Feed my baby sheeps

One of my favorite bible translations is Da Jesus Book. This is a translation from Greek to Hawaiian Pidgin. This pidgin (properly a Creole if you are a stickler for linguistic accuracy), like many of the world’s pidgins, arose in the context of diverse people needing to speak together. On Hawaii, peoples from Hawaii, Japan, Philippines, China, Portugal, America and other places were brought together. Some were indigenous, some immigrants brought from their homeland to work the crops and cattle, some as exploiters, or adventures.

But the people needed to speak together and pidgin was the language that emerged. It is the most common language spoken in Hawaii today and has its own grammar, words and usage. The language is one that allowed for greater inclusiveness, and it is a rich enough language to capture some things in the Greek NT that are missed in standard English. Still it is close enough to English to be understood by English speakers. This allows me to draw out some things I’m thinking about like inclusiveness. And since pidgin evolved to make the Hawaiian Islands more inclusive it serves two purposes in this post!

The scripture I want to explore opens on a scene where Jesus has appeared on the banks of the Sea of Galilee after his resurrection and has directed Peter and some of the apostles, who have gone fishing, where to cast their nests. They make a haul, bring it ashore, and sit down to a fish dinner. After a nice meal Jesus begins the following conversation:

John 21:15-19

15 Afta dey pau eat, Jesus wen aks Simon Peter, “Eh Simon, John’s boy. Tell me dis: You get mo plenny love an aloha for me den dese guys get, o wat?”
Peter tell um, “Eh, fo shua, Boss. You know I yoa friend.”
An Jesus wen tell um, “Kay den. Feed my baby sheeps.”

16 Den Jesus aks um one mo time, “Eh Simon, John’s boy. You get love an aloha fo me, o wat?”
Peter tell um, “Eh, fo shua, Boss! You know I yoa friend.”
An Jesus tell um, “Kay den. Take care my sheeps.”

17 An den one mo time, Jesus aks um, “Eh Simon, John’s boy. You my friend, o wat?”
Den Peter wen come all hurt inside, cuz now three times awready Jesus go aks him. He wen say, “You my friend, o wat?” So Peter tell um, “Boss! You know everyting! You know I yoa friend.”
Jesus tell um, “Feed my sheeps.

18 You know wat I mean? Den I like tell you dis too: Befo time, wen you was one young guy, you used to put on yoa clotheses an tie yoa belt an go weaeva you like. Bumbye, you goin come one old guy. Den you goin stick out yoa hands an one nodda guy goin tie you up an take you one place you no like go.”

19 (Jesus wen talk lidat fo tell Peter wat goin happen bumbye, how Peter goin mahke fo show how awesome God stay.)
Den Jesus tell um, “Come on! Stay tight wit me an be my guy.”

Notice, that in the first instance Jesus asks him about love in general, Greek Agápe, which gets translated in the KJV ‘Charity’ and here ‘love and aloha.’ Then it switches to ‘Philia’ in the Greek and get’s translated ‘Friend’ here. (Don’t ask me for a nuanced reading here, go to Kevin for that, if I’ve misread, my point still holds).

This has some pathos that comes out in the pidgin, with Jesus asking twice, so you love me in general, like the aloha we give tourists (to place them in a Hawaiian Island cultural context)? And all three times Peter insisting more, “I am your friend.” And finally Jesus, “Are you? Are you really my friend.” And Peter insisting, emphatically, “I am. I am your friend.”

How to be His friend? “Feed my sheeps.”

Which is also how we can participate in, “Come on! Stay tight wit me an be my guy.”

Pidgin was developed so that diverse people can talk and communicate. It is inclusive. Opening. It allows people of different ethnic and genetic and cultural backgrounds to flourish together.

I worry that there are forces in the world that are trying to exclude. To cast people into being ‘other,’ unworthy of being fed, cared for, and deserving full dignity as persons. Whereas pidgin allowed the bringing down barriers, we live in an age of fences, based on the fear of the other. Contrary to that we know about fear—that it is ‘love’ itself that ‘casts out all fear.’ The very context of what it means to be ‘one of Jesus’ guys’ (‘Guys’ in pidgin (as in Utah) is gender inclusive) is to love and feed others.

We can draw our boundaries, barriers, and cling to the accidents of our birth as somehow inviolate and use them as an excuse for dismissing others. We can erringly hold ourselves as better then the other ‘guy’ by right of birth. We can, as Peter did in the setup of this scene, go fishing i.e., make the concerns of our profession, our politics, our lack of vision, blind us to what it means to be a citizen of God’s Kingdom rather than a particular country.

Being a member of God’s Kingdom demands things of us. Charity? Yes. But more, if we want to claim, “Eh, fo shua, Boss! You know I yoa friend.”

Kay den. Feed my baby sheeps.

Da Jesus Book. 2000. Wycliffe Bible Translators. Orlando, FL.


  1. Margaret Young says:

    Love this!
    Creoles are “fitting in” languages. The big languages are fit to the grammatical structures of the small language. (For example, the langauge of early American slaves imposed African grammar on English sentences.) Thus, a remnant of linguistic culture is preserved in a setting far from the homeland.
    I remember a senior couple in Guatemala who resisted having missionaries learn the dialect, Cakchiquel–insisting that the Indians needed to learn Spanish instead. The friend I was with remarked, “It’ll be interesting to see if we go to them or if they come to us.”
    Sadly, I have seen Cakchiquel diminish considerably since my first visit to Guatemala in 1975. When I went there three years ago, EVERYONE knew Spanish. Within another fifty years, I suspect Cakchiquel will have pretty much disappeared. Such a sad thing.
    I learned Spanish with Indians, so instead of saying “our house,” I said, “Their house us.” (Not “nuestra casa” but “su casa nosotros.”) I never spoke the dialect fluently, but I loved it. It was metaphorical. “Ru chi ri choch”=”the mouth of the house”: DOOR.
    My friend’s remark–“it’ll be interesting to see if they come to us or if we go to them” fits in beautifully with SteveP’s post. It’s clear: We go to THEM. (“Go ye into all the world…”)

  2. Thanks for this, Steve.

    I, too, am concerned at what I see happening in the world, and, sadly, we are not immune to it in the Church. We have so much in common, and yet we tend to focus so much on our differences. Those differences are important in some cases, but they aren’t nearly as important as we tend to think they are, imo – especially in many cases where they just aren’t important at all.

  3. Da Jesus Book is the only souvenir i bought for myself in Hawaii. Love it.

  4. Thanks Margaret, you need to do a whole post on this! That is really a fascinating story. “It’ll be interesting to see if they come to us or if we go to them” is an important insight. I’ve wondered if that might apply more broadly even with things such as a white shirt and tie on missionaries where that is seen as a negative (In Thailand for instance it is the uniform of school children).

    And Ray thanks, I agree. I think sometimes are we not only not immune to it, sometimes we seem prone to it for strange reasons.

    Marta, I wish more people knew about about it!

  5. This is awesome! I would love a copy of that bible.

  6. I’m going to Hawaii next month and I’m not leaving without a copy of Da Jesus Book. I wonder what the reaction will be if I quote it in gospel doctrine class?

  7. just checked. it is available on amazon.

  8. Thanks SteveP.

    My take on this scripture changed when I actually had the opportunity to bottle feed some baby sheeps. I expected them to be cute and mild, but they were very aggressive. They wanted that bottle, and would shove their siblings out of the way to get their chance to eat.

    “Feed my baby sheeps” can involve a aggressive recipients of the gospel food. Maybe we just need to show up with the bottle.

  9. Mark Brown says:

    This is such an interesting post. It reminds me of how Luther’s translation of the bible into conversational, everyday German was seen at the time as grossly offensive. He thought it was important to make scripture accessible and understandable to people in their everyday tongue, and as he was translating, he recorded that if he became stumped as to how to render a thought or phrase, he would go outside and walk around the village and listen to how people, including children, spoke. He always found his answer. And just as Hawaiian Pidgin is the platform upon which all the various groups in Hawaii can communicate, the vernacular German of the Luther bible, more than anything else, united the various factions and fiefdoms of Germans into a single people.

  10. Kristine says:

    L-d Sus, do you know David James Duncan’s “Her Idiots”? It’s about real sheep, and I always wanted to use it as the text for a home/visiting teaching lesson. It makes kind of the same point you do–sheep have characteristics that distinguish them from lapdogs. As do children, and non-Mormons, and pretty much everyone we’d like to condescendingly pat on the head. Probably lapdogs, too, for that matter…

  11. One of my all-time fave posts! SteveP, you’ve taken the blog post to an art-form–succinct and yet so evocative. On a personal level, as I read this, I considered the “Spanglish” we used (got away with) as missionaries in southern Arizona.

  12. You’re so awesome, SP.

  13. “Maybe we just need to show up with the bottle”

    I feel a member-missionary program coming on. Better go lie down.

  14. Margaret Young says:

    Btw, my son saw me reading this post, so I read it to him. He loved it. Yes, another book to be ordered… (I just ordered _The Best American Short Stories 2010_ a few days ago, and then discovered a copy under my bed. Turns out I had forgotten that Bruce had given it to me for Christmas. This happens a lot after about age fifty.)

  15. I love the nuances expressed here regarding love and its different senses including friendship. Yes, love should no know barriers and as the Book of Mormon says, Jesus does welcome people of all races and circumstances to be his sheep.

    This also reminds of an interview I heard once about Hispanic Immigrants in the U.S. I believe it was a Protestant Minister who worked with the people who said that Jesus was so personal to this people that it was like Jesus was at the house next door. I would love to have that close of relationship with Jesus.

  16. Kristine-

    Haven’t heard of “Her Idiots.” Thanks for the suggestion.

  17. Margaret, i need a like button here. I bought two copies of some book or other (really can’t remember which) and my kids stopped me from buying a 3rd and 4th copy. Now i just ask Lucy whether i own it before buying.

  18. This is so great, SteveP. I need to add this to my Christmas list for several Bible-loving friends.

  19. cbgrasshopper says:

    Da Jesus Book is available to read online for free at http://www.pidginbible.org

  20. SteveP,

    This was just so tender and wonderful. I’m really in love with the language in those verses and the kinship it invokes. Thanks you so much for sharing both the verses and your thought-provoking sentiments.

  21. Amazing post, SteveP

  22. Chris O says:

    Loved this post. Thanks for the language, the verses, the Spirit it brought to my heart. Beautiful in every sense. Also, thanks to cbgrasshopper for the online copy of the Pidgin Bible.

  23. This is wonderful, SteveP.

  24. Mommie Dearest says:

    Following this post, I keep remembering the juvenile sheep (not quite a lamb anymore) who looked me in the face last Saturday while I stood in the yard of a friend’s farm. Christ sure chose a sturdy metaphor to get his message beyond the obstacles of cultural differences. The fat adult sheep were focused on finding something tasty to graze on, but the juveniles would leap around the yard checking everything out, being curious about us and a little fearful too; their faces were this mix of endearing cluelessness and curiosity and avarice. (“Are you gonna feed me?”) The farmer had to fence their yard and gate with extra wire mesh to prevent them from escaping and wandering off. I was surprised at how you could see the sweet and stupid right there on their faces. Or maybe my anthropomorphism is showing.

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