“NeHalang lemene tau tote hehei pe hana nga ich nei. Pomalam tung hote tuna elle mana nem. Pe iri nenge leteria manmanna nge i lape te mene maulinga ke koko. Te mete sapele ero.”

It might not be immediately recognisable to most of us but the above passage - a translation of John 3:16 - into the language of the Lote people of Papua New Guinea is just small part of a 23 year project which has resulted in the entire New Testament being made available to the Lote people in their own language for the first time.

Greg and printout

TWENTY-THREE YEARS IN THE MAKING: Greg Pearson with a copy of the completed New Testament.


“There were many times when we just could not see the end and the reality was that we just could not carry on. But each time God brought us through and each time he did our confidence in Him grew and our confidence in ourselves diminished."

- Greg Pearson

The idea for the translation project was sparked after a letter was sent to the Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL) in Papua New Guinea, asking for someone to come and translate the Bible into the language of the Lote people.

Americans Greg and Mary Pearson, then only 26, answered the call in 1986 and were sent by Wycliffe Bible Translators to work for SIL alongside a team of local translators and checkers with the aim of producing the New Testament in the Lote language - a task which they finally completed earlier this year.

Mr Pearson, now 49, says he felt a “powerful range of feelings” on completing the project.

“(J)oy, relief, unbelief, but I think the most overwhelming one is gratefulness,” he says. “Gratefulness, first of all to God who is the One who did it all from start to finish.”

“There were many times when we just could not see the end and the reality was that we just could not carry on. But each time God brought us through and each time he did our confidence in Him grew and our confidence in ourselves diminished. 

“We also feel gratefulness to people that God used in so many ways. People back home who gave money. People who prayed. Support people here in PNG who taught our children, took care of us when we were sick, flew our planes, managed our stores, regional centres (and so on). Without all these dear people the Lote New Testament would have been impossible.”

Lote is just one of more than 850 languages spoken in Papua New Guinea. Its speakers live in around 20 to 25 villages based on the southern coast of East New Britain, near the West New Britain border.

While a Catholic priest is known to have translated some of the Bible into the Lote language back in the 1940s by the time the Pearson’s arrived in 1986, it had been largely lost.

“So...when we came in 1986 there was no written form,” recalls Mr Pearson. “We learned to speak by living with the Lote people, wrote down the words in phonetic script, did phonological analysis and suggested an alphabet. We held writer's workshops to help people record traditional stories and start to get comfortable writing their language. In the early 1990's vernacular schools were started that then bridge into the school system which is taught in English.”

The Pearsons have worked as advisors to the translating team and keep a home in East New Britain, among the local people, as well as in Ukarumpa where they live alongside numerous expatriates working on a range of different languages for Wycliffe/SIL as well as organisations like the Bible Translation Association of Papua New Guinea, Pioneer Bible Translators and Lutheran Bible Translators.

Mr Pearson says he first felt God calling him to go into some kind of missionary work after graduating from highschool. So he went to Bible college “with that in mind”.

“One of the courses that I really enjoyed and did well in was Greek,” he recalls. “God used that to steer me towards the direction of Bible translation. We had some friends from our home church in Mora, Minnesota who served with Wycliffe Bible Translators and eventually we met with the area representatives who encouraged us greatly. But making the actual choice of going with Wycliffe/SIL was pretty much a no-brainer for us since they had the best training support system available. “

Mr Pearson says that the grammar and phonology of the Lote people is “fairly straight-forward” compared to that of some of the other languages spoken in Papua New Guinea. But he adds that the more the work progressed, the more he saw “what an incredible language” they spoke.

baby and grandma




Evening Gold

SCENES OF LIFE AMONG THE LOTE PEOPLE: Top: A grandmother and her grandchildren share a moment of joy; Middle: Some of the men involved in translating the New Testament into the language of the Lote people; Bottom: Golden evening - the beauty of the region captured on film.

He says that while the Lote people - who still live mostly off the land - were initially supportive in providing food for the couple and building their home, the work initially progressed slowly as they found it difficult to get consistent help with the translation.

“But after several years they really caught on mainly through the leadership of one particular man, they themselves took ownership of the work,” says Mr Pearson. “From then on they were doing most of the first drafting, checking and revising and I was working more as an advisor and trainer to them.”

The couple, who have two sons - Adam and Jeremy, say it was hard to adjust to living in Papua New Guinea.

“When we came we had no children to worry about so living simply for the first couple years was difficult, but not frightening,” says Mr Pearson. “The things we had feared never happened, (except getting malaria, which became a regular part of life for the first few years), but other challenges that we didn't expect came our way - dealing with weather, loneliness, isolation. But these things forced us to take the learner's role and we depended heavily on our Papua New Guinea family to teach us how to live in harsh circumstances, how to develop deeper relationships, and how to go with the flow when you can't control everything.”

Mr Pearson says the experience - their first and only overseas posting to date - also forced them to depend more on God for their daily existence, something they may have missed had they lived a typical middle-class American life.

“There were times when we felt, ‘Get me out of here!’ Mr Pearson says. “But we have never, to this day felt, ‘Get me out of here and I never want to come back’.

He says that after a time, flying back into the village “really felt like flying home” 

“Getting off the plane and walking familiar paths, having a group of little children run to greet you saying, ‘They're back! They're back!’ And we did get breaks away from the village life by flying to our Ukarumpa Mission Centre where we can speak English, enjoy electricity and other normal amenities of life.”

He says that one of the biggest adjustments coming from the western world, was learning how to slow down. 

“Learning to consider that sitting around the firepit is valid "work" and learning how to pace ourselves in the intense heat of the tropics. However, the highlights of getting to know people and their overwhelming hospitality and care made us want to keep coming back.”

Mr Pearson believes it is vital people have the Bible in their own language.

“The longer we've lived in this country the more we've seen the superiority of someone's own heart language in communicating deep truths,” he says.

“We've also seen the boost it gives to their confidence and dignity when they realise that God knows their language and cares about them personally. But even stronger evidence is their own testimonies of how God's Word hits them when they hear it for the first time in their own language. One man said, ‘When you read the Bible in your language, it's like you get the meat (whole meal) but when we read it in the trade language (Melanesian Pidgin) it's like we only get the leftovers’.”

POSTSCRIPT: The Pearson family continue to live at Ukarumpa in Papua New Guinea. Their eldest son, Adam, will graduate from Ukarumpa International High School next June and Jeremy attends third grade. The Bible dedication will be in January, 2010, after which the family will return to the US for an extended home assignment.

• A Lote grammar analysis is available online at www.sil.org/pacific/png/abstract.asp?id=50351.