How to jump start a Bible translation project

     Bible translation has changed radically in the last twenty-four years. The story we want to share with you is one that John has only recently become involved in, and we begin with a family from the United States who left their home back in 1994 in order to go live and begin translation work in Africa.

     From the very beginning, this family worked with nationals to translate the New Testament into the local language with a local translator and a language committee that took responsibility for this project. Things were going well; after nine years had passed they were able to publish the very first Scripture in that language - the book of Luke - along with the Jesus film. So exciting! And then… for the next fifteen years… not one more scripture was published. How could this be?

     So now it’s twenty-four years later… and even though most of the New Testament has been drafted by the local translator, that is only about 35% of the task of Bible translation. The drafts still need to be team checked, community tested, back translated, and consultant checked before publication. What happened? In this case, the reasons for project delays were varied: the stress of terrorism, as well as local riots and violence where this family was living, resulted in health problems. The family eventually needed to move back to the United States where they continued to be as involved with the project as they could from afar, but it was not the same. There were other setbacks as well, including relationship problems among the project staff and a decision to change the dialect used in the translation (which necessitated starting over) and the list goes on and on.

      Lots of good things have still been happening in this project however; there is now a literacy primer helping people learn to read their language and some tough issues are being addressed, such as changes to the written alphabet, spelling rules, and decisions made regarding translating “key-term” words like forgiveness, grace or salvation. These are especially important in understanding the Bible and are often quite difficult to translate. There are lots more nationals involved in the work, and there is excitement about the day when they will have the entire New Testament in their own language. 

     This people group is so hungry for God's word that even though no other scripture portions have been published since Luke was completed in 2003, amazing things are still happening! For instance, people are reading draft copies of the other scriptures that are in the process of being translated, even using them for learning to read and Bible memorization. Another inspiring undertaking is the Bible reading competition with prizes that are held at an annual tribal gathering.

     A few months ago, John met with the project team and local church leaders from this language group. The first question they asked John was, "why is this project taking so long?" John had to admit that he had the same question. Then he asked the leaders what issues their churches and society were facing, and what Scriptures they would choose to have as soon as possible to address these issues. It was a great two days of listening to what they had to say and brainstorming how to address some of their continuing problems. Together they worked to develop a plan to publish the gospel of John before the end of 2018. The translation team is also planning on launching additional scripture portions (audio, print and even a couple videos) every year for the next three years. Within four years of this reboot they plan to publish the entire New Testament!
    This is a big part of what John is doing these days in Nigeria. The goal of Bible translation is not to simply produce Bibles (which can sometimes go unread); we want God's word to impact people. Together, in partnership with you, we are planning projects so that Scripture can change lives as soon as possible.


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