TIB – 2012-13

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This report actually covers three trips; the first in January of '12, the second in July of '12, and the final one in January of '13. These three trips were for the three modules of the Tradutores Indígenas da Bíblia (Indigenous Bible Translators) course, which was held at the AMMI Bible School near the town of Chapada dos Guimarães. You can read more about the AMMI Bible School on the page About Cuiabá. The following sub-section will discuss TIB itself.

Originally, all three modules were supposed to last 4 weeks. However, due to a scheduled meeting of CONPLEI (an indigenous evangelical organization), the second module in July was shortened to only 2 weeks. The teaching schedule was adjusted to take this into account.

Indigenous students came from several parts of Brazil. One group took over a week to arrive, traveling by boat, bus and plane, while others arrived as quickly as I did, with a single flight. In addition, each group had a facilitator, someone who spoke both their language as well as Portuguese and already had linguistic training and experience.

This was not intended to be a one-time event. There were more applicants than could be served with a single course, and plans are already in place to begin a second TIB in January of 2014. One thing that was decided as a result of this first TIB is that while 2 weeks is really too short, 4 weeks is actually too long. So in TIB 2, all three modules will be 3 weeks in length. Other changes will be made as well, from things learned during this first course.

The Purpose of TIB

As stated in the above section, TIB stands for Tradutores Indigenas da Bíblia, or Indigenous Bible Translators. Just as Bible translators from Wycliffe organizations working with SIL have to study linguistics and translation principles, the same is true of those wishing to translate scripture into their own languages. There are special challenges here. Those from Western culture—even atheists and other unbelievers—have a basic understanding of Biblical terms and concepts, because of their influence on those languages and cultures over the centuries. The same cannot be said of most indigenous cultures. This is not a statement of inferiority; it is merely a statement of different historical backgrounds.

The purpose of the TIB course is to provide a specially tailored type of training for these people, one that recognizes the differences in their cultures and backgrounds, and also the fact that they are translating into their mother tongues, instead of from their mother tongues into another language. To accomplish this purpose, experienced linguist/translators have been brought in to contribute what they have learned over the years while working with indigenous translation helpers. Even so, as mentioned above, each team still requires the assistance of a facilitator to help bridge the gaps that still exist, in spite of the best possible training.

But probably the best statement of the purpose of TIB is that it is to help facilitate the spread of the Word of God to all peoples on the Earth.

The Three Modules

Although I had visited the AMMI center at least once before, just passing through, coming for TIB was the first time that I actually stayed there. In ways, it was a new experience. In others, it was not too different from life on one of our translation centers.

One of the big differences is that when living on our centers, I had my own house or apartment, and prepared my own meals. It was “ordinary living”. At TIB, I was a guest, staying temporarily in order to do a job. I stayed in a room just big enough to hold a bed and a dresser or shelf or whatever to store my clothes and other goods. I ate at the dining hall. In retrospect, there was one aspect of translation center life that this resembled, and that was when we used to hold our semi-annual Conference in Cuiabá, while I was still living in Porto Velho.

Inside Room in Clinic at AMMI

A view from inside one of the rooms I stayed at during TIB

Meals were essentially the same in all three modules. Breakfast consisted of pãozinhos and coffee or tea. Occasionally, there would be a special treat such as scrambled eggs (once or twice per module at most), or an orange or other fruit. But most of the time it was just a piece of buttered bread and coffee. Not terribly exciting, but it fed the body. Lunch and supper were full meals, Brazilian style, with beans and rice, and usually some type of meat such as beef or chicken. Pasta dishes were also served from time to time. I enjoyed these meals considerably, and had to discipline myself not to go back for seconds (okay, I did go back if it was something special!), so that my belly didn't grow too much.

Dining Hall at AMMI center

Getting food during a meal at the AMMI dining hall

Classes began at 8:00, Monday through Friday. At 10:00 came Coffee Break; the kitchen staff would bring up coffee and tea and usually some kind of snack, such as fruit or crackers or occasionally cakes. Then came the second class, followed by a devotional at 11:30. Lunch was served at noon. Classes resumed at 2:00, with afternoon break somewhere in the 3:00 to 3:30 range, and ended at 5:00. Evenings were free, although many of the students would go up to the classroom in order to work on material assigned during the lessons.

Halfway through the module, the person in the other room in the clinic moved out. Since his room had its own private bathroom and shower, I asked and was allowed to change rooms. A few days later my old room was given to a new arrival.

The goal of the course, in addition to learning linguistics and translation principles for future use, was to finish a translation of the entire book of Ruth in the language of each group, and to have copies printed to take back to their people for distribution.

Overall, the atmosphere was one of serious study, yet informal and relaxed in interpersonal relationships.

January – February 2012

The first module began on Monday, January 16th and ended on Friday, February 10th. I actually arrived in the middle of the previous week, on Wednesday, January 11th, because they needed me to help set up some of the equipment before the course began. So I was there over the weekend when the students began to arrive. I was housed in a small room in the clinic building; at this time they had 2 such rooms there for housing guests.

Clinic Building at AMMI

The clinic building at AMMI where I stayed during the first module

All of the students who agreed to finish the entire course received netbook computers, paid for by a partner organization called The Seed Company. These computers had been delivered to me in Anápolis some months earlier, and I had spent weeks setting each one of them up, installing the ParaTExt program along with an indigenous keyboard layout, antivirus software and much more—as well as removing the games and other junk that comes bundled with most computers these days. These computers were handed out to the students during the first week, following orientation sessions. Some of the students were already familiar with computers, while others had very little experience at all. Part of the challenge was finding the “middle road” for teaching, that would allow those with little experience to learn as they went and keep up, while at the same time not being too basic and boring for those who already knew the material.

Handing out Netbook Computers

Handing out the netbook computers during the first module

The course work began with an introduction to basic linguistic and translation principles. Here is where the facilitators that worked with each team were extremely helpful. All of them already knew the subject matter, and so were able to work directly with their group of students, clarifying the material, and in many cases explaining it in their own language and pointing out ways in which it applied to that language. There were a couple of groups that did not have a facilitator, and as a result the work was much more difficult for them. Because of this, one of the changes made for the coming TIB 2 is that each group will have a facilitator, who will be present for the entire course.

Another thing that was discovered during the first module was that in many cases, the computers actually proved to be a distraction for the students. Some spent too much time trying to figure out how to use them for the material, and thus did not learn the basic lingusitics as well as they should have. Also, one of the teachers used the British cartoon Shaun the Sheep as a teaching aid (it does not have any spoken dialogue, and as such as suitable regardless of language). Someone got ahold of the thumb drive containing all the episodes and passed it around, and soon students were coming to me left and right wanting me to “make Shaun the Sheep run” on their computer.

Teachers' Room at TIB

This is the room where the teaching and support staff worked

Therefore, the decision was made that in TIB 2, the students will not receive computers until the second module. This way, they will be able to focus on the linguistic and translation material being taught. (And they won't be able to distract themselves with Shaun the Sheep!)

The weather was typical for January. Many days began with mist and drizzle, and afternoon thunderstorms abounded. Although the night temperatures cooled off more than in the blast furnace of Cuiabá, the days were still quite warm. In order to get in a little exercise, I would go out every morning before breakfast and walk around the AMMI center; I would take my breakfast dishes and leave them in the dining hall, and then finish my walk at the dining hall just before breakfast was served at 7:00.

Drizzly Morning at AMMI

Typical drizzly morning at the AMMI center during the first module

Weekends were free, except for a worship service on Sunday evening. Many people went into the nearby town of Chapada dos Guimarães, and some went to the nearby National Park. A few made trips all the way down to Cuiabá. Some of us just used the weekend to unwind from the busy week.

Sunday Evening Worship Service

Moment of prayer during one of the Sunday evening worship services

When the module ended, the students—and the rest of us—were ready for a break. I flew home to Anápolis on Saturday, February 11th.

July 2012

The second module began on July 2nd, but I arrived the previous Saturday, the last day of June. The first difference I discovered was that I would be housed in a completely different building; actually, off of the front porch of one of the residences on the center. Although there were 2 beds in the room, nobody else was assigned to share the room with me.

New Room at July TIB

Door to my new room on residence front porch

As stated above, this module only lasted 2 weeks, instead of 4. This was because of a meeting of CONPLEI, an indigenous evangelical organization, which would be starting immediately after the TIB course. As a result, not only was the module cut short, but there were additional personnel present working on getting things ready to house 2000-3000 visitors!

Stage Construction for CONPLEI

Building the stage platform for the upcoming CONPLEI meeting

Another thing I found out once classes began was that some of the netbook computers had developed keyboard problems. It turned out that this particular model was not very good in humid jungle environments. So one of the rush jobs I ended up doing was copying the data off of the defective computers and setting the users up again on new machines (fortunately, we had ordered considerably more computers than necessary, so we had spares). I even remembered to transfer their copies of Shaun the Sheep!

The weather was different, but typical for this time of year. Overall, it was drier; days were warmer, but nights were cooler. With this in mind, a couple from the center that I had known for years invited me and another fellow that I had known even longer to go out for a meal on Saturday evening in the town of Chapada. Well, a cold front decided to blow in on Friday evening. Now compared with a cold front in Canada or the United States, it really wasn't all that chilly. But it still brought daytime temps down into the upper 50's or lower 60's at best, with wind and horizontal rain. Patchy fog dotted the region. When we went into town that night, I was grateful that the guy driving had lived there long enough that he could have driven it in his sleep, since visibility conditions were terrible. When we got to the restaurant and discovered that customers ate outside, it was the horizontal rain that was the deciding factor in convincing us to look for another place to eat. We ended up eating—indoors—at a recently opened pizzeria.

Beautiful Morning in July

A beautiful morning—with a full moon to boot!—during the July module…

Rainy Saturday Morning

…and the rainy Saturday that we planned to go into town for dinner

I also happened to run into a young lady who looked familiar, but I could not place her. When I talked to her, I found out that she had attended our high school on the Cuiabá translation center years earlier. I was very impressed with how she had turned out as a young adult, with a commitment to the LORD and a desire to serve Him.

I also met a short-term visitor who was there helping out for a few weeks. She showed me pictures of her Great Dane and talked about her life in West Virginia. When I was packing up to leave she asked for my email address, but then never wrote. “Don't call us, we'll call you?”

After 2 weeks, the place was starting to fill up with visitors for the upcoming CONPLEI meeting. The dining hall expanded to two serving lines and opened up a previously-closed section. The students finished the second week and then headed home, to continue working on Ruth in order to complete the book in the final module in January.

Kitchen Staff with Two Serving Windows

Kitchen staff with two windows open to serve two lines of hungry people

I flew home on Saturday, July 14th.

January 2013

The final module of TIB 1 began on Monday, January 7th. As usual, I arrived the previous Saturday in order to help set things up and be ready for when classes started. Once again, I received a different room, this time back in the clinic again.

When I moved in, I noticed what looked to be a mass of dirt build-up just outside the middle window. So I went outside to clean it off—and discovered that it was a bird's nest—complete with eggs. So I left it. Before the end of the week the eggs hatched, and I got to spend most of my time there being entertained by what I called the “Little Cheepies”. Contrary to what you might think, baby birds do not just quietly open their mouths to receive food. They make quite a fuss about it!

Little Cheepies

Mama Bird feeding the Little Cheepies

Another new thing was that the teachers' room had changed. Instead of using the old CONPLEI headquarters, the TIB staff now had a room of our own. With more available space and privacy, we were able to set up and work more efficiently.

New Teachers' Room

This is the new room that the teachers and staff used for this module

Computer problems continued. As in the previous module, several of the students brought in netbooks with keyboard failures. This confirmed our decision to look for a different make and model of computer for the next TIB. Meanwhile, I was left again with the task of transferring data from old computers to replacement machines. This time, at least one of the machines refused to boot because of false keystrokes interrupting the process. And another one would boot, but afterward became uncontrollable. Fortunately, the keyboards proved easy to remove, and I was able to substitute working keyboards on those machines long enough to copy the contents of their hard drives onto USB thumb drives for transfer.

And this was proving to be the last straw for my old Toshiba laptop. Now I only used this machine for travel; I had a desktop machine at my office in Anápolis, and another desktop machine at home. But this Toshiba was the only machine I had when working at projects such as TIB, so I really needed it to be reliable. Instead, it kept shutting itself off without warning or any action on my part.

In the end, the problem proved to be overheating, and by downloading detailed instructions for that model and borrowing the necessary tools, I was able to completely disassemble it, clean out the wad of dust and gunk from the cooling fins, and put it back together. Afterward, it quit shutting itself off unexpectedly. Problem solved. Nevertheless, I knew that it was reaching the end of its life. It was old and slow, and I needed something better. So I began looking on-line, and found an Asus 15.5" laptop that would meet my needs quite well. After contacting a member traveling in the States, I was able to arrange to have it shipped to their home in Tennessee, and they brought it down after the end of TIB. This new machine proved to be even more powerful than my home desktop, so I transferred my data over to the new laptop and sold the desktop.

Day-to-day life was essentially the same as in the previous modules, and the weather quite similar to January 2012.

Coffee and Tea Jugs

Coffee and tea jugs set out for breakfast

In addition to completing the book of Ruth, the students also used Movie Maker to create a sort of “slide show” of the book, narrated in their own language. These were recorded onto DVDs for them to take home to their people, along with 10 printed and bound copies of the book of Ruth.

At the end of the last week, we held a graduation ceremony. All of the students received certificates. In addition, copies of the final printed versions of Ruth were put on a table at front for everyone to see. It was a very special time. Thirteen teams, each from a different ethnic group, were now trained to translate God's Word into their own language. More than 20 years earlier I had listened to a talk about the “Three Waves of Evangelization” of Brazil's indigenous people: The first wave being the work of foreigners, the second being when the Brazilian national Church picked up the task—and the third wave being when the indigenous people themselves began doing it. As I watched the closing ceremonies, I knew in my heart that the Third Wave was really and truly underway.

Books of Ruth

Printed and bound copies of the book of Ruth in each of the languages of the TIB participants

In Conclusion

Overall, I have to rate this first TIB as a great success, in spite of wrinkles that still needed to be worked out. It is just a beginning, however. Now, the students must take their new knowledge—along with their dedication to serving God and bringing His Word to their own people—and continue where they left off. Some of the groups already have the New Testament in their language, and so will be working on the Old Testament. Other groups do not have any published scripture in their language. For them, this is a tremendous beginning.

And it is also just the beginning in that there will be more TIB courses in the future. The next one will begin in January of 2014. And if interest continues—if more and more indigenous people continue to heed the call of God on their hearts to have God's Word available in their own languages—there will be still more courses, until the job is finished.

To God be the glory!


Copyright © 2005-2018 William R. Penning. All rights reserved.