Ian and Marietta Flaws have worked as SIL (Wycliffe Bible Translators) translation advisors in the Paicî language of New Caledonia since 1991. Paicî is an Austronesian language spoken by about 6,000 people in the northern part of the main island of New Caledonia. From 1990-1995 they lived in a Paicî village to learn the language and build relationships. From 1996 they have been returning for up to 3 months each year to work with two local translation teams.
In 2000, SIL, along with Global Recordings Network and Lifewords (formerly Scripture Gift Mission) worked together to produce two booklets in Paicî with accompanying audio cassette, "Jesus Christ has the Power to Save" and "Peter", a book with 9 stories from the Scriptures about the disciple Peter. GRN's Chris Mason recorded the stories in New Caledonia with members of the two Paicî Bible translation teams.
Ian left the distribution of the booklets and cassettes in the hands of two committed local Christians. Prices were set by the translation teams at very affordable levels, just enough to recoupe costs. However, when Ian returned the following year, he was disappointed to find most books and cassettes still sitting in their boxes.
On a later visit, the situation hadn't changed much. Ian decided to promote the booklets and cassettes himself at a major annual church event. Having always preferred to take background roles, it was quite a challenge to stand up before 300 people and announce the booklets and cassettes in Paicî.
Suddenly there was silence. Everyone fixed their attention on the white man speaking Paicî! The message was well received, and Ian was hopeful that over the course of the 2-day meeting a good number of the booklets and cassettes might be sold. He left the materials on a side table, with a box for people to put their money in.
After Ian's announcement, the morning meeting was over and Ian went out to change into cooler clothes. When he returned 5 minutes later, an older man, one he called 'father' in Paicî kinship system, was calling to him from the table where the books were. "Son, quick, come and get your money. Your father's been looking after it for you for the last few minutes - all the books and tapes have sold!"
Amazed, Ian saw that it was true - there wasn't a booklet or tape left, and people who had missed out were coming up and asking for copies. The people were keen to get their hands on the Bible message in their own language, spoken by their own kinsmen.
Nothing communicates like one's own language. And there is no message more important than the Scriptures. In traditional oral societies, such as Paicî, having the word in audio format is a major drawcard, and actually encourages people to attempt to read along with the recording as they listen. Reading is a skill that will eventually develop when the New Testament is later published.
SIL and Global Recordings Network are now reproducing the materials on CD to reach a younger, more technologically savvy, Paicî audience. And with Lifewords, they are looking at printing and recording the completed Gospel of Mark as an evangelism tool.
It is four years since Chris Mason recorded the Paicî messages mentioned in the accompanying article. (Apart from French, there are around 38 languages or dialects spoken in New Caledonia.) 300 cassettes were sent to New Caledonia to be distributed.
After a slow start, the use and response to these recordings was so encouraging that Chris has been asked to make more recordings. He is preparing to go to New Caledonia next month. We trust God for this project so that the Paicî people may receive more recordings of Scriptures and messages in their own language. These will be produced on CD, and used in a trial on a solid-state player called 'Megavoice'.