TIB – 2014-15

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This report actually covers three trips; the first in January of '14, the second in July of '14, and the final one in January of '15. These three trips were for the three modules of the second 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.

As was described in the report about the first TIB course, held in 2012-13, the purpose of TIB is to train indigenous workers to translate the Bible into their own languages. During the course, the students translate all or part of a Bible book, but this is only the beginning. The long term goal is for them to continue with translation work after finishing the course, until their people have the Scriptures in their own language. In other words, the idea is that they will do the same work that SIL translators have traditionally done, but for their own people. This is part of the so-called “third wave” of evangelization of the indigenous people of Brazil. The first wave was when foreigners came to reach out to them with the Gospel. The second wave was when the Brazilian Church caught the vision and began working with the indigenous people. The third wave is when the indigenous people themselves catch the vision and begin reaching out among themselves with the message of salvation in Christ. For me, this has been the fulfillment of a dream twenty years in the making.

The Three Modules

As with the first TIB course, this one was also divided into three modules. The first was in January of 2013, the second in July of that same year, and the final module took place in January of 2014. In the first TIB, the first and third modules lasted four weeks, and the second only two weeks. Four weeks proved to be a bit too long, and two weeks was too short, so the decision was made for all of the modules this time to be three weeks in length. This proved to be a good period of time.

AMMI on a sunny day

The AMMI Bible School on a sunny day

In addition, the course leaders decided to translate the first six chapters of the book of Daniel this time, instead of repeating Ruth. The reasoning was that any groups that had sent students to the previous course would not end up working on the same material. The reason for limiting the course to the first six chapters was that they are easier for beginning translators, being mainly historic and narrative in nature, without the heavy symbology found in the prophetic parts of the book. Nevertheless, at the end of the course it was decided to return to translating Ruth in any future courses, because even doing only six chapters proved to be a much heavier load on the students.

Thirteen different ethnic groups started the course. However, a few of them did not return for the second module, for various reasons. In addition, a few individuals from some of the other groups ended up not returning. (And one group ended up with a third member during the last module, which helped them tremendously.) In the end, ten groups finished the course. It is our hope and prayer that all of them will continue the work of translating back in their home villages.

Another difference from the first TIB was the insistence that all of the groups have a facilitator, and that the facilitator be present the whole time for all three modules. In the first course, a couple of groups came without facilitators, and at least one of them had difficulty with Portuguese, in addition to learning wholly new concepts and material. After that experience, the course leaders decided to make the presence of a facilitator a requirement.

January 2014

The first module began on Monday, January 13th and ended on Friday the 31st. I actually arrived on Saturday the 11th in order to get settled in and help set up the computer-related equipment before the course began. A few of the students and facilitators had already arrived, but most arrived on the same day or on Sunday. I was housed in a small room in the clinic building; at this time they had 2 such rooms there for housing guests.

Room where I stayed in clinic

The room in the clinic where I stayed for this module

Certain things remained the same as in all three modules of the previous TIB. Meals were served in a common dining hall, although some staff and facilitators who lived in housing with a kitchen prepared some of their own meals, mostly breakfast and supper. I ate all of my meals in the dining hall. The food was essentially the same: bread rolls with margarine and coffee and tea for breakfast, a full meal featuring beans and rice and usually some type of meat dish for lunch, and a smaller version of lunch for supper. Snacks were available in the building where classes were held at 10:00 AM and 3:00 PM; in the morning, coffee and tea were available, and in the afternoon, juice.

Another difference from the previous TIB was that I had my much newer computer with me. And this proved to be a blessing. With a new color LaserJet printer and an ink jet printer, we were barely able to keep up with the printing demands, mainly from teachers needing copies of material for handouts. Being able to run Windows in a virtual machine, while using Linux as my primary operating system, would not have been possible with the old computer. In addition, this machine did not suffer from problems of overheating, like the old one did.

Using new computer

Working with new computer while helping one of the facilitators

Unlike in the first TIB, the students did not receive computers during the first module. The reasoning was that they were being exposed to a lot of new material and concepts, and for many of them the added burden of learning to use a computer proved to be a bit too much. And for those who already knew how to use computers, having a machine available for use during the course was a considerable distraction.

The students arrived, and classes began. In spite of many of them struggling with the new concepts, there was much enthusiasm. As I got to know some of them, I acquired a new nickname, due to my fondness of hot sauce. One group called me “Pepper-Chief” in their language. I always had a bottle of hot pepper sauce with me at noon and evening meals, and several of the students—and a couple of staff and facilitators—regularly borrowed it to spice up their own food.

As usual in January, there was a lot of rain. Many days began in fog and mist, and although they usually cleared up by mid-morning, there were often thunderstorms in the afternoon and evening. Fortunately, we did not suffer any equipment damage.

Typical misty morning

Typical misty morning at the AMMI Bible School

The biggest complaint by several of the facilitators and some of the teachers was the poor quality of the Internet connection reserved for those who were not part of the support and administrative staff. Unfortunately, there was nothing I was able to do, since the better connection was reserved by the AMMI administration for only a few people to use. (Fortunately, I was one of the lucky few!) In the end we developed a system of restarting the general access router about every half-hour, and managed to limp by.

In addition, there were issues with the new LaserJet printer. When it worked, it was great. However, it had a problem with overheating, and in the middle of a tropical summer cool days were rare. We ended up doing the bulk of the printing in the morning, when there was still a remnant of (relative!) coolness. In the afternoon it was often impossible to print large jobs, and we would simply turn the printer off and wait for evening.

One pleasant surprise took place when a visiting couple showed up to observe the course and learn some principles to apply to a ministry with indigenous people that they were planning to begin in São Paulo. As soon as I saw them I thought that they looked familiar. Then I found out that they were a couple that I had known 22 years earlier when I was studying Portuguese in Campinas! They were older no—like me—and their kids were grown up and married. But it was a great reunion, and since then we have kept in touch and exchanged newsletters.

Finally, the three weeks ended. The students went home—with an assignment to apply the principles learned in the module and translate the first six chapters of Daniel, using pencil and paper. Upon returning for the next module, they would learn the principles of checking and back-translation.

Getting and Preparing the Computers

As mentioned in the previous section, the students did not receive computers during the first module. During that module, we determined the exact number of machines necessary, and when I returned to Anápolis after the module, I began the process of deciding on the desired make and module and purchasing them.

In the end we chose to go with the Acer Aspire E1. This is a model available in Brazil, with a Brazilian ABNT keyboard and Windows 8 in Portuguese. Acer was recommended by several sources as being the brand best able to withstand adverse environmental conditions such as those found in jungle villages. After our experience in the previous TIB with keyboard failures, we were wanting to find a more durable machine.

Computers for TIB 2 Students

The new computers for the TIB 2 students

Unfortunately, due to indecision on the part of some of the people involved, as well as attempts to avoid extra costs, we ended up not getting the computers until the beginning of June. I had really wanted to get them sooner, because in addition to the basic setup, I had to install specialized translation and keyboard layout software on every one of them. I would have really liked to upgrade every one of them to Windows 8.1, but unfortunately there was not time to do this. In the end I wound up installing a third-party Start button to enable the users to use the computer at least somewhat like Windows 7, which was a big help. (As I have often stated, I have a difficult time taking Windows 8 seriously as a work platform.)

In addition, one of the computers proved to be defective and had to be returned to the factory for repairs. Fortunately, this did not affect the students receiving computers in the second module; as you will read in the next section, some of the students did not return, and we ended up with leftover computers. I actually ended up having to return the computer to the factory a second time, after the July module, because they did not correctly diagnose and repair the problem. Fortunately, they were able to get it right the second time.

Getting 27 computers to the AMMI Bible School in another state was another issue that we had to deal with. We could have simply shipped them—at considerable cost. Again fortunately, a number of people from ALEM in Brasília were planning to go to TIB via bus, and on a Brazilian bus you can take a lot of baggage. So I contacted a representative from ALEM who told me that they would be happy to take the computers, if I could get them boxed up and delivered to their center. So I wound up stuffing the computers into 3 large boxes and driving them over myself.

In the end, all of the computers arrived safely, and were waiting for us when I arrived in June.

July 2014

The second module began on Monday July 7th, and lasted until Friday the 25th. I actually arrived the Saturday before the course started, again to help set up the computer-related equipment. This time, I was housed in the same room as in January.

One of the disappointments was to find out that a couple of the groups did not return, for various reasons. On the positive side, those who did return continued to be enthusiastic about what they were doing. During the first week, the students received the computers that I had prepared earlier in Anápolis and sent over, and quickly began learning about ParaTExt, which is the standard program used these days in Bible translation.

Students using computers

Students in class with their new computers

July in the Southern Hemisphere is “winter”. And even near the tropical blast furnace of Cuiabá, the higher altitude at the AMMI Bible School made for cooler nights, even though the days were still quite warm. However, there exists a phenomenon called a friagem, which is essentially when a mass of colder air moves up from the south into the region. Incredible as it may seem, so close to the equator, these cold spells can drop daytime highs into the low 50's (Fahrenheit). And during our three weeks at the TIB course, we had two friagens. The first was fairly mild and passed in a few days. The second started in the middle of the final week, and was still going when we left for the airport that weekend, and it was one of the stronger type. Everyone who had any kind of jacket wore it!

Cristiano in jacket

Cristiano giving a talk wearing a jacket

On the positive side, the cooler weather made using our heat-sensitive printer somewhat easier, especially in the morning and evening. There was still a lot of printing to do, mainly for the teachers. In addition, many of the students had a lot of questions about their new computers and came to me with questions to resolve. Windows loves its updates, and some of the machines were running slow because of updating going on in the background. One thing which definitely helped was a wireless router that I brought over from our office in Anápolis and set up especially for the students. After getting over a few initial hiccups, it settled down and provided pretty good service for the students and facilitators. This was important, since the ParaTExt program communicates with an on-line server to create backups and to share project data with other users.

Of course, there was time for fun as well. One Saturday night, all of the students and many of the facilitators participated in a game night. Some of them, along with some of the staff, went to a nearby national park or place to fish. There was a birthday party for one of the kids. And eating watermelon during snack time provided for its own style of entertainment.

Indoor soccer at game night

Playing indoor soccer during game night

Eating watermelon

Eating watermelon and spitting out the seeds

With their new computers, the students created projects and began typing their translations into ParaTExt. At the same time they began learning the principles of back-translation, which is where a translation is re-translated back into a major language such as English or Portuguese. The idea is to make sure that the translation is actually communicating what the original Scripture texts intended.

When the three weeks ended, the students were making clear progress. When they left, they had the assignment, along with their facilitators, to finish the translation of the first six chapters of Daniel, if they had not already done so, then have the translations consultant-checked, and finally, to do a back-translation into Portuguese.

January 2015

The final module of TIB 1 began on Monday, January 12th, and ended on Friday the 30th. As usual, I arrived the previous Saturday in order to help set things up and be ready for when classes started. This time, I received a different room. Like during the previous two modules, it was in the clinic, but this time it was the front room, which I liked better because it had a large window and better ventilation.

New room in clinic

My new room in the clinic

This module also took place during the period in which I was getting ready to move to Brasília and live at the ALEM center. As a result, I had moved out of my house and was living in the Anápolis office guest room. So when I went over to the TIB course, a part of me almost felt “cut adrift”, without any roots back “home”. The fact of my upcoming furlough in April left me feeling even more “in flux”. But I knew that God had not abandoned me during this period of upheaval, and in a way I actually felt more relaxed than ever this time at TIB.

God had also not abandoned one of the student teams, either, in spite of having all of their computers stolen at the end of November. The facilitador received a new machine from someone at her church, and I helped her finish setting it up when she arrived. Furthermore, the two students who lost their computers to the thieves received two of the machines that had been left over when some of the first-module students did not return for the second module. Because ParaTExt stores its data on the on-line server, they were able to quickly get it back. However, they were behind in that they had not been able to do the consultant checks of their texts. Looking back, I praise God for the motivation that both the facilitador and her co-facilitador had, along with the students, because in less than two weeks they were able to complete the consultant checks of the entire first six chapters of Daniel, and ended up completing all of the assignment for the course.

Doing consultant check

The team that had their computers stolen, doing consultant checks

The first few days were quite hectic as several of the students brought in their computers with problems that had developed since the second module. Fortunately, none of them proved to be serious, and the computers remained physically in good shape. (There was one with a broken screen, but according to the facilitator, the student's monster kid had bashed it.) Afterward, things settled down until around the last part of the second week, when I became very busy for the entire rest of the course.

With respect to problems with utilities, this was definitely the worst module ever. On Thursday of the first week we had an immense storm, with horizontal rain and lots of lightning. A close strike knocked out one phase of electricity, and destroyed the Internet antenna (the AMMI school connects via radio). Power was restored later that same day, but Internet did not come back until Saturday. Then Saturday night the company decided to rebuild their infrastructure at the school, and because they were lacking a part, service was off until the following Thursday. This caused considerable concern among the students and facilitators. However, when everything was finished, the system was more robust than it had been before, which hopefully bodes well for the future.

While the course teaches principles of translation, and the students actually get to put it in practice with Scripture portions, in the end it is not all theoretical. After finishing the first six chapters of Daniel, each group received ten copies of a published version of the book, complete with cover. In addition, each group translated the text of four simplified Bible stories taken from Daniel and recorded them in audio format, courtesy of a team from Gravações Brasil (Brazil Recordings) that came for this purpose. These recordings were made into an audio CD and ten copies given to each team, and in addition were combined with images to make a type of narrated slide show. These were made into DVD videos and again, ten copies given to each team.

Books of Daniel

Examples of the final printed version of Book of Daniel at graduation

With all of the printing of books of Daniel and handout material for the students, I was so busy at times that I ended up printing to two different printers at the same time from my computer! We were at it morning, afternoon and evening, even a good part of Sunday. In the end we were all quite tired. But the result was worth it.

Graduation was held on Thursday the 29th, and all of the students and facilitadors received a certificate. During the next few days, everyone left, returning to their villages with their printed copies of Daniel 1-6, along with the audio and visual media. Our hope and prayer is that every one of them will continue the work until their people have the entire Word of God in a language that speaks to their hearts.

In Conclusion

Overall, the course was a clear success. Ten groups of indigenous translators are now trained to bring God's Word to their own people, in their own languages. In ways, it was a further learning experience for the staff and teachers, and some decisions were made that will be implemented in future TIB courses.

During the final week of the final module, the decision was officially reached to hold TIB 3, which will begin in January of 2016. This, of course, will affect my furlough plans, since they definitely want me to return to participate. For me, this has been a real blessing. As I mentioned above in the Overview, seeing the third wave of evangelization among the indigenous people of Brazil is seeing a dream realized. God is at work, raising up new workers to do things in non-traditional ways. We must be alert to hear His voice and follow where He leads.

This is just the beginning.


Copyright © 2005-2017 William R. Penning. All rights reserved.