More than a Name: Wycliffe Global Alliance

A Bible Translation Movement
What does a Bible translation movement look like? In May 2010, ninety-five leaders from more than fifty organizations in the Americas gathered to encourage each other to work in unity. Representing the many voices of the Bible translation movement, they came wanting to bridge the gaps between expatriate, Latin, and indigenous churches.

Across the Atlantic, Wycliffe India currently serves sixty-five translation projects involving eleven organizations and independent translators. In Kenya, urban churches are raising awareness of the need for Bible translation and getting involved in reaching the minority language communities in their own country and beyond.

Korean churches in North America, representing the GLOCAL mission network are working with Korean leaders of Wycliffe to dream of new ways of getting their entire Church involved in Bible translation. These are just a few examples of Bible translation movements and advocacy growing worldwide.

Change to Name Reflects Ongoing Journey
In February 2011, Wycliffe International became Wycliffe Global Alliance. The change seemed subtle to some onlookers, sudden to others; in reality, it was one more step of an ongoing journey. Although much has changed along the way, the direction of our journey will remain the same.

Kirk Franklin, Wycliffe Global Alliance executive director, puts it this way:

We have a new name that reflects a transition that has been taking place over the past twenty years, particularly as we have seen the growth of these Bible translation movements. We continue in our commitment of serving with the people groups still without the scriptures in the language(s) that best communicate to them. And we want to serve in the context of what we see God doing around the world.

Wycliffe was, and continues to be, held together by people with common vision and goals, serving together as a part of God’s Church. But we recognized that the structures, policies, and ways of working and thinking that had grown up around the vision were not necessarily in sync with who we now or who we wanted to become. As we saw the growth not only of Wycliffe organizations, but of partner organizations all across the globe, we knew we needed to find new ways of thinking and serving together.

Wycliffe Global Alliance recognizes both the diversity and the common vision of Bible translation movements around the world today. These movements include partners who have been involved in Bible translation for generations and an entirely new generation of partners. Bible translation movements are a growing aspect of the worldwide Church’s participation in God’s mission. These movements are not restricted to just a few organizations, structures, strategies, or regions. They are worldwide and are seeking community, collaboration, and opportunities for effective (not just efficient) ministry.

Wycliffe Global Alliance associate director Min Young Jung reflects,

As the number and size of non-Western constituencies grew, Wycliffe International eventually had to face the challenge of making itself truly global, instead of keeping the status quo as a West-centered multinational “club.” Now both westerners and non-westerners have to adjust and meet each other partway. It has been an exciting journey of discovery, a process towards a healthy multicultural community, which I believe is a crucial prerequisite for kingdom partnership.

As the leadership team talked and met with member organizations and partners, it became increasingly apparent that the name that could best describe who and what we were becoming was Wycliffe Global Alliance.

States Franklin:

We’ve discovered that the name “Wycliffe” is recognized across the globe as representing people and organizations committed to language communities and Bible translation. Our new name simply adds new dimensions: “Global” indicates that the organizations, churches, and movements that identify with this vision are able to find a welcoming place for networking and participation. “Alliance” clarifies that these organizations, churches, and movements are held together by this common vision and work together in complementary partnerships for the good of the people groups who do not have God’s word in the language(s) that serve them best.

José de Dios, Wycliffe Global Alliance Americas area director, expresses our transition from “organization” to “alliance” this way:

Becoming an alliance is a step of obedience along the path on which God has put Wycliffe.

    • It’s recognition that no one agency owns the ministry of Bible translation.
    • It's recognition of what God has been doing among his people in the Majority World.
    • It's recognition that we are part of the Body of Christ worldwide.
    • It's recognition that partnership and communion of unity is the only biblical model for ministry.
    • It's recognition that to be fully obedient to God's will in our organizations we have to look beyond institutional structures and strategies.
    • It's a recognition that the future of missions lies in non-centralized, global, diverse, and dynamic structures.
    • It's a recognition of the legacy of Cameron Townsend and Wycliffe, that we were a catalyst and we are still an important means by which Bible translation and scripture impact have taken place.

I believe God is not done with us. Wycliffe is undergoing a metamorphosis. As God transforms us, he is keeping the best of our legacy to carry us into the twenty-first century, but he's asking us to see the things that cloud our vision and that keep us focused on ourselves.

Although Wycliffe Global Alliance is announcing its new name, the focus is not on ourselves, but on all of the Body of Christ that is engaged and could engage in Bible translation and related ministry.

Our goal is not to preserve an organization in changing times, but to pursue God’s glory at all times. What we become must be shaped by his intentions and purposes. De Dios reflects,

As we become a global alliance, the unique cultural perspectives from around the world will contribute to the ministry, making us effective in ways we could never have been in our previous forms. We will be able to say legitimately that the Wycliffe Global Alliance represents the global Church, with all of its facets, different ways of doing things, and unique historical and cultural traits.

Franklin recalls how quickly the Wycliffe board adopted the new name:

Last November, we came to the board meetings with a number of recommendations for change. We expected the discussion of the name to extend into the next year, but the board had obviously recognized the same things we were recognizing. It was time for a name that reflected current realities and that could also serve us well in the future. The board approved the new name immediately. We’d already been referring to ourselves as an alliance for a while, so this seemed like the natural next step.

Wycliffe’s Legacy of Impact
The journey of Wycliffe Bible Translators began in the 1930s. It wasn’t until the 1980s, however, that Wycliffe International was created. During its first ten years, it was a single organization with “divisions” in a growing number of countries around the world.

In 1991, the “divisions” became autonomous member organizations of Wycliffe International. Wycliffe International’s role became one of giving global direction and support, facilitating, and providing standards and guidelines rather than policies governing the participating organizations. It became the “umbrella” organization for more than forty autonomous Wycliffe member organizations and more than sixty official partner organizations.

In 2008, Wycliffe International began a new phase of its journey with a new executive director and global leadership team. The leadership team is diverse and distributed, bringing a wide range of experiences and perspectives to our discussions.

The new leadership began to look at how God was at work in his Church worldwide and how Wycliffe could best participate in his global mission. Like many ministry leaders, the new Wycliffe leadership team has noted changes in the Church and mission environments. We’ve been watching, listening, and trying to discern how to best participate in God’s mission to redeem and restore his creation. God’s mission has not changed, but our contexts have. We noted a number of facts, trends, and new realities. Among these were:

  • Continuing growth of the worldwide Church
  • Two-thirds World engagement in mission
  • Increasing understanding of and interest in holistic mission
  • Growing partnerships and collaboration among Christian organizations and ministries
  • Growing Bible translation movements around the world

These factors and others led our leadership team to pray, reflect, and discuss how we could continue to adapt to make the most of changing contexts and opportunities. Our leadership team has taken great interest in exploring the missiological nature of our journey and the opportunity we have to participate in God’s great story.

Knowing that he means for us to serve in unity and as a part of the body, we are looking at how his word and the need for his word fits into the larger picture of God’s kingdom come and coming. We are not “building” an organization, but looking at how God’s people, serving together, can participate in the demonstration and proclamation of the gospel so all can understand.

Susan Van Wynen is the director for communications and serves on the senior leadership team of Wycliffe Global Alliance. She and her husband, Tom, have served with Wycliffe in various locations for twenty-five years.