The attention of the world’s media did not linger long on the South Pacific nation of Vanuatu after the devastation caused by Cyclone Pam in March. Yet the residents of Vanuatu will continue to feel the cyclone’s impact, both practically and emotionally, for a long time to come. Among them are Collinette Siba and her family, who live on the tiny island of Pentecost, one of 83 that make up Vanuatu. They lost their home and their possessions, yet one precious thing survived: the New Testament translation on which Collinette has been working for 19 years.
“We lost everything during the cyclone,” she says. “Our home and our guest house were destroyed, and we had to take refuge in the church. We were terrified. After the cyclone had gone, we discovered that there was nothing left. But before the cyclone had struck, my husband Robin had put our Bible and my translation books in a plastic container, which he had placed under a table. It was still there, not even wet!”
Cyclone Pam is just the latest in a series of challenges which have hit the project to translate God’s Word into Hano, Collinette’s language, since it began in 1979. Parts of the translation have been lost or damaged in previous cyclones, meaning that Collinette has had to repeat work already completed. And obtaining sufficient funding has always been hard. Now, though, the end is in sight: it is hoped to complete the New Testament next year.
Financial support will certainly play a key role in bringing this project to completion. What is equally important, however, is emotional support for the translators, who continue to live and work in very difficult circumstances. This became clear at a recent translation checking session in Port Vila led by Apenisa Lewatoro, Translation Officer at the Bible Society in the South Pacific.
“It quickly became clear to me that the translators are still traumatised,” he says. “Collinette, her husband and their four children are still living in a tent. Drinking water is strictly rationed and they have to wash in the sea, a 45-minute walk away. They have only received two food packages from the government. There is no hope of them rebuilding their home in the near future. The other translators are facing similar challenges.”
On hearing the translators’ stories, Apenisa quickly changed his plans for their time together.
“Before we met, I’d decided that my main aims would be to check some Scripture comic translations and to work on the Hano New Testament project. I realised, though, that I should give some time to trauma healing. For two hours every morning, before we worked on the translations, we talked and prayed together. We found a lot of comfort in sharing our experiences. We also decided to translate into Bislama (the common language of Vanuatu) a trauma healing booklet called Healing the Wounds of Trauma: How the Church can Help.”
Please pray for Collinette and others in Vanuatu who are still experiencing great pain and suffering as a result of Cyclone Pam. Pray, too, for the completion of the Hano New Testament and for other translation work in the South Pacific.