Five Reasons Why the Church Might Not Keep On Supporting Bible Translation

Bible Translation Challenge: Part Two
In last week’s post I listed a dozen different situations under which Bible translators work. Each one has its own unique challenge. One challenge all Bible translators have in common, however, is to be supported spiritually, and financially by churches and friends on whose behalf they work at this ministry.

1)    Decreasing Interest in Reading the Bible Among Churches and Individual Christians
A recent Angus Reid survey of Canadians shows that Christians of all traditions are reading the Bible much less compared to 18 years ago. Even evangelicals, who most strongly believe that the Bible is the Word of God, are studying the Bible less. Check out the illustrated report or download it from this site.

Not Reading the Bible is Putting God's Word in Chains.

Not Reading the Bible is Putting God’s Word in Chains.

It appears that churches and individual Christians, including Bible believing evangelicals, are less and less convinced of the reliability, relevance, trustworthiness and divine origin of the Bible. As a result, a smaller percentage of Christians are reading Bible, and even those who are reading God’s Word, are reading it less. If this trend continues it will no doubt have a negative impact worldwide Bible translation. After all, why would a Christian who rarely reads his own Bible, pray for and give money to far away Bible translation projects?

2)    Ignorance of the Strategic and Critical Importance of Bible Translation
Many churches simply are not interested in learning about “yet another critical worldwide missions need.” They already have their own denominational mission agencies and are involved through prayer and giving in their own missions programs. They simply can’t fit yet another worthy ministry into their budget.

What such churches do not understand is that providing the Bible in every language spoken on earth is essential to fulfilling God’s plan for world evangelization. How else can Christ’s Church be made up of “some from every tribe and language and nation?” Revelation 7:9

3)    Churches Are Happy with 97%: But God Wants 100%
Churches are happy to know that 97% of the world’s population speak languages in which at least some part of the Bible has been translated, or in which translators are currently working. Many churches look at the big picture and feel that 97% is a good “market share.”

They need to remember Jesus’ parable about the ninety-nine sheep safely in the sheepfold and the shepherd’s anxiety about the one lost sheep. Jesus is concerned about the 3% of the world’s people who are lost in cultural gullies, and tangled in linguistic thickets that keep them from hearing His saving Word.

4)    Churches Have No Idea How Complex Bible Translation Is.
Pastors and church leaders, in general, have no idea how incredibly complex the Bible translation task is. Not only does it need to be translated into a language which is utterly different from English, Greek or Hebrew, but also into an exotic indigenous culture.

Pastors sometimes translate a passage from biblical Greek into modern English. In comparison to the challenges faced daily by the translators on the field, such an exercise is kindergarten stuff—mere child’s play.

5)    Churches Don’t Realize Christianity is a Translated Religion
Most Christians, including pastors and church leaders, do not realize that Christianity is a “translated religion.” That is, historically the Christian faith has only ever spread successfully and healthily where the people had a translation of the Bible in their own language and culture.

In the first three centuries, the North African church flourished, producing great theologians such as Tertullian, Cyprian and Augustine. But with the rise of Islam, the Christian Church disappeared completely. Historians tell us the main reason was that the North African Church never translated the Bible into the indigenous, Berber and Punic languages, and their cultures. Instead, Latin language and culture were taught to believers along with the Christian Faith.

In contrast, during that same time, in Egypt and Ethiopia, the Bible was translated into the Coptic and Ethiopian indigenous languages. As a result Christianity survived the rise of Islam.

The worldwide Church still needs to complete the Great Commission to evangelize the world. This can only be done through translating the Good News into every language spoken on earth. Over 1,900 to go.

The Biggest Challenge Translators Face
The biggest challenge facing Bible translators is, therefore, how to get, and keep, the Church in the homeland solidly behind them spiritually and financially.

Bible Translators’ Biggest Challenge: Part One

The interviewer introduced me to his radio audience, asked me to describe the work that Wycliffe does, and then asked, “What are the biggest challenges facing Bible translators today?”

I’m not usually stumped since I’m often interviewed when on Wycliffe Associates banquet speaking trips. This question, however, was not an easy one to answer.

If you asked several pastors, “What are the biggest challenges facing pastors in North America today?” you would get a wide variety of answers, even though the similarities among churches greatly outnumber the differences.

But the differences among translation programs are enormous. There simply is no “typical” translation program.

I told the interviewer that currently Bible translators are working in nearly 2,200 languages in more than 130 countries.

Varieties of Bible Translation Programs

  1. Some of these translation programs are staffed by expatriate linguist/translators working together with nationals who have little or no education, speak only their own language and have no idea what the Bible is about. These are examples of the extreme pioneer conditions under which my wife and I translated a partial Bible in Brazil. 1-test0182Other programs are staffed by expatriate trainers and consultants who work together with educated, multilingual Christian nationals who are translating into their own mother tongue. Obviously the challenges faced by translators in these two utterly different types of programs are poles apart.
  2. Some translators work in languages which have never been written, others work in communities that have a long tradition of literacy in their own language.
  3. Some translators work in isolated valleys, or distant islands, or in inhospitable regions of the world where there are no physical amenities like clean water, electric power, easy communications or transportation. Others work in or near cities where all these services are taken for granted.
  4. Some translators work in areas of the world where the Bible is appreciated and respected, while others work in countries dominated by non-Christian world religions with adherents that are strongly antagonistic to any religion other than their own.
  5. Some translators work right in their co-translators’ community, others work with co-translators who are living outside their country.
  6. Some translators work face to face with their co-translators, others work via email and Skype communications.

MTTsThese are just a dozen differences, and they can come in a wide variety of combinations. No wonder the challenges facing Bible translators on the field differ so much.

There is one challenge all Bible translators have in common, however, and that is that they need to be supported spiritually in prayer, and financially by churches and friends at home on whose behalf they work at this ministry.

Next week’s INsights & OUTbursts will list the reasons why this may be the biggest challenge facing Bible translators, and why it is the biggest challenge the Church faces today.

A Mother’s Day Tribute

beppe & J&JMy mother was born 100 years ago and went Home to be with Jesus at age 97. I always think of her when I read Psalm 92:12, 14: “The righteous shall flourish like the palm tree . . . they shall still bring forth fruit in old age.” My mother influenced me throughout my whole life. She also influenced our children, and grandchildren. She was affectionately called Beppe, the Frisian term for Grandma for the last twenty years of her life.

Our first grandchildren—twin boys—had a peculiar way of waving goodbye when they were toddlers. They didn’t wave with an open hand, they extended their thumb, forefinger, and middle finger but kept the other two fingers curled tight.

We all wondered why they did that until one day they were strapped into their car seats after visiting their Beppe. As their mom got behind the wheel she waved goodbye to Beppe who was standing by the front door waving goodbye, using only her thumb and two fingers as the boys waved back the same way. Aha! Mystery solved! My mom suffered from Dupuytren’s contracture, a condition in which the hand muscles that control the fingers thicken and shorten forcing the affected fingers to curl tightly.

Her influence, however, extended far wider than her manner of waving goodbye. Above all, she knew how to love. A small wall plaque she had brought with her from the Netherlands epitomized her home.
Waar liefde woont gebiedt de Heer zijn zegen. “Where love dwells the Lord bestows his blessing.” (based on Psalm 133)
Her love went far beyond her love for her extended family of six children, thirteen grandchildren and twenty-seven great grandchildren.

I was a little boy living in the enemy occupied Netherlands during the 2nd World War, when a young woman, very pregnant, slipped on ice while crossing the street in front of our house. My mom was out the door and by her side immediately. She was carried in and placed on our living room sofa while my mom called a doctor. She lived with us until her baby was born and she was able to walk home.

Years later, when our whole family emigrated to Canada, there was a long delay before passengers were allowed to board the ship. My mom heard a baby crying from hunger and saw a mother distressed because she didn’t have enough breast milk to feed her, and couldn’t get to her baggage to mix a formula. “Give me your baby,” my mom said, “I have enough milk for yours as well as for my own.” She sat on a suitcase in the middle of a crowded dock and breastfed the baby.

My Mom meets my Canela Mom.

My birth Mom meets my adoptive Canela Mom.

When she was 76 years old, she travelled to Brazil to attend the distribution celebration of the Canela partial Bible. When the Wycliffe plane landed and the doors opened, my mother climbed out and seeing the hundreds of Canelas gathered around, she exclaimed, “Oh, look at those lovely little children!” Spreading out her arms she waded into a group of Canela kids, wanting to hug them all.

And, of course, she loved Jesus. I didn’t realize until I was a grandpa myself how much she sacrificed when she encouraged my wife and me to obey God’s leading and go to Brazil, knowing we would take away her only three grandchildren, and she would not see them again for four years.

My Mom showed love by meeting the needs of the people around her. She provided food for Jews in hiding during the war. She fed and housed missionaries on furlough travel, sometimes for weeks at a time. In her final years in the senior’s home she befriended a nearly blind lady there and sat with her for hours showing her the pictures in large coffee books while she read the captions and descriptive paragraphs.

She took care of grandkids, and great-grandkids whenever there was a need. She loved them, and they loved her back.
Just as Jesus loves her and she loves Him back, now in a heavenly reality.


How I Failed and Then Made it Worse

I was in my late teens when I failed spectacularly on live television one summer Sunday afternoon in the 1950s. I then made it worse the next morning.

This week, as I wrote up the embarrassing event, I thought about how our society is obsessed with success. We cheer wildly when a player on our team scores, but sigh and groan when he misses.

But Will Rogers, a comedian from an earlier generation, put a different slant on failure. “Good decisions come from experience, and experience comes from bad decisions.” In other words, we need experience to succeed, but the way to get experience is to fail.

God wants us to obey Him and get out there to build His kingdom. Achieving or falling short is not as relevant to Him as we think it is. The worst we can do is do nothing. Doing nothing puts us into the class of people that God spits out of His mouth as lukewarm. (Revelation 3:16)

Here’s how I goofed up and the valuable experience it gave me:

TV-cameraIt was our church’s turn to put on a program on the local television station. We had prayed a lot for everything to go well and for God to give us peace and calm our jitters. My part was to sing a bass solo accompanied by the piano. I chose How Great Thou Art, a well-known hymn I had sung before in church. As I confidently walked up to stand in front of the camera, the program director reminded me, “Now remember, this is going out live, so do it right the first time.”

I smiled directly into the camera as the pianist played a few bars of introduction, then started singing right on cue. All went well for the first several verses and choruses, but then, as the pianist played a brief interlude before the last verse, I glanced to one side of the camera and saw a television monitor on the wall with someone’s head looking off to the right. I briefly wondered who that was, then was shocked to realize it was me!

Jack singing1At the same moment, the interlude was over and I opened my mouth to sing the last verse, but nothing came out. I had totally forgotten the words. The pianist played the music for the rest of the verse while I got myself together in time to sing the chorus, “Then sings my soul, my Saviour, God to Thee . . . .”

First lesson from experience: “Have the words nearby when singing or speaking in public . . . just in case.”

At work the next day while digging a ditch for some water pipes, I was still reproaching myself and feeling embarrassed. When the plumber arrived to do the connections, he looked at me carefully and said, “Weren’t you on the church television program yesterday afternoon?”

What I should have said was, “Yes, I was. I’m glad you saw the program. Are you a Christian too?” starting a great conversation. Instead, I foolishly made my failure worse by apologizing to him for forgetting the words and messing up the song, even explaining about the face on the monitor.

He said, “Really? I didn’t notice anything wrong.”

Aaargh! Why did I even mention my blunder?

Second lesson from experience: “When you make a mistake in a public presentation, don’t draw attention to it.”

There are two ways of gaining the experiential knowledge you need to make good decisions.

  1. Make your own mistakes and learn from them.
  2. Learn from the mistakes made by other people. (Feel free to learn from my slip-ups in the above story.)

What early blunders have you made that gave you the experience to live more successfully later?