Driving from Honiara to the village
of Mataruka (ABOVE) can be hazardous. You first have to cross three rivers—something
Wycliffe’s Andrew Van Andel has done numerous times in his Mitsubishi Pajero.
And during rainy season, getting across is just the beginning.
On the other side, Andrew often faces an uphill climb on muddy roads scarred by deep ruts. Friends from the village sometimes come to his rescue, pushing the SUV to higher ground.
In some respects, Andrew’s backcountry adventures resemble his struggle to gain traction in Bible translation for the Malango people of Guadalcanal. The project has met with repeated delays. In 2018, it lost momentum once more when Andrew agreed to fill a leadership void on the team overseeing all Bible translation work throughout the Solomons.
Long before Andrew and his wife, Megan, worked in Bible translation, they both participated in a Wycliffe short-term program—in the Solomon Islands. Over two months in 2008, they attended two Bible dedications, helped run a training course and distributed Bibles.
“We got to know each other as good friends,” says Andrew, who hails from Hamilton, Ont. “We played basketball . . . and had some fun times making memories with the team here.”
When the program ended, Andrew returned to Canada to begin a master’s program at the Canada Institute of Linguistics (CanIL), while Megan returned to the U.S. to work.
Megan, who grew up on a farm near Castle Rock, Wash., kept in touch with Andrew via email and video chats. However, she didn’t want to date anyone at that point in her life.
“I made Andrew just talk to me,” she says, laughing.
Eventually, their friendship turned to romance. They married in 2010, near the end of Andrew’s studies at CanIL.
By the end of 2012, they were back in Honiara, the capital city of the Solomons, to serve long-term with Wycliffe’s partner, the Solomon Islands Translation and Advisory Group (SITAG). Their assignment: launch a Bible translation project for the 6,300 Malango speakers on Guadalcanal.
Back then, the Malango had no written form of their language and no Scriptures in their mother tongue. In 2013, Andrew organized a translation awareness workshop in the Malango region, 30 km southeast of Honiara, to help promote church and community involvement.
Later that year, Malango church leaders formed a 10-member translation committee. Besides exploring fundraising strategies to help with costs like food and transportation, the group decided that compiling a dictionary was top priority.
Andrew, Megan and their infant daughter began living in Mataruka for extended periods so the couple could begin language learning and build relationships.
Initially, Andrew and Megan adapted well to life in the village—so much so that they planned to settle there. But in 2014, they returned to North America for six months for the birth of their son.
By 2016, the Malango translation committee had nominated nine candidates from several villages to receive training in Bible translation.
“Over time,” Andrew says, “we saw how God brought people into the project for the roles they would play, especially church leaders, to speak into the type of work that needed to be done.”
To keep the project moving, the Van Andels lived in their modest house in Mataruka for several weeks at a time. Andrew worked with Malango leaders to develop the dictionary and finally, to start translation in 2017. Their goal was to complete Jonah, Ruth and Luke in two years (see “Making the Bible Their Own").
Although Andrew and Megan had enjoyed some aspects of village living, their extended visits were becoming increasingly difficult—and risky. Malaria and other mosquito-borne diseases were a constant threat, and their house lacked electricity and running water. None of them contracted malaria, but extreme weather, especially in the rainy season from November through April, added to the young family’s stress.
“The rivers were quick to flood,” says Andrew, “and . . . we couldn’t always leave when we had planned to. So we had to learn to be more flexible in our planning.”
In 2016, the Van Andels settled back in Honiara. Andrew continued to make solo visits to Mataruka when necessary, but he was increasingly needed in a broader role. In June 2018, SITAG appointed him as interim director. With potential candidates busy and committed elsewhere, no one was found to take his place. This past December, Andrew agreed to continue serving as director until February 2020. He admits the decision was difficult.
“We had been really hoping to return to the Malango project,” he says, “and finish translation of the Gospel of Luke.”
Andrew’s role as director keeps him busy, but he still devotes one day a week to checking the Malango team’s translations. And despite Andrew’s reduced involvement, a Malango translator named Genesis has nearly finished translating Luke. It will soon join the books of Jonah and Ruth, printed in 2017, as resources for teaching, preaching and devotional reading.
As Andrew turns more attention to SITAG administration, Megan focuses on their family’s needs. With the birth last year of their second daughter, her days are usually devoted to homeschooling, cooking and laundry.
“I spend a lot of time in the house,” she says with a smile, “just keeping the house going and keeping everyone alive.”
Somehow, she finds time to use her business degree from Colorado Christian University by helping in SITAG’s finance office for a few days each month.
Trusting and Praying
While the Malango project is still advancing, Andrew feels sad about reducing his involvement, because no one has taken his place at SITAG. He misses seeing the Malango interact with the translated Scriptures (see “Just Like Us!").
“That in itself is a new experience for many people, just reading God’s Word. So a lot of that has been delayed significantly.”
When his term as director ends, Andrew hopes to return full time to his advisory role with the Malango. But if that’s not God’s plan, he prays what he’s been praying anyway—that more Malango believers, especially young people, will become Bible translators.
“Ultimately, we want to help people encounter Scriptures in the language they know best, so they can get to know God better.”
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