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Epic journey delivers Bible in Seimat

07 June 2013

JONATHAN TIDD

IT TOOK five aeroplanes, a sailing canoe, and a motor boat, and entailed negotiating shark-infested waters and strong ocean currents, but last Friday Lars Wicks and Jonathan Tidd finally arrived on the island of Patexux, in the Ninigo Islands, 150 miles north of Papua New Guinea.

They arrived to find that the population of the island had tripled to 900 people, present to celebrate the first translation of the New Testament in Seimat, the "heart language" of the island, at an event planned by community leaders for two-and-a-half years.

On Friday, Theresa Wilson and Beata Wozna, the translators, carried a box of the New Testaments through the air in a canoe, carried on the shoulders of local men (above).

Mr Wicks and Mr Tidd are members of the PCC at St Paul's, Leamington Spa, that supports the church's mission partners. Since 2001, the church has supported Ms Wilson who, alongside Ms Wozna, has spent the past decade producing the Seimat translation.

The two women first visited the islands in 2002, and discussed with community leaders the prospect of a translation. The community leaders then wrote to SIL International, a partner of Wycliffe Bible Translators, requesting that a team begin work. In 2009, St Paul's raised £26,000 to fund the printing of the New Testament in Seimat.

The project coincided with work by the provincial education department to train local people to become teachers of the language. At this time, there was no formal alphabet for Seimat - the language had never been written down. The two women had to learn the language from scratch and develop the first alphabet. They worked with school teachers and other adults to write the first story books and literacy materials in the language.

The translation is part of wider work conducted to improve literacy on the islands, which in turn helps to tackle other issues. Ms Wilson and Ms Wozna have also developed public-health materials to educate the islanders about HIV/AIDS.

On Tuesday, Mr Tidd described the journey, a round trip of 25,788 miles, which may earn a place in the honoured tradition of negotiating treacherous seas in the service of Christ: "We took five airplanes to get to the grass landing-strip on the Mal, the only island to have a grass airstrip, with each aircraft getting smaller and smaller.

"The route was Gatwick to Dubai to Brisbane to Port Moresby to Wewak on the north coast of Papua New Guinea (Air Nuigini) to Mal (on a SIL single propeller plane). From Mal we took a sailing canoe to the island of Lau, and then a motor boat across to the island of Patexux, where the celebration was being held. The sea was heavily shark-inhabited, but the bigger risks are really the very changeable weather, and the strong ocean currents."

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