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Pitjantjatjara Translators Prepare for the Trip of a Lifetime


The idea of translators doing a trip to Israel has been on the back burner for a number of years. Not long after the Old Testament Project got under way in 2011 I was talking with the then Director of Bible Society SA, Mi- chael Chant, about the tours he takes to Israel and surrounding countries. I said to him at that time, “Do you think you could take a group of Pitjantjatjara translators on such a tour?” He saw no problem. I spoke with a number of Pitjantjatjara translators at that time about such a possibility and all were very keen. Being people of the land themselves they thought seeing the land of Israel where so many of these stories of the Bible happened would be of great benefit to them as translators. I wondered then if this was something God was laying on our hearts to do. I was encouraged those who had been to Israel themselves.

But it wasn’t until October 2013 when things started to happen – it was then I heard about a group called Biblical Byways who do Study Tours in Israel for Bible Translators. This seemed to fit the bill for us except they had only done tours for participants who were competent in English so I wrote the leaders, Kathy & Les Bruce, asking if they could accommodate a group of Pitjantjatjara mother-tongue translators.

Kathy replied with a “yes” but better still suggested the following:
“... Several people have begun to ask me this same kind of question, so my husband, Les, and I have begun to think we might be able to develop a tour especially for groups such as yours. We might try to combine several groups, each with their own interpreter... This is in the very beginning stages of contemplation, however, and it couldn’t happen soon. But would you like to dialogue with us about such a plan?”

I, of course, replied with a yes:

“I am certainly interested in working with you on developing a tour for Indigenous translators. We are not in a big hur- ry to do it - for a start the translators need to spend a couple of years saving money for it. important thing to include in such a tour is some way of giving the translators a good overall understanding of the geography of Israel and the surrounding areas. What about having time at the varous spots around to actually work on translating a short passage relevant to that place, e.g. at the spot where the Israelites enter the land of Canaan.

Besides actually visiting various spots, it would be good to retrace the steps of a Bible character to give the idea of the distances and size of the country, e.g. Jesus going from Jerusalem to Nazareth; or from one side of Galilee to the other.

Our group is working on the Old Testament which would have different requirements to those translating the New Testament but I'm sure they would want to see the various New Testament sites as well.


In February 2014 I received the following email from Biblical Byways that also went out to several other people in other countries who had expressed the same desire:

Dear Paul, Steve, Ed, Ramon, Marisa, Monie, Nico, Debbie, Rodolfo, & Josh,

This is a letter you didn’t expect this week, but I hope it’s one that you will welcome. You have spoken to me at least once about your desire to take a group of your co-translators or translation trainees to Israel on a study-tour. ... we are beginning to pull together a tour geared especially for the people you are working with.

Les and I began Biblical Byways a few years ago for our [University] students who were entering translation minis- tries but seemed to have a lack of Bible background knowledge. We lived for many years in Papua New Guinea and the Philippines translating the Bible, and we’ve spent consulting time in several places in Africa and Asia, so we believe that we can design a tour from a perspective that is familiar to your co-workers.

We’re thinking of a 10-day tour about 18 months from now (mid 2015), travelling by bus “from Dan (in the north) to Beersheba (in the south)”, staying primarily in hostels and a kibbutz here or there. ... Although the required Israeli guide will speak English, not all of you will, so we’d expect you to come as an interpreter for your group, and the tour would make time and room for interpretation into your languages at every site so that your group of trainees can profit from every- thing they see.

The focus will be on visiting sites where Biblical events took place, and on meshing the Scripture passages with the history and culture of what happened at that geographical site. There will be times of group worship as well as a few purely fun times (like swimming in the Dead Sea). We expect the participants to enjoy one another’s company and the fellowship to be sweet—that has been the case in each of our other tours.

This is in the initial stage of conception, so I’d like to hear from you about your ideas and particularly if you are seri- ously interested in working with us to provide a tour of the Holy Land for your group.

Blessings, Kathy Bruce

In July 2014 Kathy followed up with another email indicating that the trip was on and giving us ap- proximate dates and costs. That’s when we really got serious about this trip. Since then I noted that over a 100 emails have gone back and forth between us as the arrangements have been made and finalised. We prepared a flyer to alert people to the details and gave it, not only to the Pitjantjatjara translators but also to other Aboriginal translators in North Australia in case they wished to join us. Support from a single donor initially enabled us to pay for the Israel Study Tour part for 16 translators so we went ahead and booked the tour in faith that this number of mother-tongue translators would be able to come up with the airfare and other costs. In March 2015 we set up a bank account to receive contributions and over the next 5 months we looked on in amazement as God provided through various sources:

 The anonymous single donor:  31,400
 Pitjantjatjara Translators:  13,600
 Grants from community organisations:  12,000
 SA Training Aboriginal Christian Leaders (TACL):  14,000
 Owen Pidgeon & friends (Belconnen UC):  2,900
 Northern Synod Bank Grant:  15,000
 Northern Synod Bequest grant:  5,000
 SA Uniting Church sources  11,700
 Bible Society Australia:  5,850
 TOTAL $ 111,450


I probably didn’t realise the difficulties that would be faced as we went ahead to acquire first birth certificates and then passports for the 11 people that did not have one. However the Births Deaths & Marriages people (especially Melissa Eickhoff in SA), the Australia Post passport interviewers in Parkholme, Yulara (Tony) and Alice Springs ( and the Passport Officer in Darwin (especially Kristy-Lee Wood- house) went out of their way to assist in what was quite an arduous process. Ina Scales, one of the translators going on the trip, was invalu- able help on the ground getting letters of identi- ties signed by community leaders, taking people to Yulara for passports and keeping up with prospec- tive travellers. I couldn’t have done it without her.

The local health agency, Nganampa Health, has also been extremely helpful giving us medical sum- maries of each traveller and arranging for medication packs to be made up for the trip. I have been able to meet with their doctors to ascertain the suitability of each traveller for the trip. Sad to say that six translators who wanted to go on the trip have had to stay behind due to their health being incompatible with such a trip.

Following are the Pitjantjatjara translators, both current and prospective, travelling to Israel:


  • Carol Kenny, Pantjiti Lewis, Makinti Minutjukur, Benyi Stewart, Umatji Tjitayi, Katrina Tjitayi (ERNABELLA)
  • Rueben Burton, Nyunmiti Burton, Tjayul Burton, Murika Ingkatji (AMATA)
  • Ina Scales, Yangiyangi Fox, Angkaliya Nelson (PIPALYATJARA)
  • Kani George (FREGON)
  • Jill Doolan (APUTULA -Finke)
  • Julia Lennon (OODNADATTA)


Besides these there are 5 assistants besides myself travelling with the group – Louise Macdonald (CSIS resource worker), Mike & Rosemary Last (part of the front translation team), Ian Dempster (UAICC resource worker from SA) and Ute Eick- elkamp (anthropologist from Sydney Uni). Ian has been a great help with facilitating arrangements for the two women from Oodnadatta & Aputula and Ute went out of her way to assist Makinti with her passport.

We chose Mission Travel Group to arrange our flights and our travel agent, Melanie Peck, has been super co- operative especially as we weren’t sure of the actual numbers going for quite a while. Our heartfelt thanks to her – she worked so hard to get us the best flights and keep the seats open while we waited for passports to come in. She did an amazing job for us.

Kathy Bruce of Biblical Byways has been superb in arranging the Israel Tour side of things keeping us in- formed and up to date with how things were progressing. Her patience has been everlasting as she’s waited for final numbers and passport details. She, of course, has been working not only with us here in Australia, but also with national translators from other nations. There will be 12 joining us from PNG, 5 from India and 1 from Benin (west of Nigeria). It will be great for the Pitjantjatjara mob to share fellow- ship with fellow mother-tongue-translators from other countries.

She has sent us plenty of orientation material to go through before the trip so we won’t be going into Israel totally blind and we’ve been able to look at some of that material as a group. As we studied this material excitement grew even more amongst the group.

An important part of preparation for this trip has been getting fit for the vast amount of walking we will be doing once we get to Israel. So the translators are walking daily as much as they can to improve their fitness – we anticipate with all this exercise and good Israeli food that everyone will come back much healthier. The Mike & Rosemary and Louise have been very helpful with organising the bits and pieces part of such a trip – passport pouches, name lanyards, travel stockings, zip lock bags of shampoo, tooth paste, brush, etc and luggage. As we will be moving around so much in Israel the tour group advised us only to bring carry-on so Mike and Rosemary were able to purchase some good lite wheelie carry-on cases from Kmart that have been sent ahead to Ernabella ready for our departure from there on 27th August.

All the translators will be gathering in Ernabella on Wednesday 26th August for an evening fellowship meeting of prayer and thanksgiving to send us off to Israel. Thursday most people will travel up to Alice Springs on the Bush Bee bus where will have two nights in Alice for last minute preparations before departing on the Al- ice to Sydney flight at 1:35pm on Saturday 29th of August. In Sydney we transfer to a Cathay Pacific flight to Hong Kong arriving there over 9 hours later. We will have an 11 hour layover there before climbing aboard an EL AL Israel Airline flight to Tel Aviv arriving there 12 hours later in the middle of the night. Fortunately we will have half the night and the whole day to recover before joining the tour that evening.

For the next 10 days then we will be roaming the countryside and cities of Israel taking in the places and sites that before now we have only had to imagine or see in photos. We will be returning to Australia via Bangkok to arrive in Alice Springs via Sydney on Saturday 12th September at 12:50 pm, no doubt exhausted though not the same after following in the foot- steps of so many of the people who’s stories we translate. We want to thank all those that have contributed in some way to getting us there.

We want to thank God for his faithfulness, after giving us the idea, for seeing it through. Many prayers have been uttered in the midst of this journey and we covet your prayers as we now embark on this trip in a few short weeks. Bible Translation Centre