  

The training required them to spend 4 weeks away from their families. Some experienced health challenges during the course. Others had sad things happening at home, but chose to stay on. 

“In 4 weeks of training, not one woman missed a single session,” Ben reflects. “It was quite a remarkable example of resilience… It was an absolute joy to see them grow in their love of the Scriptures and their skills to translate them into Murrinhpatha.” 

Your support is vital 

Nungalinya College aims to roll out their training in many other languages. But they can’t do it without your support. 

“Our first cohort of students will finish their formal training next year,” says Ben. “…coming away with the ability to translate with naturalness and accuracy.” 

The great hope is that the newly trained translators will return to their communities and continue translation projects. 

“But without your partnership we wouldn’t have a Bible Translation course. It really is as simple as that. The need is massive.” 

Please give today to support God’s word for Australia. Proceeds from the campaign will fund Nungalinya College’s Bible Translation training and other programs. 

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