Sept. 4, 2006

Cokato family going back to Congo

By Roz Kohls
Staff Writer

Paul and Kristin Humber of Cokato are returning to the Republic of Congo Thursday, Sept. 14 to help draft the Gospel of Luke and book of Acts with the Wycliffe Bible Translators.

The Humbers and their three daughters, Esther, Maria and Elayna, have been in Cokato, in the lower level of the Larry Wasmund home, since July. Paul finished his masters degree in linguistics in Dallas.

He returned to the United States after completing two years in Pointe Noire, a small African town on the Atlantic Coast and a short distance from the capitol city of Congo, Brazzaville.

The Humbers helped complete the Munukutuba New Testament, which was dedicated in February. When they go back, they will be working with a new language, Vili, and will be there for three years, Paul said.

Kristin is the daughter of Tony and JoAnn Onnen of Cokato, and is a 1992 graduate of Dassel Cokato High School. Like Paul, she is gifted in languages. Kristin studied Norwegian and French.

Paul, originally from Philadelphia, studied Spanish and German. They met at the International Linguistics Center in Dallas.

In 1996, Paul had visited the Congo to see what Bible translation is like and explore African languages. The Bantu language, for example, has 10 different genders, he learned. In comparison, Latin languages like French and Spanish, have two or three at the most.

The Congo has 60 different languages so Paul knew Bible translating would be interesting and challenging, he said.

Afterward, the Humbers lived two years in France, where their daughter Maria was born. They studied French, because that is the national language of the Congo.

The translators spoke French with the villagers to learn new words and how people expressed themselves.

Some words have straightforward translations like the Kituba word for “savior,” kivukisi.

But some words have concepts that require an entire phrase for translation. In the Teke language, for example, the word “forgiveness” in the Lord’s Prayer is expressed as “God breaks his grudges with us,” Paul said.

The Gambian expression for “forgiveness” is “God’s skin shivers with shared pain with us,” he said. The Gambians’ concept of forgiveness includes a commitment in the future as well as in the present, he added.

“There’s so much variation for how people refer to things,” Paul said.

There is no written tradition in the Congo and many of the villagers inland never travel far from their homes. They have no word in their language for “pearl” as in the parable of “the Pearl of Great Price.” The translators substituted “silver” for pearl because it also is valuable and lustrous.

The inland villagers also have no word for “ocean” because they have never seen or heard of it, so the translators substitute “river,” Paul said.

Even if the translators have an exact word-for-word translation, the culture affects what the word means. In the Biblical account of Jesus healing the blind man, for example, by spitting on the ground, making mud and applying the mud to the blind man’s eyes, this action would have been interpreted as a “curse.” Spitting on the ground in front of someone is an insult to the Congolese, Paul said.

Likewise, the kituba word for “priest” doesn’t have the positive connotation that the word for a fetisher healer has. The translators used “fetisher healer” instead.

Now that the Humbers will be learning the Vili language, they will be starting all over again. However, the people of Pointe Noire are cooperative and like Americans. “People were so eager to work,” Paul said.

Vili is considered a prestigious language. Only 7,000 people speak it, including the wife of the president of the country. The people who speak Vili call themselves, Tchimbamba, “the white men,” even though they are black-skinned, because they received the first white explorers and colonists who came to the southwest coast of Africa. They consider themselves good negotiators, Paul said.

The Humbers left their furniture and kitchenware in their house in Pointe Noire so they won’t need to ship anything separately from Cokato.

They live near the beach so everything is sandy. It is warm year round because the Congo is very close to the equator. Pointe Noire also is located where the rain forest, savannah and coastal plain come together, Kristin said.

“Everything takes a little bit longer,” she said about making a home there.

Laundry takes longer because they can only wash a few pieces at a time. If Kristin wants to make a meal of hamburger, she needs to grind the beef herself, she said.

Because they are next to the Atlantic Ocean, the seafood is excellent, though. Also, the economy of Pointe Noir is based on fishing, Paul said.

Electrical power is erratic. It could shut off at any moment and might be off for as long as a week. “Expect the unexpected,” Kristin said.

Everyone sleeps in mosquito nets because malaria is a real problem. The nets also keep out snakes, Kristin said.

In addition, AIDS is a serious problem although not quite as bad as it is in South Africa.

About 55 percent of the people of the Congo are Christian. The rest are animist sects. In 1997-98, the Congo was split in a civil war. It displaced 400,000 people. There’s peace now, but the new government is a dictatorship, Paul said.

When the Humbers resume work at Pointe Noire, Paul will spend one day a week setting up the team’s e-mail and Internet access. The rest of the week will be public relations, finding people who can speak Vili and French, to help the team translate.

To sponsor the Humbers

Those who are interested in sponsoring the Humber family’s work overseas may do so by going online to www.wycliffe.org/give or by sending checks to Wycliffe Bible Translators, PO Box 628200, Orlando, FL 32862-8200.

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