The Story of the Enga Bible Translation Project

by Reverend Maniosa Yakasa with Martin Dicke

Introduction

According to the 2000 census, an estimated 295,000 people live in the Enga Province of Papua New Guinea. Some estimate the current population to be between 400,000–500,000. Although they speak 11 different languages, 90 percent of the people speak Enga. According to Wycliffe Bible Translators, linguists have identified 18 different Enga dialects.

Enga is the largest single-speaking language group in a country of over 830 languages. And yet, the entire Bible has not yet been translated into Enga. Although some small language groups in PNG are dying out, the Enga language is an active, living and growing language. 

The “JESUS” Film in Enga

Early 2006, my cousin Mina and her husband were talking about the “JESUS” Film. They said that it was the best Christian movie in the world and had been translated into hundreds of languages. I wanted to see and translate it. I consulted the Lord in my daily prayers. I also talked with Steven Thomas, former director of the Papua New Guinea Bible Translation Association and asked if he could find the script. Steven Thomas, who was born in the far reaches of Enga and educated by LCMS missionaries, spent his career helping translate the Bible into many languages in PNG. He found the “JESUS” Film script, gave it to me and showed me some useful translation skills. Even though I had not seen the film, I began translating the script in 2006.

After I finished translating, Steven Thomas edited the script, and we began work on dubbing the film into the Enga language. The Christian churches in PNG did not respond to my request for help in dubbing the film. In the end, any interested people from the streets were hired for the Enga voice-over. I narrated and directed the voices. The Rev. Frank Paiyaka, a Lutheran pastor who now serves on the Enga Bible Translation Team, voiced the character of Jesus.

When we completed Enga “JESUS” Film, the Roman Catholic Bishop Arnold Aluwe arranged the first screening with all of his priests and elders at Par Catholic Center. After viewing the film, they commented, “Well done!”

Beginning the Work

Their response set me on fire to translate the Old Testament into Enga. Previously only the New Testament had been translated, and the language is antiquated. I asked the Lutheran authorities, but they showed no interest. Their lack of interest did not dampen my hope for an Enga language Bible. I reached out to other denominations and over 10 mainline churches agreed to work together.

Once again, I consulted Steven Thomas. We talked a lot. I said, “You are a Lutheran at the helm of the PNG translation institution. Why not translate the Old Testament?” He finally said, “The old Enga New Testament is overdue for revising. You do the New Testament first.” I then prayed to the Lord for resources, more participating church denominations and an advisor.

In 2012, Steven Thomas informed me that a young man with a master’s degree in theology wanted to serve as our advisor. After more discussion and prayer, we engaged Adam Boyd. He has a mission-minded wife, two sons and a daughter. Thank the good Lord for His grace. Adam assists us in the technical aspects of our work, checking the original languages of the Bible, translating concepts difficult to convey in the Enga language, backtranslations, and many other aspects of our work. He is directing us to a more literal translation similar to the ESV translation.

Translation Begins

In 2013, a nine-member team was trained at the Wycliffe Bible Translators PNG headquarters in Ukarumpa. At first, we simply tried to revise the 1988 Enga New Testament. We realized this would not work since the language was antiquated. The translation also used three dialects: Mai Enga, Laeyapo Enga, and Central Enga. Steven Thomas advised us to translate into Central Enga. We took his advice and are translating the Bible into Central Enga while using the 1988 translation and two other dialect translations as references.

All of the 16 prominent church bodies in Enga support the translation project. In 2017, additional translators were trained at Ukarumpa. Our current team of five members consists of three Lutherans: Rev. Frank Paiyaka, Reuben Yonasa, and me. I serve as lead translator. We are all members of the Bible Translation Association of PNG, and we meet daily at the Christian Life Church in Wabag, the capital of the Enga Province. 

We completed a first draft of the entire New Testament in 2019. A consultant has reviewed Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and Acts, and they are ready for printing. We are revising and editing the remaining books. Local churches and villages are already testing the new translation.

Regarding the Old Testament, we have completed the first draft of Genesis and Exodus, and we are currently translating six other books as well. The Abraham story has been reviewed and is ready for printing.

Recording and Literacy

Since many people in the Enga Province cannot read, recordings are being made of the finished translations. These recordings are also being placed on micro SD cards for use on touch screen phones and solar-powered MP3 players. A recent literacy training conference also trained church workers how to teach people to read.

Motto and Additional Work

Our motto is:

Let the people of Enga be transformed by the grace of God through the Enga Bible and may they believe in Jesus and receive life eternal.

Our objective is:

These men will by the grace of God translate both the Old and New Testament into the Central Enga dialect as perfectly as possible in the shortest time possible. “Not by might and power but by My Spirit, says the Lord of Host.” (Zechariah 4:6)

We also do more than translation. We recently recorded a statement in the Enga language against the false Sanguma practice in the Enga province. Our team preaches against Sanguma when we have the opportunity. We have also rescued women from being tortured in the villages. God goes with us in this effort. This practice appears to be growing cold, but some occurrences still arise. Missionary Anton Lutz also fights hard with us against Sanguma practice.

Please pray for us and for our work until that day spoken of by the apostle Paul when “every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is the Lord to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:8).


Reverend Maniosa Yakasa is a pastor of the Gutnius (Good News) Lutheran Church of Papua New Guinea. He serves as lead translator of the Enga Bible Translation Team. Here is his story.

Rev. Maniosa Yakasa
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