The heart language

As our church celebrates over 30 years of involvement in Bible translating, Tim Fischer explains how Australian Lutherans have brought God’s word to people in their own languages.

On 8 October 2010 Lutheran Bible Translators Australia (LBTA) marked the passing of 30 years since the first meeting of its committee. In 1980 Lutheran Bible Translators in the United States had already been operating for 15 years, and they provided help and encouragement to get the Australian operation started.

It was acknowledged at the time that some Bible translation had already been undertaken among indigenous Australians, but it was felt that a broader Australian Lutheran involvement in Bible translation would help to increase awareness of the need for translation work. Some 3000 language groups still did not have any part of the Scriptures in their own language.

Previously, Lutherans who wanted to work in this field had to work with other Bible translation agencies. It was hoped that a specifically Lutheran focus would encourage our own church members to take up the challenge to get closer to the goal of everyone being able to read God’s word in their own ‘heart language’.

Under the guiding hand of God, over these 30 years LBTA has contributed much to the translation and production of the Old and New Testaments in Kriol (an Australian creole language spoken in parts of northern Australia) and the New Testament in the language of the Bukawa people of Papua New Guinea.

Since 1983 Margaret Mickan has been supported by LBTA, working initially as a literacy worker and then as a Bible translator, among the 30,000 Kriol-speaking Aborigines across the north of Australia. This has been achieved by LBTA employing Margaret under a dual membership agreement with Wycliffe Bible Translators. The highlight of her work, after 30 years of translating activity was the dedication of the completed Kriol Bible on 5 May 2007.

Between 1989 and 2001 LBTA supported the training and equipping of Bill and Di Eckermann as they worked among the 10,000 Bukawa-speaking people around the Lae area in Papua New Guinea, who had no written form of their language.

In January 2001 the Bukawa New Testament was dedicated, and the Eckermann family then resettled in Adelaide. On a return visit to Bukawa in 2008, Bill and Di were very warmly welcomed back into the Bukawa community and much appreciation was expressed for their previous work. They discovered that almost all of the New Testaments originally printed had been sold and they were being actively used in churches and schools in the area.

Production of a new Bible translation, while a major focus of any Bible-translating agency, is really just the beginning of Bible usage in a community, particularly where literacy levels are low. LBTA continues to employ Margaret Mickan in the important follow-up work of improving literacy and promoting use of the newly translated Kriol Bible in communities in the Northern Territory.

Bill Eckermann, now employed by LBTA on a consultancy basis, continues to have input into Bukawa language use through Old Testament lectionary translation and Bukawa dictionary revision. He has also been involved in the Ma’di (Sudanese) translation of Mark’s Gospel, as well as translation consultancy work in outback Australia and Vanuatu.

Hanna Schulz has been living in Alotau, Papua New Guinea (PNG) since March 2011. She is an LBTA Bible translator, currently working on a programme called VITAL (Vernacular Initiative for Translation And Literacy) which trains and mentors a number of local people to translate the Bible and other literacy materials, into their own language.  There are more than forty people (and eleven languages) attending the current VITAL program, translating excerpts from 1 & 2 Kings. With over 800 living languages within PNG, it’s possible that Hanna will be busy for all of the twenty years she is planning to live there.

Prayers and support for Hanna Schulz in Papua New Guinea, Margaret, Bill and all of LBTA’s activities are encouraged as we pursue our aim of helping to bring people to faith in Jesus Christ and to strengthen their faith, specifically through linguistic, literacy and Bible-translation work and related tasks.

Dr Tim Fischer is chair of Lutheran Bible Translators Australia.

If you would like to consider the opportunity to donate to Hanna Schulz, who is now serving as a linguist and translation advisor in Papua New Guinea, you are invited to go to

Read more stories about our partner church in Papua New Guinea at