Pastor Peter Marokiki has been working on a Bible translation in his own Arop language for more than twenty-five years. In that time he’s encountered many difficulties, including a devastating natural disaster that took the lives of many of his friends and family.
Some people would have given up by now, but not Pastor Peter. In fact, he did just the opposite, offering to take on more work by expanding the translation project to include several neighboring languages.
Why did he do it?
Let’s take a look.
The Early Days
Pastor Peter first learned about the work of Bible translation in 1985 when he met a man from the United States named Steve Whitacre who had come to Arop village to help start a translation project. Four years later a new translator named John Nystrom replaced Steve, and that’s when Pastor Peter and three other Arop men began working on the translation together.
For the next ten years they worked tirelessly, making steady progress toward a translation of the New Testament in Arop.
Then, on the evening of July 17, 1998, a large offshore earthquake triggered a massive tsunami with waves over thirty feet tall. The waves smothered Pastor Peter’s coastal neighborhood, which sat on a narrow spit of land between the ocean and a large lagoon. More than 840 people from his village were killed and a total of more than two thousand casualties were reported along the entire coastline, including people from the nearby villages of Sissano, Warapu, and Malol.
The tragedy left a huge gap in the Arop Bible translation team. One of the team members drowned, and with so many casualties in the community, the very future of the translation seemed to be up in the air.
Right after the tsunami, Pastor Peter visited the medical care center where crowds of people were being treated for all sorts of wounds. His own wife, Leoni, had serious internal injuries from being tossed around in the waves, although at first they didn’t realize just how bad they were. Others had severe lacerations and some even lost limbs due to infection in the weeks that followed.
While he was there, Pastor Peter compared experiences with people from the other villages along the coast. Since they came from different language communities, they spoke in Tok Pisin — the trade language of Papua New Guinea — and this got Pastor Peter thinking. Everyone around here had the Bible in Tok Pisin, but few people understand it as well as their own language, especially if they hadn’t been able to go to school. He knew how much Arop needed its own Bible, but what about these other languages? Was there a way to somehow expand the project to include them too?
It took a long time for things to stabilize after the disaster. Not knowing if or when another tsunami might come, people were afraid to go back and live on the beach again. Instead they decided to move inland to the place where their gardens were, and there they slowly began to rebuild their lives and homes.
As things settled down, Pastor Peter and the other remaining translation team members surveyed the situation and tried to visualize a way forward. Together they considered the question Pastor Peter had already asked himself: Would it be possible to share their resources with some of the communities around them so that all of them could have a Bible translation in their own language?
Now that they’d moved inland, the geographic challenges of working together were certainly not as great as they once would have been. But tackling several languages at once was bound to slow down their progress on the Arop translation. Were they willing to make that sacrifice?
Pastor Peter thought about the first time he read a draft of the Gospel of Luke in Arop at his church. When people heard the words, they began smiling and some even laughed because they could understand so clearly. That positive reaction was a major motivator for him as he kept at the translation work year after year. Surely his neighbors deserved that same experience.
After pondering all of the implications, the translators decided that delaying their own translation was worth it if it meant they could help their neighbors get the Bible years — maybe even generations — sooner than if they had to wait on additional help from outside the country.
Today, as a result of that decision, a total of eleven language communities are part of the Aitape West Translation Project, each benefitting from the experience of translators like Pastor Peter who’ve already been at this work for many years. Together they dream of the day when people from each of their communities will be able to smile and laugh because they can understand all of God’s Word in their own language.