02 January 2014
Translating the Word
by Lucy Cooper
Albania’s communist history makes people like Bible translator Oldi Morava hard to find.
"There was persecution – churches and mosques were shut, religious leaders were in prison and parents stopped teaching children faith in case they got into trouble," says Oldi Morava.
Growing up in communist Albania meant that, for Oldi, not only was religious input completely banned but he was taught at school that faith was wrong. "I came from a nominal Muslim family background but my parents did not contradict what I heard at school."
After the fall of the Berlin wall and communist regimes, religion was permitted again and in 1991, when Oldi was just 11, missionaries began to enter the country.
"Missionaries stayed at Hotel Tirana, where my mother cleaned. She got to know a lady from Brazil who became her close friend. It was the first time we got to spend time with foreigners and while she stayed at our family home for a few months, I, my mother and sister became Christians.
"I loved my first children's Bible, particularly the illustrations. I remember the first Christian meetings in stadiums, as it was before evangelical churches were setup, and I got involved in local fellowships from then on."
Even when Oldi went through a time of doubt in his teens he knew he couldn't deny his experience of reading the Bible."I knew it would stay with me, regardless."
At 18, and with no recognised theology colleges in Albania, Oldi followed his local youth leader the Alliance's Krish Kandiah's suggestion to go abroad to Redcliffe College, Gloucestershire. "Engaging with the Bible was thrilling; I couldn't wait to learn more. I love to see others discover the same joy as they wrestle with God and study deeper. There isn't anything more enjoyable than that."
The New Testament was being translated into Albanian by an Interconfessional Albanian Bible Society team (a six-year process) and Oldi was regularly sent text for external consultations suggestions as an external reader but on completion of the New Testament he was invited to work with them on the Old Testament.
"In Albania it is difficult to find people who have theological and linguistic skills to translate well because of our national history and lack of Biblical grounding during communist years. I had the knowledge of theology but I needed to develop my linguistics so I went to study an MA in Biblical Hebrew at Oxford."
"Normally if you look at Bible translators in Western countries they are professors in their late 50s or 60s but in the case of my country we had to be trained, so we are translators of a younger generation."
Interconfessional means that there are three team members: one from each of the Orthodox, Catholic and evangelical traditions, working together.
"Albanian Bible translations had been written by missionaries in the early 90s but these were either paraphrased or not translated from original languages. It is valuable, well-used and a helpful translation but I recognise the unique value in bringing the church traditions together."
With the blessings of working on the interconfessional team for the long eight to nine-year process, also come challenges. The team take one book of the Bible to translate and then meet for a week or two to pore over each sentence.
"I love debating and discussing," Oldi says. "It is both difficult and enjoyable. We are from different theological backgrounds so it is important that we feel it is a joint translation and not a biased interpretation.
"Another challenge is that Albanian is not very rich in theological vocabulary, partly due to our history, so sometimes we have to work very hard to find words that are faithful to the text but also relevant and understandable. We have to hold that tension of being faithful to the text but using the freedom to give meaning.
"We have tried hard to reflect the aesthetic side of the Albanian language,especially when it comes to poetry. Our main target is the general Albanian Christian audience, keeping in mind that most of them are newly converted or come from a nominal religious background."
Oldi and Larissa are now based in Swindon with their two-year-old daughter Reya. The Interconfessional Bible Society team, after three years, have almost completed the Pentateuch, Proverbs, minor prophets like Jonah and are halfway through the Psalms.
Oldi concludes: "The best thing would be to see the completed translation being used, enjoyed and read by the people. It is not for our sense of pride but for the benefit of others to find inspiration and for the glory of God."