Translation Teasers 11th March 2021

Ronnie Sim introduces the short series ‘Translation Teasers’ wherein he discusses the various ‘Teasers’ Bible translators encounter in their work, and how they can be resolved.

Ronnie gives an example from Matt 7:9-10 & Luke 11:11-12

Ronnie touches on the subject of Marriage. Mark 6:18

Ronnie looks at Judas Iscariot in context. John 13:26-27

Ronnie looks at end-times in context. Rev 6:6

Ronnie looks at the subject of kissing, which is alien to some cultures. How does the translator get around this?
Gen 29:11

Inclusive & Exclusive NT. Ronnie looks at the account of the Roman Centurion. Luke 7:5

Inclusive & Exclusive OT. Ronnie looks at Gen 26:28

Update 17th Feb 2021

Margaret and I still include family and friends in our prayer before food. We mention many and their circumstances by name. Occasionally, there is a burnt offering on the hob as I call on the Lord at much length. The chef gets nervous … it might smell good, but can we still eat it? Someone told us to pray after eating, but clearing takes over.

A number of you have emailed the solution to the difference between Mt 1.13 and Lk 3.27… where Zerubbabel’s son is named either Abiud or Rhesa. A discrepancy? My friend Dishoni in Nigeria said to the Muslim who raised it,

“Abiud and Rhesa could be two sons of Zerubbabel; Matthew picked Abiud’s line, while Luke picked Rhesa’s line.”

That resolves the discrepancy immediately…assuming one follows Joseph’ genealogy and one Mary’s. Most of you put your finger on this immediately. A few more did so less directly. I think the easy way to distribute the prize is to suggest you buy yourself an ice cream, a cake, or a chocolate bar and send me the bill.

But this letter is to draw to your attention some of our colleagues for prayer.

Daniel Hankore and his wife Dero and children in Ethiopia.  In a recent email, Daniel included the following about the Gedeo translation of Acts in southern Ethiopia:

“In Gedeo social culture, appealing to a higher authority for justice follows one of two routes: 1) Appealing to the higher authority to come to the elders who were handling the matter and represent the case. or 2) If he is appealing to a person who cannot come to the elders’ meeting, he may say ‘annake afeene’ meaning ‘I have a father’. The case will then be sent to the higher authority. In Acts 25:11-12, since the Emperor Caesar cannot come from Rome to Caesarea, Paul’s appeal says ‘I have a father who is Caesar of Rome.’ Interesting!”

A couple of recent gifts from some of you encouraged them, but they would value additional regular support. Covid has disrupted routine gift income from supporting friends and churches. 

Simon Zekewos and colleagues, also in Ethiopia.  They have about ten New Testaments and Bibles nearing the printing stage, and some may already be in the printers’ hands. Some of their computers are old and less reliable. They tried getting reconditioned ones from an agency in London—but because of Covid many laptops have gone to UK schools, to help our pupils with home schooling. This is something to pray about. I keep wondering about it.

Olivia (and Serge) Razafinjatoniary. Olivia is consultant for projects in Madagascar and checks with translators by Zoom. You might remember that two projects had no funds for the internet. Again a couple of gifts from some of you helped them through into 2021, but Olivia’s email yesterday is worth reading:

“The Tsimihety team won’t be able to continue without internet support. The girl who is always there to work with me has no source of income, she lives with her brother’s family and assumes all the home chores, and so we work in the afternoons. But I am so grateful for her, she is very strong in faith and she loves the Lord. She really desires to bring the NT in her language to her people. Remember her in prayer, her name is Soarimino. “

Mufaya and his wife in Zambia. Everyone is busy working the fields and anticipating harvest in a few more weeks. Food stocks are low and prices are increasing. Excessive rain left surface water everywhere, and led to outbreaks of malaria. Betty Mufaya is one who succumbed, and her health is up and down. As a rural pastor, Mufaya relies on harvest and occasional gifts, so pray for them also.

The Mbula translators. Our planned Zoom meeting last week made no progress because of the instability of the internet. Genesis is almost finished for now, and the translators have a lot on their plate before they can continue with Exodus. Pray about their workload, and the way ahead.

Thank you for your prayer and financial support, as part of the team to make scriptures available,


Update 12th Feb 2021

There’s a lot of talk these days about a second wave… the Mbula translators and I finally had our second wave on Zoom last week, 1 –5 February. They graciously delayed to give me a longer lull, and I spent the time reading through their translation and tucking Notes in here and there [see last letter]. So they could read them and deal with them before we met on Zoom. That meant we got through the group time together in a single week. Progress surprised them as well as me, but the software really made a difference.

On the Thursday the team hinted that they hoped to finish on Friday and return home on Saturday. Reasonable! I had been planning for a second week, but the weekend away from home would be dead time.

We got through Genesis 50 on Friday, and I ended the week with a feel-good sense of satisfaction, but it didn’t cover energy to write this update. There are still points in Genesis I want to look at, but we agreed to do a Zoom meeting from their home area, city of Yola in Adamawa Province. We tried yesterday, but the internet was unstable and we could not communicate clearly enough for any progress. I ended up sending a string of emails with some of the points I still wanted to look at.

Consulting on translation always carries surprises…… I had never noticed before “There’s a whole lotta kissing  goin’ on” in Genesis! And I only noticed it now because – as in many African communities – kissing is not known in Mbula society. It’s not used for greeting, and isn’t a romantic expression either. Even when Jacob kisses Rachel, it isn’t romance; and what did this teenage girl think when a stranger comes up, kisses her [where?] and bursts into tears [Gen 28.11]. There’s no word for kissing in Mbula, but it occurs nine times [Gen 27–50; check it out!]. We agreed to use the more general word “embrace”. I think kissing to express love only occurs in Song of Songs, and only twice. And, No. I didn’t ask.

Working on the genealogies seems thankless, but there are always M&Ms tucked in for the hungry. Our discussion on Tamar [Gen 38] led us into Mat 1.3 then vv. 5-6 in my efforts to inject wee thoughts to lighten the work—how the only women mentioned in Mat 1 are Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba: all non-Israelites, all vulnerable and marginalised, and their children outside the norm. As we talked, Dishoni, one of the team told the following:

‘A Muslim man confronted a Christian sister who worked in a Christian bookshop. He said that in Mat. 1.13 it says: “Zerubbabel was the father of Abiud”; and in Luke 3.27 it says: “Rhesa was the son of Zerubbabel”. According to him, this is an error in the Bible. If not, the sister should explain. She could not. At that point I came around. I said to him, “xxx xxx xxx xxx.” He said he had confronted many Christians with the question, and each time they were at a loss as to give an explanation. He exclaimed, “From now henceforth, it is to you that I will be bringing my questions!”’

There’s a prize for your best answer, email me at Dishoni’s response in the next update.

Meanwhile, pray for the follow-up work on Genesis over the next couple of weeks. And for future plans with Exodus. I hope to get back to some more writing in coming weeks. I enjoy the teaching and consulting of the past three months, even by Zoom, but my head is full of things that I want to get written down. As ever, Margaret picks up a lot of other things to keep me going.

I hope to have another update very soon, because there is news of other people we’re involved with.

Thank you for your prayer and financial support, as part of the team to make scriptures available,


Update 21st Jan 2021

Is this a lull in the storm? My preparation and presentation of work on Jeremiah concluded last week, and work on Genesis resumes next week with the Mbula translators in Nigeria. If this week is a lull, then it’s a stormy one! Since Jeremiah ended I’ve been back into Genesis each day.

The ParaText software we use is good. I work on their translation here, on my computer. I can put notes in, and each day “Send” it back for them to look at in Nigeria. Tomorrow I can “Receive” their responses. And so it goes… …there is no lull, and my guess is that both sides are struggling to keep up with the other. I certainly have a backlog of responses to look at. I’ll probably get to most of them next week, when we get on Zoom again.

Zoom is good too—but it isn’t face to face, and I miss the interaction. I find it difficult to feel the group’s response to things I say. That was particularly true of the Jeremiah seminars—I can do my bit, but feeling what they are thinking and feeling at the other end of Zoom is difficult. It will be easier next week. It is much more a back and forward discussion and each individual voices their thoughts and feelings.

I thought we’d resume work on Genesis sooner, but now I am glad the Mbula team chose to begin next week. It has given me recovery time. So, on Monday when I open up my computer here at 7.45 am, and join their zoom meeting, I hope to be fresh, and full of enthusiasm. Six hours per day for two weeks stretches ahead, and that truly will stretch us all. In December we delivered Rebekah to Isaac’s arms, and we’ll pick up with Abraham’s death and the belated birth of Esau and Jacob in Gen 25. We’ll find visions, dreams, magic, household gods, and burial customs in ancient Egypt. And the poignancy of Jacob’s gift during famine—some aromatic oils gathered patiently from various shrubs eked out with some honey and a couple of bags of nuts.

It is steady, patient work, but each day something lights up, brings new insight, and enthuses us to keep going. And that is what to pray for: energy and enthusiasm to go steadily each day.

As for Zambia, Mufaya’s phone crashed and contact is less at the moment. He was worried about too much rain, the danger of flooding, and damage to growing crops. Two years ago drought was the worry, now it is excessive rain. People will be eating the end of last year’s harvest, looking forward to a new harvest in April. It’s a time for work and worry. Evangelism will have its day again after harvest.

Turning to Ethiopia, translation consultant Simon Zekewos was planning to import refurbished computers from a London-based organisation, and we were planning to help out with freight costs. But, because so many children in UK are home schooling, there has been a high demand for refurbished laptops, and a shortage for sending elsewhere. Freight companies are also doing less. So, we are waiting to see if things will be better in March.

And last, but not least, the year began with the arrival of a new grand-daughter on 4th January, to Gillies and Louise; the hard work was Louise’s. Welcome Isla! Isla isn’t interested in home schooling yet, but the other grandchildren are all struggling away, learning at home. I hope that this past year makes everyone realise how important it is to be together with friends and family. When will Covid19 be under some control!

Thank you again for your prayer and ongoing support. In spite of Covid19, work goes on. Pray especially for the time with Mbula on Genesis next week.


Nkoya update 21st Dec 2020

I feel as if I’ve been going like a sparkler since Friday. No, not angry sparks, just that a week working on Genesis with the Mbula translators left me supercharged. A long time ago, English Bible translator, J.B. Phillips wrote that translating the New Testament was like re-wiring a house without being able to turn the mains off. Everything you touched gave you a shock. As we worked through the first half of Genesis, I felt that I was always working on the live wire.

Every story charged me up until … I was sparking all weekend. That was in spite of spending six hours each day on Zoom meetings, since I was sitting in Largs and the Mbula translators were in Nigeria. It’s amazing that technology lets us meet through a screen even when we’re worlds apart, but it is tiring. So, I’m happy that as well as feeling tired on Friday I was sparking and fizzing … Hagar’s story, Lot’s daughters, Rebekah’s story. My! What a teenage girl Rebekah was!

Although consulting is slow, meticulous work, what goes on in the stories gets into you, heart and mind. Sometimes I am frustrated hearing people say, “This is not only for your head; it’s also for your heart.” As far as I am concerned, translation consulting hits both. I hope we’ll do the second half of Genesis in January. We had planned to spend two weeks on it in early November [see last letter], but circumstances were against it, time passed, and we were glad to get in one week just before Christmas.

And this has been the story of the past few months. No sooner did I have the future all laid out flat and smooth, than it began curling up somewhere.

In Zambia, Mufaya has kept visiting a village, getting a positive response to the gospel message, some baptisms, and meeting each week under the tree on rough benches [below].

BELOW RIGHT: This baptism seems to be in a corner of a flooded field, fully clothed, with the woman at the left ready to wipe down the person’s face.

Mufaya, cheerful as ever! Just at the weekend, his Committee agreed to give a substantial discount on Nkoya Bibles. Great news!

Mufaya himself attended what we call an Exegetical Workshop for a different project, the Nkangala New Testament. Here they are during a break-time. One woman is a translator, the other a consultant. This is good to see. Last week, the Mbula left the woman of the team back home when they travelled for work with me. I was sorry—a woman adds different eyes to the draft translation.

In the last update, I mentioned the two projects in Madagascar held up by lack of funds for the internet, Analamanga and Tsimihety. No sooner had we sent funds for Consultant, Dr Olivia to use setting up internet for them, than a friend sent in another month’s funds. So they’ve been able to finish the year!

ABOVE: Olivia’s screen when she’s working with a team, just like my work last week with Mbula. So, we see each other; the translation; and some other windows showing other features for our work.

We’ve also agreed to help a group in Ethiopia get new laptops. They’ll fund the laptops, and we’ll help on the transport costs. I am hoping this will go ahead without delay.

I’m afraid the news has been building up. Even cutting it short, I’m into page 2. But you can look at the pictures! So, thank you again for praying and supporting this work. Without this there would be little done.


Nkoya update, 23rd Oct 2020

It’s rare to get a piece of real new news, but I got several two weeks ago, and I’ve been fighting for time to write ever since.

First was an email from Nigeria, hoping I would do some checking with the Mbula project. About three or so years ago I agreed to their invitation to be their consultant, then nothing. They were starting Old Testament, and struggled to get funds together. Time passed with no developments. When Covid19 came along, I put the Mbula Old Testament out of my mind…until Wednesday 7th. The team had funds for about a year, and meanwhile had translated Genesis and Exodus. Would I be able to do some consulting in November? Not by going there, but by zoom or skype!

It took over the weekend to get my head round it, and then I said yes. I would need to replan the rest of the year, and knew I was taking on six or seven hours per day skyping or zooming for two weeks. So, that’s what I will be doing for the first half of November [2nd–13th]. Consulting is a pleasure face-to-face, but ten full days on the internet, looking at faces, will be tiring.

At the same time, I learned about two translation teams in Madagascar, the Analamanga and Tsimihety who have not been able to have contact by zoom with their consultant—a former student, living in South Africa with her husband, and these days also limited to consulting by zoom.

Olivia is an enthusiastic, committed woman, and so we began emailing about the need. The translators are students, neither team has the funds to give them all internet access. We sent some funds to get them started, and hopefully, they will get some consultant time in the next month or two. Olivia is from Madagascar, but also can’t travel because of Covid19.

There are two things to pray for … Olivia and me, the translators we’ll be in contact with, and the portions we’ll be looking at. Doing it by skype or zoom for hours each day will be tiring for us all, translators included.

Meanwhile, Mufaya is a wee bit frustrated. Nkoya Bible sales are slow, because people are still recovering from last year’s shortages, and cautious about laying out the cost to buy a Bible. And the rains are about to begin another farming year. People will be busy preparing, their attention on the fields rather than reading. I’m really hoping the Translation Committee will see their way to giving a worthwhile discount. It would encourage Mufaya and me, and get Bibles in the hands of the people who need them.

Finally, some WhatsApp texts from Ethiopia tell me the two full Bibles, Gamo and Gofa, finally go off to the printer next week, after long delays caused by the way Covid19 disrupted office work.

Sincere thanks to all of you for prayers and support,


Nkoya Update, 28th Sep 20

In late August, Mufaya made a visit to another Nkoya chief. This was Chief Kahare – and they presented him with a copy of the Nkoya Bible. In receiving it, he said he had known about it and had been waiting for a long time. He requires those who visit to sit with their legs straight out. For me, in Africa this is uncommon; legs are usually tucked out of sight. He has several other chief’s areas to visit.

A courtesy visit to the chief comes first, and only after his favour is given will the team “intrude into his territory”. I think the main delay is hiring transport to out-of-the-way places for taking a small team of evangelists to each one. November sees the start of the new farming year. The farmers’ “slack time” will be over as they begin – preparing the ground. September and October are still good for evangelism.

Mufaya is still on local radio promoting and reading from Nkoya Bible each week. Here is a photo from a dark studio.

His wife’s health has been a worry – Betty Mufaya. She finally had minor surgery in August to remove a fatty cyst. This is healing, but her blood results are still not normal and she was due to have a scan last week.

Effect of Covid in Zambia is remarkably low: the number of cases is only 14,600 cases with 332 deaths. As we know it interferes with social life – and evangelism too. Ethiopia’s Covid numbers are now higher – over 73,000 cases with 1000 deaths. We have friends and colleagues there who are trying to work from home. This is not easy with translation – translators want to be with their team daily for discussion, and so do consultants. I have mentioned before a long-time friend and colleague, Dr Daniel Hankore for your prayers in life and work. As we know here, there is no end in sight yet, and I cannot even think of planning a trip!

Turning to our own situation: we are both well, and have enjoyed meeting up with family occasionally. Church doesn’t meet except on zoom! My major work is still researching and writing short Introductions for Old Testament Books. It might seem straightforward, but to put my finger on each book’s distinctive contribution and say it briefly in a way that translators could use as a model, is demanding. I keep reminding myself that each Introduction has the potential to help translators themselves, and when published, to help pastors and teachers, as well as ordinary Bible readers.

Here is the progress so far: Introductions are close to ready on Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Ruth, Esther, Job, Song of Songs, Ecclesiastes, Lamentations, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Amos, Hosea, Micah. I have also done basic work on Joshua, Judges, 1 & 2 Kings, Chronicles, Psalms, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi, with more to do on each of these. It takes longer than I thought it would!

I have three needs – a clear mind [1] to see the distinctives and [2] to write them in an accessible way, [3] with no room for waffle or shallow, tasteless claims. And to do it in 500-600 words.

So, keep praying for these inputs to translation from my work, and the outcomes from people like Mufaya, who are making time and opportunity to get newly published Bibles into people’s hands.

Thank you for your prayers, encouragement, and support,


Nkoya update, 23rd June 2020

On Sunday 14th June, Mufaya took up an invite to speak about the Nkoya Bible on local radio. In the left photo he is in the studio, and it is a chat and phone-in programme. The right hand photo shows the Nkoya Section of radio with a good smile, having received his own copy of the Bible. So, pray for its distribution and reception. It was translated so that people would read God’s Word, and find satisfaction of all kinds in it.

Mufaya had hoped for greater excitement from the callers… but that’s life, and it is still a great opportunity. He was back again last Sunday [21st]. “We had a good time.” he said. “I was given time to preach in Shinkoya. I have been asked again, next Sunday [28th] to teach the love of Jesus in Shinkoya.”

Mufaya is a pastor with a heart for evangelism, and he is also working with the chaplains of the local hospital and prison in Kaoma town, to place Bibles there for the use of patients and prisoners. Pray again for his radio opportunity. This is good.

The Chaplain thanked the support, “This is the right tool for this time. Continue praying for us, as you can see the prison is congested with inmates, both male and female. Very sorry that because of the covid meanwhile we are not allowing outsiders to mix with the inmates. Otherwise we still extend our invitation when the covid is over or when HQ will allow. We still invite you to come and share the gospel with us. We appreciate your prayers, words, and support. Only that we cannot allow pictures of our inmates at present. Be free to visit and even give prayers.”

Kaoma district Hospital. This is children’s ward nurse-in-charge receiving the Nkoya bibles as Sr Alice Kawisha handing over the five copies. The nurse appreciating and thanking the Nkoya community for donating the Bibles to the ward says, “We know this cloud [the coronoavirus] needed this kind of a blessing for all patients and staff in the hospital. We are very grateful for your kindness.”

The translation committee members have also been involved in their own harvesting. Pray for them, that they can return to the task of Bible distribution. Their work is not completed with publication!



Nkoya update, 30th May 2020

Like most nations in our world at present, Ethiopia is deeply concerned about coronavirus. “Stay at home. Work from home” people have been told. So, most translation consulting has shuddered to a halt. In only a few places is there a signal for Skype, Zoom or Facetime.

I’ve mentioned Daniel Hankore to you before. His faith income includes an honorarium from each agency he does some work for. Right now, he is at home with his wife Dero and two youngest children, who he has to home school. A familiar picture now to us here!

Here is a photo of Daniel and Dero. Pray for them as their income too, is restricted. Daniel keeps preparing for future consulting.

As I write I am conscious that yesterday was the planned Dedication of the Nkoya Bible. Because of restrictions brought by coronavirus, there was no celebration yet. Mufaya says “Trusting the same God to give us another day.” He is working to get a team of evangelists to encourage people to read their new Bible. His church building at least has been approved for opening, and I’m sure they’ll be meeting tomorrow. And meantime, harvest continues. It is a labour intensive time, with all members of the family involved. I’ll leave a series of photos below to tell part of the story.

Back at the Ranch … I completed my four articles for this planned Encyclopedia of Biblical Greek Language and Linguistics, and sent them off, and Margaret got hers off too. Now we wait for the editors to tell us to change dots to colons, and colons to commas… This lets me shine my earlier work on Jeremiah and Ezekiel, and then get on to something else. But I’ll take some slack time, and catch up on delayed DIY outside the house.

Left to Right: The temporary store has a lot of maize. It is to last a family for
a year. Right: Nearby is a funny erection. A little walled and roofed “table”… with a pit dug below.

Some cobs are put on the “table” and beaten with thick sticks to knock off the kernels. Kernels can fall through the rough table top of tied sticks—it acts like a sieve. Mufaya sent a short video of two young men beating the cobs. It will take two days [or more] to beat the kernels off of all the cobs. The video is worth watching! Ask me for it and I’ll send it to you.

At the right side, two young fellows are down in the pit after hours of beating. Now the kernels are bagged and go to the women who winnow it in baskets to get all the bits of broken cob and grit out of it. Only when it is clean do they take it to the mill. Maize meal makes the staple food, nshima.

Thank you for your prayer and support

Ronnie & Margaret