Sunday, June 30, 2013

Wonderful Words of Life

It was turning into a battle of wills. Would I, could I, let this mere machine crush our hard-fought efforts to finalize the Tigaak hymnbook and beat it into a readable format? Would I allow a box of electronics to show it’s mastery over human intellect? Could I dare even consider admitting defeat?

Yes, I decided as I watched the word processing program once again erase hours of work.  Yes, I most definitely can, and I think I’d gladly help it by chucking it all out the window!!

Deep breath. After all, I’m here as the supposed “expert” missionary advisor. And missionary advisors don’t toss computers into the ocean, despite strong feelings to the contrary. My colleague, Hanna, swiveled in her chair to watch me, knowing exactly what I was thinking. I turned back to see if I could salvage the work. Missionary advisors especially don’t toss computers into the ocean when there are witnesses...

Almost done with the corrections!
It was the second day that Hanna and I had spent in the tiny computer office of the Kavieng centre, trying to get the hymnbook formatted and typeset, ready for printing. In the other room, Miskum, one of the Tigaak translators, poured over the pages, checking every double-a and stray comma while Sam worked on the cover illustration.

In in the late 1800s, when the first missionaries arrived on New Ireland, they brought with them their English Methodist hymnbooks, which have since become a treasured staple of the United church. Now, the Tigaak language community of over 10,000 people were eager to be able to sing their treasured songs in their own language. Hymnbooks are not only powerful tools for literacy and language awareness, but they are extremely effective in communicating memorable Scripture, even when the Bible hasn’t been translated yet. As a result, it’s a valuable first step in reaching people with God’s truth.

The final corrections after being checked with the community
The project had been in progress for several years, and dozens of people had worked hard to translate and type in over 200 songs but without a dedicated advisor, the editing and typesetting process had slowed to a crawl. So, when Hanna, and I were asked to help Miskum and Sam finalize the draft for printing, we couldn’t say no.

Except, because so many people had worked on it over the years, using many different computer versions and styles in the program, the whole document had morphed into a massive spider-web of booby-traps that would have even snared Indiana Jones. One wrong key stroke and BANG, the entire thing would reformat itself faster than Harrison Ford could use his infamous whip. And so, Hanna and I slowly pulled at the different threads, and always praying “undo” would succeed, creeping forward at a snail’s pace. You thought missionary life was glamorous? Well, I have some pretty killer Ctl+Z reflexes now...

Nevertheless, we pressed onward, slowly paging through Miskum’s Kuanua hymnbook as we checked numbers and meter counts, the pages covered in notes, so soft and worn from love and use that they felt like fabric. It’s hard to be silent, checking a hymnbook. Even as I typed up words I couldn’t understand, I would recognize the tune, and found myself humming “Rock of Ages” or “The Old Rugged Cross” or “Christ Arose!” As we hummed and sang our way through the editing process, I couldn’t help but meditate on the truths proclaimed through these hymns.

    Sweetly echo the gospel call,
    wonderful words of life;
    offer pardon and peace to all,
    wonderful words of life;
    Jesus, only Savior,
    sanctify forever.

Wonderful Words of Life, Stanza 3

Now the Tigaak can sing the wonderful words of life in their own language!
Their final cover illustration: Here the Holy Spirit is using a shell, the traditional "trumpet" used to proclaim news in the community, to shout the hymns in praise of God!