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Bible translation: Bringing God's letters from home worldwide

Wycliffe Bible Translators
Wycliffe Bible Translators project in South Sudan, video posted on April 11, 2018. |

Theologian and philosopher Augustine of Hippo said it well: “The Holy Scriptures are our letters from home.”

In John 14:2, Jesus told his disciples, “My Father’s house has many rooms … I am going there to prepare a place for you.” What a comfort it is to know, even amidst today’s uncertainty and chaos, that this world is not our eternal home! By God’s grace many of us have the Bible, his love letter from home, to guide and comfort us while we are here on earth.

But about 167 million people still need God’s Word translated into a language and form they can best understand. Praise God that he continues to move Bible translation forward — so that all can reconcile with him and share his eternal home.

As part of the Bible translation movement, we at Wycliffe Bible Translators have the privilege to love and partner well with our neighbors across the globe so that all people receive God’s letters from home, especially now. That’s why we’re adapting and using innovative means to spread the Gospel to communities in some of the most difficult areas of the world.

Spreading the Word (without spreading the virus)

Toward the beginning of the pandemic, Wycliffe USA personnel Nate and Ivy Cheeseman started passing out audio Bibles — Scriptures translated and recorded in a local language on MP3 players — in the community where they serve in Southeast Asia. As word spread, requests for these audio Bibles started pouring in.

“God just kept networking us with local Christians in our city who wanted to give these [audio Bibles] to their friends or neighbors,” Ivy said. “It seemed like everywhere we went — whether it was our homeschool co-op, a coffee shop, or even while on vacation — we kept meeting people who wanted to get the Bible out.”

The Cheesemans helped distribute hundreds of audio Bibles before lockdown measures started in their local area in response to the pandemic. As the people in their community retreated into self-isolation to keep themselves and others safe, Nate and Ivy realized how God had worked to get His love letters from home into the hands of people before they were separated from their churches and Christian communities.

In the months since the audio Bibles were distributed, many have come to faith and are being discipled through God’s Word because they have access to the Scriptures in a language and form that meets their needs during this global pandemic.

Reaching the final frontier of Bible translation

Translators across the world are using mobile apps and streaming technology to bring the Gospel to the final frontier of Bible translation — the deaf. As one of the most unreached and unengaged people groups, the deaf desperately need God’s letters from home.  

“It’s better in sign language,” one deaf man told a group of translators in Mexico. “It’s clear. I’ve tried again and again to read the Spanish [Bible] but I don’t know what it [means]. Now finally you have shown me, and I am overjoyed!”

Last year the American Sign Language community celebrated the very first full sign language Bible! In Africa, Deaf adults who attended Scripture engagement training went back to their villages and shared Bible stories at 11 different schools for the deaf, transforming many students’ lives. Translators in Tanzania realized their deaf community had no access to COVID-19 safety information and procedures, so they paused Bible translation to make practical videos, tangibly demonstrating God’s love and care for their deaf neighbors.

Across the globe, God is putting together all the pieces: technology that makes sign language translation possible, people with a passion to reach the deaf, and the resources to do the work.

Jumping hurdles and crossing borders

Not only have innovations like audio Bibles and streaming services helped distribute God’s letters from home, but they’ve also allowed translators to continue their important work during a pandemic that’s required self-isolation. Local translation teams who can’t meet together still have an abundance of exegetical and translation materials at their fingertips through a database called the Digital Bible Library and other online resources. And collaborative software allows translators and Bible scholars to work together across the globe to continue translation efforts.

New Starlink satellites by SpaceX are helping us overcome one of the greatest hurdles to Bible translation in recent times: a lack of internet connectivity. Without the internet, a key provision of both people and academic resources, the translation process is long and laborious. With the addition of Starlink satellites, though, even those in the most remote locations will be connected to high-speed internet. Not only will people have access to education, healthcare, and other resources for the first time, but they’ll also have access to God’s Holy Word — his letter to us from our home in Heaven. 

While technology provides a way into many unreached communities, translation work with those who live out of their homelands, the diaspora, is opening other doors. Of the roughly 1,900 language groups that still need Bible translation to begin, at least half are in areas where foreigners aren’t able to work easily. But translation projects with the diaspora can span borders and continents!

Connected by their shared language, the groups take ownership of their projects despite the distance, benefitting both the diaspora community and those remaining in their homeland. For those working on these projects, their letters home are literally God’s letters translated into a language their friends and families can clearly understand.

Isaiah 55:11 promises, “It is the same with my word. I send it out, and it always produces fruit. It will accomplish all I want it to and it will prosper everywhere I send it.” We can be certain that whether God’s Word reaches people through audio, video, the internet, or in the writing of a childhood friend in another country, He will use it to transform lives. The Bible, God’s letter to us, has been bringing people into a relationship with Him since long before the chaos and uncertainty of this time, and His Word will continue to transform hearts and minds long after this pandemic is over.

John Chesnut is Wycliffe Bible Translators USA President/CEO.

Wycliffe Bible Translators USA is a nonprofit organization that has helped people around the world to translate the Bible into their own languages for over 75 years. Its vision is for people from every language to understand the Bible and be transformed. To learn more about Wycliffe USA and the ministry of Bible translation, visit wycliffe.org

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