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Hopes for 2022: More Bibles in heart languages

Sam Freney is a translation consultant with Bible Society Australia. He is also a pastor, holder of a PhD and a self-confessed “Bible nerd”. Here Sam shares his hopes for 2022.

Sam Freney

I’ve been fond of telling people recently – especially young people I’m in ministry with – that yes, 2021 was a terrible year. It’s okay to feel like it was terrible, and hope for something better. As I think about my hopes for next year, my immediate impulse is therefore to hope that parts of the terrible year that was 2021 will turn around. It’s not such a bad way to end, really – to take stock of what has happened in the past year, and hope and pray for God to do his thing in the coming months.

Lots of my hopes for 2022 have to do with languages and Bible translation around Australia. I work with the Bible Society of Australia as a translation consultant, which means that my specialty is in the original biblical languages (Greek and Hebrew). I get to assist translation teams as they seek to make the best, natural, accurate translation they can into their languages. Translators from the communities around Australia are the ones who are the experts in their languages; they’re the ones who want the Bible in their language and make it happen. I’m just along for the ride to offer some suggestions. I’m married, have a teenage daughter and live in Sydney.

Two major features of 2021 that I hope will not be a part of 2022 are homeschooling and state border closures. Sydney had a term and a bit of school-and-work-from-home during lockdown in 2021. That’s more than most places, less than many Victorians, but more than enough for our family. We’ve often remarked that we’ve never seriously considered homeschooling because the Bible says, “Do not murder”. I fear we came close to being proven right in term three this year! My daughter found it extraordinarily difficult to be online for school. She’s an extroverted only child and hated having to be on a screen all day for both school and any social interactions. We very much hope this season doesn’t feature in the coming year.

I’m looking forward to being able to travel to the Kimberley region of WA, [to assist with a Bible with a Bible] translation project there.

I’m also hoping that border closures don’t continue to be part of our collective lives. This impacted us personally in 2021 (as much of our family live interstate) and also professionally. I’m looking forward, for example, to being able to travel to the Kimberley region of WA as that state border reopens to us over in the east. There’s a translation project there in the Kimberley dialect of Kriol, a language spoken across the top end of Australia by over 30,000 people. They’re doing an oral Bible translation, where the traditional translation process is shifted into listening to Bible passages over and over again, internalising the message, and then speaking that story, poem or passage in their own language. I’m hoping to be able to get there so I can help the team ensure their translation is an accurate rendition of the original texts. It’s an exciting project and an exciting process. Many of our Indigenous brothers and sisters around the country speak traditional languages fluently, but are less literate in them than they are in English. So a Bible they can listen to is much more accessible and engaging than one they may not be able to read.

I hope to see God at work in other Bible translations. I’m working with the Pitjantjatjara team in central Australia on parts of the Old Testament. We hope to have Judges finished off early in the year, with more to come. The Auslan translation committee is working on producing some resources to help the Australian deaf community engage with some of the Scriptures already produced in video format, especially around Easter time. The church community in Gunbalanya in Arnhem Land are working on the next stage of producing the Psalms in Kunwinjku.

I’m hoping that God will take that experience and multiply it, and spur on some of the translators to take on more projects …

During a small window where it was possible, I travelled to Darwin last May to take part in a project called the “Christmas Book”. We’re trying to get Luke 2:6-12 translated into as many languages as possible. Translators from across the Top End came and worked on translating this story about Jesus’ birth. Some of these translations were the first known Scriptures in their languages. I’m hoping that God will take that experience and multiply it, and spur on some of the translators to take on more projects to get God’s work written or recorded in their communities.

At one point in this workshop, a Gurindji woman listened to a recorded version of the passage she had been translating over the week. She’s been a Christian for longer than I’ve been alive. But as she sat and listened for the very first time to the announcement in her language of “the good news of great joy” that Jesus the Messiah was born, she could not help but cry.

My hope for 2022 is that whatever the language, whatever the place, more people hear about Jesus and have that joy of knowing him.

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