Recently, a pastor asked me if it’s truly worth the many years and many hundreds of thousands of dollars to help a small language group get the Word of God into their heart language? He wasn’t asking because he doubted the legitimacy of our ministry, but he was asking an honest question that we at BI need to be able to answer.
As I’ve thought about the question more, I came up with these responses:
- We need to be where God is working. If God is working among a language group, then Bible translators need to be there after people are converted and churches are planted. People don’t need a translation in their heart language in order to get saved (e.g., a few churches are in existence in Eurasia because a missionary took the gospel to them and preached through an interpreter), but believers and churches cannot grow without good access to the Word of God. “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4).
- We must go where He sends us. If God gives clear indications that He wants us to work with a particular language group, who are we to resist? We do lots of prayerful research before we choose to adopt a language.
- We should put ourselves in their shoes. If we were a speaker of a small language group and we were believers with no good access to the Word of God, would we think it justifiable to skip us because our language group is too small to work with? The Ranglong group in India have only a little over 8,000 speakers, but clearly they are receiving our translation well. We just printed a trial edition of Genesis as we work on the OT, and this is what we heard one lady say about getting that book in her own language: “Oh the Christians who have not been able to read these stories [in Genesis], I feel sorry for them.”Another man forgot to go to work because he was so captivated by his reading of Genesis.” Should we ignore these believers who have such a hunger for God’s Word? (You can read more about the Ranglong story here.)
- We cannot underestimate the potential of small groups. The two groups we are working with in Cote d’Ivoire number 13,000 and 55,000 speakers. The translation work started in the mid-1970s and the NTs were completed in 1982 and 1992. But our literacy efforts were brutally interrupted by two civil wars. Many believers survived the wars and continued following Christ in spite of significant obstacles. Now they have a vision to reach their entire country for Christ. Why wouldn’t we want to come alongside them to help? We restarted our work among them last year.
There are probably other reasons why we should work among such small language groups, but these are sufficient to keep me motivated to persevere the many years of work to complete our translations. May God help us!