Paving the Path

In PNG, Duncan Kasokason leads the way for other local consultants in Bible translation

Duncan Kasokason. Photo: Ling Lam

Duncan Kasokason finished translating the New Testament in Ubir, his own language, in 1997. In a world of expatriate consultants only, both Duncan and the Papua New Guinea Bible Translation Association (BTA) saw the need to train local consultants for even better translation and sustainability. Now, after pioneering local consultancy, he desires to help train fellow translators.

More than half of PNG’s 820 languages still do not have a single verse of Scripture, making it one of the world’s countries of greatest need for Bible translation.

Clearing the Bush

To Duncan, the pathway to becoming the first BTA consultant was like clearing the bush. At that time, SIL assigned consultants to help BTA, but no formal consultant training was in place for locals. Instead, Duncan attended a Beginners Translation Workshop, where he observed how consultants did checking. Although asking questions and pointing out problems to the experienced consultants was acceptable, it was not comfortable for a local trainee like him.

Duncan (middle) checking with the Tawala Team. Photo credit: Duncan Kasokason

Duncan remembers helping an expat consultant on the Book of Revelation. The consultant said something he didn’t understand, so he commented, “Something I cannot see is there.” Then the consultant replied, “Oh well, yes, I got it from Greek.”

“I felt I was incompetent because I was lacking sufficient skills, knowledge and ability,” Duncan says. And he could not ask further because he was not trained in biblical Greek.

This experience prompted Duncan to request formal consultant training for Papua New Guineans. SIL’s PNG branch took up the challenge and looked for resource people to provide relevant training.

“I went on doing consultant checks with expatriates. I grew by having difficulties, learning together with others and asking questions.” Duncan says, “But I grew also through praying for God’s help. … After some time, I became stronger and stronger.”

Since 2002, Duncan has helped at least 25 language teams on consultant check in the country and beyond. These language teams — with SIL, Papua New Guinea Bible Translation Organisation (BTA), or other independent units — include Auhelawa, Tabo, Ogea, Maring, Nobonob and many more.

As virtual meetings became normal, Duncan recently used Zoom to help check with the Sudest, Are and Arosi teams from Solomon Islands. As one of the most experienced and welcome consultants from his country, he also helps train fellow translators and consultants.

Mentor, a Pastor and a Father

Duncan sees himself more than just a consultant.

Duncan (left) checking with the Maiwala team. Photo credit: Duncan Kasokason

“You’ll become a mentor as well. … When [fellow translators] translate, they always look for someone to help them and to guide them through. Sometimes you’ll help as a father or a pastor to give them advice and meet their needs.”

“To become a consultant is not just a consultant saying ‘you do this and that’, or what needs to improve,” he adds. “We also do Bible study to make clear the meaning of such and such words. We have to stop and discuss, so that the informants and translators would be encouraged by the Word of God. We have had a lot of challenges, but also love and encouragement.”

All Depends on God

“They always expect consultants to give them direction and advice,” Duncan says. “But we don’t have all the answers.” He says in such times, the only thing to do is pray: “Holy Spirit, you’re the advocator. You are the advocator to help in this situation now and I don’t have enough resources to help them.”

Duncan keeps in mind the enormous responsibility of dealing with God’s Word. “Fearing God and praying to God helps me to be a good facilitator in checking,” he says. “Always remember: when translating [God’s Word], it helps people to revive their lives and to transform.”

Training Those Who Come After

He also treasures the opportunity to help his fellow translators to grow and to build their capacity. In fact, he sees this as his responsibility since he reaches the retirement age of 65.

Sitting in front of a computer, Duncan checks with Debbie Conwell, a consultant from Australia, and the Arosi team from Solomon Islands via Zoom. Photo credit: Duncan Kasokason

“When I came in, I went straight to translation and straight to consultant,” he says. “I had not had formal training like others. Now Papua New Guineans are trying to come on this stage. People look for better resource people and I am one of them. Since I have been going first, I could go back to train others who are coming after.

“I was like clearing the bush. I’m paving the way, or I have paved the way already. I’m going to that age that I want more Papua New Guineans to become consultants, and they’ll be better than me.

“I thank God for those who have gone ahead to help us. I don’t feel that I’m an important person. I just help them [fellow translators] to be good people and good consultants in future. I am there to help them and encourage them with the ability that God has given to me.

“Thank you for your prayers. I thank the Lord who has given me this ability to start it off. Now let others come to continue.”

Story: Ling Lam, Wycliffe Global Alliance
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