“And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere — in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8b, NLT).
Bible translation for minority languages often begins with language survey. Language surveyors help identify which languages have the most urgent needs for Bible translation, as well as which dialect(s) of those languages would be the best basis for translated Scripture and for developing literature.
Language survey is currently taking place among several remote, mountainous language communities in a volatile region of Central Asia. No information about these groups has been obtained from their homelands for decades. Neither language development nor Bible translation has been done for any of them.
- Praise God one of the language groups has expressed interest in translating Scripture stories into their language. Ask God to bring this to fulfillment so that many people in this region may be drawn into a relationship with Him.
- Pray for protection, wisdom and endurance for survey team members as they plan and conduct surveys. As surveyors analyze data and compile information, pray that they would accurately record what they’ve learned.
- Ask God to continue opening doors in this region of the world so that translation personnel can access these minority language groups.
Risky Surveying – Stories from the Field
The language survey team traveled by cover of night; winding through the countryside on treacherous mountain roads to avoid border checkpoints. They risked expulsion from the country, arrest, or worse. But nothing was as dangerous as their destination.
They were headed for the Mida* people, a Southeast Asian people group that was virtually closed-off to the world, yet had a small amount of Christians (less than one percent of a population that includes tens of thousands). The team knew they had to reach out to these people, to see if their language was different enough from their neighbors to necessitate a translation of the Bible in their own language.
But there was something uniquely formidable about the Mida—something that had invariably made these remote people even more inaccessible. Though they show some distinct kindness at times, the Mida share a common belief that each person must do something evil once every three years, or they will die.
Theft, physical abuse, murder; they’ve each happened under the pretense of that belief.
Neighboring people groups avoid the Mida, and foreigners are warned away from their territory. If a visitor does stumble upon one of their twenty villages or their lone city, a palpable tension hangs in the air at the sight of the outsider.
Despite the danger, the survey team mutually agreed that the harm they might experience was still worth the risk to ensure the Mida people get God’s Word.
With the help of a guide (one of a few Mida who long-ago moved away, became Christians, and regularly venture back to start churches), the survey team located the Mida area and began visiting villages where chiefs approved of their study of the language.
Very slowly, and carefully, the team interacted with people whose trust the guide had earned, and eventually began to analyze the language.
Over the course of twelve days, the team conducted its survey. They then traveled back to their country unharmed by the Mida people—by way of night and the twisting mountain roads. As they studied the survey results, they realized that Mida is its own, distinct language, despite a previous belief that it was mutually intelligible with neighboring languages.
In fact, in an effort to have the Bible in a language they could understand—if only partially—some of the few Mida Christians learned Badi*, a neighboring language with a Bible translation. But although Badi gives them access to the Bible, they struggle to understand it. Still, the Mida continue studying God’s Word in a language they barely know, because it’s all they have.
However, there is hope for a Bible translation for the Mida. Now that the need has been established, the survey team is looking for Mida people who might have the skills to assist in language learning and mother tongue translation. Until then, they’ll stick to the Bible in Badi. They have no choice.
*The names in this story have been changed to protect identities.