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“We’re just trying to keep up!”

By Paul Eckert

During 2010, after facilitating a Bible Study with a group of Pitjantjatjara Christians at Pukatja (Ernabella), two of the participants approached me. We had been discussing an Old Testament passage contained in Tjukurpa Palya (the Pitjantjatjara Shorter Bible), and had also referred to some passages not present in the volume. Katrina said, "We would like to begin translating the rest of the Old Testament into Pitjantjatjara." Makinti added, "The Old Testament contains lots of good stories that we can learn from." 

Katrina and Makinti are both mature Christian leaders and deeply committed to the Word of God. They also have important positions in the South Australian Education Department, so I wondered if they meant to resign. Katrina said, "No, we'll work on this project after school, and on weekends and holidays."

This was the genesis of what is fast becoming a full-blown project.  Tjukurpa Palya had been completed in 2001, and was dedicated at Easter in 2002. This volume contains the whole New Testament, and about 15% of the Old Testament, (so it is actually the Pitjantjatjara 'considerably' Shorter Bible!). 750 books were printed in 2002, and during the intervening 9 years there have been two more reprints of 500, and 700, so Tjukurpa Palya is being well used by the Pitjantjatjara people, a group of around 3,000. It is used extensively in church services and other Christian gatherings, as well as by individual Christians at home and in Bible studies. 

Worn Scriptures in the hands of Rev Peter NyaninguI took note of Katrina and  Makinti’s desire. In the ensuing months, as I moved around the Aṉangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjara (APY) Lands, I kept my ear to the ground and discovered there were quite a number of Pitjantjatjara Christians wanting, like Katrina and Makinti, to be involved in the Project, both men and women. Encouragingly they are “next generation” folk, children of those who were involved in the translation of the New Testament.  Having been schooled in the heyday of the bilingual program, they are all very literate in their own language and readers of Tjukurpa Palya. Though they are, on the whole, more bilingual than the previous generation they feel very strongly about translation. Makinti says, “We need to have all of God’s Word in our language, so that we can all understand it well.” 

We are currently in the project planning phase. It will be a somewhat different process than the New Testament project. By the end of my last trip in April, I had a list of over 100 “next generation” people from a dozen communities who are wanting to be involved in some way in the project. This includes the experienced translators and checkers from the old Translation Team who are delighted to see their children take on the task and want to support and mentor them. ‘Teamwork’ is the catchphrase, and people are currently forming themselves into teams to do the work. CSIS and its partners, Bible Society and AuSIL, are beginning to put in place an ongoing support structure to provide these teams with the training and mentoring that will sustain a long term project. It is hard to know how long it will take, but we’re thinking 15 years to complete the Old Testament. 

If I’m not mistaken, God is putting something together here. A young couple from Adelaide have been working for a couple of years in the Ernabella school, They are becoming involved, and are beginning preparations to become members of Wycliffe and AuSIL to eventually join the Pitjantjatjara teams. And just recently the old Bible Translation House and office in Ernabella has received a much-needed facelift from a work party led by Tom Slater of North Ringwood Uniting Church. This will become the hub of the project, and the house will be available for the young couple when they begin work in earnest at the end of 2012. Meanwhile, the Pitjantjatjara Ministry Resource Worker, Rev Peter Greenwood, and his new wife, Sue, will be residing there and providing support and encouragement to the Pitjantjatjara translation teams. 

Paul, with his wife Ann, was the leader of the team that translated the New Testament. He now works 0.8 with  Bible Society Australia, filling the role of Production Coordinator for the Remote and Indigenous Ministry Support (RIMS) section. Paul also works 0.2 with NRCC.  Paul and Ann currently reside in Adelaide with Paul making regular trips to the APY Lands as he coordinates the development of the Pitjantjatjara Old Testament Project.