I will always remember that day in Brooklyn. I was waiting in the Governing Body conference room with other brothers from different parts of the world. We were waiting for the Writing Committee to enter. We were going to present some solutions to problems that translators face, and we were nervous. It was May 22, 2000. But why was this meeting so important? Before I explain, let me tell you something about myself.
I WAS born in the state of Queensland, Australia, in 1955. Soon after that, my mother, Estelle, started studying the Bible with Jehovah’s Witnesses. She was baptized one year later, and my father, Ron, came into the truth 13 years later. I was baptized in 1968 in a remote area, the Queensland outback.
Ever since I was a little boy, I have loved books and languages. Whenever my parents and I went on road trips, I would sit in the backseat of the car, reading a book. My parents were probably frustrated that I was not looking at the scenery. But my love of reading helped me to do well in school. And I even won several awards while I was in high school in the city of Glenorchy, on the island of Tasmania.
During that time, I had to make an important decision. Would I accept a scholarship to go to university? Even though I loved books and learning, I am grateful that my mother had taught me to love Jehovah more than anyone or anything else. (1 Corinthians 3:18, 19) So with my parents’ permission, I decided that as soon as I finished my basic education, I would leave school and start pioneering. I did this in January 1971, when I was 15 years old.
For the next eight years, I had the privilege of pioneering in Tasmania. During that time, I married a beautiful girl from Tasmania, Jenny Alcock. For four years, we served together as special pioneers in the isolated towns of Smithton and Queenstown.
MISSIONARIES IN THE ISLANDS OF THE PACIFIC
In 1978, my wife and I traveled to Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, to attend an international convention. I especially remember a missionary giving a talk in the Hiri Motu language. Although I could not understand what he was saying, I began thinking that I too wanted to become a missionary, learn another language, and be able to encourage the brothers by giving a talk in their language. At last, I realized how I could use my love of language to serve Jehovah.
When we got back home, you can imagine how surprised we were to be invited to serve as missionaries. We arrived on the island of Funafuti, in Tuvalu, in January 1979. There were only three other baptized publishers in all of Tuvalu.
It was not easy to learn the Tuvaluan language. The only book that existed in that language was the “New Testament.” There were no dictionaries or language courses, so we decided to try to learn from 10 to 20 new words each day. But we soon realized that we did not understand the correct meaning of most of the words we were learning. Instead of telling people that demonism was wrong, we were telling them that they should not use measuring scales and walking sticks! But we had to keep trying to learn the language because we had started several Bible studies. Many years later, one of those first Bible students told us: “We are so happy that you can speak our language now. At first, we didn’t have a clue what you were trying to say!”
But there was something that really helped us to learn the language faster. Since there were no places to rent, we had to live with a Witness family in the main village. We had to speak Tuvaluan everywhere, including at home. After not speaking English for some years, we found that Tuvaluan had become our main language.
Soon after we arrived, many started to show an interest in the truth. But what could we use to study with them? We had no publications in their language. How could they do personal study? When they started coming to the meetings, what songs could they sing, how would they give talks, and how could they prepare for the meetings? How could they ever get baptized? These humble people needed publications in their own language to teach them about Jehovah! (1 Corinthians 14:9) We wondered, ‘Would we ever have publications in Tuvaluan, a language spoken by fewer than 15,000 people?’ Jehovah answered those questions, proving to us two things: (1) He wants people in “the islands far away” to learn about him, and (2) he wants those whom the world views as “humble and lowly” to take refuge in his name.
TRANSLATION WORK TO TEACH THE TRUTH
In 1980, the branch office assigned us to translate publications into Tuvaluan. We started the work, even though we felt that we did not know the language well enough. (1 Corinthians 1:28, 29) At first, we bought an old machine from the government to print literature by hand for our meetings. Later, we even translated the book The Truth That Leads to Eternal Life into Tuvaluan and printed it on this small machine. I still remember the strong smell of ink, as well as the intense tropical heat that made it very hard to print all these publications by hand. At the time, we did not have electricity!
It was not easy to translate into Tuvaluan because we could not look up words in a dictionary or do research in Tuvaluan books. But sometimes we got the help we needed in other ways. One morning I called by mistake at the home of someone who opposed the truth. The older man, who had been a teacher, reminded me that we should not come to his home. Then, he said: “I just want to mention one thing. In your translation, you use the passive form too much. It is not used that often in Tuvaluan.” I checked with others, and he was correct. So we made changes to improve our translation. I was amazed that Jehovah had given us this help by means of a man who opposed the truth but who obviously read our publications!
The first Tuvaluan publication that we offered to people was a Memorial invitation. Then we had the tract Kingdom News No. 30, which was released at the same time as the English. How happy we were that we could give something to the people in their own language! After a while, we also had some brochures and even some books in Tuvaluan. In 1983, the Australia branch began to print The Watchtower in Tuvaluan. The magazine had 24 pages and came out every three months. Did the people in Tuvalu like these books and magazines? Yes, they did, because they love to read. Every time we released a new publication, the government radio station announced it on the news, and sometimes it was the main story of the day! *
How was the translation work done? First, we wrote everything using pen and paper. Then, we typed and retyped the translation many times until it was ready to be sent to the branch in Australia. Two sisters at the branch typed the Tuvaluan text into a computer separately, even though they did not understand the language. But by entering the text twice and comparing the differences on the computer, they avoided mistakes. The branch then composed the publications, which means that they combined the text with pictures. Then they sent us these composed pages by airmail. We checked them and sent them back to the branch for printing.
Translation work has improved so much! Now translation teams type text and correct it directly on the computer. Usually, the publications are composed by someone who is in the same place as the team. Then, the team sends the files to the printing branches using the Internet. No one needs to rush to the post office at the last minute to send the translated text by mail.
As the years went by, Jenny and I received various assignments in different parts of the Pacific. From Tuvalu we were assigned to the Samoa branch in 1985. There we helped with translation into the Samoan, Tongan, and Tokelauan languages, as well as helping with the translation in Tuvaluan. * (See footnote.) Then, in 1996, we were assigned to the Fiji branch, where we helped with the translation work being done in the Fijian, Kiribati, Nauruan, Rotuman, and Tuvaluan languages.
I am always amazed at how much translators love their work even though it is not easy and can be very tiring. Like Jehovah, these faithful brothers and sisters really want people to hear the good news in their language. (Revelation 14:6) For example, when the translation of the first Watchtower magazine into Tongan was being organized, I met with all the elders in Tonga and asked who could be trained as a translator. One of the elders, who had a good job as a mechanic, offered to quit his job the next day and start immediately as a translator. I was encouraged by his strong faith, since he had a family and had no idea how he would earn enough money to take care of them. But Jehovah cared for him and his family, and he remained in the translation work for many years.
Like these translators, the brothers on the Governing Body care deeply about providing publications in all languages, even those spoken by only a small number of people. For example, a question was raised as to whether it was worth all the effort to translate publications into Tuvaluan. I was so encouraged to read this answer from the Governing Body: “We see absolutely no reason why you should discontinue translation work in the Tuvaluan language. Even though the Tuvaluan field may be small in comparison to other language groups, the people still need to be reached with the good news in their own language.”
In 2003, Jenny and I were transferred from the Translation Department in Fiji to Translation Services in Patterson, New York. It was like a dream come true! We became part of a team that helps to support the translation of our publications into more languages. During the two years or so that we were in Translation Services, we were assigned to help train translation teams in various countries.
VERY IMPORTANT DECISIONS
Now let me return to the important meeting I mentioned in the beginning. By the year 2000, the Governing Body felt that translation teams worldwide needed help to do their work. Most translators had not attended any courses for translation. After that meeting with the Writing Committee, the Governing Body decided that all translators around the world must be trained. Translators would be taught how to understand the English text, how to solve translation problems, and how to work together as a team.
What has been the result of all this training for translators? The quality of the translation has improved. Also, our publications are translated into more languages than ever. In 1979, when we were assigned to serve as missionaries, the Watchtower magazine was available in only 82 languages. Even so, in most languages The Watchtower came out a few months after the English one. But now The Watchtower is translated into over 240 languages, and for most of them, the magazine is available at the same time as the English. Now, in over 700 languages, people can read something that teaches them the truth from the Bible. Some years ago this seemed impossible.
In 2004, the Governing Body decided that it was very important to have the New World Translation in many more languages and as soon as possible. Because of that decision, many more people can now read the New World Translation in their language. In fact, in 2014, this Bible or parts of it were available in 128 languages, including a number of languages spoken in the South Pacific.
One of my favorite memories is of a convention in Tuvalu in 2011. For many months, there had been an extreme drought in the whole country. The brothers thought that the convention would have to be canceled. But happily, the evening we arrived, it started raining heavily. So we were able to have our convention! For me, it was such a great privilege to release the New World Translation of the Christian Greek Scriptures in Tuvaluan! Even though there are only a small number of brothers who speak that language, they too could receive this beautiful gift from Jehovah. Then, at the end of the convention, there was another rainstorm. So everyone had plenty of water of truth as well as plenty of rainwater!
Sadly, my dear wife Jenny was not there with me. She had died in 2009, after fighting cancer for ten years. We were married for 35 years. When she is resurrected, she will be so glad to hear about the release of the Tuvaluan Bible.
Jehovah has blessed me with another beautiful wife, Loraini Sikivou. Loraini and Jenny had worked together at Bethel in Fiji, and Loraini too was a translator. So once again, I have a wife who serves Jehovah faithfully with me and who loves language as I do!
Over the years, I have seen how our loving Father, Jehovah, cares for the needs of people of all languages, even if their language is spoken by only a few. (Psalm 49:1-3) I have seen how happy people are when they get our publications in their language for the first time or when they sing to Jehovah in the language of their heart. At times like these, I think of Jehovah’s great love for us. (Acts 2:8, 11) I can still clearly remember the words of an elderly Tuvaluan brother, Saulo Teasi. After he had sung a Kingdom song for the first time in his language, he said, “I think you should tell the Governing Body that these songs sound better in Tuvaluan than they do in English.”
In September 2005, I was surprised to receive the privilege of serving as a member of the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Although I can no longer serve as a translator, I thank Jehovah that he allows me to continue supporting the worldwide translation work. It makes me happy to know that Jehovah cares for the needs of all his people, even those on isolated islands in the middle of the Pacific Ocean! Yes, as the psalmist said, “Jehovah has become King! Let the earth be joyful. Let the many islands rejoice.”