“So how much have computers speeded up the work of Bible translation?” people often ask me when they find out I’m a Wycliffe Bible translator.
I’m the right guy to ask since my wife and I started our Bible translation career by hand writing the translation, then copying it with carbons on an Underwood manual typewriter. Twenty years later, it was all on a computer, and we noticed the improvement.
The big difference, however, was not in speed but in quality. Revisions were accurate since they didn’t need to be typed out again, a process that always introduced errors. Instead of hand typing and retyping three revision drafts, we now ran a Bible book through a dozen drafts, each one just a little better than the previous. The quality went up but it still took a long time.
New Technology That Speeds Up Translation
Just a few years ago, however, a new technology was developed that really does accelerate the pace of Bible translation around the world. I’m talking about Translation Acceleration Kits, also known as TAKs, which are used by nationals translating the Bible into their own tribal languages, most of whom live in extremely isolated areas of the world.
I used to complain when my wife and I had to leave the village and drive two or three days over difficult roads to reach the translation centre in Belem where we could get our translated material checked by translation consultants. We thought we had it hard, but now I am discovering that in comparison to what some mother-tongue translators go through, we had it easy.
Whenever I travel in the USA raising funds for these TAKs my heart is stirred night after night as I watch videos of men who have literally risked their lives getting to a consultant. Some travel for fifty miles across rough seas in an open boat powered by an outboard motor. Others travel for weeks over robber infested roads, climb steep mountains, or pick their way through swamps, carrying their precious manuscript to be checked at a translation centre.
For many of them, a new day has dawned. Hundreds of teams of mother-tongue translators in remote locations in Africa, Asia and the PacificIslands have now been equipped with Translation Acceleration Kits. Even without access to electricity, phone or Internet connection, they are now communicating in real time with translation experts hundreds or even thousands of miles away via satellite connection.
So, What is a TAK?
A TAK consists of four main components. 1) a laptop computer, 2) a satellite communications terminal, both of which are powered by 3) an ordinary car battery which is kept charged through 4) a cloth based solar panel made of photovoltaic fabrics. It folds up into a small parcel and fits easily into a backpack along with the laptop computer, and the satellite modem. The unit is highly portable, and car batteries can be found anywhere in the world that vehicles can reach. A TAK costs about $3,500, another 1,000 are needed immediately.
TAKs: The Best Thing for Communication Since Planes
Bush planes and jungle pilots made a huge impact on missionaries sixty years ago when they began penetrating previously inaccessible areas of the world. I know. We saved weeks of travel time when we flew to and from the Canela village in Wycliffe’s JAARS planes. TAKs are the first major breakthrough to accelerate the pace of Bible translation in remote areas since the start of missionary aviation.
Last week I sang the praises of the NewLife app for the iPhone developed by the Gideons in Canada which puts the whole Bible with notes and helps on any iPhone for free. This week is the TAK verse of this hymn of praise.
“Thank You, Lord God of the universe, for helping Your Church to use high technology to speed Your Word to every man, woman and child on planet Earth, in their own language.”