As a whole, the Lavukal people of Solomon Islands consider themselves to be Christian. The first Christian missions came to the country in the early 1900s. However, the Lavukal people, in general, seem to have an incomplete view of God. They believe God is the great creator of all things, yet, in his holiness he is far away and removed from everyday life and concerns. Problems within the family, issues with crops or rains, difficulties with health — all of these are troubles that are not often taken to God. Instead, different forms of “custom medicine” are consulted. Some of these are truly beneficial, like natural leaves or herbs. Other forms interact with the spirit world. Sorcery is practiced and feared.
Church leaders often feel ill-equipped to face problems and often don’t know where to turn for help. A local church leader confessed one day that Aaron Choate, the project’s translation advisor, knows how to go to the Bible and apply what it says to his life, but that the Lavukal don't know how to do that. Aaron quickly reminded his friend that, that is precisely why he and his family are there — to help them not only translate God's Word into Lavukaleve, their own language, but to help them learn ways to actively engage with it and make it part of everyday life.
A Language Isolate
Geographically, the Lavukal people occupy a group of islands in the center of the Solomon Islands chain. They are isolated from every other language group by miles of open ocean. Historically, their closest contacts were with their nearest geographic neighbors, yet like many tribal peoples, these relationships were based on warfare, not friendship or trade.
For a time, this living situation has helped keep the Lavukal language free from the influence of surrounding languages, so linguistically the Lavukal are a language isolate as well. Many languages in the Solomon Islands are part of the same Astronesian language family. Speakers of one language often find learning other Solomon Islands languages fairly easy due to the similarities between the languages. The Lavukal are known across the country as having a challenging language to learn. Most of this opinion of the difficulties of Lavukaleve spring from the fact that is it so different than every other Solomon language.
Ezekiel’s Call and the Prayer Connection
The Lavukal have identified four men to be the initial drafters of the translation. One of these, Ezekiel Hassar, has been a key figure in the Lavukal translation project since the 1980s. In the ‘80s, the first translation awareness event came to the Lavukal people. God touched Ezekiel and he first felt the need and call for having the Bible in his own language. For many years, Ezekiel served as the Lavukal translation committee chairman, and at times, he toured the 18 Lavukal villages and nearly single-handedly kept the interest in the translation concept alive.
The Lavukal people endured many years of waiting as God prepared different families to participate in the translation project. In addition to missionary families assigned to the project in translation roles, one of the key elements of God's work in the Lavukal project was the Bibleless Peoples Prayer Project (BPPP). In 1992, the first BPPP prayer partners began praying for the project. By the end of the ‘90s the first translation team was assigned and initial language work was begun.
Various challenges and spiritual opposition led to this first team returning home. Soon after, another partner began to pray. In 2005, around the same time as this second partner started to pray, the Choate family — now working with the Lavukal — committed to work with Wycliffe. In the end, three different BPPP partners committed to pray for the Lavukal and each time a significant move forward occurred within the project.
The first set of BPPP partners still pray for the Lavukal and are now also ministry partners with the Choate family. Aaron said, “What a joy it is to serve the Lavukal people and to know we are living answers to nearly 25 years worth of prayers.”
Ezekiel is now one of the translators. Many times, as recently as September 2015, he was ready to quit. Thanks to God's faithfulness and the power of many prayer partners, he is still working on the translation he was given the vision for more than 30 years ago.
- Pray for wisdom for the translation team as they grapple with the challenges of translating a very complex language.
- Technology is developing rapidly, however, the learning curve for the Lavukal is steep. Pray that the translation team will be able to adequately take advantage of the technology that can provide great assistance in many levels of the translation process.
Make a Prayer Connection: Send an online prayer note to encourage Aaron and Joanna Choate, Wycliffe missionaries serving the Lavukal people in the Solomon Islands through Bible translation.