Mai Chen and her Bible – a reality check on life

Prominent top lawyer, twice New Zealander of the Year finalist, and with qualifications too numerous to list, Mai Chen is a phenomenal success.

Her name opens doors. Today she is managing director of Chen Palmer Barristers and Solicitors, Australasia’s first public law specialist firm, a BNZ Board director, an Adjunct Professor at Auckland University Law School, and surprisingly… a Bible enthusiast.

Bible Society’s Sarah Richards speaks with Mai Chen about how the Bible influences her.

“The Bible is so important. I read it first thing every morning,” she says.

When I ask her how she finds time to read it she replies, “It’s easy. You just get up in the morning you switch on your morning devotion on your iPhone and you read it. I also have an NIV Bible app and I quite often run and listen, or walk and listen or drive and listen. It’s always good to hear the Bible and be bought back to the things that really matter.

“I would rather have the Bible going through my head than Katy Perry,” she says. Mai believes it helps with the self-talk we have going through our heads every day. “It (the Bible) helps me to have God in mind, it helps me enormously.”

“The wonderful thing about the Bible is it’s all about our imperfection. Jesus didn’t come for the wealthy and righteous, he came for the sick – so you just take what medicine you can when you can. I try and read it when I can, if I get some solitude at the weekend, when I walk or run the dog – I find it helps me. I listen to the Bible instead of listening to music or podcasts.”

Elaborating on this Mai says the Bible helps centre her and it’s her guiding light. “It keeps you on course. And I love it because it’s such a radical book and Jesus was such a radical person. He didn’t do what people expected him to do.

“He wasn’t mightier than thou, he didn’t look down on people, he said to the prostitute, ‘I don’t condemn you either, go in peace’. He healed sick people, he hung out with prostitutes and tax collectors. He annoyed people we could consider to be the high and mighty and it’s really good to be reminded of this when we read the Bible.”

I asked Mai what the Bible means to her personally.  She replied, “Well it’s the only way I can touch God really . Every now and then, I get a glimpse of God, some manifestation of him in my life and sometimes he speaks to me, otherwise I am learning by reading the Bible.”

However it was on a trip to Israel with her husband, Dr John Sinclair, whom she met at a Scripture Union camp as a teenager, that Mai gained a much greater appreciation of the Bible.

“Israel made the Bible come to life for me. Jesus could have come down anywhere on the planet but he came down in the Middle East. My husband got sunstroke and we were only there in october. And I thought about the verses in the Bible where Jesus said go out into the world, don’t take anything with you, not even a coat and I ‘ll just provide for you.  I thought about how hot the climate was when the disciples were told to not take anything.”

Another reason Mai loves the Bible is because it’s a reality check on life.

“The world tells us that it’s all about being happy  and not having any problems . And people think being Godly must mean their life is going to go smoothly. But actually his (Jesus’) life was far from smooth. So it’s good to be reminded about this when life is hard. We want to be rich, we want to be beautiful, we want to be loved, we want to be popular, we don’t want pain but the Bible says that those who follow him will have trouble ahead. But the Bible says he will provide.”

Mai Chen has accomplished many things such as writing the Public Law Toolbox and the Superdiversity Stocktake  and setting up the Superdiversity Centre as well as establishing groups including New Zealand Asian Leaders and Superdiverse Women.

She says there is no doubt her gifts are God-given.

“I can’t sit on them (the gifts). I have to use them and I am lucky to have them. I don’t have very many and there are days when I feel totally inadequate. But God gave me the ability to think. I have a good mind. I have a lot of ideas. A lot of these ideas drop into my head whole, I am really fortunate to be like that.

“Time is a gift. The question is what you do with it. I spend most of my time productively.  I read things, listen to things, think about things, or I am doing something meaningful with my family. It’s not often I slump on the couch, eat ice-cream and watch TV. Time is short and I don’t have very much of it, I don’t want to go with all my gifts not used.”

Youth and the Bible in the 21st Century

By Roger Moses, Headmaster, Wellington College
Board Member, Bible Society New Zealand

It was the dynamic 19th century preacher, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, who once said memorably that “A Bible that’s falling apart usually belongs to someone who isn’t!”

Spurgeon, of course, spoke in an age far removed from the post-modern world of the early 21st century; a world where Christians and non-Christians alike would have been familiar with common Biblical stories and themes that had helped shape the morality and ethics which underpinned Western civilisation.  The stories of creation, Noah’s Ark, David and Goliath, Daniel in the lions’ den, Jonah and the Whale, the Nativity story, Jesus’ feeding of the five thousand and the Death and Resurrection of Jesus would have all been known to the wider populace, even those with no personal commitment to the Christian faith.  Influential writers took for granted the positive influence the Bible had on the world around them.  Charles Dickens, for example, wrote that “The New Testament is the very best book that ever was or ever will be known in the world.”  Abraham Lincoln, the most legendary of all American presidents, said “I believe the Bible is the best gift God has given to man.  All the good from the Saviour of the world is communicated to us through this Book.”

The contemporary world of New Zealand however, presents some very different challenges for those who still believe that the Bible is the Word of God.  No longer can we take for granted that the young people we are endeavouring to reach have any knowledge of the scriptures or, indeed, the one who throughout the past two millennia has been known as the Saviour of the world.  In a very real sense, we find ourselves once again in the same circumstances as Paul when he addressed the Greek philosophers on Mars Hill.  Like Paul, we need to present the Gospel in both the language and context that is meaningful to our audience.

Young people today in New Zealand are as hungry as ever to find genuine meaning and a moral compass that gives direction to their lives.  The fundamental questions are as relevant as ever.  Who am I?  Where do I come from?  What is my purpose?  What happens when I die?  Millions of searchers throughout the centuries have found the answers to those questions in the Bible.  In the words of St Augustine, “The Holy Scriptures are our letters from home.”  The challenge for us today is how to communicate that message in a post-modern culture which assumes the relativity of truth and often marginalises historic Christianity as narrow, outmoded and largely irrelevant.  Yet despite the obvious challenges of the day, Charles Colson’s words ring true:

“The Bible-banned, burned, beloved.  More widely read, more frequently attacked than any other book in history.  Generations of intellectuals have attempted to discredit it, dictators of every age have outlawed it and executed those who read it.  Yet soldiers carry it into battle believing it more powerful than their weapons.  Fragments of it smuggled into solitary prison cells have transformed ruthless killers into gentle saints.”


Te Paipera Tapu (the Māori Bible) – a labour of love

Te reo lover and speaker Brenda Crooks (pictured below) is one of only 5,000 people in New Zealand able to speak Māori and also communicate in sign language, our country’s two official languages alongside English.

“It’s the language of our country, it’s beautiful, it’s poetic and it’s a window into this culture. There are things that can be expressed in Māori that can’t be expressed in any other language,” says Brenda, who grew up as a small child with a desire to learn about Māori culture.

“I grew up on the West Coast of the South Island which is very European, so I believe my longing to learn about Māori culture was a God-given desire.”

Now as Māori Bible Kaituitui Co-ordinator (Kaituitui meaning ‘to stitch together’) at Bible Society New Zealand, Brenda is combining the two passions of her life, Te Reo and the Bible.

After completing a Bachelor of Arts in Māori Studies in her early 30’s, Brenda joined Bible Society almost directly. She has been working on the Māori Bible ever since. She spent 11 years painstakingly modernising Te Paipera Tapu (the Holy Bible in Māori) text with the addition of macrons, paragraphs and punctuation.

“When the current Māori translation was first printed in 1952, it didn’t need macrons because there were native speakers.  So marking the vowel length for today’s readers is very helpful,” she said.

More recently Brenda has worked on Tāku Paipera, the first Māori Bible story book for children and Bible Society’s first dedicated Māori Bible app.

However, it is the new translation of Te Paipera Tapu begun two years ago, which is now her main work. First published in 1868 with three further versions in 1889, 1925 and 1952, the 1952 edition is the version most Māori communities and speakers have used for more than half a century.

“For Māori readers, we want to give them an informal translation that speaks to them in their own natural heart language,” she explained. “The current translation is very close to the King James Version, which in Bible-speak means it’s quite formal language.

“The purpose of translating scripture in the first place into mother tongues is to make it more accessible and to open up the treasure of scripture to all who want to seek it,” she said.

To date, Luke, two epistles, Jonah, Genesis and Ruth have been completed in modern Te Reo Māori, but it can take up to 12 years to complete a full Bible translation.

For Māori, it means the Bible will be more accessible to young Māori second language speakers. It will be the translation that serves the next generation – and that, for Brenda, will make it all worthwhile.

Read more about the Māori Bible and our translation projects…

The Māori Bible story Our translation projects

Scriptures for the unreached deaf of Nepal

We’re partnering with the Nepal Bible Society (NBS) to help deaf people come to know Jesus.

NBS is developing Scripture portions in Nepali sign language to be recorded on DVD and USBs. According to Nepal’s National Association of Deaf and Hard of Hearing there are more than 300,000 deaf people in Nepal.

“We are hoping to change their lives. Our ultimate goal is to get the Gospel to the deaf community and to bring the word of salvation to them so they might see and encounter God,” said Tej Jirel, CEO of NBS.

Bhabisara Ghartimagar, who is deaf and now helping NBS develop Scripture resources for the deaf, says life for a deaf person in Nepal is isolating. They often have to stay at home without any of the opportunities hearing people have.

“I love to read the Bible but I can’t understand the meaning. I just pray in my heart. The Bible is very good for me and transferring God’s message among this deaf community is very positive. So, I want to partner with NBS on this project,” she said.

“If you give deaf people proper opportunities they can fight for their rights. One day we hope there will be a deaf church in Nepal. This is a wider goal,” said the NBS Officer responsible for the programme, Raj Man Ghale.

A Nepali church congregation listens to a message. Bible Society wants deaf people to have access to the Word in their heart language: sign language.

“NBS’s vision and mission is that every community should have some Scripture portions, New Testaments or full Bibles. And based on this vision, we noticed the deaf community didn’t have any Scripture portions or biblical leaflets. We decided we had to do something for the deaf community,” said Raj.

“Among the deaf community, very few can read or write or do sign language. Especially those living in the hills isolated from their family and community – they have not had the opportunity to learn sign language,” he said.

“We want to encourage deaf people to spend more time in Scripture. We want to provide God’s Word in sign language to needy and interested deaf people.”

NBS wants to reach out to this neglected community with the hope of the Bible. Will you help us reach these people with the gift of the Bible?

Make a donation now

Myanmar – Bibles for those who can’t afford them

Christianity is growing significantly in Myanmar and people are seeking truth through the Bible.

But there are many people who can’t afford to buy a Bible or don’t know how to get hold of a copy.

With a quarter of the population living below the poverty line, the goal is to distribute Bibles at a price people can afford.

We want to help the Myanmar Bible Society supply Scriptures to Christians in the three languages of: Myanmar (nationwide), Sgaw Karen (in the south) and Jinghpaw (in the north).

“We want to provide both ethnic majority and ethnic minority people with Scriptures in national and ethnic languages which they can read and understand clearly, to help them grow in the knowledge of God,” said Khoi Lam, Myanmar Bible Society CEO.

Myanmar Bible

Myanmar is the official language of Myanmar and is widely spoken even by ethnic minorities. The literacy rate across the country is high at 95% and demand for this Bible is huge.

Sgaw Karen Bible

Karen (Kayin) is the largest majority group in Myanmar, numbering about 7,000,000 (the number of Christians is about 500,000). Many Karen are living in the mountains and Thai border area. They are in need of the Bible.

Jinghpaw Bible

Kachin is the name commonly used by outsiders for the 600,000 tribal people calling themselves Jinghpaw. They also form one of the 56 ethnic groups officially recognised by China, where they numbered 132,143 people in the 2000 census. Jingpaw is spoken by 425,000 people in Myanmar and by 40,000 people in China. Due to political unrest in the region, thousands of Jinghpaw are internally displaced. Most of them are Christians.

Country facts

The population of Myanmar is 52 million of which 89.3 % are Buddhist, with Christians making up less than 6%. The government recognises 135 different ethnic groups and it’s estimated there are about 200 spoken languages. Myanmar (Burmese) is the official language and is spoken by about 68% of the population as their first language.

Will you partner with us and help reach more than 10,000 people in Myanmar with the Bible in the language they can read and understand?

Make a donation now

2,000 Telugu new reader portions for workers in the Gulf

More than 2,000 Telugu migrant workers in the Gulf States are now engaging with the Word of God thanks to a special edition of the Sermon on the Mount published by Bible Society in the Gulf States (BSG).

Specially designed for illiterate or semi-illiterate people, this is the first New Reader portion BSG has produced. It is based on chapters 5, 6, and 7 from the Gospel of Matthew and printed in large fonts in conversational Telugu. Together with the Sermon on the Mount book, workers are given an audio version on a phone memory card.

The Bible educates

The aim of the new reader programme is to encourage Telugu speaking migrant workers to read the Bible in their language. There are over a million of these workers in the Gulf. The majority do blue-collar jobs and are either illiterate or school dropouts.

“I discontinued my elementary school and since then I have been working as a labourer. You have created the opportunity for me to improve my reading skills. You have rekindled interest in me to read. Now I am enjoying reading the Bible text in this book.” A worker in the Gulf

Gangadhar with his new Sermon on the Mount book in Telugu.

Since only 2,000 copies were printed, BSG chose to cooperate with only a few Telugu Churches in the Gulf States. Limited copies were sent to Kuwait and Bahrain so the Telugu Church leaders and Telugu Christian community could sample the Sermon on the Mount book. To date the feedback is positive.

Churches praise new publication

Pastor Somaiah in Kuwait, who is the chairperson for pastors from 50 Telugu congregations said, “I like this book, it has Bible Study notes. This is useful for semi-literates and also to the educated. I want to take this to my church and do an in-depth Bible study on the Sermon on the Mount.

Hope and an anchor

Hyrar Jebejian, General Secretary of BSG said, “We believe this programme will have great impact not only on the workers who received the portion but also on their fellow migrant workers as they encourage them to join the programme and consequently accept Jesus Christ as their Saviour.

“We believe these migrant workers will be empowered through their faith in Jesus Christ and ability to read the Scriptures on a daily basis to endure the harsh conditions in the Gulf. Hrayr Jebejian

“Most importantly, these workers may be strengthened to keep away from drugs and alcohol and concentrate on working for the sake of their families back home and fellowshipping with their Christian brothers and sisters in the Church,” he said.

Bring the gift of literacy to people in Togo and Pakistan

Did you know illiteracy rates in Pakistan and the African country of Togo are some of the highest in the world?

Can you imagine not being able to read your Bible – the very thing that is foundational to our faith?

In the little West African country of Togo (highlighted above), Christians like Nfoula (pictured right) are eagerly waiting to read the Bible but can’t because of illiteracy.

“Sometimes I am ashamed of my situation (illiteracy), but today I give thanks to God because soon everything will change by the grace of God,” shares Nfoula Gbati, a 46 year-old farmer.

“I am a member of the Assemblies of God Church. I live in Bikotiba, a village about ten kilometres west of Bassar (North Togo). When I was old enough to go to school my parents said rural work was more important than any other activity and that no one had the right to let us go to school. That is why I am illiterate.

“Today I regret it sincerely because I cannot read important documents the authorities send to promote our rural activities. I cannot even read or write my own name. At meetings, other people take notes for me. I do not want this situation to happen to my children and I struggle so they can have a good education.

“Previously, we did literacy classes at the church for a few weeks. Many of us had registered to take these courses, but unfortunately they were suspended due to lack of resources. Our pastor has told us what the Bible Society of Togo wants to do for the illiterates of our village. I lack words to express my gratitude to God to all those who want to help change the condition of the illiterates that we are. We will continue our prayers.

“May God grant you a hundred fold for what you do for us. I hope this literacy initiative will open a new page in my life. My Christian life will be improved because I will be able to read Bible stories myself and comment on them. And I will be able to participate in church services, which will strengthen my faith in Christ.”

Nfoula knows the life-changing impact literacy will have in his life but he is just one of many.

The Bassar of Togo is an unreached people group of 190,000 and its two key languages are Mina and Bassar. The Bible Society of Togo is especially keen to reach these people as the Bible was translated into these languages just a few years ago.

They want to help churches and communities in this region gain literacy skills in their native languages to be able to engage with the Bible. Illiteracy affects 46% of the Bassar region.

“Once translated, the Bible must be read and understood,” said Togo Bible Society CEO Estelle Akouegnon. She told us their mission is that every Togolese would have access to the Word of God in their own language, the language they understand best.

“The challenge is truly big and we are waiting to see great transformations in the lives of our church members who are mostly illiterate and who have come to register in large numbers for literacy classes,” said Emmanuel Ayi Ajavon (pictured right). He is Pastor of the Togo Methodist Church (Bethany Parish of Agouégan) near the lakes in Aného.

“The Bible in Mina was published by Bible Society in 2014. Many of our members have this Bible but they are still unable to read it because they have not been to school. As soon as the literacy classes were opened, the elderly people of our church and a few young people from the village who were not even attending our church came to express their joy and their enthusiasm for these classes.

“I myself have been particularly touched by the content of the literacy programme which helps in a very short time, the illiterate to read and write. It particularly helps me with Bible study and meditation with the elderly.

“I want to express my gratitude to Bible Society and its partners who supported us and allowed us to really understand, the meaning of this biblical verse, ‘The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; On those who dwell in the land of the shadow of death a light shines.’ (Isaiah 9:2) We have truly come out of the darkness of Scripture ignorance and see the light whenever those who did not read yesterday read it today,” said Pastor Emmanuel.

The light literacy shines is happening in Pakistan where women are particularly affected, with three out of five unable to read or write.

That’s why the Pakistan Bible Society has been working hard over the past 15 years to give thousands of women like Shahida the chance to gain life-changing literacy skills through the biblical Beacon of Light programme.

 “I am Shahida Manzoor (pictured left) and my husband Manzoor Masih works in the fields. Nowadays we have harvesting season and it was very difficult for me to come to join in the programme but due to my desire my husband allowed me to come. Now I can collect the graduation certificate. I am so glad that now I can read the Bible. When I read the Bible with family, my children listen very carefully because I read slowly. When I make a mistake or get stuck, my children laugh and enjoy it. I am thankful to God that I can now read the Bible.”

Parveen Akhtar (pictured below centre) is a literacy teacher, she has been teaching in adult education for two years. “When you go to the home and teach the women to read, this also exposes their men to the Bible stories. I feel very good, that I am doing something for them. It’s very necessary to provide these people education. Very few people go to school, they are very poor. There is a lot less fighting in the families, they have good friendship and fellowship between them now they are following Christian ways,“ commented Parveen.

“Culturally and historically in Pakistan, the woman is the key to the family,” said Pakistan Bible Society CEO Anthony Lamuel (far right in picture). For every Pakistani woman who learns to read and receives Scripture, an average of six additional people will be reached with God’s Word. In addition to sharing the Bible with their family, women tell us their self-esteem is boosted through learning a new skill. They can demand a fair wage for their work as they can read numbers. They can help children with homework and access healthcare by reading things like medicine bottles.

Will you help teach more people to read the Bible today, so they can bring God’s Word into their homes and communities?

You’ll join others in helping more than 7,500 Togolese and 7,000 Pakistan women start the journey to literacy through the Bible in 2017.

Donate now

Michael Perreau – man with a mission

“We have a simple mission: the Bible for everyone. Our vision is for people to have the Bible in their chosen language and in their chosen medium and their chosen time. Digital plays a part of that. That’s kind of the simple, common mandate that binds us together.”

Successful global business founder Micheal Perreau, (62), gave it all up for the Bible because it made a difference in peoples’ lives.  After making his fortune and leaving the financial world behind, he and wife Deborah turned their lives over to giving it all back, 90 per cent of it, to helping the poor.

But despite creating jobs for the struggling, about 60,000 jobs in 10 years, Mike said there was a missing component in creating turn-around positions for these people. “As people who are committed to the Bible, we found that the fullness of transformation can best be ascribed to rooting in some of the values that the Bible had to offer,” said Mike.

It was this conviction that led Mike to partner with Bible Society. He has now been Director General of the United Bible Societies for six years.

Bible heroes

During this time he describes many highlights – particularly meeting Bible beneficiaries. “That is my joy, to see individuals’ lives that are being touched as God is narrating his story into their lives.

“Only a few months ago I met an 82-year-old grandmother who was receiving her first Bible. When she heard that the Bible was being made available for the first time in her language, she walked through the bush for six hours just to receive her Bible.”

Mike also talked about his ‘Bible heroes’, people laying down their lives for God’s Word. “I have a Bible hero whose whole family was poisoned for just reading the Bible (after becoming Christians) and he managed to survive and committed his life to make the Bible available to others.

“I have a Bible hero whose father was executed and as a consequence he fled his country on that same day, not know whether the rest of his family was alive, only to find when he ended up as a refugee in France that (some members of his family had made it to Canada),” described Mike.

The Bible is relevant today

Mike says the Bible is still relevant today.  “If we take just some factual evidence, then what we are seeing is that we are now distributing more Bibles than at any time in our history. There is evidence of a hungry spirituality. The question is, how do we make the Bible accessible to a hungry spiritual nation or individual?”

The Bible is Mike’s personal compass

“The Bible is my due north, it’s my daily encounter with the God of grace, it’s the blessing I receive, it’s sustenance when I go through hard times, it’s my operations manual.  The Bible is my companion in life – it would be my wife on one side and my Bible on the other side.”

Original story written by David Adams, Editor of Sight magazine (edited with permission).  View the full story here.

Kaikoura earthquake survivor says the Bible helped her recover

Kaikoura resident and local business owner Denice Devine (Dinn), appearing in one of our short films for Bible Month, says the Bible helped her post-earthquake recovery.

The 47-year-old wife, mother and now grand-mother shares how her faith, and particularly how the Bible, helped her during the traumatic time.

“I took part in Bible Month (in the film) as I thought it would be nice to share a bit about the effects the earthquake had on me and my family and how God’s love shone through.”

“Mostly what I want people to take away from my own story shown in the film is that no matter what happens in our life good, bad, easy or hard, God’s word (the Bible) is the foundation to stand on and one that will not be moved!”

A Psalm provided a life-line

Dinn said on the night of the earthquake God directed her to Psalm 104. This Bible passage helped her deal with the fear immediately following the earthquake and still gives her comfort today. Dinn’s post-quake fear was so great she was unable to eat, sleep or be left alone.

“This whole scripture reaffirms to me who God is and how great he is, it reminds me that he created everything in this world to work together and for a purpose. All I know is my fear of the unknown has gone.”

Reading the Bible is a commitment

Dinn says what the Bible means to her is ‘life’. “The Bible is life-giving truth,that cannot be denied. As hard as I find it sometimes to read my Bible I will never turn my back on it. Sometimes when I read the Bible I have no idea what God is saying to me and other times wisdom and revelation just flow.

View more Good for Life short stories

Scripture access at an all-time high

Last year Bible Societies worldwide finished Bible translations in 61 languages spoken by more than 428 million people.

30 first translations

Thirty languages now have the Word of God for the very first time. This includes 17 communities who now have their very first Bible, six communities who have a New Testament and seven who have their first or some additional Scripture portions. This means 95 million people now have biblical material for the first time ever.

31 New Translations, revisions and study editions

In addition to these climatic firsts, Bible Societies were also busy revising and updating existing translations. In 2016 this resulted in 28 new translations and revisions plus three study editions with the potential to reach more than 333 million people.

There are currently 6,880 languages in the world spoken by more than 7.4 billion people.

Some 648 languages spoken by more than 5.1 billion people now have a complete Bible and a further 1,432 languages (spoken by 657 million people) have a New Testament. This leaves 434 million people with only some portions of Scripture and a further 253 million people with no Scripture translated in their language at all.

United Bible Societies is committed to working towards the day when everyone can access the full Bible in the language of their choice. Bible Societies are currently working no more than 400 translation projects around the world.

The Digital Bible Library

The Digital Bible Library (DBL) is central to our strategy to make the Bible as widely and easily accessible as possible. By the end of 2016, the DBL contained 1,474 Bibles, New Testaments and portions in 1,134 languages. There are also now 403 audio scriptures in 345 languages.

These languages are spoken by more than 5.2 billion people.

The DBL is owned and maintained by United Bible Societies in partnership with other Bible agencies and with the support of the Every Tribe Every Nation alliance. It makes the Bible accessible by providing digital Scripture texts to the public through partners such as BibleSearch and YouVerion.