Imagine boarding a plane in Dallas, Texas, you travel for several days by plane, board a truck and journey into lush green mountains on a deeply rutted, often muddy road. The road ends, and you start hiking over landslides made slippery from the rain. Eventually you will come to a small village nestled into a mountain valley where the local language people speak is Yawa.
In the past, the people in this village have worshiped in the ‘official’ language of the country, not the language of their heart, Yawa. But things are changing because soon the New Testament will be sent to the printers.
The availability of Scripture has had a huge impact on the way people worship, including an improved understanding of the message of the Gospel. Today, if you ask if anyone preaches from the Yawa Scriptures published over the last 20 years you’ll hear things like, “Elder Sefnat does all the time.” When you find Sefnat he will show you two small worn books protected by brown paper covers—Yawa translations of John’s writings, Acts, and nine epistles. Tucked into the pages are little slips of paper with dated sermon notes, references to Scripture passages in those two little books, and unpublished verses that mother tongue translator Andowa has handwritten for him.
Continuing your walk through the village, stop by a thatched-roof home and ask if anyone there reads from the Scriptures in Yawa. Everyone will point to a bearded old man called Grandfather Bertasar. “He read to us this morning,” they’ll say. “He told us how to apply it to our lives, too.”
Walk on and you’ll come to the village church. Take a deep breath because you’re about to encounter an amazing scene! In this very remote village, where there is neither electricity nor phone service, translator Andowa sits at a laptop computer. A dozen people cluster closely around him, listening as he reads aloud a Bible passage in Yawa. The volunteer reviewers enthusiastically discuss it, looking for ways to improve awkward or unclear sentences. When they‘re satisfied with the way it sounds, Andowa revises it on his computer. Then, since his specially-designed software has a send/receive function, he logs onto the internet and “syncs” his draft.
Now, get ready for a huge surprise! Halfway around the world in Arlington, Texas, Wycliffe translator, Linda Jones, will get up tomorrow morning, sync up her computer, and read the draft that Andowa has revised. She’ll check to make sure the meaning hasn’t been altered and send back suggestions for the next round of discussion.
This is how the final revisions are being made to the Yawa New Testament. It’s all possible because a new geostationary satellite began circling the equator in early 2009. Just two weeks after it went into service, IT specialists from Wycliffe brought a computer and a small satellite device to the village, showed Andowa how to connect to the satellite, and taught him to use OurWord—the special software for mother tongue translators created by Wycliffe translator, John Wimbish.
Andowa and Linda have been working together long-distance for 17 years now, ever since Linda and her husband, Larry, had to move away so Larry could take on various leadership roles in Bible translation. In the beginning, Scripture drafts went back and forth by mail and in hand-carried packets. Linda and Larry made trips to the village. Andowa made trips out of the village. Always God helped them find a way forward but they thought they had reached the end of the road when it came to the final revision process. “We did not see how we could finish the final revisions without greater community involvement,” says Linda. “It just looked impossible. I could not go there for any length of time, and they could not come here.”
And then came the satellite—and IT specialists who knew how to take advantage of the satellite!
Soon the Yawa people will begin preparing for the dedication set for June 2011. Elder Sefnat, Grandfather Bertasar, and translator Andowa are waiting. Dozens of reviewers and their relatives are waiting. The Scriptures are reaching yet another group of people, isolated, but not forgotten by the God who loves them all. He has conquered space and distance.
Because of these advances in technology and the ability to communicate over great distances, Bible translators are taking advantage of this progress leveraging them for the benefit of those still waiting for Scripture in their own language. And, because of the commitment of national colleagues like Andowa, all of this rolls up into the greatest acceleration of the pace of Bible translation ever witnessed by the church.
If you’d like to learn more about the Last Languages Campaign of Wycliffe Bible Translators and the unique opportunity given to us in this generation to start the remaining Bible translation needs, you can visit www.lastlanguagescampaign.com.