Stewardship in Bible Translation
Enrique Terena, an indigenous Brazilian church leader, shared how the gospel has spread in his region:
“Sixty years ago, foreigners came and decided that we Indigenous people needed the Bible in our languages, so a wave of missionaries from outside our country came. Twenty-five years ago, the Portuguese people decided that they needed to provide the Scriptures to us Indigenous people, so a wave of missionaries from inside our country came. Ten years ago, Indigenous people started taking greater leadership in our own projects, and a wave of missionaries from inside our own community came,” Enrique said. “Imagine if those three waves joined together to form a tsunami! What an impact we could make for God! There is plenty of work for us all.”
Enrique knows that God’s vision was never for the Great Commission to be an exclusively western effort; it’s a global movement driven by God’s church as a whole.
At Wycliffe Bible Translators USA, one of our sayings is, “We don’t do it alone.” That’s because in the nearly 80 years that we’ve been doing this work, we’ve learned that relationships are the heartbeat of Bible translation — our relationship with God and our relationships with others. When we value our relationship with God and the mission he’s given us, the natural outpouring is that we value others. Relationships are the foundation of stewardship, the careful management of that which has been entrusted to us.
That’s why stewardship begins with a focus on partnership, collaboration and relationship across all aspects of Bible translation: in our own teams, in our interactions with our financial partners, in our work with other Bible translation organizations, and in communities across the globe.
We steward our individual gifts and talents well by engaging all parts of the body of Christ.
In fact, this year Wycliffe USA established new mission, vision and core values statements for our organization that focus on stewardship and relationship. They boil down to some key principles that guide us:
- We love God and people, and so we long for people to know God.
- We honor God as we steward our relationships with others well by helping them know God through his Word in a form they can clearly understand.
- We steward our individual gifts and talents well by engaging all parts of the body of Christ.
- When we work together in dependence on God and in collaboration with others in humility and interdependence, Bible translation leads to transformation in the lives of people like Enrique.
Follow Their Lead
Historically, the missionaries sent out by Wycliffe USA were often the leaders of their own projects — standalone pioneers who took translation into remote communities. Today we still send people from the U.S. all over the world to serve the Lord with their specialized skills; linguists, Bible scholars, project managers and computer programmers (to name a few) staff over 1,440 translation projects worldwide. But now our missionaries serve more often as part of a team made up of local communities, translators, pastors and other missions agencies — all serving together as part of God’s broader movement.
We praise God that Bible translation today looks a lot more like Enrique’s vision for a tsunami, and Paul’s admonishment in 1 Corinthians to act as one body with many parts. Individuals with varied skills and backgrounds come from all over the world and join together as brothers and sisters in Christ, unified in one mission, each doing his or her unique part.
There is still much work to be done; of the 7,300 languages known to be in use today, about 2,100 of them still need translation to begin. And Bible translation is not quick work; a New Testament alone may take from five to fifteen years to complete. When we come together as one body, we’re better positioned to meet the short-term and long-term needs of local people throughout that process. Rather than relying on ourselves — the outsiders — to identify potential workers, train them and hope that other locals follow them, we look to powerful and respected local ministry leaders, churches and Bible translation agencies and benefit from their unique knowledge and expertise.
Together, we ask key questions before getting started:
- If the local church is strong but the Bible isn’t available in their language, where do they want to start?
- What Scriptures are most relevant for this community of believers today?
- If the local church is fledgling or non-existent, what regional or national partners are already ministering to them, and what Scripture passages and formats will serve their ministries?
One church leader in the Democratic Republic of Congo believes Bible translation is one of the greatest preparatory paths of future church leaders: “When our translators have completed their Bible translation work, we want them to be thoroughly integrated into the church so that we have strengthened the national church with knowledgeable, strong leaders.”
We have every confidence that God has placed all the necessary skills in local communities to do all the work that needs to be done. Just as a gardener tills the soil to prepare it for sowing so plants can bear fruit, we come alongside communities to help develop specific skills where necessary. When we follow their lead, together we can build on the work God has already begun in the local church, fortifying it in the process.
Unity in Christ
Wycliffe USA is blessed to have passionate financial partners who are invested in helping people from every language understand the Bible and be transformed. Together, we fund Bible translation projects in over 550 languages. Our goal is to help donors steward what God has provided them and achieve the greatest impact for God’s kingdom with their giving.
But stewardship isn’t just about managing financial resources well; when you partner with Wycliffe USA, you become part of the Bible translation team. We want you to know about the people group you’re partnering with:
- Who are they?
- What challenges are they facing?
- How is God using Scripture to transform their lives?
We’re transparent about needs and opportunities to financially partner in Bible translation around the world. Many of our donors take that information and choose to give to a specific region that speaks to their heart, or to projects where funds are most needed. We’re also open with names and prayer requests when it’s safe to share, and some donors have been able to exchange their own prayer requests with the teams in the field. In some cases, we even get to connect donors and translation teams face to face.
When Nathan and Kathy Knochel began donating toward the Gao people’s translation project in the Solomon Islands, they had the opportunity to meet the community and see the translation work firsthand. When they saw how the Gao people treasured the portions of Scripture that had been translated into their language, they were awestruck. “It’s so humbling,” Kathy said. “I just really felt God was moving and orchestrated this whole thing.”
“You have a feeling that, ‘I’m part of the team!’” Nathan said. These flourishing relationships exemplify our unity as the body of Christ reaching the world with the gospel.
An Eternal Impact
Inspired to break down traditional barriers between donors and recipients and to remove obstacles to local Christians serving in key leadership roles, Wycliffe USA created a Global Partnerships team. What began with two organizations is now a partnership of 90 people from 16 organizations in 21 countries, working together to resource Bible translation projects and serve local communities.
Some organizations on the team find, train and send missionaries. Others develop local personnel. More help form intergovernmental and interdenominational partnerships, some preach and teach in their churches, and still others distribute Scriptures and teach communities how to use them. We find solutions to challenges that affect Bible translation projects, like the development of translation software tools, specialized fonts, project management systems and tools to help pastors learn to engage with newly translated Scriptures. These tools have led to higher quality Bible translations completed faster and cheaper than ever before. The first 500 translations took 67 years to complete; the second 500 took only 17 years!
We lean on each other’s strengths.
We lean on each other’s strengths. The result? A broader leadership structure where everyone participates and helps set the future direction of translation in their communities.
By embracing relationship and stewardship, we look more like the global church and less like North American churches alone. Together we create the waves of a tsunami. What an impact we can make for God!
Andy Keener serves from Texas as Wycliffe USA’s executive vice president for global partnerships. He spent several years in translation and linguistics working with communities in the Caribbean and Panama, and later focused on translation efforts for Deaf communities worldwide. Learn more about Wycliffe Bible Translators USA at wycliffe.org.