Indigenous Yup’ik translation draws tears of joy

Hunting, fishing, trapping and the Yup’ik language anchored Mary Beebe’s youth in Bethel along the Kuskokwim River. “Life growing up in the bush was hard but simple.”

Like many indigenous peoples around the world, she watched native languages being lost in Alaska and worried about hers fading among the younger generation too. So when a group from her congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses where she now lives in Anchorage started to translate their Bible-based materials into Yup’ik in 2014, she joined the team.

Even though the work was intimidating, “I was very excited,” said Beebe. “God is showing his love for our people, with our language being translated for them to understand.”

The small translation team of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Anchorage has translated several pamphlets and three brochures featuring the Bible’s message into Central Alaskan Yup’ik.

Many videos and audio recordings have also been translated to extend access to those who speak but do not read the language.

Jehovah’s Witnesses are known for their efforts in language translation, with their official website jw.org translated into more than 1,030 languages, making it by far the most translated website in the world. With the efforts of volunteers like Beebe, the Yup’ik-language translations are available free of charge along with all others from the organization.

Beebe described an “amazing” response to the translation among Yup’ik-speaking people: “They would say ‘aspiaq,’ meaning ‘very nice to hear that.’ Someone even cried to hear it in their language.”

Sharing the Bible’s message of hope and comfort in her community has moved her heart too.

“In this world where it’s so divided with people because of their race,” Beebe said, “it just makes you think how God views everyone, not just this one race or that, but everyone the same.”