The Most Important Translation Team Member Who Doesn't Exist
Ali is 14 years old, speaks Awan*, and does not yet believe in Christ. He's smart, curious, and one of the most important members of the Awan translation team. He also does not exist.
While the Awan translators and I are checking their translation draft, imaginary Ali often prompts us to revise the draft by telling us what is unclear or confusing to him.
For example, in Mark 9:49: "Everyone will be salted with fire."
Honestly, even I have to give Jesus the side-eye on this verse. Salted with fire? I asked the Awan team, "What will Ali think when he reads this?"
They all laughed, "Ali is so confused right now. He has no idea what Jesus is talking about!"
We talked about different ways to make this verse more accessible to Ali. He may be fictional, but he is our litmus test for the Awan target audience - he's the moderately educated Awan speaker with little to no background knowledge of the Christian Scriptures.
As translators, exegetes, and consultants, we need to leave our own Scriptural background knowledge behind in order to know if the translation is clear to someone without that knowledge. That is what makes Ali so important to our team.
Ali also keeps us from oversimplifying the translation. We looked at paraphrases and commentaries on Mark 9:49. These tools were helpful in interpreting the verse, but not translating. Jesus was sometimes deliberately opaque!
As one Awan translator pointed out, "We want Ali to be interested in learning more. Some things are not clear because he should keep reading to find the answers!"
Ultimately, Mark 9:49 was changed to "Everyone will be tested with salt and fire." The word 'tested' brings to mind Ali's own religious background knowledge of traditional sacrifice and refining fire, while still maintaining some mystery to Jesus' proverb.
Pray for All the Alis
Ali may be fictional, but he represents thousands of real people who are hearing Jesus' words for the first time in their language. Translation teams around the world are working on Bible translations for their own Alis, who are still waiting to hear God speak in their language. Would you also pray with us for the Alis whose hearts will be touched by Jesus' words?