20 years at the frontline of grassroots bible translation
[notice]Lauren Sprout reports on a South African family’s response to God’s call to translate the bible into a language they did not know and which was not even written down — and on a ministry’s vision to make God’s word available in every spoken language.[/notice]
It was at a young age that Karen and Sebastian Floor felt a calling from God to move to Mozambique, to translate the Bible into the Kimwani language for the coastal people of far northern Mozambique.
What made them leave their comfortable lives in South Africa to move to a country at war?
‘Something shifted in our hearts’
“The day we realised that having God’s Word in our own language was a privilege that not everyone has, something shifted in our hearts to want to do something to rectify that”, explained Karen.
Living conditions were not what the Floors were accustomed to, and it took some time to adjust to their new surroundings.
Although it was challenging on so many different levels, they knew with absolute certainty that they were exactly where God wanted them to be. They lived in a very old house with no electricity, telephone or radio, drawing water from a well using a bucket.
“It was one of the most difficult times of my life,” said Karen, “partly due to the living conditions, but mostly because I could not communicate with the local people.”
It was very frustrating for her, and after a year or two, Karen was close to giving up. She persevered, and after five years she reached a level of fluency that opened up new friendships within the community.
A powerful partnership
While Karen took care of the home and their children, Sebastian spent his days doing translation work, knowing that the home front was being well looked after. It was a powerful partnership between two people fully committed to the call of God upon their lives. The Floors spent six years on Ibo, learning the local language and culture, and raising their family. It was on Ibo where the groundwork and initial translation began.
There was no written language, so the first step was to learn the local language to a point that they could interact with the local translation team. From there an alphabet was developed to put the language into writing, followed by grammar and a dictionary. After five years of intense preparation translation finally began, and from then on, it took the team 20 years to give the Mwanis the ‘Good News’ in their own language.
Apart from very rudimentary, rural schools there were no suitable schools in the north of Mozambique, so the family home schooled their children, with the help of visiting teachers from time to time. “Home schooling is not for everyone, and there was a real need for educational support to keep the translation work going”, said Karen.
Together with an itinerant teacher who taught the Floors’s sons, they started up a school for all the families that were involved in Bible translation.
In 2013, the Habari Ngema, Kimwani for ‘Good News’, was published and launched into the Mwani community. After 20 years in Mozambique, God led the Floors back to South Africa. By this time, their four sons were in high school and they sensed the need to reconnect with extended family who were carrying a heavy load in allowing them to remain on the frontline of grassroots translation.
A leadership platform
The Floors unexpectedly found themselves appointed in leadership roles at Wycliffe South Africa, with a platform to expand the work through Bible translation partnerships throughout southern Africa. Karen was appointed CEO in 2010 and was excited to continue her quest to further Bible translation work.
“What a joy it has been to see the Word of God transforming lives as the Bible translation movement spreads across southern Africa”, she said.