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Sometimes I feel like the pressure of ministry responsibilities is well beyond my abilities or resources. At other times, I feel like it’s just smooth sailing. One day this week, I felt stressed to the max, but instead of getting to tackle my to-do list, I had to attend administrative meetings in which we prayed for every BI staff member and talked through various challenges. At the end of the meeting, my heart was at peace, though I hadn’t completed any of my tasks. Why the unexpected change in my heart? I’m coming to realize though the workload may fluctuate, the key is that the Lord gives me the grace to maintain stability and peace in my heart as I respond to the workload. Though I wish I could have 100 hours straight of undistracted time to devote to my to-do list (which is what I estimate what I need to get caught up), I’ll probably never get that, so I have to learn how to accept being burdened down with an endless workload. I can only do what the Lord allows me to do each day, and what remains undone will be there the next day. I must not get stressed out, because that’s a type of anxiety that God forbids us to have. May God give me grace to learn this lesson well!

Eliyas’ passport and visa are in hand. His luggage just arrived. He’s just about ready to fly! But are we ready to take a baby over the Atlantic? Only by God’s grace! Pray for grace and strength to endure long flights and jetlag with our little bugaboo (as I like to call him sometimes).

Pray also for greater success with the workshop. We typically cover only 300 verses in each workshop, but that means the project will take over 40 years. Pray we can cover more this time! Pray also for Eliyas to behave well so that Oksana is not distracted as she translates into Russian for me. We also hope to tie up a lingering orthography issue, so pray for wisdom in that. Pray too that we’d be an encouragement to this team, who lives in a country where persecution of Christians is a regular experience.

After the workshop, we finally get to do long-overdue introductions of Eliyas to his Ukrainian family. They’ve already started dreaming about being able to hold him. It’s going to be such a joyous reunion. Below is a picture we took when the fall weather was so beautiful, just before the crummy, cold weather started.

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We sang these words this morning at my home church in the song “As the Deer,” and I sang those words with believers on the other side of the world in a different language just two weeks ago. In both cases, I got choked up as I sang those words, because I could reflect on how God had been my strength and shield during my travels. God truly gave me strength throughout the trip, even though I had many disturbances to my sleep (traveling through the night on four different occasions, waking up early for flights, and sleeping in less than comfortable situations many other nights), and He protected me from evil (from terrorists, traffic, bad roads, religious extremists, etc.). He was also my family’s shield, though they seemed to face many attacks from Satan. My wife said she didn’t get a single good night of sleep while I was gone (but she’s already had 2 since I came back on Thursday).

My greatest joy on the trip was dedicating the Inner Seraji NT. The translator and his wife began working among the Inner Seraji people in 1990. He married a woman, who also helped with the translation work, a few years later. They had to leave the area because of health issues and the need for more training, but returned in the early 2000’s and began translation work in 2005. Twelve years later, the NT was completed and ready for dedication, and God gave me the privilege of preaching at the dedication on October 4 and praying for God’s blessing as people begin using it. The service was 3.5 hours long, but I enjoyed every minute of it. There were many tears as we recounted God’s goodness through the years. There were around 450 people present, 100 of whom were unbelievers. When the translator and a few other missionaries arrived in that area called “the valley of the gods,” there were no believers. Now there are 5 churches and another Bible study. There are estimated to be around 750 believers, which is slightly over 1% of this language’s population. I look forward to seeing how this number will multiply greatly now that they have good access to God’s Word in their own language.

On this trip, I also got to thank a church in Bangladesh for their faithful support of us since 2009. In Bangladesh, you have to have a police escort with armed policemen accompanying your travels through the country, because terrorists are targeting all foreigners. The situation was rather tense for me to see armed policemen in a pickup truck just in front of our vehicle. Thank God for keeping away any problems! I probably faced more danger when I rode on the back of a motorcycle with a friend in Dhaka to visit a nearby prayer meeting, but thankfully, that trip was quite short. Dhaka seems to be the rickshaw capital of the world, as they share the bumpy roads with other vehicles of all shapes and sizes. This capital city teems with around 18 million people, so it’s one of the largest cities I’ve ever visited. As you can imagine, the traffic is absolutely awful in this underdeveloped city. But one positive thing I can definitely say about the country: I didn’t see a single immodest girl the whole time I was there. Apparently, the Muslim religion at least has that positive influence on the people.

The third major portion of my trip was to gather with around 10 co-workers in BI in another location in Asia to do strategic planning about how to get more projects and personnel in that part of the world. I invited two cross-cultural translators (one from the Inner Seraji project) from within BI to join us for the discussions; their presence among us was profitable both for them and for us. We spent 2.5 days discussing research strategies and ways to connect with Bible college graduates to target Bible-less language groups. We still have a long ways to go in this strategic initiative, but I’m thankful for the significant strides we took during these planning meetings. I look forward to seeing how God will continue to bless these efforts.

When I arrived on Thursday, I had exactly three weeks to prepare for our departure to Eurasia, Ukraine, and Chad. Pray for our preparations during these busy 3 weeks. Pray also for the annual Harvest Dinner on Thursday, in which we will highlight our 3 newest projects in Myanmar.

My first NT dedication

I just completed the painful process of saying goodbye to my family, and now I’m waiting for my first plane toward my destination in Asia. Thankfully, I’ll have only one layover, and then a 14-hour flight to my final destination. This week will actually be mostly a “blank week,” since what I had planned for the week got cancelled. Since that’s the case, I have time to catch up on work and sleep, and also do some site-seeing, which is what I said I would do when I applied for the visa. (It was too expensive to reschedule my itinerary.)

Though I will enjoy doing some tourism, the real fun begins at the end of the week when I fly out to another country in the region to visit a supporting church. These people live in a very poor country, but yet they still send money from time to time, and they pray regularly for us. It’s actually a very expensive ordeal for me to visit them, but well worth it to meet people who have been supporting us sight-unseen. We’ll finally get to fellowship together, and I’ll get to thank them in person for their support to us. I also get to minister the Word with the hopes of being a blessing to them. I just wish my family could have come with me! Maybe another time when our son is fully immunized and ready to travel to such tropical climates.

Then I return to the first country to prepare for a NT dedication. Though I’ve been doing this work for over 10 years, I’ve never been to a dedication of our translations. So, needless to say, I’m very excited to go! Again, I wish my family were with me to enjoy this special moment. The translator is a national, but it’s not his native tongue, so he’s considered a cross-cultural translator. He moved up to live among the people in 1991, and he’s spent his life energies since then learning the language and giving the gospel. Translation work began soon after he got there, so it’s been around 24 years since the work has been in process. Finally, these people will have the complete NT in their hands! I get to preach to them and give a prayer of dedication of the newly published NTs. What a privilege!

I hope I’ll be able to encourage them to get on the right course of an effective use of the Scriptures. As I’ve already posted on my blog, we are working through Scripture Use issues at BI, so this is my opportunity to try to preempt future problems with Scripture use. Here are some issues that sometimes arise after translations are put into use:

  1. Church leaders may refuse to humble themselves to learn how to read their language publicly (they learned in a majority language).
  2. Church leaders may not know how to show the relevance of the Scriptures to the people’s daily lives.
  3. Men may feel that learning to read is for women and children.
  4. Women may feel that it’s the man’s job to read, while she does housework.
  5. The people have a low view in general about written material.
  6. The people may develop a negative attitude toward their own language.
  7. Speakers of another dialect may not want to read in the chosen dialect.
  8. Church leaders may not raise awareness about the published translation, or they may not make the translation easily available.
  9. The laypeople may not want to sacrifice time and money to get their own copy of the Scriptures.
  10. The laypeople may get dissatisfied with carrying two books to church, if they only have a NT in their language.
  11.    The people may not be pleased with the format of the translation—number of columns, font size, etc.
  12.    The people may not like the orthography that has been developed.
  13.    The people may not like the terms that were chosen for key concepts in the Scriptures.
  14.    Translators may fall into sin, casting a shadow on the translation they helped produce.
  15.    Churches may become estranged from the ones associated with the translation project.

Pray that God would help these people overcome these challenges to Scripture use, and pray that the Lord would use me to help them get on the right track. Pray also for the cross-cultural translator as he continues to work with the people concerning Scripture Use and works toward starting the OT in a few years.

I’ve spoken of leaving my family behind a few times in this post. I think this calls for another picture of us. This one was taken in Shipshewana a few weeks ago.

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A week and a half given back

We were planning on going down to Charleston, SC, for a missions banquet at a supporting church, but the Lord decided to change those plans by sending Hurricane Irma. Thankfully, our friends in Charleston were not greatly affected by the hurricane, but we couldn’t have predicted the Wed before. So, that meant we weren’t leaving that Thurs but instead would stay home. That meant I got a week and a half of my life given back, because we would have been quite busy during the entire trip. What do you do when you are given your life back?

Well, we had worked so hard to get things done before the trip that we had nothing pressing to do last Saturday. Since my mom’s bday was coming up (Sept 13), we decided to celebrate it with her by an all-day trip to Shipshewana. We capped that off with a surprise stop at a church in the area, because the pastor helped me purchase a new porch swing frame for my mom. She was quite pleased to see it waiting for her. I didn’t realize how much that swing meant to her until she sent a thank-you. It’s the one that she had at her home in SC, so she spent much family time (with all of us) on it and did her devotions on it after my dad died. Now she can use it in her new home in MI!

I also got to spend lots of quality time with my wife and my son. Here are some of our favorite recent pics.

What I didn’t expect is that though I had 7 work days given back, I still got behind in emails! I had my urgent emails down to around 5, so I thought I could chip away at the 70 non-urgent ones. But instead, I couldn’t even keep up with the new emails that came my way. Thankfully, I’ve been able to get the number back down to 10, but that’s with writing 30-40 emails a day. I can’t imagine how far behind I’d be if I didn’t have those 7 working days given back! When I fly to Asia for two weeks, I’ll definitely get behind, because I’ll be doing a lot of traveling from place to place: 2 days to get there, half a day to fly to another country, half day to fly upcountry, half day to drive down-country, half a day to fly back to the first country, overnight bus trip upcountry, overnight bus down-country, half day flight to another location in the same country, and then almost 2 days to fly back home. Lots of traveling, but also lots of good ministry opportunities! I’m actually a little fearful of the safety in the second country, so pray for safety and protection!

With 2 days of training next week and 1 day of work meetings (constitution and Admin Group), I’ll be quite busy throughout the rest of the week. Then it’s two weeks in Asia, so don’t expect any blog posts until mid-October.

Pray for good meetings at Bible Baptist in Wakarusa, IN, tomorrow. We are excited to get back to this church, which is our newest supporter.

September Prayer Letter

Dear Family and Friends,

At BI’s Annual Meeting, we had the privilege of hearing Dr. Les Ollila challenge our hearts. God has given him a way of putting thoughts into memorable phrases. In one sermon, he reflected on God’s call on Moses and how Moses tried to dodge his mission by bringing up excuses. But, as Dr. Ollila pointed, “You don’t say ‘I can’t’ to ‘I AM.’” When God calls, He equips because He’s the ever-present One who comes alongside to strengthen us!

BEGINNING AND ENDING LIFE

 

There have been significant challenges while getting used to our new little family member, but we wouldn’t want it any other way. Eliyas has brought so much joy into our lives! He just passed the three-month mark, so he’s sleeping through the night without a need for food, and he’s responding more and more to us. We considered taking him to Asia with us in late September, but then we decided to wait on an overseas trip until he gets more vaccines. His passport should arrive soon, and then we’ll begin making plans to travel with him in November. Meanwhile, I’ll travel alone to Asia in September & October. PRAY for preparations for this trip: a New Testament dedication (my first!), strategic planning, and ministering in churches.

Eliyas is just beginning his life course, but a dear consultant, Ross Hodsdon, completed his on August 6. After translating a New Testament in Brazil, he joined BI and traveled to 14 different countries, working with 21 different languages. Twenty-three of BI’s publications have his fingerprints all over them, and countless missionaries have been deeply affected by his life, not to mention the thousands of other souls. What an amazing legacy he leaves behind! His translation work lives on! PRAY for his wife Cathy and the rest of the family as they mourn his loss and adjust to life without him.

SUPPORT ALMOST COMPLETE

Thanks to Bible Baptist Church in Wakarusa, IN, our support now stands at 98%. Indications are that our support will be completed in September. PRAISE God! We have one more church trip for this year in September: Charleston, SC, and then Wakarusa (with a stop-over at BJU and Mt. Calvary Baptist). We PRAISE God with you that He gave us safety and good ministry at six churches in Quebec and two in the US in the summer.

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(Picture: We visited Ross & Cathy in Maine in July.)

MINISTRY

We still await BMM’s input regarding BI’s new constitution. We actually hope to get everything settled this month and have it ratified in November. Please PRAY!

I PRAISE God for answering your prayers about wisdom as I prepared various presentations (a long article for India about the philosophy and methodology of Bible translation, a presentation about literacy in Bible times for the Bible Faculty Summit in WV, and others) and led the Consultant Seminar. God really blessed the seminar, with four attendees seriously planning on joining someday. We also had good discussions about Scripture Use (SU) and other topics. PRAY for God to send us personnel to help with our SU plans. Please check out my blog if you are an interested candidate yourself. We still need a new director as well as project coordinators.

PRAY for God’s blessing on our Harvest Dinner on October 19. We will be highlighting our newest translation projects. PRAY also for our overseas trip to Eurasia, Ukraine, and Chad (Troy only to Africa) later this year. We look forward to introducing Eliyas to Oksana’s family and friends and also getting lots of work done.

For the sake of Christ,

Troy (for the three of us)

 

Do you have an MDiv, a heart for missions, and a desire to be involved in Bible translation, but don’t have the technical training in biblical languages or linguistics? Scripture Use may be your way to join us and get involved! Most people think that they can only get involved in Bible translation if they are experts in Greek, Hebrew, and linguistics. Of course, that’s never been true since there are always other roles to fulfill in this ministry (accounting, fund raising, composition editing, project coordination, software development, etc.).

But Scripture Use opens up an opportunity for seminary-trained individuals to get involved at a strategic, front-line level without having to know the subject areas typically associated with Bible translation work. We want our translations not just to be completed, but also effectively used, and Scripture Use ensures that this happens (as much as is humanly possible). This requires addressing the 15 issues I listed in my previous post as well as many other issues. Often, there are spiritual issues to consider, but sometimes it’s just a matter of sociolinguistics (I say “just” because it’s within the realm of something we can affect).

You can show the nationals how beautiful the Bible sounds in their language as you teach them how to read it well in public. You can help them produce songs in their language based on the translations. You can give them direction on how to do dramatic productions that can illustrate Scripture truths. You can show church leaders the tremendous impact the vernacular Scriptures can have as they preach from it. You can help them develop materials and strategies to preach from them. You can provide background materials to illuminate the Scriptures. You can model how relevant the Scriptures are to daily life. You can show orally oriented people the value of becoming literate and fluent in reading. All these are activities you can engage in if you help BI with Scripture Use activities.

Until God sends us people to help, we will do what we can. Here are some activities I told our consultants they can engage in now:

  1. Pray for God to provide a SU Dept manager! (Let me know if you can think of some good candidates for Admin to consider.)
  2. Print out the texts you are working with to try out at churches or with individuals in the evenings or on the weekends.
  3. Engage in SU activities during weekend ministry. (Maybe you can do Bible storying where orality is high.)
  4. Invite church leaders to visit the workshop to observe and participate.
  5. Invite UNS’s (uninitiated native speakers) to the workshop to get their feedback.
  6. Ask the translators or literacy workers to share testimonies of how the translation is impacting them. They can do this at the workshop, or better, they can do it at a church service when you are present. (Please record these testimonies if at all possible, and then submit them to us.)
  7. Ask the translators, literacy workers, or other native speakers their attitude about their language, their use of their language in various life domains, their awareness of the relevance of Scripture to daily life, etc.
  8. Ask many questions about the use of Trial Editions to make sure our translation work is truly being well accepted and used.
  9. Stress to the translator and literacy workers that our goal is not simply getting the translation done; we want people to use the Scriptures effectively.
  10. Use the translation during your devotions at the workshop.
  11. Consider spending a few extra days with the language group to pursue SU possibilities (you should check with us first, though, if this would involve extra expense for BI).
  12. Consider the other suggestions that Taber gave in her article (on translation consulting).
  13. Make sure the language group knows how to access the translation in digital form.
  14. If you are an expat missionary who has to visit churches for support raising, make sure they understand that most contexts in which we work are not ones in which there are monolingual churches. Instead, they are multi-linguistic, meaning that our task is quite complicated as we try to help them connect better with the Scriptures.

Please pray for God to send us SU personnel and that He would bless our SU activities!

Scripture Use

As I noted in a recent post, we just hosted our annual Consultant Seminar, and this year our special speaker focused on Scripture Engagement (SE), also called Scripture Use (SU). BI has actually been engaged in SU activities since our inception, because at the heart of our mission is a desire to make sure our translations are effectively used by the language groups for whom we are working. We have gained an increasing awareness of the complexities of SU as we have attended conferences and taken courses on the subject. I have notes on the issue that go back to 2007, my first year at BI. But it wasn’t until 2015 that we put together a plan to establish a new SU department at BI. We were keenly aware of the need for full-time BI members to devote their attention to SU issues. However, even with that heightened awareness of the need, I still didn’t grasp the urgency of the need until after I did the reading for the SU sessions at our seminar and then after the discussions at the seminar. Now I am praying even more earnestly that God would provide someone to help with SU activities at BI!

How serious is the need? Well, we don’t actually know since we don’t have any SU personnel who can do the analysis for us. We are thankful that we always partner with solid, Bible-using churches, so we are reasonably certain that they are promoting and using our translations. However, I’m not sure if our situation is much better than SIL’s. Our special speaker shared with us a study completed in April 2017 concerning SIL’s 200+ NT projects in Papua New Guinea. They were only able to get data on 162 of their projects, and here’s what they found:

  • Good SU: 30% (48 languages)
  • Fair SU: 31% (51 languages)
  • Low SU: 39% (63 languages)

That means that only 1/3 of their projects are achieving the success they desire. Not encouraging! Is that thee case with our languages as well? Well, we know that our translations target conservative churches, and often that type of church is in the minority, so it could be that our statistics are not much better because of those factors. However, what is the use of Scripture within those churches? We don’t have accurate statistics, since we don’t have any SU personnel. Again, we have local partners (other missionaries and national churches) who continue the work after we leave, so we are reasonably certain that most of our translations are being used to some extent. But we don’t know the situations with any precision.

Why is this such a complicated issue? I’ve always been aware of the spiritual battle we are engaged in. That’s actually why SU in the USA is actually not as good as it should be. Most people in our conservative churches just don’t read the Bible very much! The American Bible Society did a survey of the “State of the Bible” in 2017, powered by Barna Group). They studied SU in the USA among the entire population, not just conservative churches, and they found that SU is quite low in our own country. Only 20% of adults read the Bible at least 4 times a week. Only 16% read the Bible every day, and 14% read it several times a week. Women (55%) are more likely than men (45%) to read the Bible, and older American (58%) are more likely than the younger generations. Southerners (55%) read it more than Midwesterners (51%), Westerners (51%), or Northeasterners (41%). (note that the KJV is the preferred version at 31%, NIV is second at 13%, and ESV is third at 9%). We in the USA aren’t using our Bibles very often, so should we expect it to be any different for those overseas?

But aren’t Bible-less people anxiously waiting the translation of the Bible into their language and ready to devour it as soon as we complete it? Thankfully, there are some in every language group who are like that–sometimes many and sometimes it seems like almost the whole language group. But there are many other factors that are working against us:

  1. Orthography not accepted
  2. Other dialects of the language don’t like the dialect we chose.
  3. Lack of support from church leaders, who were trained in a larger language.
  4. Low reading fluency levels
  5. People are more orally oriented and don’t see the value of written literature
  6. Lukewarm attitude towards their own language
  7. Lack of awareness of the finished translation
  8. Lack of good distribution of the finished translation
  9. Choice for key terms rejected
  10. Dissatisfaction with the formatting of the published Scriptures
  11. Not desirous to use the NT since it lacks the OT (they don’t want to carry two books to church)
  12. People have no Bible background knowledge to understand the Scriptures
  13. Church leaders are unable to show the relevance of the Scriptures to people’s daily lives
  14. Translators destroy their reputation, casting a shadow on the translation they are associated with
  15. Other churches don’t have good relations with the churches/missionaries we partnered with

These are just some of the complicating factors that make SU a real challenge. And this underscores why we need SU personnel to give focused attention to these issues so that our translations are effectively used. Please pray for God to send laborers to help us with this essential work.