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First Bible for Éxnet Sur people of Western Paraguay

Posted on: May 6, 2016 1:13 PM
In our language; in our hands: Holding the Bible in Enxet Sur are members of the translation team Asuncion Rojas Severo (a former CMS Latin partner) and Martin Rojas.
Photo Credit: CMS

[ACNS, by Gavin Drake] The completion of a 25-year translation project has resulted in the first Éxnet Sur Bible translation for the Southern Enxet people, an indigenous group from the Gran Chaco region of western Paraguay. The work is the result of a collaboration between the Anglican Church of Paraguay, the Church Mission Society (CMS) Anglican mission agency, and the Paraguayan Bible Society.

The Bishop of Paraguay, the Rt Revd Peter Bartlett, marked the publication of the first Enxet Bible – which comes 19 years after the first version of an Enxet New Testament was completed – at a ceremony last month.

The translation project was led by CMS mission partner Tim Curtis, who has devoted over 25 years of his life to the project. “We felt emotional and then went quiet as we took stock of what it means to hold the Bible in our hands,” he told CMS. “People have been waiting for a long time for this Bible with great expectations.”

Enxet, or Southern Lengua as it is sometimes called, is one of more than a dozen indigenous languages spoken in Paraguay. The only indigenous language officially recognised is Guaraní, which is spoken by around 90 per cent of the country’s population. The other major language in the country is Spanish.

CMS_Enxet Bible -translation _02

From L-R: Ruben Narvez and Pedro Escobar of the Paraguayan Bible Society celebrate the launch with Tim Curtis and the Bishop of Paraguay, the Rt Revd Peter Bartlett.
Photo: CMS

Work to produce Christian material in the Enxet language began around 100 years ago when Anglican missionaries developed a script for the local people. Today there are around 9,000 Enxet speakers and the language is frequently used in prayers and worship in churches across the Paraguayan Chaco.

“The Southern Enxet people number 9,000 and now with the Bible in their own language each person can read about the love of God for themselves,” Tim Curtiss said. “I believe that that is worth devoting 25 years of my life for.”

Now that the Bible translation is complete, the team have turned their attention to producing audio resources and will focus on developing teaching materials to supplement the Bible translation.

At a recent confirmation service, for 120 new believers, Bishop Bartlett outlined the difficulties indigenous believers face: “Standing up and being counted as a Christian is not easy in the Paraguayan Chaco, where life is seen through the distinct lens of the spirit world and the spiritual powers of the shaman, which are often feared yet also sought out in times of crisis”

For much of the 20th century Paraguay was ruled by military dictatorships and authoritarian governments but in recent years Christianity has begun to prosper among the indigenous population of the Chaco, where there are many churches.

CMS say that four thousand copies of the new translation have been printed: “by removing the language barrier church leaders hope the new translation, will not only deepen the faith of indigenous believers but address the overall level of literacy which is poor across the region,” they said.