“We have been waiting and waiting for a translation advisor to come and help us translate the Bible into our language.” Wilfred Bero, a young man from the Solomon Islands, shares as he navigates a taxi through the crowded streets of Honiara, the nation’s capital. “I was praying,” he continues, “but the answer was me.”
With short curly hair and a big smile, Wilfred is a native speaker of Touo, a language community of more than 2,000 speakers from the southern part of the island of Rendova, approximately 300 kilometres from Honiara. Touo is known as a language isolate. It does not belong to the Austronesian language family and is therefore unlike any other language in the Solomon Islands or elsewhere in the Pacific.
With support from SIL Solomon Islands and the Solomon Islands Bible Translation and Literacy Partnership, Wilfred’s father is involved in the Touo translation of the Bible. One of his responsibilities is to coordinate the Touo churches’ involvement in the project.
Because of Touo’s complexity Wilfred estimates that a translation of the Bible will take roughly 20-30 years.
“When I considered this length of time,” Wilfred says, “I realised that my father can’t finish it. So I am training in advance to prepare to be a Bible translator and complete the job.”
In addition to Touo, Wilfred speaks fluent Pijin, the national language, and excellent English. However he insists that not everyone understands English or Pijin.
“It is good to read the Bible in our own language,” he shares. “When you read something in your own language, it is really powerful.”
Determined to pursue his dreams, Wilfred says, “I want to show young people back home that we young people can do it.”
Wilfred has been living in Honiara for the last few years driving a taxi, an important part of his long term plan. The taxi crawls through a traffic jam as he shares, “My plan is to raise some money to sponsor myself to go to Bible school in Papua New Guinea in 2015. I’m planning to buy this taxi from my boss. It will really help me raise funds if I can work in my own car.”
Cynthia Rollins, a Scripture Use Specialist, met Wilfred at a Bible storytelling workshop she facilitated in Honiara in early 2012. She comments, “The most striking thing is his focus and commitment to fulfil the call of God on his life. He sees the significance for the future, for his people. It is not about him, or about the short term. It is about the long term.”
Wilfred wasn’t always so determined to follow God’s plan. In fact he did not finish his education because he was expelled from high school too many times.
Then in 2007, an 8.1 magnitude earthquake caused a devastating tsunami that flooded Wilfred’s village and many more villages on neighbouring islands. More than 50 people died and thousands were left homeless.
“The house was just folding in on itself,” Wilfred recalls, “and people were running around crying.”
One night after this event Wilfred was sleeping and dreamt that three tsunamis hit his house. Each wave was bigger than the last, and each time he prayed for God to save him.
Before the third wave hit Wilfred recounts, “I really begged God, ‘Please God! Save me from this!’ He said to me, ‘Wilfred, I’ve given you two opportunities already, this is your last chance.’”
“That really struck me,” Wilfred continues soberly, “I woke up and I was crying and praying to God. And I began searching to find the best path for me. There is no such thing as a half-Christian or a quarter-Christian. I had to go full-time.”
Training with YWAM
In 2008 Wilfred left his home village, joined Youth With A Mission (YWAM) and completed a six-month Discipleship Training School (DTS), which included a three-month outreach trip to Fiji.
“That’s when I came to know God,” he reflects. “I’m so grateful that YWAM trained us to have faith. Not to trust somebody else, parents, or uncles, for money, but to depend on God for our survival.”
After completing the YWAM course Wilfred travelled back to Rendova to share his testimony at his home church. Many people in the church were crying, even his father. Wilfred shared his commitment to follow God, told them how God provided for him in Fiji and shared new things he had learnt from the Bible about God’s plan for salvation.
“People in my church now say, ‘Oh! You are different!’” Wilfred flashes a big smile, “They really see the change in me.”
Church members in Rendova have been asking Wilfred to go back to help the church, but he is hoping to complete his education first.
“I tell them – it is not my time,” he explains. “When I come back fully equipped I can really help you.”
In 2009 Wilfred returned to Honiara and continued training with Islands Bible Ministries while driving a taxi. He has been leading Bible studies in schools, youth groups and churches. Wilfred also enjoys sharing Bible stories with his taxi passengers since attending an oral storytelling workshop at the Solomon Islands Translation Training Centre.
“Bible storytelling was a revelation for me,” he says. “I think of Bible stories like the way a doctor has different medicine for different people. I like to share the right message with the right person and tell them a story that speaks to them.”
Wilfred hopes to start a Bachelor of Theology at the Christian Leaders Training College in Papua New Guinea in 2015. This five year course will give him foundational Bible knowledge as well as understanding of the original context of the Scriptures. It will help him to be able to accurately translate God’s word into his own language and culture. Additional training in linguistics and translation will also be necessary and will build on this essential foundation.
“I need people to pray for me to help me achieve my dreams,” Wilfred says. “My goals are there, my dreams are there, but I need people to mentor me and to give me advice.”
Wilfred believes that a translation of the Bible will benefit his home community and he dreams of the day when he will do more than drive a taxi around town. He says, “I want to help my people and help the nation as a whole.”
“Big plans!” Wilfred grins.
Words and Photography by Elyse Patten