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NTM@work your connection with tribal missions

seeing through their eyes hearing through their ears page 16

NTM@work (ISSN 1527-9057)

Here to serve you NTM@work connects you with tribal missions and provides opportunities for increased involvement in taking the Gospel to ethnic groups who have yet to hear about Jesus.

Vol.68 · No.1 · August 2009 NTM@work team Executive Editor: Macon Hare


CULTURE & LANGUAGE Clear communication requires far more than understanding another person’s language. You also need to understand how they think, why they do the things they do. What do they believe, and how will that affect what they hear about God? The Good News isn’t really good if it gets garbled in the translation.

4 connect: Information, insights and impres-

sions that will help involve you in planting churches among the world’s unreached people groups.

14 16 22 28

go deeper: The View from the Throne If you’ve never seen a camel … Dozens of Words for Rice What do those two pigs mean?

8 online

David Bell, Debbie Burgett, Rex Crawford, Ian Fallis, Jackie Fallis, Jon Frazier, Patrick Hatcher, Chris Holland, Brian Johnson, Christina Johnson, and Dena McMaster NTM@work is published quarterly by New Tribes Mission. Periodical postage paid at MID-FL, FL 32799-9625 Postmaster Please send address changes to NTM@work, New Tribes Mission, 1000 E. First Street, Sanford, FL 32771-1487 Subscriptions NTM@work is provided free to readers in North America on a year-to-year basis. To receive the magazine or have it sent to a friend, sign up online at, e-mail, or call 407-323-3430. The magazine may be read online at Requests to reprint articles should be directed to Executive Editor Macon Hare at or call 407-323-3430. Contents of this magazine may not be reproduced in whole or in part unless expressly authorized in writing.

< Listen to key phrase in tribal languages

NTM worldwide USA 407-323-3430 Canada 519-369-2622 Australia 011-61-2-6559-8646 Europe 011-44-1472-387700

< Read the latest news on missionaries learning culture and language

cover photo by David Ogg

< Find out what happens when the Gospel isn’t clear


[ c o n n e c t] A Joyful Noise The Tigak people of Papua New Guinea suddenly burst out laughing.

The missionary stopped teaching and stood there confused. Had he made a mistake in their language? But he had worked so hard to make sure THIS message was clear – that Jesus Christ had died to pay the penalty for their sin. Or at least, that’s what he thought he said. But they kept laughing. “We are free!” the people began to shout. “We don’t have to be afraid anymore! Jesus paid it all!” Then the missionary understood. He hadn’t made a mistake at all. The Tigak people had always been taught that they could lose their salvation if they weren’t good enough. But now understanding that the price Jesus paid could not be undone by their mistakes, their fear was replaced with joy. And the relieved missionary now laughed freely as well. Hear stories like this at:


Canadians don’t shop?

One day a lady in town asked me if I was shopping (belanja), but I thought she had asked me if I was Dutch (belanda), since the words are only different by one letter! What would you think if you asked someone, “You shopping?” and they replied, “No, I’m from Canada!” Only later did I realize my mistake. — Steve Enns, Indonesia

photo by Searcy


Prayer is the greatest power God has put into our hands for service — praying is harder than doing, at least I find it so, but the dynamic lays that way to advance the Kingdom. — Mary Slessor, Missionary in West Africa, circa 1900

You shouldn’t finish all the food on your plate in Cambodia. At first we had a hard time ordering enough food … and leaving some on the plate is just plain un-American, right? It will probably be just one of many adjustments when we move there next year to begin Cambodian culture and language study. — Ric Bruce, Cambodia

* pray

  Missionary Naomi Christenson prayed that the Sekadau men and women in Indonesia would put the Lord first in their lives and that the men would want to be a part of teaching God’s Word in surrounding villages. Ke’ Dian, a believer from Naomi’s village, became an answer to prayer as he taught the Bible to a small group of 11 in a nearby village. Please pray that the Sekadau people will continue to grow spiritually and share their beliefs with others. Pray daily:

Patrick and Candice Cheah

connect with…

Don’t clean your plate in Cambodia.


Children: Natalie, Amanda and Timothy Ministry: Church Planting Sending churches: Hillside Baptist Church, Penang, Malaysia It is by the grace of God that we were led to New Tribes Mission for mission training. We never thought for a moment that our casual involvement in missions would so radically redirect our lives. It is our privilege to have directly benefited from New Tribes Mission’s commitment to providing opportunities for service based on the grace of God. It is the year when NTM Malaysia was officially launched as a sending country that we were able to leave our jobs and home to begin missionary training. We hope to show that tribal missions is doable and that our being led to NTM will open the way for more Malaysians to participate in tribal missions.


[ c o n n e c t] Home Assignment

The room was abuzz with conversation. People were discussing the latest TV shows, singers, actors and the latest Hollywood scandal. Susan sat quietly in a corner of the room, her face reflecting her confusion. She wasn’t familiar with any of the names they were bantering around “and exactly what,” she thought, “is an American Idol?” There were few opportunities to watch TV or movies in the country where she ministered for four years and she wasn’t up on the latest trends in fashion or what was on Entertainment Weekly. She thought back to her first trip to shop for groceries after returning to the USA. Gazing at the rows and rows of different breakfast cereals, she was aghast. There hadn’t been that many choices of anything in the country where she ministered. Overwhelmed and unable to make a choice, Susan decided to skip that aisle and see if she could choose from the myriad of other products available. Finally feeling incompetent and confused, she burst into tears and left the store without any groceries. After a few more fruitless trips, she was able to go the store, grab something — anything — off the shelf and make a purchase. At least she’d be able to eat something over the next year. Feeling out of pace with the American world and trying desperately to tread water, she felt isolated and alone. No one seemed to understand her plight. Instead they asked questions like, “How is your vacation going?” The question resonated in her head, “How is my vacation going. …” They didn’t understand that covering miles of territory, speaking in dozens of churches, answering questions and hopefully helping others to understand the needs on the mission field is not a vacation. In addition to Susan’s culture shock on returning to America, she really missed her tribal friends. She made deep and lasting relationships during her term of service and sorely missed her friends. Her heart stayed back in the slower-paced, less complicated village life. Just then, an older lady made her way across the room and sat down. “Susan, please tell me about the tribal people you work with, I’ve been praying for you for years.” And suddenly she was home. Someone understood her struggles and cared about her ministry. She eagerly began to share what God was doing in her life and the lives of her tribal friends. You can connect with missionaries around the world. Keep current with their ministry goals and God’s accomplishments in lives around the world through daily prayer requests news bulletins.


photo by Macon Hare

Who decided that the short vowel sound in the word “cat” would be written as an “a”? And who decided that the letter “m” would represent the sound we make when food tastes good? Well, somebody did and that’s how we got the English alphabet. And missionaries get to figure out tribal alphabets all the time. And it’s quite a challenge! NTM missionaries start with a phonetic alphabet, which has given a symbol to every sound the human mouth can make. That’s a lot of sounds! Even the clicks and pops and nasal noises of some tribal languages have a symbol to represent them. And once missionaries have matched up all the sounds in the tribal language with the correct symbol, an alphabet can be made. And that’s the beginning of a spoken tribal language becoming a written one!

* pray

  Several Bena Bena believers in Papua New Guinea have expressed interest in baptism. Please pray that they will fully understand that faith in Christ alone is the only requirement for baptism. Pray that they will grow in their faith and be an example to those who have chosen not to believe. Pray weekly:

Josh and Candy Dalton

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Tribal A B Cs


Children: Joshua and Anna Ministry: Pilot, mechanic Sending Church: Countryside Baptist, Decatur, Texas Candy and I both grew up as pastors’ kids. During our teen years, God began to give each of us a desire to serve Him in missions. By the time I was 12, I was thoroughly obsessed with airplanes and flying. At the age of 16, God asked me to lay this passion down and seek a deeper passion for Him. For four years, I focused on ministry in Mexico. During the summer of 2000, I began seeking God’s purpose for my life. That fall, God brought Candy Stoker back into my life after her family had been in Wyoming for six years. She was 17, I was 20, and we both had a passion for missions. We quickly grew to be best friends and discovered that God was leading both of us to the mission field. God made it clear to me that He was leading me back into aviation, this time for His glory. I began pursuing all the training and licenses I would need as a pilot and mechanic serving overseas, and my relationship with Candy continued to grow. We married in February of 2003 and completed training with New Tribes Mission in 2007. The Lord has blessed us with two precious children along the way, and we are thrilled to be a part of winning Christ’s Bride out of every tribe, tongue, people and nation. God has called us to serve in the Philippines, and we hope to begin serving there in July of this year.


[ c o n n e c t] Worth paying for? (Missionary Nathan Ingvoldstad had a conversation with a Tagbanwa man about a work team who came to help build the missionary’s new house.) Tribal Man: “Wow some of the guys on your team are huge!” Nate: “Yes they are big, but not all.” Tribal Man: “Yes, that’s true. We used to think all Americans were huge, but now we know that there are some that are Filipino sized too.” Tribal Man: “So did you hire all those guys?” Nate: “No they work for free. Well, not for free. They actually paid to work to help me build the house.” Tribal Man: “What? They had to pay to work? Nate: “Yes they had to pay for their flights and so on.” Tribal Man: “They must really want you to have a house.” Nate: “Well, yes, but they really want us to be able to start learning your language sooner.” Tribal Man: “Oh right, so you can tell us your important message sooner. Wow — this must be a really important message.” — Nathan and Megan Ingvoldstad, Tagbanwa tribe, the Philippines

  A Manobo couple in the Philippines left on a motorcycle with their two children and pig in tow, to start their new ministry in a neighboring village. Mahan will be training three teachers who have already started the evangelistic phase of teaching. He will also teach God’s Word at another village and will take the trainees with him for further training. Please pray for Mahan and Arsisa and all the outreaches and training of teachers that Mahan will be involved in. More prayer items:


— Salu, Landuma tribe, Guinea

Proposed Fleming Center

* pray

I believe all these good words. Jesus is my sin-bearer. I know that I am saved and I am God’s child.

— Keith Wright

Fleming Center

NTM’s Missionary Training Center is expanding so more unreached people groups can have the opportunity to hear the Gospel. The centerpiece of this expansion is the new Fleming Center, a classroom, office and student center complex that is the hub of the reorganized campus in Missouri. With the Fleming Center: • Offices for teachers and disciplers at the Missionary Training Center are gathered in one location, making it easier for students and staff to connect. • Classrooms are flexible, with spaces that can be one large classroom, two medium rooms or four smaller rooms. Even the smaller rooms accommodate more students than most of the current classrooms. • The new student center lets students interact more with each other and staff members. The overall cost of the Fleming Center is $8 million. The Fleming Center is a concrete investment in planting churches among unreached people groups. Find out more or invest in the Fleming Center: Stewardship Development Office 1000 E. First St., Sanford, Florida 32771 800-813-1566 | | Learn more about NTM’s missionary training at:


Joel and Missy Davis

connect with…

“Lost people matter to God, and so they must matter to us.”


Children: Ryley and Camryn Ministry: Aviation Sending churches: Grace Baptist Church, Sarasota, FL Missy grew up in a Christian home and a missions-minded church with several missionaries in her extended family. “I came to know the Lord at the age of 4, and at the age of 11 I knew God wanted me to become a missionary.” Joel and Missy grew up at the same church. They started dating in college and both attended Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. Joel trusted the Lord as his Savior at an early age. “I also had the privilege of growing up overseas as a missionary kid in the Dominican Republic and experiencing what God was doing in the lives of people around the world.” On a short term mission trip to Ecuador, Joel saw the need for using airplanes to speed the process of sharing the Gospel with isolated tribal peoples. He also saw the need for tribal missionaries to be encouraged, supported, and sustained while living in such a harsh, isolated environment. “I am really looking forward to using the skills God has given me for His glory as we serve Him in the Philippines.”


[ c o n n e c t] Good question.

“The people in your country really think we came from monkeys?” Mendo laughed and laughed. “How can anyone believe that?” “So where do you Mouk people think we came from?” the missionary asked the tribal man. “Well, from birds, of course!” he answered. Mendo and the missionary were chatting about what different people believe concerning the origin of man. The missionary needed to know what the Mouk people of Papua New Guinea believe in order to clearly communicate God’s story of man from the very beginning of time, and ultimately, the Gospel. “Our fathers told us that we came from birds, but I’m not sure if it’s true,” Mendo continued, “How could they know that? They weren’t there. Does anyone really know where we came from? We Mouk don’t know these things … Do you know? … Will you tell us?” Hear stories like this:


Declare His glory among the nations, His wonders among all peoples. 1 Chronicles 16:24


photo by Dale Stroud

I believe that the Getting-Back-Man paid my sin debt. He spilled his blood and bought me back. He told us to ‘go under the water’ (be baptized), And today I am following the Talk that our Great Creator Being gave us. Testimony given by a Bagwido believer before being baptized

Jared and Melanie Currie

connect with…



  Bolivian believers, Inocencio Two and Nati, traveled to remote towns to teach those who have not heard God’s Word. Despite many setbacks and problems, the two men were still able to teach, encourage and fellowship with the believers from the Trinitario and Yuracaré tribes. Praise God for Nati and Inocencio’s dedication to teach others about God’s Word. Please pray that they will continue to serve God.


Children: Israel Ministry: Church Planting Sending churches: Hastings Baptist Church, Hastings, Michigan; Grove Bible Church, St. Johns, Michigan

TRANSLATION Tribal believers treasure God’s Word in their own language, and the ability to read the Bible and other materials. Embera Bible Translation, Phase Five A Bible revision presents a great opportunity to translators, and you. The 500-member Embera church in Panama asked that their scriptures be updated to reflect changes in the language, and to improve some wording and readability. About the same time, Wycliffe Bible Translators assessed whether a New Testament translation should be prepared for the Emberas in Colombia, whose dialect is slightly different. Working together, translators from New Tribes Mission and Wycliffe realized they could assemble a good, readable translation that would serve 15,000 Emberas in Panama and 25,000 in Colombia. Your gift will help the established Embera church in Panama and help plant a church among the Emberas in Colombia. Still needed: $10,217 Find out more:

Jared went to the New Tribes Bible Institute in Jackson, Michigan, to study the Bible. “Through my time there, I became more aware of God’s Heart and heard for the first time that there are people who do not have the Bible in their language and have no opportunities to hear about Christ. That’s when I knew what I supposed to do with my life. God allowed me to see the need, and I am willing to take my family and help with the need.” Melanie grew up in a church that is very involved with New Tribes Mission. “As I was in my senior year in high school, trying to figure out what God wanted me to do, I heard NTM Representative Brad Buser speak in our church. He challenged us and through talking to him later, God led me to go to the Bible Institute. I was distressed when I saw the many churches here, and yet many people around the world have no way of hearing about Christ. My husband and I desire to be a part of telling them about Christ.”

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[ c o n n e c t] The sun melted slowly behind the Dao village in Indonesia. Yusupi stood in the doorway of his house, watching the jungle fade into night. Then he did something unheard of in the Dao culture. He walked away — leaving the door wide open. The Dao tribal people believe that evil spirits come in through the door at night. So it must always be shut tight after dark. Even a new house that doesn’t have a roof on it yet must still have a closed door to keep the spirits out. But Yusupi had been learning about the One true God. And he finally decided one day to trust Him completely and leave his old beliefs behind.

photo by Rich Brown

Open the Door

“I’m not afraid of the spirits anymore. God is with me. I know He is strong, so I won’t close the door.” Yusupi slept that night with a fresh breeze blowing. Hear stories like this:

Gone Fishin’


Yesterday morning, when I was out visiting I came upon a group of women pounding green leaves to a pulp in a hole in the ground. This is how they prepare poison to put in the creek to poison fish. This poison causes the fish to float to the surface sort of dazed and they gather them up with baskets that work like a sieve. — Mike and Diane Hartman, Yanomami tribe, Brazil


In the June 2009 issue of NTM@work, we misspelled missionary Nicky Schulze’s last name. Her website address is In addition, the information in her short biography related to her plans to minister in Papua New Guinea, but by the time the issue was published, her ministry had changed to Mobilization in the USA. In that same issue, the home church for David and Darlene Hall was incorrect. Their home church is Johannesburg Church, Johannesburg, Michigan.

Translation: safe journey 12

photo taken in Senegal by Bill Bosley

[] I had an extra long time finding out what the Biem word for papaya was today. After going round and round we discovered that they call it papaya as well. They really got a kick out of the fact that we call them papayas even in America. That was truly amazing to them: “Us and Americans are practically the same,” they said. — Brandon Buser, Papua New Guinea

Do you want to help support the ministry of an NTM missionary, but don’t think you can? Give a little: You don’t need to give a lot to be part of a missionary’s financial support team. How much you give is more about how much God is leading you to give, than it is about a missionary’s overall need. So if you feel you should give a small amount each month, do it! Make a special gift: You don’t have to give each month. A special gift of any amount is usually very helpful — and can be a huge blessing to you and the missionary’s ministry. Many times, people find that the amount God prompts them to give matches up with a need a missionary has been praying about. Sell something: If cash is a bit tight, you can sell something, or some things. Post items for sale on online auctions or sales sites, or hold a garage sale. Give the proceeds, or a portion of the proceeds. If you let people know the proceeds or a portion will go to ministry, you may see better sales. People may even want to give you items to sell so ministries can benefit.

Souls The Palawanos believe that they have more than one soul living in their bodies. One soul lives in their head and the other lives in their feet. When the first clap of thunder sounds after a person dies, the soul that lives in their head goes to be with their god. The soul in their feet, which is now called the soul of death, remains in the grave and tries to return to the house where the family of the deceased lives and attempts to make a family member sick. Someone will build a small stick barricade on the trail leading to their house to block its way. Palawanos live in fear of these souls of death which they call imbalos. — David Ward, Palawano tribe, Philippines


[ go



The View

From the Throne by Chet Plimpton General Secretary NTM USA Executive Board


Our view determines our motivation. Florence Chadwick was the first woman to swim the 20-mile-wide English Channel from France to England and back to France. After this accomplishment, Florence determined to swim from Catalina Island to the west coast of California. When the morning of July 4, 1952, arrived and Florence began her 21-mile swim from Catalina Island to California, the fog was so thick she could barely see the support boats. Sharks prowled around her, and her support crew had to use rifles to drive them away. Fatigue wasn’t a big problem, but the extremely cold temperature of the water was. Florence swam on and on for hours, enduring the cold and the threat of sharks. However, after 15 hours and 55 minutes, Florence felt she couldn’t go on and asked to be taken out of the water. Her mother and her trainer came alongside in a boat, urging her to keep on, as they were nearing the coast. But all Florence could see was fog. Moments after Florence was pulled out of the water, cold and exhausted, she realized she was only one-half mile from achieving her goal. When Florence learned how close she was when she quit, she blurted, “I’m not excusing myself, but if I could have seen the shore, I might have made it.” It wasn’t the distance, the sharks, or even the cold that discouraged Florence that day — it was the fog. Because she lost her view, Florence lost her motivation. The challenge of culture and language acquisition is the fog the Church must press through in order to effectively communicate the Gospel to people of cultural diversity. In Romans 10:14, Paul asked, “How shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard?” “Heard” means much more than just perceiving audible sounds. Words can have different meanings to people of different cultures, even when

a common language is used. “Heard” implies clear understanding and comprehension of the message. Jesus Christ knew His Gospel would need to be proclaimed in many different cultures, because He established the environment for cultural diversity by deciding where people would live. Acts 17:26 says that God “determined … the boundaries of their dwelling.” It is through this fog of cultural diversity that Jesus Christ has commanded the Church to go. Yet, Jesus Christ hasn’t left the Church without support to accomplish the task. Before Jesus left for heaven, He promised His disciples that the Holy Spirit would enable them to be His witnesses “to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). This implies that they could expect to successfully take the Gospel to people of different cultures and languages. Florence was enthusiastic when she began her swim that morning. She had anticipated this challenge for some time, and she had a definite goal in mind, but the fog obscured her view, and she lost her motivation. If the fog had lifted for only a moment, Florence might have taken heart and pressed on for the last half mile.

The Church needs the fog lifted! The Church needs to see the shoreline! The Church needs the view from the throne! Christ gives us that glorious view in the last book of the New Testament. “And they sang a new song, saying, You are worthy to take the scroll, and to open its seals: for you were slain, and have redeemed us to God by Your blood out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation” (Rev. 5:9). Here we see the redeemed of God purchased by His precious blood, and our unobstructed view shows us that they have come from every language, race, and cultural distinction! A numberless multitude who have suffered severely for the Name of Jesus Christ is revealed, and once again, our unhindered view reveals the shoreline of Christ’s promise, “I will build my Church” (Matt. 16:18). It is evident from our view that the Gospel message has successfully been communicated in all cultures, because standing before the throne, praising the Lamb, are redeemed souls from “all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues” (Rev. 7:9). Take heart! The shoreline is within reach, though it may not be visible!


about it

Considering Rom. 10:14, “How shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard?” How would you explain to someone what it means to “hear” about Jesus Christ? Considering Acts 1:8, “to the end of the earth,” what would you say is the responsibility of the church to lost people from different cultures? Considering Rev. 5:9, “redeemed . . . out of every every tribe and tongue and people and nation,” why would you say Jesus Christ gave us this “view from the throne”?


If you’ve never a camel … A

fter several people died in Brazil’s Pacaas Novos tribe due to illness, the missionaries felt they needed to speed up the sharing of the Gospel. The missionary with the best grasp of the language stood in front of the people and started sharing. His delivery was animated; he wanted to convey how important this was. Missionary Dick Sollis, seated in the middle of the group, overheard one man ask another what the


missionary was talking about. “Oh, don’t pay any attention to him, he’s just drunk,” said the other. More time learning the culture and language revealed that only when they were drunk did the Pacaas Novos stand up and talk to a group. So



everything the missionary said that day was discounted and ignored, due to the culture of the people he was speaking to. But sometimes the differences are even more basic. Most tribes in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea have never seen a sheep or a camel. What do you do then with Isaiah 53:6: “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way”? Or Matthew 19:36: “And again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God”? Those are easy for us. Sheep scatter and need a shepherd. Camels are large and have great difficulty going through small places. We know this, but those


photo by Phil Poulson

who have never seen these animals, or even pictures of them, have no idea. Obviously, a missionary can’t just walk into a tribe and begin teaching. But they also can’t just translate word-for-word and teach what’s been

photo by Linn Beall

photo by Dale Stroud

Understanding a culture and language well enough to clearly communicate the Gospel and make disciples requires long-term immersion.



as much as possible through the eyes of our Indonesian friends, we will be more prepared to share truth in a relevant and clear way to them. “Most of all, our prayer is that our friends see a difference in our lives — that they see through us a God who cares about the intimate details of their lives and wants to know them more.” And He does. photo by Rich Perik

taught in every other tribe, the same way as it has been elsewhere. Each people group has a unique culture and has to be worked with separately. And there are other challenges. In many places in Africa, according to missionary Kris Klebs, the attitude toward information is, “if this is so important, why are you sharing it with everyone?” Property and belongings are shared and disbursed, but information is hoarded. It’s commonly believed by the people that they don’t have power because others won’t share the information that would give them power. So there the Gospel has to be presented in a careful fashion, shared in a way that gives it value. Another challenge is how to teach. The Tepehuan people of Mexico do not believe in gathering. Missionary Matt Arnold wrote, “The Tepehuans rarely meet together as a group and are not a very united society. We found trying to get a group together to teach the lessons was not happening. Some of the cause for this is the high level of distrust among neighbors and even family members.” The only social gathering they participate in as a people group are drinking parties, and “these too are losing popularity due to the high level of violence and the frequency of murder [there].” This meant Matt and Starr Arnold and their coworkers needed to teach one family household at a time. Further complicating the ministry to the Tepehuans was their belief system — that everyone who is not Tepehuan, including missionaries, are children of the devil and their message comes from the devil. “For a Tepehuan to listen to the missionary’s message from the missionary’s Bible,” Matt wrote, “puts one into risk of becoming a child of Satan as well. Those who are faithful in the teaching are told that they are losing their identity as Tepehuans.” But working within the context of the Tepehuans’ culture and language is bearing fruit. “God is adding numbers to the Tepehuan church, a few at a time, and it is amazing to stand back and watch the Spirit work in hearts and lives.” Missionary Sarah Deal, serving in Indonesia, wrote, “Why is it so important to take the effort to learn about the culture and people around us? We believe that if we can begin to look at the world

Each people group is different. In order to really reach them, they must be ministered to in the context of their own culture and language. It takes more time, and can be a challenge. But the goal is to create disciples, not just believers. The investment is worth it. by Jackie Fallis | contributing editor

Different people groups have different ways of communicating important information.


Dozens of Words




by Dena McMaster | contributing editor with Richard Rees

photo by Dale Stroud

How do you learn a tribal language and know what people are really saying? When I read the first line of Richard Rees’ scholarly and insightful article on learning the culture and language of a remote tribal group, a deluge of memories flooded my mind. He has the procedure down just right, but in my experience, things can be a bit more complicated. “You can learn words, but without knowing the thought patterns of the people you may not understand what’s being said. Learning a language is directly tied to understanding the worldview and culture of a remote, unreached people group,” Richard wrote about his language learning experience among the Pwo Karen people in Thailand. “So you have to learn the language in the culture of the people. That means getting out in the community, getting to know the people and what they do.” My experience among the Malinke people of Senegal tells me that’s not as easy as it sounds. I woke up groggy and confused. Why was I awake in the silent, black night? Then I heard it. Thump, thump, resounding through the night, time after time. Then I real-

ized Malinke ladies were up very early to prepare breakfast. All over the village they were pounding rice so that they could prepare the thick tasteless gruel they called monoo — their daily morning sustenance before going out to the fields. How could I relate to their difficult, stressful life? I realized that learning the culture and language of the people was the only way we could ever connect on a personal basis. But how? First you need to plan what you want to learn. Pick an everyday event like pounding and cooking rice and go and participate in the event. Oops, first problem. How early would I have to wake up to help with the morning ritual of rice pounding? Maybe I could help someone who didn’t have enough rice pounded for the supper meal. That sounded better. Take pictures, write notes and maybe record some conversation. After that comes the processing time – writing down and filing your observations and organizing pictures. Finally figure out what words you learned from participating in the event.



asking, “What’s that?” For a day or so everyone answered, “I bulu.” “That’s strange,” I thought,” how come everything is a bulu?” Turns out, bulu is the word for finger. Obviously my language learning techniques needed modification. Down the road it is necessary to deal with actions connected with the event, such as stirring the rice or gathering and pounding it. Later you can ask questions about the spirit of the rice and the more intense level of culture and language — those deep hidden things. But it starts with the simple word and learning about the objects and moving on to another event, like harvesting corn or a child playing with a can.

Photo by Dale Stroud

OK, what did I learn? The scariest lesson was what happens if your fingers get in the way of the huge log they use to pound the rice. Then I learned the ladies laugh uproariously when I try to help them. In the midst of all that hilarity, I did manage to lift the log a few times and bruise a few grains of rice. My pictures and written observations helped me to know that pounding rice wasn’t my forte. But I did learn some new phrases and a little more about Malinke culture (i.e. they find weak foreign ladies very funny — and they are delighted with every word I learn). The problem is that so much can happen in a single event. There are the objects — pot, rice, stirring stick. And then the modifiers — wet, dry, hot, cold — the actions, participants, taboos, and spiritual elements. And in many events, there are underlying, hidden meanings — reasons why they do it the way they do. It is necessary to narrow your focus to what you can handle. Wow, there are dozens of words for rice and ways to cook it and ways to eat it and of course a rice ball can be a very effective way to appease an ancestor spirit. My next brilliant cultural deduction was that there’s a lot more to rice than I ever thought. At the beginning you will just learn about the objects. Then find out the names for the objects and memorize them and practice, practice, practice. Everywhere you go, say that word. Try it out and see how many people laugh or if someone actually understands you. Before I tried to learn about rice, I began by pointing at objects and

Photo by Jim McMaster

Dena spent time with the Malinkes to learn more about rice — and them.

Photo by Bill Bosley

Each language is defined by the culture of the people who speak it. The Pwo Karen language doesn’t have many words for wheat or flour or apples or strawberries, but there are many different words for rice. There are not many words for car ports or garages but there are 82 kinds of bamboo. Understanding both culture and language are necessary to make sure that tribal people clearly understand God’s Word and can apply it to their hearts. As I learned more about the culture and language of my Malinke friends, my relationships began to grow deeper and they firmly nestled into my heart and life.


What do those two pigs mean? S

unshine sneaked playfully over the jungle mountain and then blasted warmly into full view. But if the mischievous morning was hoping to catch anyone by surprise, she would have to try another day. The tribal village was already wide awake and preparing for the wedding. The new missionary sipped his coffee while watching the pleasant commotion. He had never witnessed a tribal marriage before and was looking forward to it. The nuptials would allow him plenty of opportunities to glean important information about the people he hoped to one day share the Gospel with. Carefully documenting their unique culture and language would provide a vital resource when the Bible teaching began, as well as for missionaries joining the work later on. So with notebook in hand, he set off that afternoon to explore the wonderful new world of tribal weddings. And that’s when the barrage began. He couldn’t write fast enough! What did those two pigs have to do with anything? A bride price maybe? Or did they just wander in and weren’t even supposed to be there? … The bride’s mother is doing something to the groom’s hammock. Is she spitting on it? … The two fathers are drinking a thick, black juice out of the same cup … The bride and groom are stepping back and forth over a raised stick held at each end by a tribal leader, while the shaman is chanting and sprinkling some kind of blue powder on them … What does all this mean? Wedding in Dinangat, Papua New Guinea 26

photo by Markus Rosvik

Photos by Gary S. Smith

And what is that strange, new sound I’m hearing pronounced? There is certainly nothing like it in the English alphabet. It almost sounds like a snort. I’ll have to check on a symbol for it later, but right now, how can I reproduce it on the paper so I don’t forget what it sounds like? When the ceremony was over and preparations for the evening wedding feast began, the missionary went home to file what he had gathered so far. He ended up with several handwritten entries that he indexed and filed in the already burgeoning shoebox full of dog-eared, coffee-stained, peanut sauce-smudged cards containing the life and times of the tribal people in his village. The information would then be used for examples and illustrations when the Bible lessons began. If those two pigs were a bride price, it would make a great cultural picture for the Bible saying “You are bought with a price.” (I Corinthians 6:20). Jesus also bought His bride for a price — the price of His own death. The tribal people would be able to understand and relate to that. And that’s why he must meticulously file the cultural information. Everything he wrote down would be worthless if he and the rest of his teammates couldn’t find it later for the Bible teaching. Specific information about their way of life, beliefs and worldview would help the missionaries to tailor-make the lessons so that the tribal people wouldn’t accidentally mix their old beliefs with the new and confuse the message of salvation. Had he indexed everything properly and put it under the right categories? How he wished for an easier, more reliable way of doing it.


And he looked up that strange sound in the phonetic alphabet. It could be one of three different symbols. He would have to listen carefully for it again this evening. But right now, his head was spinning. Was it from information overload or from another on-coming bout of malaria? He definitely needed a short nap before the feast began … Much has happened since that wedding day 30 years ago. During that time, the missionary’s own son grew up watching his father work. He observed the intense culture and language study necessary to plant a tribal church. He watched his father constantly practice and hone his skills in the context of the tribal people’s lives — being there as they prepared and ate their food, worked in their gardens, relaxed in their huts and handled their disputes. And he saw him record that life accurately — in the precious box of culture cards. He still had memories of it being passed around like shared family recipes as the other missionaries used it too. It had even been his job to go find the box and bring it carefully back when his father needed to write something down. And he could count on the consequences if he ever ran while carrying it!

Photos by the Searcy Family

And through it all, he had witnessed a tribal people patiently and clearly taught the Bible and finally, reached with the Gospel. Now, in a different tribe, in a different country, and with very different tools, he was ready to start the cycle all over again. As his father did long ago, it was his turn to attend a tribal wedding for the very first time. And with his digital camera and MP3 recorder in hand, the new missionary thought he was prepared for the occasion. On the outskirts of the village, the banging of the gongs signaled the beginning of the procession … Where are we going anyway? … Ladies are on one side, men on the other … The young ladies are shyly giggling, the older ladies are glaring, and one lady keeps pushing me. Oh! I’m on the wrong side! … The couple is seated on a decorated mat in the center of the village. Is the mat significant? … A speech is made. What’s

Punan weddings are quite different from what Westerners are used to.

he saying? … The groom’s family presents the bride’s family with three gifts — a roll of white cloth, a container of something I can’t see, and a small package of something else. A speech is given after each gift … What does it all mean? … And throughout the whole ceremony, the couple never once looks at each other. Is that significant? Later, the missionary enjoyed the feast of sweet potatoes and pork that had been wrapped in banana leaves


including text, audio and pictures in CLAware’s database. Now he opened a new “Culture Event Record” in CLAware and typed in his own account and observations of the wedding experience. Then he attached the pictures he had taken and all the audio of the singing, chanting and speeches along with it. Afterward, CLAware allowed him to organize, file and cross-reference the new record with a special tagging system that makes retrieval easy later on. And in place of passing a shoebox around, he and the other missionaries could now share their data electronically, keeping everyone “up to speed” and safeguarding against loss or damage. When he needed examples and illustrations for the Bible teaching, a quick search would provide him a complete concordance-style list of everything that had been entered — by the whole team.

Photo by the Searcy Family

and cooked overnight in a huge pit filled with hot rocks. He was thankful it was not some of those slugs they had offered him earlier or their special red juice made from berries chewed up by someone else and spit back into a container. But as he took in all the sights and sounds around him, he wondered at all he didn’t know. He couldn’t understand half of what was being said, and most of the time, had no idea what was going on. How did his father ever write all this down? Or find it again? Or understand such strange sounds? Was he up for this? Returning home, he was grateful that his culture and language learning process would look very different from his father’s. Instead of a shoebox full of cards, he would use a computer and specialized tribal software called CLAware — Culture and Language Acquisition software. It would allow him to file a variety of cultural data,


Regardless of the volume gathered over the years, he would always be able to put his finger on exactly what he needed, when he needed it. Wedding feast information might come into play when teaching about Jesus turning the water into wine at the wedding in Cana — and without any chewing up or spitting out involved! And thankfully, CLAware would also keep track of all of his unanswered questions until he discovered the answers. He had already found out the meaning of three gifts given during the ceremony and noted them carefully. The roll of white cloth symbolized the purity that should exist between a husband and wife alone. The container was filled with salt and represented how the marriage and their treatment of each other should always be “tasty” and good. And the package contained sewing needles and was a picture of how they should always mend their problems and keep the marriage together. That information would come in handy when talking about how Jesus washes our sins “white as snow” or how we are supposed to be “salt and

light” in an unsavory world of darkness or how riches can make coming to salvation as hard as fitting through the “eye of a needle.” Those three simple wedding gifts could help bring the Bible teaching to life. And hopefully, help bring eternal life. And that’s why he was there. He also recorded a great deal of the tribal language at the wedding. After transferring it into CLAware, it now helped him transcribe it into text. He highlighted certain phrases to loop over and over so that he could type the individual sounds. If he needed to, he could also slow the language down in order to hear the sounds better. And since he is required to listen to a certain amount of language every day — to immerse and imprint the sounds on his brain even though he doesn’t understand them yet — he now has even more language to listen to. He can divide the recordings into sections and create his own daily lessons in the “Listening Collection” of CLAware. After determining what he wants to listen to, how often and when, the software will bring up the right lesson to him every day. So whether he’s on his computer or hiking down the trail with an iPod, he can be listening and learning the language until he can say it in his sleep — which was about to happen any minute now. The tired missionary switched off the computer and headed to bed. His head was pounding. Was it from information overload or from another on-coming bout of malaria? But he can’t get sick. An important visitor was coming in a few days and there was so much to show him. CLAware was going to blow his father away! by Debbie Burgett | contributing editor


NTM@Work August '09  

NTM's quarterly magazine