Posts Tagged ‘Scripture Use’

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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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!

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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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At the beginning of the year my department had swelled to 29 consultants. Everything was looking very promising. BI seemed to be getting poised for some wonderful things. But then our director was released, causing me to lose his help with 1-2 workshops per year (not to mention his leadership and support in general). Then, we were informed about a missionary consultant wanting to transfer out. Then, we were told that a national consultant in India wants to start doing another ministry. We added two national consultants in India sometime last year, and we thought that would really help make up for the loss in India, but just this morning the wife wrote saying that she doesn’t think it’s going to work for her to become a linguistics consultant. And then a literacy consultant announced last week that she’s going to be ceasing her work with BI sometime this year. That means we will be down to 24 consultants! Instead of being poised for growth, we are just trying to hang on and keep fulfilling our current commitments.

However, we are confident that God wants to keep this work moving forward, so we will soon be adopting a new OT project in Myanmar. We hired a part-time administrative assistant for my department and the Projects Management department, so that will greatly streamline my workload. Plus, I’ve seen the Lord bring along volunteers to help bear the burdens. A friend just volunteered to take over the development of one of our major translator tools, and another contact has agreed to help me with the completion of our whole Bible topical index. And then there are the friends in France, Quebec, and SC who continue to work on the translation of materials into French and Spanish. And then there’s the son of a friend in PA who is helping me format Book Worksheets. So, clearly the Lord is still working! When God closes a door, He opens a window. Though the work isn’t getting done as I had originally planned, it’s still getting done.

We are also trying to form up a new Scripture Use department and praying that the Lord would provide a manager for that department. We need someone with at least an MDiv (or even PhD) with significant missionary experience. This department will be less technical but will still have emphasis upon helping our new readers make those first steps from receiving their new translation to using it effectively in life and ministry.

We are also seeking to start one new partnership with a Bible college, whether overseas or in the US. We need to keep connecting with students so that we can recruit more consultants and other workers. In fact, our greatest need at BI is projects coordinators and a formatter. God will provide in His time! Meanwhile, we’ll keep working away at our 41 projects in 16 countries. My department hopes to submit 3 NTs and a OT-portions/revised NT later this year. Next year we hope to complete three new Bibles, finish a revised Bible project, and wrap up 3 NTs (one with Psa/Prov).

Isn’t it obvious that BI needs prayer? God will answer as we work and pray!

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The Lord has really answered prayers concerning the various events of this week. I met with 7 other co-workers to figure out what we can do to help the Sango Bible revision project overcome the current obstacles. Though I read many pages for the meeting and wrote a 10-page report about my findings, there was still much to learn. Some of the BI missionaries have lived the Sango project, so to speak–two BI couples lived in the Central African Republic as full-time missionaries.

The project has dynamics that are similar to the version debate in the U.S. (and abroad), but it also has some unique elements because of the nature of missionary translation. This project goes all the way back to the beginning of BMM and beyond. The founder of BMM, William Haas, ran into this language in the 1910s during his mission trips into the French Equitorial Africa. After spending a few years there, he returned to America, founded BMM, and recruited missionaries to go back with him. Years later (1966), the Bible was published in Sango. For many this is the only Bible they’ve ever known, and it’s the only piece of literature they’ve ever read from. But since Sango is experiencing language change, as all languages do, the orthography of the 1966 Bible no longer reflects the Sango spoken today. But as in the US with the KJV, many are resisting the changes, especially in regard to the Sango orthography revisions that we are trying to implement in the Bible revision. Please pray for wisdom and for a heart of cooperation among the Sango people! They need a Bible that speaks to them in their Sango of today.

The Lord also answered prayers in regard to my meeting concerning Scripture Use. I met with a subdepartment head in my department to start laying the foundation for this other subdepartment. We still have much to cover, but I’m thankful for the ground that was laid on Thurs. I praise the Lord for how He answered prayers in helping both meetings to be characterized by a spirit of teamwork and Christlikeness. Your prayers were very evident!

The Lord is also showing His presence in the Haitian Creole OT workshop, though not exactly as I desired, to tell you the truth. He has been helping us improve the quality of the translation (which was already well-done by the translator), but so far the pace has been quite slow. So far we have finished Gen. 7:1-17:12. We need to cover all the way through Gen 25 as well as Psa 11-25. Please pray for us to know how to move more quickly next week. Yes, I want to make sure the translation is accurate, but I also want the Haitians to receive their Bible in 2020 or soon after.

Here are some specific ways that you can pray:

  • Wisdom in knowing what the Hebrew is saying
  • Wisdom in knowing how to render that in Haitian Creole
  • Good communication amongst the team
  • A spirit of cooperation and Christlikeness

I include the last one because you might be able to imagine how difficult it can be for one consultant to defer to another, when the feelings about what a passage says can be quite strong. And it’s not always easy for the translator either, because he has spent so many hours trying to word things just right. We need grace to defer to one another and accept that someone else may have a better solution.

Lastly, praise the Lord that my support went up again this week. Another supporter decided to increase their monthly amount. It doesn’t change my percentage at all (66%), but receiving $25 per month more does help with the bottom line figure that I need to raise. Praise God for His provision!

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Daniel Telfort, the translator for the Haitian Creole OT, will be arriving in Grand Rapids tomorrow. We begin a two-week workshop on the translation on Monday. Currently, he has sent us 28 chapters to work on. He has translated 6 others and hopes to get those backtranslated into French for me to read. That will give us 34 chapters to check in two weeks. In December we were able to check 4 Psalms in one day, so with 10 days for this workshop, we should be able to get the work done. But we will definitely need prayer!

We were supposd to cover 26 more chapters in Genesis, but the earthquake put a large crack in those plans. This project has a stylist to check the flow of the Haitian Creole. His wife died in the earthquake, so that really set things back. He is supposed to check the work before it can be backtranslated. We’ve had to reorder the steps a little so we could get the translation ready for next week’s workshop. The chapters have been trickling in for the past few weeks. Hopefully the remainder will come today or tomorrow.

I’ve been able to work through 22 chapters, so there still remains much to be done in my own preparation. I’ll probably be working on the material over the weekend and in the evenings to stay on top of things. I probably also need to have a few devotionals ready, since we start each day with one.

In the midst of the workshop, I have a meeting on Tuesday afternoon to discuss the Sango Bible revision, so that we can figure out how to overcome various obstacles we’ve faced. (I’ll be preparing for that today.) On Thursday, I meet with someone in my department to begin developping our Scripture Use sub-department. We are just laying the foundation structure-wise (though we have already been doing many activities in this area), so the meeting is very important. Please pray!

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