“The Paradigm Is Changing” Œ: Bible Translation and the Church of the Southern Continents

 Wycliffe International Overview

Over the past thirty years Wycliffe International has
encouraged and assisted with the development of
more than twenty national organizations in Africa,
Asia, the Pacific, and Central and South America. All
of these organizations, as member organizations
within Wycliffe International, participate in setting
the overall direction of the global operations. They
are autonomous self-directing organizations that
seek to lead Bible translation activities in their own
nations as well as work with national churches in
promoting and developing the Bible translation
ministry. Each has taken on a local identity and
assumes some degree of responsibility for sharing
the vision for Bible translation within their borders.
WBTI and its member organizations also work with
a wide range of other like-minded partners.

Wycliffe Organizations in the Southern Continents

  • Burkina Faso—ANTBA
  • Cameroon—CABTAL
  • Central African Republic—ACATBA
  • Ghana—GILLBT
  • Kenya—BTL
  • Nigeria—NBTT
  • Brazil—ALEM
  • Papua New Guinea—BTA
  • Indonesia—Kartidaya
  • Philippines—TAP
  • South Korea—GBT
  • Wycliffe South Africa
  • Wycliffe Caribbean
  • Wycliffe Hong Kong
  • Wycliffe Japan
  • Wycliffe Malaysia
  • Wycliffe Singapore
  • Wycliffe Benin
  • Wycliffe Togo
  • Wycliffe Taiwan
  • Wycliffe Thailand  

God, by the Holy Ghost, is saying, ‘The paradigm is changing.’ Africans must not just stay on the receiving end. They must give and go.” Pastor Daniel Mbiwan of Cameroon represents the new face of the missional Church today. It’s a global, inclusive, dynamic Church of believers from around the world who are recognizing that God’s mission of reaching the whole world is a mission for the whole Church.

A part of that mission is making sure all people have access to scripture in a language that speaks to their hearts. Pastor Mbiwan shared,

“As a pastor, I've gone to different parishes in the country. I think one of the best moments before I preach is to stand up and greet the people in their language. They feel a bonding; they are open to what I have to say. If I could go to such a community and I could speak the language, it would be very impacting. I would counsel Bible students. They should know this is another strategy: The Lord wants to put scripture in the hearts of people—the language—the language from the heart. And it's vital that every Bible student, every Bible teacher, should realize God is putting at our disposal another instrument to reach out. Transformation will come through the gospel, and people must hear the gospel in the way that it will affect their culture and their thinking—and that is in the mother tongue.”

Hearing words like these from friends around the world, Wycliffe Bible Translators International (WBTI) has a passion for seeing more of the Church in more of the world involved in Bible translation. WBTI’s immediate desire is to become a greater catalyst for Bible translation among the Church of the southern continents. We want to see movements within the Church taking ownership and involved in completing the urgent work of Bible translation in their nations.

Many people, if they know of Wycliffe Bible Translators, know the Wycliffe organization in their own country. Or, if they know something of Wycliffe’s founder, Cameron Townsend, and the early history of the organization, they may think of Wycliffe as an American-sending organization. But Wycliffe International is actually an association of forty-eight national organizations in Africa, Asia, the Pacific, the Americas, and Europe. Some of these Wycliffe organizations not only recruit and equip people for Bible translation work around the world, but also have Bible translation programs in their own countries. With more than 2,200 languages still without any scripture, the challenge is significant.

Pursuing Vision 2025 Together
Each of these organizations, along with other partner organizations, has embraced Vision 2025: “Together, in partnership, to see Bible translation in progress by the year 2025 in every language that still needs it.” Jose de Dios, Wycliffe Americas area director, has said, “The greatest missiological emphasis is not on ‘by the year 2025,’ but on ‘together.’ God has charged the Church—local, denominational, and universal—with the responsibility to translate, teach, and reach all people with the Bible. The church that is envisioned will participate, no matter how small or poor. They will give sacrificially and out of generosity.”

Pastor Mbiwan has also noted that “God is not just looking for money. He is looking for human beings. When the person is there and can put at God’s disposal what he has learned, then God can bring about transformation.”

As Wycliffe International adapts to the current world and Church contexts and the challenges and opportunities they provide, we look for creative ways to encourage dialogue and address needs. Creating and participating in meetings of key leadership is one way we are connecting with people who in turn can work together on how to meet the Bible translation needs. In 2007 we participated in three consultations related to Bible translation movements. The first was in June, in Yaounde, Cameroon.

1. Consultation #1: Gaining awareness of Bible translation in Africa. At the consultation, Africans from within the Wycliffe family, along with several African pastors, met to discuss the needs on the African continent. While realizing that the expatriate workforce for Bible translation is decreasing in Africa, they also recognized the future workforce that could come from the student community in Africa. Increased communication and relationships with student ministries across the continent could help build student awareness of the opportunities for serving in Bible translation.

It was at these meetings that Pastor Mbiwan issued this challenge: “God has first caused us to understand his word. God has, second, caused us to be partakers of his mission. We enjoy the Bible today because people invested and gave their lives, money, and abilities for us. Where do I stand? Isaiah 6:8 says, ‘Whom shall I send?’ Let’s all respond, ‘Here am I, use me. Help me give the best I can, help me understand. Here I am, send me.’”

At the Yaounde consultation we realized that in the African context, as in many other parts of the world, the national churches are generally not aware of Bible translation and related activities. This is a key opportunity for engagement among African Wycliffe organizations and the local and national churches. Our desire is to see the Church in Africa include Bible translation as core to its ministry of evangelism, church planting, and discipleship and compassionate service.

At the Yaounde consultation we realized that in the
African context, as in many other parts of the world, the
national churches are generally not aware of Bible
translation and related activities.

But what would this holistic approach to mission look like if Bible translation was a fully integrated part of ministry? It could mean: a greater focus on prayer for Bible-less people groups within the region and for translation work; equipping and sending personnel for Bible translation; and committing financial resources. It would result in greater awareness and appreciation of the value of language and culture in African churches, with an increased focus on worship in the local language.

Mundara Muturi, director of Bible Translation and Literacy (BTL), the Kenyan Wycliffe organization, stated, “We need to live up to the important contribution that we are making in the Bible translation movement. All Wycliffe organizations ought to take up their rightful place in engaging with the Church in their respective countries and the Church worldwide. ‘Much is required to whom much is given, and much more is required from those to whom much more is given’” (Luke 12:48).

2. Consultation #2: Stimulating the use of mother tongue scriptures. The recognition of responsibility and privilege for participating in God's mission was also evident at a second consultation held in Abomey-Calavi, Benin, in August 2007. This consultation focused specifically on the Francophone countries of Africa. Francophone Africa is part of the second largest area of Bible translation need in the world. The theme of the consultation was “The Church and the Use of Local Languages.” Participants were leaders of Bible translation organisations, church leaders, and theology teachers from twelve countries (Benin, Gabon, Congo-Brazzaville, Central African Republic, Chad, Togo, Burkina Faso, Senegal, Mali, Cameroon, Rwanda, and Ivory Coast).

Francophone Africa is part of the second largest area of
Bible translation need in the world.

Dr. Michel Kenmogne, director of CABTAL, the Cameroonian Wycliffe organization, acknowledged both the great need and the great potential. “The Francophone Initiative is a strategy of WBTI Africa area to accomplish Vision 2025 by furthering the advent of a Bible translation movement in Francophone Africa.” Leaders at the consultation emphasized that Francophone African churches have had only a limited involvement in Bible translation as a part of the Great Commission.

An outcome of the consultation is that Wycliffe International is facilitating a standard curriculum on the role and importance of Bible translation in the life of the Church. This curriculum will be used in theological institutions and Bible schools. The goal is to stimulate a response and interaction with Francophone African theologians in view of these challenges. The hope is that churches will expand their thinking to put greater value on mother tongue scripture and scripture use.

Throughout history, Bible translation has enabled the Church to fulfill its mission of discipling Christians. The process of Bible translation brings the thought patterns of the local languages face-to-face with biblical truth. Thus, Bible translation opens the door for theological reflection which expresses pre-Christian and Christian religious experience in the thought patterns of minority languages. This allows people to understand biblical truth and to proclaim clearly the invitation to all people to make a choice concerning Jesus Christ. Participants at the Benin consultation agreed that the Francophone Church will not be able to accomplish its mission without taking on the responsibility of translating the message in the languages of its people.

3. Consultation #3: Developing partnership for Bible translation in the Americas. In November 2007 a third consultation was held in Panama City, Panama. Here the focus was on developing a partnership for Bible translation and use of the translated scriptures across Latin America. Nearly 130 people with an interest on the impact of scripture came from fifty-eight ministries and twenty countries across the Americas.

In Panama, the focus was on developing a partnership for
Bible translation and use of the translated
scriptures across Latin America.

The purpose of the consultation was to build a regional partnership in the Americas for sustainable universal access to and utilization of scripture in this and every generation. There now exists a Latin American Alliance for Bible translation called A Toda Lengua under the umbrella of COMIBAM and in partnership with Wycliffe International. De Dios said that what impacted him most about the conference was that “partnerships are about relationships with a purpose. We don't just use people so we can meet our goals, but seek these relationships in order to enable each other to meet our common goals.”

Conference organizers hoped to see the meetings result in: (1) strong community and teamwork among leaders in the Americas; (2) shared understanding of the global and regional issues where partners work; (3) cooperative strategies for translation, revision, publication, and distribution that promote scripture impact, using various media in the Americas and around the world; (4) collaborative systems to envision, train, and mobilize workers from the Americas for the Worldwide Scripture Impact movement; and (5) cooperation among partners in providing prayer, personnel, and funding for the Scripture Impact movement.

I was encouraged to hear the participants’ vision and reports of what they are doing to involve the Latin American Church in Bible ministry. I was impressed with what I heard is happening, particularly among the Indians of the Amazon and the Quechua in Peru—of Latin Americans, including indigenous peoples, ministering among their own people groups.

We see the growth of the Bible translation movement across Africa, the Americas, and in Asia. The consultations this past year are just a few examples of how God is at work. WBTI is privileged to be serving as part of the worldwide Church. De Dios’ statement about Latin America could be spoken from any continent: “We (Wycliffe) are not the movement, we are not the bankers, nor are we the spokespeople for the Bible translation movement anymore. It is the Church awakening the Church. It is Latin (and African and Asian) owned. It belongs to the Lord.”

Kirk Franklin is executive director/CEO for Wycliffe International. He grew up in the mountains of Papua New Guinea, the son of American Wycliffe linguist-Bible translators. He became involved with Wycliffe in 1980 and has served in media-communications and leadership roles in Papua New Guinea and Australia. Franklin is based in Melbourne, Australia.