What Billy Graham Said About Bible Translation

In Memory of Rev. Billy Graham 1918-2018.
The Reverend Billy Graham went to be with the Lord last week, February 21, at the age of 99.

We all know him as one of the most renowned preachers, evangelists and Christian authors of our time, bringing the Good News to multi-millions of people during his lifetime.

Billy Graham, Promoter of World-wide Bible Translation
What is not as well-known, however, is that he was also a strong promoter of world-wide Bible translation. He was a friend of Wycliffe’s founder “Uncle Cam” William Cameron Townsend, and served on the Wycliffe board.

Thirty-seven years ago, at the Wycliffe Jubilee Service celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Cakchiquel Bible translation in 1981, Rev. Graham shared these words about serving in Bible translation:

Billy Graham Urges Christians to Go, Go, Go!
I was thinking today just what you would read about if you were to get out a file of newspapers from the last 50 years and see what the world has called the significant events during that time.

I have no doubt in the annals of heaven that one of the most significant events of the last half-century has been the explosion of Bible translation, which has brought the Word of God to hundreds of tribes and languages.

And much of this is because of the vision and genius of Cameron Townsend. He was a university dropout, with an urgent desire to serve the Lord wherever the Lord should lead him. And this should encourage many of you that are thinking about going into this type of ministry — that God can take a dedicated heart and consecrate it to his service and shape the world.

You have to face squarely how your talents and your gifts and your training prepare you for Christian service. In fact, it might be said that Jesus only had two verbs: come and go. “Come unto me,” and, “Go into all the world.”

Go out quickly into the streets and into the lanes. Go out into the highways and hedges. Go into the vineyard. Go into the village. Go into the city. Go into the town. Go to the lost sheep. Go thou and preach the kingdom of God. Go, go, go, go — go ye into all the world!

If you profess the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, you have that command and you have to face it, and you have to do something about it.

We have been commanded to deliver a message to every one of the four billion people who live on this planet and especially to the hidden peoples with no written language. And we have a responsibility to see that every language has the Word of God written in it.

Current Statistics are Encouraging
In the decades since Billy Graham made this speech, world population has grown to more than 7.6 billion. We now know that there are over 7,000 languages in the world of which 5,300 already have a Bible, a New Testament or an ongoing translation program, leaving 140 million people speaking 1,636 languages that are still without any of God’s Word in their language.

That means that about 98% of the world’s population has at least some hope of hearing or reading some of God’s Word in their own language. It leaves only 2% without anything, and no one yet assigned to start a translation project. Most business people would be satisfied with 98% of market share — but not God!

In Jesus’ story of the ninety-nine-sheep safe in the sheepfold, He focused on the concerned shepherd who searched everywhere to find and bring the one lost sheep to safety. Surely, Jesus wasn’t just talking about sheep, but about the 2% of the world’s population that is still without any of His Word.

As Billy Graham might have said, “Go and find those who are lost in dangerous places, down in linguistic gullies and stuck in cultural brambles, and bring them into the fold!”

A Letter from Brazil

A few weeks ago, I published The Letter from Ireland telling the story of Joe Wright, the Irishman whom God led to start praying for the Canela people in Brazil ten years before Jo and I were born. Sixty-two years later, after twenty-two years of intensive work, we completed the Bible translation program for the Canela. So, what has God done among the Canela since that summer in 1990 when we left?

Jo and I just experienced the truth of the passage, “As cold waters to a thirsty soul, so is good news from a far country,” (Prov. 25:25) when we received a letter from Brazil a few days ago.

First Some History
During 1991-92, a Swiss couple, Freddi and Helen Frantz, who worked in a smaller Canela village about forty kilometres west of the main village, made sporadic visits to the main village to encourage Bible reading.

For the next ten years an American couple, Dennis and Shirley Ficek, who had worked among the Kraho, a people group closely related to the Canela, moved to the main Canela village and lived in the small house we had left for them. They encouraged believers and promoted Bible reading and prayer.

Then in 2002, sixteen years ago, a German couple, Bernard and Elke Grupp moved into the main village with their young family to live and work there, learning the language, holding Bible classes, and evangelistic services.

In 2009, Jo and I visited the Grupp family in their village location, bringing our whole family – fifteen of us – so our grandchildren could experience for a few days the village where their mothers grew up.

The Church Among the Canela is Growing
I am much impressed with Bernard and Elke’s work. He is highly computer literate and upgraded the Canela dictionary I had left with him. Because of his professional contacts and technical knowledge, The Jesus Film was dubbed in Canela and has been shown numerous times in various villages.

Of course, it helped that the electric power company needed to run some power lines through Canela lands during which time they “electrified” every home in the village. Many Canelas now have cellphones with the Canela Bible downloaded on it. Jo and I were in the middle of the translation project forty years ago. What a lot of things have changed since then!

Bernard & Elke Grupp Family

Highlights from Bernard’s Letter from Brazil
In his recent letter from Brazil, Bernard reported that in January twelve more Canelas gave their lives to Christ: four adults, four young people, and three children. God had to lead one of those adults from alcohol addiction through deep waters of diabetes, hospital and near death, to bring him to Himself. God brought this man and Bernard together in amazing coincidences, riding together in the same vehicle from the hospital; and the man and his family staying in the same house where Bernard often has evening church services when he visits another Canela village.

Just a few weeks ago, after the Sunday children’s program, two twelve-year-old boys came up to Bernard and said, “We want to give ourselves and our sins to Jesus.”

Older believers urge new Christians to listen to the Canela Bible on the Proclaimers – a very popular way of hearing the Bible. Listeners often follow along in their printed Bibles to improve their reading skills. Proclaimers are practically indestructible, can be heard by groups up to 300 people at once, the installed pre-recorded microchip lasts forever, the battery can be charged by the built-in solar panel, or by a windup crank. The device can be recharged enough times to play the entire Canela Bible one-thousand times.

A few weeks ago, Bernard traveled to the village where the Swiss couple used to work and distributed another sixteen Proclaimers. Canelas like to take their Proclaimer with them when they travel up to fifteen kilometres away to work in their fields so that they can listen to Scriptures in the evenings.

At the end of January, the Brazilian Bible Society began producing an attractive illustrated version of the Canela Bible for children. We praise God for this publishing project and ask His blessing on it.

Jesus is building His Church among the Canela and it is constantly growing. Almost every email we receive from Bernard and Elke tells of more baptisms. Several years ago, the Canelas decided to build a church building, a strong, rainproof and fireproof building that would last. Some of our family and financial partners helped purchase materials for this building.

Jo and I are so thankful that we can see and hear of the spiritual and physical results of our long-ago work. Yes, we sometimes get thirsty for good news, and this Letter from Brazil was the cold water to quench our thirst.

A Valentine Paraphrase of the Love Chapter 

First Some History
During the severe persecution of Christians throughout the Roman Empire in the third century AD, a church leader named Valentinus was secretly marrying Christian couples. He did this in spite of the edict from Emperor Claudius II forbidding young men to marry since he wanted them to be soldiers with no ties to home and family. Valentinus was arrested, and when he would not renounce his faith was condemned to be beaten with clubs and beheaded.

While in jail, Valentinus became friends with the jailer’s blind daughter with whom he had long conversations. The day before his execution he wrote her a loving farewell note signing it, “From your Valentine.” He was executed on February 14, 270 AD. Two-hundred and twenty-six years later, Pope Gelasius designated this date to honor his martyrdom, the patron saint of love and marriage.

A Day for Lovers
Valentine’s day, and hundreds of thousands of Valentine’s cards were exchanged by husbands and wives, and by boyfriends and girlfriends all across the western world. Last Sunday, thousands of preachers seized the opportunity to speak of God’s love, very likely using 1 Corinthians 13 as their text.

And rightly so. God, after all, is love. He is the living embodiment of every line of that great Love Chapter. I remember memorizing it in the Shakespearian language of the King James Authorised Version. “Charity suffereth long and is kind. Charity envieth not, charity vaunteth not itself.”

But what matters is not if we memorize it, or in what version we read it, but, rather, how we implement the truth of these lovely words with the people who we encounter every day.

Each act of love is a choice. A life of love is made up of thousands of moment to moment choices. Choosing to love our spouse, partner, child, friend, or even our enemy means more than mouthing those three words: “I love you.” When we say “I love you” to someone, God wants us to mean this:

1 Corinthians 13:4-8 Paraphrased
Verse 4
You may at times exasperate me, but because I love you, I will choose to be patient with you.
You may at times treat me badly, but because I love you, I will be kind to you.
You may be much superior to me in many ways, but because I love you, I will not envy you.
I may be superior to you in some ways, but because I love you, I will not brag about myself to you, nor be proud of who I am or of what I have done.

Verse 5
You may at times be rude to me, but because I love you, I will not be rude to you.
You may at times be headstrong and opinionated, but because I love you, I will never manipulate you to get my own way.
You may at times do or say things I don’t like, but because I love you, I will not respond in anger.
You may at times do things to hurt me or wrong me in some way, but because I love you, I will forgive you and not keep track of them.

Verse 6
You may at times make life hard for me, but because I love you, I will always persevere in doing what is right and deepening our relationship.

Verse 7
Because I love you, I will always support you, always trust you, and always expect the best of you, giving you the benefit of any doubt.
You might let me down, but because I love you, I will never fail you.

Love in Action
This is exactly how God loves us. Obviously, this standard goes far beyond human love. This is the way God wants to love others through us: through our hands, our feet, our voices, our writings, our help.

This is also the way He loves hundreds of billions of people who do not yet know Him. Just think, 1,620 people groups have yet to receive God’s Valentine’s card, the Bible, in their language.

The Letter from Ireland

“You guys are so fortunate! You don’t even know how blessed you are!” Hearing our friends, fellow linguists and Bible translators in Brazil telling us this surprised and confused us. What are they talking about? we wondered.

The Report
We had just reported at a regional conference on our first year’s work with the Canela people. “The Canelas gave us Canela names and adopted us into their families,” we said. “They are happy to help us learn their language, and the chief keeps urging us to invent a way of writing Canela, so we can teach people to read their own language. We have more helpers than we know what to do with.”

The Complaints
It turned out that some of our friends struggled to be accepted by the people in their villages. Some complained that they couldn’t find anyone willing to pronounce words repeatedly, so they could learn the language. Others had made learn-to-read booklets but found no one who had any interest in learning to read.

Jo and I had no idea why God was blessing our work among the Canela in such a startlingly obvious way. It certainly wasn’t because we paid the villagers so well. Our income was well below where it should have been, and we simply couldn’t pay any more than the bare minimum.

The Letter
Then, one day, we received a letter from an Irishman named Joe that explained it all:

“Dear Brother Jack and Sister Jo,
I just heard that you were assigned to translate the Word of God for the Canela people of Brazil and I am delighted. In the 1920s I was a young missionary traveling from one village to another evangelizing the Portuguese speaking Brazilians. One day my companions and I stumbled on a village we had not known was there. The people couldn’t understand Portuguese, and we couldn’t understand anything they said. Moreover, they were a fierce looking group, carrying clubs, spears and large bush knives. We did not want to stay the night there. So we traveled on and slept in the jungle.”

The Answer
He went on to tell us that he later discovered this people group was called the Canela. Then he told us a little more about himself, and we were astonished to read that he started to pray for the Canela people ten years before my wife and I were even born!

He continued to pray, without ever receiving any further information about the Canela, for forty years until Jo and I arrived as thirty-year-old missionaries. That’s when he wrote his letter to us.

He then prayed faithfully for another twenty-two years until we published a partial Bible translated into Canela and Jesus built His Church among the Canela people. Then, after Joe the Irishman had prayed for sixty-two years, the Lord took him Home, no doubt, to his exceeding great reward.

The Prayer Project
After Jo and I left Brazil, we were involved in an intensive public speaking ministry throughout Canada and the United States. After two years, we spoke at a conference in Surinam, so we took the opportunity to cross the border into Brazil to visit the Canela. It was planting season, and about two-thirds of the people were away in their fields.

We walked from house to house greeting our Canela friends and renewing acquaintance with them. We also took pictures of individuals, groups, couples, and families. We kept a careful record of the names of each person on the picture and how they were related to the others.

When we returned home, we printed out the four-hundred pictures and the names. Then during the next speaking tour, I told the story of Joe the Irishman and his sixty-two years of praying. I then said, “If any of you here would like to pray every day for a Canela man, woman or child by name and picture, come and see us after the meeting.”

When volunteers came to ask for a picture and a name, I warned them that they would be praying “in the dark” with no updated information, just as the Irishman had prayed. Even so, after a few months, four-hundred individual prayer warriors across North America volunteered to pray for the Canelas on the pictures.

The Rest of the Story
I still receive notes from people telling me they continue to pray. One lady wrote, “I signed up to pray for a little three-year-old girl over twenty years ago. I have been praying for her every day and updating her age. I am now praying for her as a twenty-five-year-old wife and mother of children.”

God continues to bless the work of the missionaries currently in the village who promote the reading and studying of His Word. As a result, the Church among the Canela continues to grow.

This is God’s work, but He invites His people to be involved. The Irishman was involved in prayer for most of his life. God invited Jo and me to spend thirty years of our lives in training, linguistics, teaching, and translation. Others are involved in giving and prayer.

Some of us, like Jo and I, have seen the results of our work. Others, like those praying “in the dark” will only see the results, and receive God’s reward, in eternity.