by Jessica Whitmore
SUDAN – When Russ Randle accepted the invitation of now-Archbishop Daniel Deng Bul of the Episcopal Church of Sudan to travel to Sudan and “come and see,” rather than give money to help his ministry, he wasn’t prepared for the great need he would “see.”
Dinka translator Ayel Deng at work
“When I arrived in Sudan for the first time in January 1998, I met one of the translators in the airport and found myself discussing the difficulties of Bible translation into his native language,” said Russ. “I had naively thought that all such translation was done. I was struck by the great faith of the people undergoing Old Testament privations of exile, famine, epidemic and genocide without the comforting words of Isaiah, Ezekiel, and the Psalms, which might have given more meaning to their great suffering.” Russ has since been to Sudan three times and has found his place in financially supporting the Dinka Cam Old Testament translation project in Sudan.
Russ is a member of the Episcopal Church USA as well as a member of the American Friends of the Episcopal Church of Sudan (AFRECS). That organization formed in 2005 as “a network of individuals, churches, dioceses, and other organizations that seeks to focus attention on the needs and priorities of the Episcopal Church of Sudan (ECS) and enable American friends to assist the ECS in meeting the needs of the Sudanese people.”
This past June, AFRECS held its fifth annual conference in Virginia. Russ, along with Tom and Terri, who work with Wycliffe out of ECS’s Translation and Literacy Department, and Cynthia, who has served as a translation consultant in Sudan since 1992, spoke to fellow AFRECS members in a workshop focusing on Bible translation in Sudan. It was during this workshop that they hoped to share their heart for the country of Sudan and the work that goes into translating the Bible.
“I love books, and I have since I learned to read. The chance to share God’s book with two million people is very exciting.” said Russ, who also serves on the Board of Directors for AFRECS.
That excitement goes beyond sharing the scriptures, to include teaching others how to read through literacy programs as well as bringing peace to a war-torn country.
“Bible translation is critical to getting the full story of salvation into people’s hands and in their ears and hearts in their native language,” Russ added. “As a matter of faith, I believe people will be more ardent for peace if they have the full complement of God’s word, as miraculously occurred in South Africa when apartheid was overturned without degenerating into a general race or civil war. Bible translation and literacy also go hand-in-hand. If people can read, they can better protect their rights, better protect their families and health and earn a better living, whether at farming or some other occupation. All those things help build peace.”
Cynthia, who is a professor of Biblical Hebrew and linguistics, also sees how Bible translation and peace coincide. She shares that “peace and stability come through people acting properly through knowledge of the Bible, which promotes reconciliation and ways for people to deal with former enemies and trauma. That leads to peace.”
The overall process of Bible translation, including literacy programs to teach the specific community to learn its written language, can take up to 15 years. Each translation can also be quite expensive as a New Testament translation costs approximately $50,000 per year. Currently, eleven separately funded projects are in progress.
“We take for granted that we have scriptures in English,” said Terri, who emphasized the ways others can become involved in the translation process, which include financial donations and prayer support.
Russ would like to see the basis of support within the Episcopal churches and other denominations to start with prayer and blossom from there.
“I’d like to see other dioceses help support translation projects and make such translation a focus of concerted, long-term prayer for all their parishes until the translation project is finished, which can be a project for a decade or longer. Americans, including those of us in the church, too often react to fads and sometimes seem to have the attention span of a hummingbird. Our Sudanese colleagues need friends who will be friends for the duration; we will learn a lot about God’s grace and power if we make that kind of commitment. Once prayer comes, resources follow. As one of the translators once said, ‘If I have a choice between your prayers and your money, I will take your prayers’,” said Russ.
Terri also emphasized the need for personnel to help with the translation process. This includes expatriates, who can serve for two years or more to provide training to those working on the translation projects, as well as Sudanese, who have left their home country and received training elsewhere.
“The greatest need is for people fluent in their native language and literate in English to return to help give their own people one of God’s greatest gifts: the full news of salvation in their own language as occurred on Pentecost. This work is very hard but of enormous importance to millions of people, many yet unborn. Those doing this work are heroes in my book, and their names are written in God’s book. Those born in Sudan who have moved to the United States may be called to return to Sudan to help bring this great gift to reality,” Russ concluded.
Jessica Whitmore is a freelance writer based in Pennsylvania who writes on human interest and financial topics. This story was originally written for the Wycliffe News Network.
Read Full Post »