You are here

East Arhnem West Timor Study Tour

“Close to those who love God’s word”

West Timor Study Tour

In October 2012, 10 ambassadors from the Northern Synod travelled to West Timor. Mutual encouragement was the main blessing of the Study Tour. The Moderator met with us before we left and urged us to see ourselves as “Christ’s ambassadors” as described in 2 Corinthians 5:20. Indigenous Scripture workers in West Timor and Northern Australia face many common issues so it is extremely helpful to share with one another, and hear how people are approaching their tasks.

Some common issues are:

  • The dominant cultures have English and Indonesian as their main languages which are commonly used in training, preaching and teaching in areas where the heart languages of the people are quite different.
  • Translators often work in isolation and only occasionally meet up with those who can provide encouragement and technical help.
  • The task ahead in both areas is a very big one with many languages needing translation work.
  • Resources are scarce and many people involved in this vital work do it voluntarily, in time left over from other responsibilities.

On the positive side, Chuck and Barbara Grimes provide wonderful support and encouragement to workers in both Timor and Northern Australia. The OurWord computer programme is a great help as well.

The main highlight of our visit was undoubtedly the dedication of a New Testament on the tiny island of Ndao. It was a full day’s journey by boat to get there, and our return included many kilometres of travel in the back of a truck. The warmth of the welcome and the generous hospitality showed us how pleased the local people were to have us there. The members of our group who were involved in the Djambarrpuyngu Translation Project know how much effort goes into producing a translation of the New Testament. So we rejoiced with the Dhao people as they celebrated the publication of their Scriptures.

Djawuṯ was inspired by what he saw. He commented, “I was deeply encouraged to continue with my translation work by the visit to West Timor. When I came home, I couldn’t wait to get back into translating the New Testament into Goḻumala, my clan language.”

We were honoured in many ways at Ndao. We were seated in the front row of the church for the dedication; we were each presented with a gift of cloth during the service; we were fed extremely well; and on the night we arrived on the island we were given the privilege of attending a Wedding Feast as special guests. The whole experience was quite wonderful.

Djawuṯ and Yurrandjil were very taken with a song that was used at the Ndao dedication. They said: “We brought back from our travels a new song that we learned in Indonesian, English and Dhao. It was very much the theme song of our time over there;

‘I want to follow Jesus, I want to follow Jesus, forevermore.

Even in times of trouble - suffering in this world,

I want to follow Jesus, forevermore.’

“We translated this song into Djambarrpuyŋu. Then last weekend, whilst we were on Goulburn Island to attend the graduation of one of the Nungalinya students, we shared this new song. It didn’t take long before people there wanted it translated in Maung also.”

“We practised it together in 4 languages for the graduation ceremony. Even the children were quick to learn the various translations! All stood like ‘statues’ in silence drinking in the words of this new song in Indonesian, English, Djambarrpuyŋu and Maung. It spoke very powerfully to everyone.”

Chuck and Barbara Grimes are key facilitators of the translation work both in West Timor and North Australia. They were able to show us many aspects of the work based in Kupang and introduced us to many indigenous workers there. There was much sharing and discussion about technical aspects of translation, as well as discussion about issues such as how to get Ministers and church leaders to use Scriptures in local languages, rather than in English (in our context) or in Indonesian (in West Timor).

We were able to meet a school principal up in the mountains who is a Bible translator in his spare time. Our people are largely volunteer translators so it was good to know that we are not the only ones who work this way or the only ones who work in remote locations.

Another wonderful highlight of our visit was our attendance at an Ordination Service of 51 new Ministers in Kupang. We were so impressed by the number and commitment of these ordinands.

Yurranydjil commented: “‘Nothing is impossible with God!’ How true!  Just before I went to West Timor I was praying to the Lord for more labourers ‘in His field’ as I was feeling quite overwhelmed by the many requests for ministry. Whilst I was in West Timor, it was as if the Lord gave me his own personal word of encouragement when I witnessed the ordination of 51 new Ministers in Kupang! He is our ‘LORD of the Harvest’.”

Sylvia Manytjurrpuy said: “When I saw the many young people being ordained in Kupang, it made me think that there are no young people from my area in Australia going into training for ordination. It made me cry for my own young people.”

Melissa Yemayima’s response was, “When I realised that the new Ministers were almost the same age as myself, that made me think about what is happening here.”

Peter Rirripaŋan shared, “I was so touched by the young girl who sang solo at the ordination service. I was welling up with joy inside as I witnessed all those new Ministers being ordained.”

We had some extremely valuable informal gatherings while travelling, and over meals and break times during our visit.  There were plenty of discussions, laughs, and new friendships. Some of the relationships formed are very likely to grow in the future as further contact is made.      

Mätjarra really valued the contact with other translators. She said, “In preparing my passport for this trip I had a special opportunity to be with another translator.                                

“We met in the night, like Nicodemus. His example, as a leader coming to know Jesus more, encourages us go to one another, to the elders, fellow Christians, and those we work with, and other translators. It is good to go and be close to those who love God’s Word.”

Each person in the group contributed significantly to the success of the Study Tour. The Synod made a large investment in enabling us to share, learn and be present with our brothers and sisters in West Timor which I am sure will bear good fruit. The relationship which has been established between the Northern Synod and the GMIT church is a rich one which should be further encouraged and nurtured.

Margaret Miller summed up what I think we all felt: “This Study Tour was a time to share very closely together in people’s daily lives. It was a real privilege to be hosted by Timorese folk in their homes and workplaces where they shared everything they had to make us feel at home. To be together as ‘boat people’ heading for Ndao Island at the southern part of Indonesian shores (for God’s purposes!) gave a little more insight of those issues there. The many home-grown-made Indonesian meals that were generously shared, being together in the struggles of daily living and work – these are experiences that will not be forgotten. There is so much to be thankful for. “This West Timor Study Tour will remain as a time when new relationships were formed, older ones strengthened, and a passion fortified for God’s Word to become reality in many languages. We are enriched by these relationships across the Timor Sea that have grown out of this experience. May God’s kingdom grow stronger in each one’s language/place/home, in North Australia and West Timor through his faithful workers!”