(Note: If anyone reading this as an email is still getting an ugly brown background, please let me know.)
For almost fifty years Jo and I have been thrilled to be members of Wycliffe Bible Translators of Canada, now a major partner—along with about eighty other likeminded organizations—of Wycliffe Global Alliance
Starting with a handful of American linguists in the 1930s, today more than 10,000 workers are focused on linguistics, literacy and Bible translation around the world. About 7,500 of these workers are European or North and South American, the other 2,500 are African, Asian, or Pacific Islanders. So what are the results?
Of the world’s nearly 7,000 living languages, about 1,300 have a New Testament or other major portions of Scripture translated into their language. About 2,200 languages have Bible translation work in progress. God is blessing and prospering His work. In the last fifteen years alone, 1,100 new Bible translation projects were started. A small percentage of the total world population, 180 million people, speaking 1,900 languages, are still waiting for a project to begin.
As a veteran Bible translator, this progress excites me. But I need to remember that cross-cultural foreign missions and Bible translation did not start with Wycliffe’s founder Uncle CameronTownsend in the 1930s.
Worldwide missions didn’t start with Hudson Taylor’s passion for China in the mid 1800s, nor with WilliamCarey going to India in the late 1700s.
It didn’t start with the apostle Paul’s missionary travels to Asia and Europe.
It didn’t start with the arrival of the Holy Spirit in Jerusalem at Pentecost when foreigners from many nations heard the Good News in their own languages.
Foreign missions didn’t even start on that mountain in Galilee when Jesus gave the disciples the Great Commission to evangelise the world and disciple the nations.
Nor did foreign missions start with the Jewish national exile to Babylon, or with Jonah, the reluctant missionary to Nineveh.
It didn’t start with Solomon’s dedication prayer at the temple when he asked God to hear and answer the foreigner who came from far to pray at the temple.
It didn’t start during David’s reign when he wrote song after song telling all the peoples of the earth to worship God.
It didn’t even start with Abraham when God promised that through him, and his seed, all the nations of the earth would be blessed.
And no, it didn’t start after Adam’s disobedience when God promised that Satan would someday be crushed.
Foreign missions started in the great heart of God long before He made the earth and created Adam. Right from the beginning of time, God wanted every human being that was ever to live on earth to know Him.
I remember talking about this to a small audience of mature Christians in a major church. I then asked them, “But why does God want people to know Him?” I received a wide variety of answers. Acting like a two-year old child, I kept asking, “But why?” and got an answer that was close.
“God wants to save us from our sins.” Right! But why?
“He’s a God of love and wants us in heaven forever.” But why?
Finally, one lady gave the right answer,
“So we can worship Him in Spirit and in Truth forever.” Right!
Almighty God wants everyone to enthusiastically admire Him, deeply respect Him, tell Him over and over again how great, how powerful, and how perfect He is. The time is coming when we will all obey the first of the Ten Commandments in the way God Himself obeys it: to love and worship the Lord God and Him alone. At last we will delight in God’s perfection in the same way He delights in His own perfection.
John Piper says it well in his book, Let the Nations be Glad! “Missions exists because worship doesn’t.”
Ultimately, Wycliffe and all missions are not about people at all, they are about God: God who is to be freely and exuberantly worshipped in thought and word, in song and deed, in life and death.
What about those 1,900 languages without any of God’s Word yet translated into them. Do any of those 180 million speakers know God?
Wycliffe and the work of Bible translation must continue to grow until God is praised and worshiped in everyone of those languages.
Remember the story of the ninety-nine sheep safely in the fold and the shepherd going out to find the one lost sheep?
I suspect that God will not be satisfied until He hears people from every single language on earth worshiping Him.