Crib, feeding trough, or manger? · Urgent need: one-time launch fundsView as website · Give

I do not think it means what you think it means

The gospel of Luke says that Mary "gave birth to her first child, a son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no lodging available for them.”

Growing up in the suburbs with more books than barn animals, I pictured mangers as cradle-sized boxes filled with shining gold hay. But my pastor, who had grown up doing farm work, pointed out that mangers were large enough to feed several animals at a time. He even suggested that the shepherds found, not just Jesus, but also Joseph and Mary lying in the manger.

Our Nativity: How do you picture the nativity? Perhaps it's a glowing Jesus laying atop white linens (left). Or a stone manger like this one preserved from ancient Israel (right). Or maybe it's like this wooden trough used by a Fulani cattle rancher.

Crib : Trough :: ÓkpángƐ́dzábrí

The Mbe Translators in Nigeria also had some culturally-founded expectations about the amenities offered to Jesus at his birth. While translating the nativity story, they immediately chose the word ókpáng for manger.

“What’s an ókpáng?” asked their consultant, John Watters. “Tell me what it looks like.”  One of the translators drew a picture of a cradle hung by ropes so that the newborn could be laid in it and swung. Every Mbe mother wants an ókpáng for her baby. Concerned, John suggested that they read their reference materials again.

The translation reference clearly stated that “manger” referred to an animal feeding trough. The team objected to the change. “We have always used the word ókpáng. We have used it for years, and that’s what we should use.”

An Mbe Nativity: How do the Mbe picture the Nativity? Maybe it was like this Native American-style bassinet (left), which is similar to a Nigerian ókpáng. After the translation revision, the Mbe may have pictured this basket used for feeding cattle in India (right).

John pointed out to them that it wasn’t just a matter of tradition. The key to translation is finding words that express the original meaning as accurately as possible. “Jesus did not come and sleep in a nice ókpáng like every Mbe mother wants for her newborn. Instead, He showed us his unbelievable humility,” John told them. “So we need to find the best Mbe word for an animal feeding trough.”

Suddenly the one who had argued most loudly for the traditional term offered, “We feed our animals out of an old worn-out basket that is not usable anymore except to feed the animals. We call it ɛ́dzábrí.” The team put that word in their rough draft to test with Mbe speakers.

As Mbe speakers listened, they were visibly moved. Picturing the newborn Baby lying in the animals’ feeding basket, they recognized in a new way that Jesus was willing to do whatever it took to reach them.


Pray for our launch fund needs. All we need before we're permitted to depart are one-time gifts, but we'll miss our starting assignment if they don't come in before January 5. Pray for our packing and travel arrangements.


Praise God for a smooth trip to Michigan to say goodbye to family. Give thanks for some urgently-needed one-time donations that have come in the last week.

Give by phone at 1-800-WYCLIFFE.
Give by check.  Make checks out to "Wycliffe Bible Translators", and enclose a separate note stating, “Preference for the Wycliffe ministry of Alex & Megan Mercado 270043” (or "71-270043" for one-time gifts). Mail the check and note to:
Wycliffe Bible Translators
PO Box 628200
Orlando, FL 32862-8200
All donations are tax deductible. You can also give more creatively.
Six Years Ago: As part of the celebration of Christmas, Alex's hosts and their Fulani guests conclude their candlelight nativity. Notice the "manger" and baby doll in the bottom right! (Photo by Alex from Bamenda, Cameroon 2010)
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22 December 2016

Alex MercadoLanguage Technology
Megan MercadoLiteracy and Education

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