12th Assembly 2009

God now talks stronger in Indigenous languages

“What we are talking about is extremely important. This is God’s word we are talking about. I would hope it is important in the eyes of the Assembly.”

The Rev. Rronang Garruwurra from Elcho Island was speaking in Sydney at a Friday lunchtime forum during the national Assembly of the Uniting Church in Australia.

He was affirming the strategic work of Coordinating Support for Indigenous Scripture (CSIS), the Uniting Church’s translation service in Central and Northern Australia.

A moving DVD presented testimony from many Aboriginal people from several remote regions who now have the Bible in their language.

“The words in English do not transform us, and we do not hear God speaking,” said Yurranydjil Dhurrkay from Arnhem Land. “But translated into our language I hear Him talking directly to me. Then I understand.

“He is like our close relative if we hear Him talking in the language He gave us.”

Mr Garruwurra agreed. “God spoke to Balanda (white people) first. We had to wait.

"As I reflect on those early years of the missionaries, I ask were we hearing God, or hearing someone else? How could we separate what was God’s voice and what was another person? When we hear English, it’s a foreign language for us.”

Established in 2007, CSIS is a collaborative project of the Northern Regional Council of the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress and the Uniting Church in Australia Northern Synod.

It now operates in four regions: East Arnhem land, West Arnhem land, the Kimberley and Central Australia.

The people of North-East Arnhem Land recently celebrated the launch of the Djambarrpuy?u New Testament. CSIS in West Arnhem is currently translating the New Testament into the Maung language.

In the Centre, CSIS supports scripture-in-use programs with the Pitjantjatjara shorter Bible. In the West Kimberley CSIS is translating gospel portions in Worrorra and songs into Ngarinyin.

“My experience as a minister, now reading God’s word in my language, God can talk even stronger to me,” Mr Garruwurra said through a translator.

“Reading in my language, it is like having a study. You read the words slowly, carefully and thoughtfully,” he explained. “Some of the theological concepts, getting a handle on, is important work for us as pastors.”

Nungalinya College principal the Rev. Dr Lee Levett-Olsen praised the work of the CSIS teams of Aboriginal linguists who have worked so hard for so long to achieve the translations now available.

“Language is not just a right,” he said. “It is a gift from God.”

For more information visit the Coordinating Support for Indigenous Scripture website.