Sunday, September 23, 2012

A World Without Writing

Outside of writing novels, one of of my main interests is language. The two hobbies harmonize nicely, yet are distinct. Part of me loves creating the worlds my characters inhabits, but the other part is fascinated by the real world outside--specifically as it exists in Europe, Central Asia and the Middle East. No wonder I find myself (often unconsciously) weaving international themes into my novels.

As a kid, I used to spend hours studying my dad's world atlas. It was a massive, hard-bound, coffee-table volume. I'd flop on the floor, lay on my stomach and kick my feet in the air, while marveling at the variance in geography, language, and political lines page by page. When I was an older teen I discovered the Joshua Project website, which catalogs all of the different peoples of the world by ethnic group, language block, and geographical distribution. It's a useful tool for Christians interested in praying for areas that are yet "unreached" or difficult to access in human terms. (There are amazing accounts of God revealing Himself through visions to people in "closed" countries).

I stumbled across the Joshua Project website again a couple of weeks ago. While the format and design hasn't been updated much since I was poking around a decade ago, the sheer amount of data they have catalogued is overwhelming--in a good way. They do have some nice search features if you want to see how many different (known) languages are spoken in a particular country, or research the geographic spread of a certain ethnic group. Something that really jumped out at me, however, was the number of people groups that are primarily oral societies--they may or may not have a written form of their language, but even if they do, most of their population is illiterate.

Being a writer, I can't imagine living in a world without writing. Not seeing letters on a page or computer screen. Having all of your communication being verbal, physical or symbolic. On the one hand, the fluidity and subtleties of communication without a written format appeals to my globalist-feeling way of thinking (I'm an INFP/INTP on the Myers Briggs personality test). At the same time, my INTP-side means I'm terrible at reading body language and not a very good listener. If given an option, I'd rather read through a set of instructions, first, and then have someone explain it to make sure I got everything.

The reason I value the written word so much is partially the way my brain operates and partially due to my cultural orientation. Lest anyone misunderstand me, I don't think there's anything inherently morally inferior about living in a traditional oral society. Personally, I would just find it very difficult. Especially, if I didn't have access to Scripture. Yet there are thousands of languages that that have no translated Bible. Many of these people groups without Scripture also are not conversant in a second language that they could read the Bible in, or even if they knew a second or third language, they are illiterate. Women, in particular, are the worst off as their literacy rates are the lowest in these societies. I've long admired Wycliffe Bible Translators and the incredible work they do, but wonder what about the people who can't read?

Enter MegaVoice. I just discovered this website today and was so excited and impressed, I had to share it. :-)  This group partners with other organizations like Global Recordings, the Seed Company, (and probably Wycliffe, and SIL, among others), to make audio recordings of the Bible available to societies like the ones I described above. They make nifty, hand-held devices that are solar-powered (yay, no batteries required!!) and are about the size of a cellphone from the late nineties (remember those?). Beyond the spiritual side of things, these devices are also being used for wonderful humanitarian work providing health information to curtail the spread of HIV/AIDS and other diseases.

So if you're a lover of words, languages, or other cultures, and looking for a ministry to support through prayer, volunteering or finances, I recommend you check out one of the organizations above. It's really cool to see God using technology to break down linguistic, political, and religious boundaries to show His love to ALL the world--not just those of us privileged enough to read.

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