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Eurasia and Ukraine

We completed the workshop on Friday, Nov 17, and then flew to Ukraine the following Saturday. The workshop was not without its challenges, especially with Oksana trying to meet Eliyas’ needs while also doing interpreting for me. Since two families meet us to do the translation work, we had many helpers. We also had many good times as a family (pics below of us at grocery stores [top row] and a cafe [left on second row]), since we were together all day and all night. We are very thankful that Eliyas is flying in the planes well (pic of his first plane ride below [right on second row]) and adjusts happily to each new circumstance we put him in.

2017.11.12 Eurasia (1)2017.11.12 Eurasia (7)2017.11.13 Eurasia (32)2017.11.02 first plane ride (4)

We normally cover only 300 verses in these Metanoia workshops, but I’d like to get us up to doing 80-100 per day. Well, we got up to 321 total, so that’s progress but not quite as much as I wanted. But I am learning much about the language, and the translators are honing their translation skills, so we are hopeful to see continued progress.

While we are stationed in Ukraine, we had a baby dedication for Eliyas at Oksana’s home church last Sunday. It was a joyful time as we dedicated him to the Lord in two languages. It was on his 6-month birthday, so we celebrating by giving him some table food. He really liked it!

2017.11.19 first real food (5)

Our family here is really enjoying getting to know him. We are thankful that he can spend 6 weeks straight here.

2017.11.20 Ukraine (2)

At the end of the month, I’m flying alone to Chad, Africa, to train translators on our Bible translation program for two weeks. I’ve been preparing for this ever since we arrived in Ukraine. So far, I’ve collected 160 computer terms in French, which I need to memorize in order to teach well. Pray for God’s wisdom as I prepare. While I’m gone, Oksana will be getting dental work done (at a much lower rate) and in general just enjoying Eliyas with family and friends.

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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.

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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.

Shipshewana1

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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.

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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.

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After being away for almost a month for furlough in Quebec (and one deputation meeting in NJ), the work really piled up, and I’ve not been able to catch up. It seems that fairly significant things (including approving two NTs for formatting) keep coming across my desk as I try to get caught up. So, I have to give those things my attention instead of the emails, some of them waiting for me since early in the summer.

One event that occupied my attention was the Bible Faculty Summit at Appalachian Bible College in WV. It was a great time of fellowship and academic challenge as we shared scholarly papers with each other and just grew in our professions and in our walk with the Lord. It was also nice to get to know ABC better. It was my second time to visit but my first time to get a tour. I appreciate their desire to keep things simple but squarely focused on the Lord. My friend, Dr. Mark Ward, is the main driving force behind this summit (though he’s only one on a committee), and I really appreciate his desire to provide a forum in which well-trained fundamentalist men and women can gather to sharpen one another academically and spiritually. I hope to keep attending in years to come! (My main purpose in attending is to network with profs to get more recruits and maybe even to get help with our translator/consultant tools.)

2017.08 Bible Faculty Summit

While traveling for that, I was also preparing for the upcoming Consultant Seminar, which I lead every year. It got off to a great start on Tuesday morning. During the opening session, I shared an article, “The Life of a Consultant,” that I had written to help candidates considering becoming a consultant. They need to know what they are getting into before they get into it too deeply. Then, I reviewed the life of Ross Hodsdon, who had been with BI since it began in 1981. He actually joined BMM in 1976 and then in 1989 he became a translation consultant. He had worked with at least 21 languages in 14 countries, and he was directly involved with the publishing of 23 NTs/Bibles. Ross died last Sunday, and he will be greatly missed. But what a legacy he left behind! And his imprint is all over BI’s material and consultants. Somehow he managed to be extremely productive in consulting while also developing translator/consultant tools and recruiting extensively. Few can do all those things well at the same time!

We focused on Scripture Use (or Scripture Engagement) for this seminar, and we had a special speaker on Thurs-Fri to address this topic. It was a very fruitful time of discussion and learning. Pray for wisdom as we implement these ideas into our current workflow.

We have two more days of seminar, when we will have just BI members and will focus on tools development.

Praise God that at least 2 of the attendees are planning on joining BI in the future, and others are quite likely. (The seminar is always a time of recruiting, and this year it was more so than in the past, since we had more non-BI members than members.)

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I’m sure you anticipated it: Eliyas’ first trip. Troy the traveling translator doesn’t let grass grow under his feet long, and his wife and his son are happy to travel with him. Well, we hope so (regarding Eliyas)! We are still trying to get him into a good pattern of eating and sleeping, so please pray for that to happen before we leave for Quebec next week. We look forward to seeing our 4 supporting churches up there, and then we’ll head to NJ for a meeting with Pastor Troutman and his church.

Eliyas’ first trip was technically to Grand Haven, MI, when my sister and her son were in town last week. It was a good opportunity to take a few days vacation for some R & R and to help my wife more at home (especially at night). I’m not sure how much of Grand Haven Eliyas got to see, since he slept most of the time, but the rest of us enjoyed it (and yes, I know, newborns can’t see far anyway!). Oksana’s first visit to Grand Haven was for our first Valentine’s Day together, so it was nice to actually see the water this time, not a big mass of snow and ice!

Grand Haven

Eliyas and Oksana will get their first exposure to French when we visit Quebec. Oksana has already been exposed to languages she doesn’t know, since we hear them in Eurasia during our workshop trips. But this will be the first trip where I’ll be able to be an interpreter for her, if my French isn’t too rusty. Not only will we really enjoy visiting friends up there, we’ll also spend a few days touring the old part of Quebec City. It’s the closest thing for Americans to see a European city, so it’s going to be fun.

What are some things I’m working on at the office? Glad you asked! I have to write two papers for our India partner’s (BIIS) 25-year celebration later this year. They are publishing a booklet to commemorate this event, and they’ve asked me to write about the philosophy and methodology of Bible translation, as well as whatever other message the Lord lays on my heart. I’m also refining a presentation on “Literacy in Biblical Times,” which I will present at the Bible Faculty Summit at Appalachian Bible College in early August. I’m also putting together a promotional PPT for an Indian consultant to show to a group of Bible college professors in July. Oh, and I’m preparing to report and preach in French in Quebec. And of course, many other things…

 

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