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News from Sarah Casson October 2018
“It’s not important who does the planting, or who does the watering. What’s important is that God makes the seed grow.”€ť 1 Corinthians 3:7
Every September and October I get a little bubble of energy and expectation at the beginning of the new school year. Perhaps itâ€s because Iâ€ve spent too much of my life in academic institutions! But even as the air is turning crisper, leaves are deepening their colours, and daylight diminishes, thereâ€s a sense of new possibilities, fresh friendships and seeds being planted. In DRC, too, students are returning to university this month, though there the sun is as intense as ever and leaves are lush and vibrant green.
I’m especially looking forward to the new academic year at Shalom University, Bunia (USB). The Bible translation degree programme is being re-launched this year at BA level, with new funding found for student scholarships. Itâ€s exciting to see the programme enter a fresh phase and to be involved in sowing seeds in some new Congolese languages. Right now eight translation students are preparing to begin their studies in mid-October, making the exhausting and sometimes risky journey to Bunia with their families. These students are speakers of languages which donâ€t yet have a translation of the whole Bible. Joining the translation programme is a huge commitment for them. Most have left jobs in order to study, and itâ€s not just the three years of the degree which will demand determination and resilience. Theyâ€ll need perseverance and a sense of Godâ€s calling once they graduate, too. Their biggest challenge will be returning to their home communities and getting on with the tough and tricky task of translating the Bible, as well as mobilising others to participate in the work. Please pray for strength and encouragement for them!
I will travel to DRC from October 16th until early December, to teach the first translation course to the students. This is a revised version of a course Iâ€ve taught before. As well as teaching translation principles, it also looks at the history of Bible translation, its vital importance for the church and whose job it is to do it! Iâ€m looking forward to getting back into the classroom and experiencing the buzz that comes from exchanging ideas and perspectives, and together reaching a deeper understanding. For this shortish visit, Iâ€ll be staying in the university guest house where I first stayed in 2009, right at the heart of the campus.
Guest House at Shalom
Last time I travelled to DRC, I had some visa headaches and ended up postponing my departure for two weeks. This time I submitted my application more than two months in advance. Yesterday I heard that my visa has been granted and that I can pick it up from the embassy this week. This is a huge answer to prayer and means I donâ€t need to spend the next couple of weeks fretting on the phone!
Over the summer in the UK, Iâ€ve been working on revising the curriculum for the BA in Bible translation. We need to take account of the requirements of the Congolese government and of the theological faculty at USB, the wishes of Congolese churches, the views of SIL colleagues and the expectations of scholarship funders, so itâ€s a complicated job! Itâ€s been a real team effort. Iâ€ve enjoyed getting feedback and ideas for improvement from colleagues in Bunia and beyond via skype chats and email conversations. The revised programme has just been officially approved by the theological faculty, which is fantastic news.
I love the more relaxed feel of the summer in the UK. In July and August I enjoyed trips to various extremities of Britain: Cornwall, Iona and Suffolk, too. Itâ€s been restorative to be able to retreat (in silence for five days at Sclerder Abbey near Looe!) and to recharge my batteries, as well as taking some bracing dips in the Channel and the Atlantic.
The summer months have been a time of fruitfulness. I’ve been able to revise my thesis and prepare it for publication as a book with SBL Press, Early Christian Literature series. Iâ€m still working on some proofreading and indexing, but (I think) it’s almost finished. With a title like Signposts in the Argument of Romans: A Relevance-Theory Approach, it’s probably never going to be a bestseller, but I’m really grateful for this opportunity to make it available beyond King’s library!
When I was in Congo in March, I was working with the Omi translation team checking their drafts of Romans. Now the team have finished checking 2 Corinthians, the last remaining book of the New Testament needing checking! At last they can begin work on the complicated technical checks and type-setting that have to be done to prepare the New Testament for printing. But thereâ€s also another issue that needs sorting out before publication: deciding on the word for God. You might wonder how the translation can have got so far without agreement on this crucial term! The answer is that up till now a loanword has been used, borrowed from another language, Bangala. Many people would like to replace this with the traditional term for God in Omiti, that is used in Omi blessings and prayers. Others have anxieties about using this term, though, because a similar word is used to refer to spirits of various kinds. (It’s a bit like the word God also being used in English to refer to false gods.) At the end of November a meeting will be held with leaders from across all the churches in the Omi community, plus other community stakeholders, to try and reach agreement about which word to use. At the end of November I will travel to Mado to help to facilitate this discussion, along with two other translation consultants. We’ll also be discussing other key terms that are difficult to translate, like righteousness, faithfulness and hope. Please pray that the Holy Spirit will give us wisdom and bring unity through these discussions. Pray that God’s nourishing Word will soon be planted in Omi speakers’ minds and hearts in their own language, bringing the fruit of life, truth and hope. Thank you for your own part in the growing process, as you pray and support this work.
Congo continues to need our prayers very much. There has been an Ebola outbreak in eastern DRC since August. The majority of cases have been south of Bunia, near the city of Beni. There is a vaccination programme going on for people who have been in contact with those infected. Please pray for a swift end to this outbreak. The country is also preparing for long-postponed elections, which are now due to be held on December 23rd. Meanwhile many of the displaced people taking refuge in Bunia earlier in the year have been able to return to their homes, though some are still living in camps. Please pray for peace and security with justice in the country. Pray that Congolese churches will be a prophetic voice of truth in Congolese society. And pray that seeds of hope and healing will be planted in people’s hearts and minds in communities starting to engage with Godâ€s Word in their own language for the first time.
When I was in DRC earlier this year, I felt uncertain whether I should be returning to Bunia to be based there long-term, as I had been previously. Just as before, I struggled at times with loneliness and ill health, and realised that I have not yet worked out a sustainable and healthy way of living and working in DRC permanently. At the moment I am exploring the possibility of continuing to work remotely for SIL and USB, while making trips back to Bunia. And once I return to the UK in December, I’ll be looking into options for moving to Sheffield to be nearer Nick as we consider the future of our relationship.
With love, Sarah
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