Sickness and Immigration, Revenge and Xenophobia

Based on 2 real people I have had contact with, but with names changed. Have a read and a think. Comment if you like below.


Back to Sender - Version 2Joseph was suffering from some leg pain without any particularly obvious cause. Clearly someone with a grudge against him or envious of him in some way must have caused that pain. Getting medical help won’t deal with the underlying problem, and he’s understandably not very confident that the clinic will do anything much for him. The only real way to deal with it is to visit the traditional healer who can help suggest who might be to blame, and then try to do whatever it takes to send the sickness ‘back to sender’. Surely that’s quite understandable? Continue reading Sickness and Immigration, Revenge and Xenophobia

Making dictionaries serve translation

My paper Making Dictionaries Serve [Bible] Translation is here on open for comments. Below is the abstract and introduction.

Making dictionaries serve translation

David Rowbory, Translation Consultant in Training, SIL Nigeria

A paper presented at the 2015 Bible Translation Conference hosted by GIAL Dallas, Texas, 16-20 October relating to the sub-themes Technology and other Tools, Theory & Practice and Translator Training.


John Roberts has lamented the tendency of Bible translators to ignore lexicography until after a New Testament has been completed and printed. The consequence is that while the translation process necessarily reveals much of the lexical richness of a language, few dictionaries are ever finished and little of the effort of creating such a dictionary ends up benefitting the translation itself. It does tend to be a peculiar minority of people who attack the task of lexicography with relish, but I want to outline the many ways that a working dictionary can and should support better writing. Recent developments have eroded many of the difficulties which have hindered the development and use of dictionaries. There is no need to typeset a full dictionary before it is used; software-based dictionaries can be useful even when incomplete. Rather than throwing knowledge away, every translator or pioneer writer should see the dictionary as a place to store the riches of their language and conserve the fruit of their wrestling with the language. Mother-tongue translators need dictionaries too. Where a diverse range of community members contribute their knowledge of the language to make a good, growing, living dictionary it can provide consultants, reviewers and translators alike with a wider evidence base for their decisions than mere individual opinion. I survey recent developments that make dictionary development more achievable than ever before, and propose procedures for Bible translators to use and maintain a dictionary with examples from projects that have done this.

Continue reading Making dictionaries serve translation

Letting go the familiar words and holding onto the real meaning

[This was first drafted in July – well before the C of E cinema ad controversy blew up. Still, perhaps it may inform a little and provoke some more worthy thought.]

Our Father who is in heaven…

What’s the first request of the Lord’s prayer? Can you express it in everyday language that you might genuinely use ordinarily with your 4-year-old?

I’m sure many can, but it’s not something I found all that easy. Still, I think it’s an important exercise. Give me a moment to say why. Continue reading Letting go the familiar words and holding onto the real meaning

How one slash slashes your website: WordPress .htaccess file preventing access to password-protected directories

Very helpful article from hostgator here shows up a problem which can drive many people crazy if they’ve got WordPress installed at root alongside other CGI password-protected folders.

In short, there’s a missing / here:

  • RewriteRule . /index.php [L]

which would be better being

  • RewriteRule ./ /index.php [L]

Continue reading How one slash slashes your website: WordPress .htaccess file preventing access to password-protected directories

Threatening Rainbow

Never before had a rainbow seemed so threatening.

It was on the walk to school this morning. With the clouds rushing towards the low winter morning sun overhead, I looked West and saw a rainbow. Actually it was my daughters who spotted it first and they love a good rainbow. But where they saw pots of gold I saw trouble. It was then that I realised that in the rush to get out of the house with girls suitably attired (no need for waterproof trousers this sunny Monday) I had neglected to bring my own coat. At the same moment I realised that the beautiful bow in the sky was quite likely being produced by rain that would soon engulf us.

I was wrong actually… it was hail. Well, hail at first and sleety rain later.

So that’s why when I saw the rainbow I said, “Run!” And we did.

Grace is…

Grace is one of those words that most Christian kids or young Christians end up being taught is special and has a special meaning. That’s great, but in my role as a Bible translator I’m starting to get a little concerned about words like that.
OK, we all know that grace is… (fill in the blank)*

‘Grace gown’

So what about this, that I read on LinkedIn today?

Grace is an awesome feeling — one we can never experience enough. Outstanding athletes exist in a state of grace, a place where calculation and strategy and movement happen almost unconsciously. Great athletes can focus in a way that, to us, is unrecognizable because through skill, training, and experience their ability to focus is nearly effortless.

We’ve all felt a sense of grace, if only for a few precious moments, when we performed better than we ever imagined possible… and realized what we assumed to be limits weren’t really limits at all.

Those moments don’t happen by accident, though. Grace is never given; grace must be earned through discipline and training and sacrifice.

Continue reading Grace is…

Lessons from Software Engineering for Bible Translation

493_4018 Scaffolding
(Jos, Nigeria)

Some time I may get round to writing a paper on some cross-disciplinary lessons that Bible translators can learn from Software Engineering. (This is essentially trying to integrate my former and current career paths.)

My attention was caught by a slightly overblown headline on favourite irreverent geeky news site The Register: Most developers have never seen a successful project. Let me intersperse some quotes with some comments on how I see this relating to difficulties we face in the Bible translation world:

Most software professionals have never seen a successful software development project, continuous delivery evangelist Dave Farley said, and have “built careers on doing the wrong thing”.

Continue reading Lessons from Software Engineering for Bible Translation

Visiting friends in Cambridge

Newsletter: Travels and Finance

Download Newsletter as PDF (1MB)

October was a month of travel for the Rowbory family, with all of us zooming round England to visit friends and family during the mid-term break before David flew off to America to attend and present a paper at a Bible translation conference. We’ve also been arranging meetings and speaking to groups around Scotland about what we’re doing in Nigeria.

England: flying visits

This is the first time we have had to fit our schedule around school holidays and unfortunately we just didn’t manage to fit in seeing everyone that we would have liked to in England. But it was delightful to see a healthy mix of relatives and friends, lots of fine autumnal English countryside, and all-important homeschool field trips to the British Museum and Roman Baths. We’re grateful to everyone who was bold enough to put us all up and we thank God that we managed the drive without any particular hitches barring traffic jams and travel sickness.

USA: Conference

Within a few hours of arriving back in Glasgow, David was on a plane zipping back down to London (somewhat gallingly, after the long drive north) and then over to Dallas for a biennial Bible Translation conference. You might remember he travelled there 2 years ago – a first time to the USA – and found it was a great chance to connect with other Bible translation consultants from around the world and gather some helpful insights for our work in Nigeria. This time, in line with his consultant development plan, he had a paper to present: Making Dictionaries Serve Translation. It still needs some final edits but David has to submit it this week for publishing along with all the other papers that were presented at the conference.

Aside from all the information presented and the encouragement of hearing others struggling with determination to translate the Bible around the world, David really appreciated reconnecting with fellow alumni from NEGST in  Kenya, where we studied from 2007-9. Some are now involved in Deaf Bible translation work, others are consultants and have taken up significant roles supporting Bible translation and theological education across Africa.

USA: Visiting friends

There were also a good number of Wycliffe UK people to see, some of whom we very rarely see in person any more. David finally met several other software support people whom he had only every interacted with over the internet. The conference lasted only about 4 days and then, having travelled so far, it seemed a good time to take up a longstanding invitation and visit our friends the Langs in Colorado. We had studied with them in Nairobi, going through many ups and downs with them, and their youngest daughter arrived 3 weeks before Rebekah was born.

Making Julie profoundly envious, David had a few more days visiting Jeremy & Jamie and their 3 kids and getting a taste of the Rockies, a spot of shopping for American goodies and some time to catch up after 6 years. (After a succession of perplexing health issues put paid to their plans for Bible translation in Tanzania, they have ended up based in Colorado but with Jeremy coming to Nigeria once or twice a year working with the Mwaghavul Old Testament project. So we have actually seen fleeting glimpses of Jeremy over the last 2 years.)

Arriving back in Scotland in time for a Tron Church evening service, David the next day represented Wycliffe and Bible translation at an Edinburgh University Christian Union event. Later in the week he had an afternoon talking about Bible translation with the Cornhill Scotland Training Course.

In November/December we hope to visit several more churches in Scotland and Northern Ireland, continue with a little remote work with Gworog translation and get ready for returning to Nigeria. We were encouraged to hear that Nigeria Bible Translation Trust eventually had its missionary quota renewed by the Nigerian government — necessary before we could renew our own work permits. We plan to return to Nigeria in early January, but can only do that if our permits are renewed and passports are returned in good time, and if we’re able to secure a modest increase in regular funding.

Finance update

We’re so grateful to God for supplying our needs for life and work in Nigeria over the last 4 years through generous friends and relatives (and for studies in Kenya before that).  As you probably know, Wycliffe Bible Translators doesn’t pay us a salary, but instead we all have to find people and churches who will invest in our ministry.

Several people have asked us recently about how our finances are looking at the moment, and we’re grateful for your concern. We’ve recently gone over all of our finances, looking ahead for the next year or so, and in summary it looks like we’ll need supporters to give another £500 / month from January to allow us to continue working in Nigeria.

When we first went to Nigeria we had saved up some money for startup costs with the house and car which was a very good help for the start and we have kept on a fairly even keel since then. But immigration matters / work permits have been a little unpredictable and more expensive than first budgeted. Housing costs, living costs and health insurance have risen a bit with inflation and as our family has grown. And obviously the costs of flights too and fro has increased a bit as the family has grown older. We’ve been very grateful to have a good gardener and househelps working for us in Nigeria, but again that takes its toll as we try to pay a fair living wage. We do hope that letting our Glasgow flat may provide a little supplementary income in addition to paying the mortgage but so far we have only broken even on that.

So now we have a request (but we’re not just asking for money). Many of our Nigerian colleagues have recently been building up their own support networks, not only asking friends and relatives to support them but looking to find friends of friends who would be excited to invest in building God’s kingdom.  Do you know anyone who might be interested in finding out more about our Bible translation work? We don’t want to do a hard-sell, but we would love to broaden our support network and broaden the horizons of Christians here who may just take it for granted that we can read God’s message in language that makes sense to us. Perhaps you might know someone who would like to support one of our Nigerian colleagues. If you do think of someone who might like to know more about how Bible translation is building God’s kingdom in Nigeria, why don’t you mention it to them and put us in contact?

Our recent video gives a bit of a snapshot of what we’re up to and our support pages  give some more information. We’re very grateful for any thought you can give to this, and please pray that God would provide and make our partnership something that not only strengthens the Nigerian church but blesses Christians here in the UK too.

Spreading the gospel nearer to home too

Finally, has it occurred to you that talking about what we’re up to in Nigeria might be a way of having a ’good news conversation’ with friends who don’t yet know and trust Jesus? We were so inspired and delighted when we heard that that very thing had happened with good friends of ours in Glasgow. A Nigerian dress (of all things) prompted a discussion about our work of translating the Bible, which was just peculiar enough that it opened up the door for a chat about the Bible and why it’s worth everyone in the world understanding it. We’re happy to supply some nice cheesy Nigerian photo notebooks, postcards or other things if it would help you reach your friends with the gospel. Just ask!

Thank you for your prayerful interest and concern for us and for Bible translators in Nigeria.

Love from David, Julie, Rebekah, Elizabeth, Abigail and Helen.

ps. Geeks interested in David’s paper should find it at before too long.

pps. Please just ask if there’s anything more that you’d like to find out about how the Wycliffe finance system works.

Word for word

Here’s a half-formed thought for translation people.

It probably gradually dawns on us all that the way the English Bible normally uses ‘word’ is not the usual way that we use it in English. It’s generally used as a translation for λογος or ρημα or אֹמֶר or דָּבָר.
The problem is that the most common use of ‘word’ in English is to represent something separated by spaces, when printed. That is, this sentence has seven words. A word is a noun, pronoun, demonstrative, verb, adjective, adverb or something else. However, context makes it clear that this is not the meaning ‘word’ has in the Bible.

Rather than being grammatically described, ‘word’ in the Bible is just something said (or thought). Message, speech, saying, communication, thought… would do that sort of job. What I haven’t done yet is look through to see if indeed there is any (clear) instance in the Bible of ‘word’ referring to what we would normally call ‘word’ in English.

There are of course figurative and rarer senses of the word ‘word’, such as a report/news etc. But it has occurred to me that if we understand Biblish ‘word’ to mean what we understand in English by ‘message’ then ‘word for word’ translation is essentially conveying the same ‘message’ by different ‘words’. Literally then, word for word translation is ‘dynamic equivalent’ or ‘thought for thought’. How’s that for something that messes with Bible translation controversies?

Many holes in this, no doubt, but I was feeling like letting the cat out of the bag and setting it among pigeons.



(ps. and yes, I know, I haven’t finished my post on why ‘essentially literal’ literally means photocopying the originals and is therefore essentially nonsense when applied to translation)