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
- 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. Other 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Some translators work right in their co-translators’ community, others work with co-translators who are living outside their country.
- Some translators work face to face with their co-translators, others work via email and Skype communications.
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.