Why is Bible translation needed? Don't these peoples speak Russian?

Since the breakup of the Soviet Union, the non-Slavic peoples in the CIS have rediscovered their ethnic and cultural identity. They desire to speak their own language and to promote their own cultural and national values. Although most of them do speak and understand Russian, many testimonies show how important it is to make the Bible available in their mother tongues:

A Nenets believer: ”My relatives accused me of abandoning my origin and our Nenets culture and traditions when I became a Christian. The Nenets think that one has to become Russian in order to be a Christian. Therefore it is important to get the New Testament in our language. Now, when the Gospel of Luke is printed and we have the Christian words in Nenets, I can tell my grandmother and my relatives about God in a language that they will understand!”

Member of the Karakalpak team: “We need the Bible in our language. Earlier, when I read it in Russian, I understood with my head. But now, when I read in my own language, I understand with my heart, and I can see that I am beginning to change.”

Reader of the Four Gospels in Chuvash: ”God’s Word in our native language is heard more directly and stirs the deepest feelings.” 

Member of the Kalmyk translation team: “Most of the Kalmyk people know Russian, but they say: ‘When we read the Gospel in our language we receive God as our own, but when we read it in Russian then Jesus Christ is a Russian God.’”

Reader of the Gospel in Lezgi: “All my life I thought that God is a Russian God, but now when I read the Gospel in my own language I understand that he is mine, and that he loves me.”

What does Bible translation mean to the translators?

”Is there anything to write, after the Bible?”

The Altais number about 70,000 and live in the Republic of Altai, the Altai territory and in the Kemerovo region in Russia. Their language belongs to the Turkic language family. The Altais are Orthodox Christians / Shamanists.

The translator of the Altai New Testament is a well-known author and poet. At the presentation of the Altai New Testament in December 2003, he said: ”Next year I will be 50 years old. But only the last 12 years have been meaningful, the years I have been working on the New Testament. What I did earlier seems empty and meaningless. Is there anything to write, after the Bible? Now I find it difficult to let go of this book, knowing that I shall not be able to do anything more on it. But it is good to know that we have done absolutely everything we could to make a good translation.”

"What had earlier been only words now became meaningful"

A translator in one of the Central Asian Bible translation projects said “I agreed to do this work because I wanted to become a better Muslim. I knew that the Bible was one of the holy books mentioned in the Quran. While I was translating I thought a lot about the text and we had many interesting talks in the team. The Bible words spoke to me, and after some months I decided to become a Christian. Then something interesting happened – my translation work completely changed! What had earlier been only words now became meaningful, and it became much easier to work!"

"This work means everything to me”

The Chuvash number about 2 million and live in the Republic of Chuvashia in Russia. Chuvash belongs to the Turkic language family. The Chuvash are Orthodox Christians.

The Chuvash translator, a well-known Chuvash writer and poet said “ I had read the Bible even during the Soviet era, but understood it only with my head, not with my heart. Even though I had been baptized as a child, I didn’t really ever get deeply into reading Christian literature. When I read the draft of the new translation, I realized that the translators were not literary experts, and that they were translating on a very simple level. They understood spoken Chuvash, but a good translation requires more than this. It requires knowledge of the literary language, of the socio-cultural language environment, of how the translation would be understood by the general reader. This all needs to be done on a professional level.  I thank God that I was able to join the translation team. I am like the prodigal son who has returned home. Now I am analyzing the poems I wrote earlier and can see that I was seeking God. This work means everything to me.”

The last act

The Ossetes (about 600,000) live in the Republic of North Ossetia, Northern Caucasus, in Russia. The Ossetic language belongs to the Iranian language family. The Ossetes are Orthodox Christians / Muslims.

The philological checker of the Ossetic New Testament, published in 2004, was a well-known Ossetic writer. He was of Muslim background. In recent years he had many thoughts about Christianity and there were many deep discussions in the translation team. In 2003 he suddenly fell ill with a serious form of cancer. For some months he fought the illness. One evening he asked the translator to come to his home. He prayed together with him and surrendered his life to the Lord. The next day he died.