When Wycliffe missionaries Des and Jenny Oatridge looked for a tribe in Papua New Guinea who needed a Bible translation project, they chose the smallest group they could find. The Binumarien people were facing extinction, with only 111 people left of a population of some 3,000 in the past. However, Des and Jenny wanted to illustrate that God’s love extends to everyone.
On the final day of translation work for the book of Matthew, Des and his helper Sisia went back to the first 17 verses of chapter one, listing the genealogy of Christ. Des had skipped this passage initially, but their work that day prompted Sisia to call a special meeting that night.
At the meeting, the tension in the room was thick. As Des read through the list of Jesus’ ancestors, no one spoke. Their attention was riveted on him, and they pressed into him, as if anxious to hear the words. Des began to be afraid that he had crossed some cultural taboo and angered the people, but when he finished reading, he saw amazement in their eyes instead of anger.
“Why haven’t you told us this before?” one man demanded.
“Only real men have genealogies, not spirit beings. Now we know that Jesus really existed.”
They excitedly began talking of the segments of 14 generations (“two hands and a foot”) from Abraham to David, from David to the captivity, and from the captivity to the time of Jesus.
“It is true what the mission taught us.”
It was clear that God was at work, speaking to the Binumarien people. And in 1984, they received their first printed New Testaments.
Thirty-four years later, however, there was a need for Bibles again. The old copies were worn, the pages singed from fire smoke, and covers were missing. More Bibles were needed for the next generation.
The current translation team saw the need, put their Old Testament translation on hold, and pursued a reprinting.
In June, missionary Larry Doyle traveled by helicopter to the dedication ceremony for the New Testament, this time also containing the Old Testament books of Genesis, Exodus, Psalms, Proverbs, and Esther. Part of Larry’s duties as Senior Manager for Language Programs with Wycliffe is overseeing various such translation projects, and he was privileged to speak at the event.
As Mitchell Michie wrote about this reprinting on the blog The PNG Experience, “Besides making Scripture available, which leads to spiritual transformation, the publication of this volume will strengthen the language group’s use of their mother tongue and help to preserve their rich cultural identity.”
Sources: “Binumarien Revision and Reprint,” by Mitchell Michie; www.thepngexperience.com.
“How the Binumarien people of New Guinea discovered Jesus is real,” by Tas Walker; www.creation.com.