Papua New Guinea (WAS/MNN) — The Sepik River region is one of the more exotic locations in Papua New Guinea.
Its culture today connects Japan and Germany to the indigenous people groups, creating a unique but isolated society. One of the wildest regions in the world, dense jungles and mountains isolate people groups and make travel in the area extremely difficult. Bruce Smith, President and CEO of Wycliffe Associates, describes the people this way: “They’re essentially the ‘least of these.’ They’re the people that are forgotten and overlooked because of the size of their language groups. The size of their communities is increasingly small. In this particular region, the Sepik River region in the northwest, there are more than 100 languages that have not one verse of Scripture.”
Wycliffe Associates, a global organization that involves people in the acceleration of Bible translation around the world, is helping launch the Sepik Initiative. Smith says, “This is the largest unified strategy that I’m aware of in the world, to launch these languages simultaneously. There are still quite a few major hurdles to getting to that point just because of the isolation.”
It means turning things upside down in some places. “Even the tribal animosities that have historically been between them–getting them to collaborate because of their common faith and because of their desire God’s Word in their area–is a threshold we need to encourage them to cross in order for this kind of a strategy to succeed.”
Approximately 12% of the world’s languages are spoken in Papua New Guinea, which occupies the eastern half of the island of New Guinea in the South Pacific. Its 838 living languages are spoken in an area roughly the size of France, with almost 100 languages currently being spoken in the Sepik River region alone.
Translations done side-by-side are just not as efficient as cluster translation work, Smith adds. “It’s not getting Scripture fast enough to the people that urgently want it. So getting started in all of these languages together enables training to be consolidated, enables other resources to be consolidated, and enables learning to ‘cross-pollinate’ one another in related languages so that they can move forward more quickly.”
People are hungry for the truth and hope of God’s Word, Smith explains. “We’re working along with other partners, including Papua New Guinean translators who have experience in this area and cultural connections to this area, so the timeline is right now.”
Wycliffe Associates is currently raising $153,000 for the Sepik Initiative, which will “give the initial training launch and get the initial computer hardware, software, internet connectivity, those kind of technical things in place so that the translation teams can get out of the gate,” says Smith.
“For decades, the people in the Sepik Region have been waiting,” Smith says. “But time is passing quickly for this generation. I believe that story-by-story, Scripture-by-Scripture, word-by-word, God’s plan of love and redemption can touch this entire region.”