TRANSLATING THE MESSAGE: The Missionary Impact on Culture, by Lamin Sanneh. Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 1989. Pp. 255 (BV2063.523).
Lamin Sanneh, Ph.D., University of London, is the first African to become Professor of Missions and World Christianity, and Professor of History, at the Yale Divinity School. Edinburgh University's Andrew Ross says "Sanneh's work is of fundamental importance to anyone who is interested in the problem of the relation of the gospel to culture, whether it is the culture of the New Guinea Highlanders or that of New York commuters." (THEOLOGY TODAY, January 1990). Harvey Cox, emeritus professor of theology, Harvard Divinity School, gives Kudos to this addition to the Renolf Collection on missiology: "This is the most important book Oris has published since Gutierrez's THEOLOGY OF LIBERATION." (Front cover).
All missionary translators need a sense of humor. The author gives a series of unexpected results from searching for the right word in the indigenous language to convey a biblical word. Missionary translators are "indigenizers in the best sense of the word, rather than cultural imperialists." (P.90). Unknowingly, in West Africa, missionaries had translated the story of Mary sitting at the feet of Jesus" as Mary "sitting on Jesus' lap." The Uduk people living on the Ethiopian border use the expression of "shivering in their livers" for "worry." Consequently for them, translating John 14:1 would result in "Do not shiver in your livers; you believe in God, believe also in me." (P. 195) It is a bit rare that a scholarly work also provides a few laughs.