Cape Breton Mi'kmaq woman battles illness to translate Bible
'I want to be able to meet my creator and tell him I did my share,' says Helen Sylliboy
Helen Sylliboy is racing to finish translating portions of the Bible into Mi'kmaq. She has severe diabetes and worries she might die before completing her work.
Diabetes left the 64-year-old blind in one eye and forces her to undergo kidney dialysis three times a week.
She also has arthritis that keeps her confined to a wheelchair.
It's more powerful to hear God speak to you in the language that speaks to your heart.- Meg Billingsley with Wycliffe Bible Translators
Despite all that, she still spends 10 hours a day at her computer, translating.
Right now, Sylliboy is translating portions of the Bible that appear in the Catholic church's Sunday readings.
Some sections of the Old Testament of the Bible have never been translated into Mi'kmaq before.
She's worried that, as her diabetes progresses, she won't be able to keep working.
"If I lose my hands, you know, I can't use the computer. I can't cook and I can't take care of myself. But if it's my legs, I can manage that."
Sylliboy also fears a heart attack could kill her.
"I want to be able to meet my creator and tell him I did my share of promoting my language and my prayers and my spirituality with others," said Sylliboy.
Meg Billingsley is with Wycliffe Bible Translators, a not-for-profit organization that helps groups translate the Bible.
She works with Sylliboy.
Billingsley said translating the Bible into someone's native language is extremely important.
"Your first language is really the language that speaks to your heart. It's more powerful to hear God speak to you in the language that speaks to your heart. I personally desire for everyone to have that opportunity," she said.
Sylliboy's Bible translations are online for free.
She's also working on a computer program that will allow anyone writing Mi'kmaq to instantly find any Mi'kmaq verb.
Sylliboy hopes to have that program finished in the next few years.
"I would love to be able to say that I did my share in preserving the language. One of these days, maybe someone will open a book and say, 'Wow if it wasn't for Helen Sylliboy writing this down we wouldn't know about it.' So I hope they're able to say that one of these days," she said.
Sylliboy said she'll keep working until her diabetes or old age stops her.