Archive for March, 2014

By Richard Gretsky

Maw stood in front of me, holding his Bible. As my Wycliffe colleagues and I were chatting with Liberty University students about Bible translation, Maw was clearly waiting to speak with one of us, but I could tell something was different about him. As one of my colleagues started talking with him, I put an ear to their conversation. I overheard that, unlike everyone else we had chatted with the last couple days, he was actually not a student at the university. He’d traveled to Liberty’s Lynchburg, Virginia, campus from a neighboring state, and when he saw Wycliffe’s booth, he pulled out his Bible and headed over purposefully.

Worth the Trip—Maw and Richard

Maw is originally from a country in Southeast Asia that has been quite closed to outsiders for many years. But despite that barrier, when Maw was a year old, a Bible translation project quietly began in his family’s minority language to help the Christians among them get access to God’s Word in their own language.

The majority people group of that country, however, was averse to Maw’s people. Not only were they considered inferior, but they were also forbidden to write in their native language, and most of his people didn’t even learn how to read and write because of this.

When Maw was six years old, his family fled into the jungle. The oppression had become too great, and soldiers had already killed some families in his people group and were threatening others. It was then that they escaped to a neighboring country, where they took up residence in a refugee camp.

There they lived for thirteen years—afraid to leave for fear they’d be deported to their home country, and killed once there. So they waited patiently for asylum somewhere—for a new country to call their own, where they could be themselves.

Finally, the United States granted that asylum, and thousands moved across the Pacific to America, settling in states all over the country.



Through being displaced, living in refugee camps, and moving across the world, many of Maw’s people who hadn’t already trusted in God began to believe that in the midst of their pain, He was there and He’d bring them out of it.

And then, something unexpected happened. Two years after arriving in America, Maw and his people, who were scattered throughout the United States, received a blessing long-desired but improbably delivered. Wycliffe caught up with the groups and distributed the completed translation of the New Testament in their native language, which had been started approximately twenty years before, when Maw was still a baby.



As I stood there talking to Maw, I couldn’t help but notice how he held his Bible. He clutched it purposefully. It didn’t seem like he was simply toting it, or that it was an accessory. His grasp showed it to be of utmost importance to him.

Why? I’m not exactly sure. I could guess that it was because he has one, and he’s known what it’s like to live without one. Or maybe it was because if something happened to it, he couldn’t go home and grab another one of a dozen more off the shelf.

But whatever the reason, it is undeniable that Maw truly understands the worth of that book.

I can’t now help but think to myself, “How do I hold my Bible? How do we all?”

Certainly, I believe in the truth of the words found in this book that others have spent (and risked) their lives to translate so others could have the gift of reading it. But to be honest, I likely don’t value the Bible as I should, and I venture that most U.S. Christians don’t. If we really believed this book was the Word of God to men, wouldn’t its grip on our life be as strong as Maw’s on his copy of the Bible in his language?

One thing I do know is that of all Maw’s travels throughout the world, the one that is most telling is the one he made when he walked over to say thank you to people he didn’t know. He came simply to show his appreciation for an organization that took the time to provide his people with access to God’s Word in his very own language.

Suddenly, his trip to say thank you didn’t seem so brief. It clearly wasn’t about the steps he took to get there, but about the vast distance traveled from not having God’s Word, to being able to understand it fluently.

Note: Today the translation team continues to diligently work on the Old Testament in Maw’s first language, looking forward to the day when all of God’s Word will be available.


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By Richard Gretsky

When praying, it can be easy to focus primarily on explaining what you’ve done for God, or what you want Him to do for you. But when a language surveyor named Timothy* was in Thailand, he learned that, when praying, another area of focus is more important.

“People told us: ‘The most important part of prayer is … what you call yourself and what you call God,’” Timothy said. “[This shows] your view of the Lord, understanding who you are and who God is.”

For example, most Thai believers usually call themselves “servants devoted only to the Most High God.” This phrase shows their dependence on God, their affection for Him, and their loyalty to Him—all while acknowledging the way He has called people to live for Him.

a young woman lighting incense sticks

Translators carry this principle over into Bible translation in Thai. For example, the way the woman at the well describes Jesus changes as time goes on. As she learns more about who Jesus really is and grows closer to Him, her way of addressing Jesus gains more reverence, depth, and affection.

Which words do you use to reference yourself when you pray? Which do you use for God? Your choices may not necessarily reflect how you feel about the Lord or yourself; but, then again, maybe they do. Like Thai believers, perhaps it’s time to consider what your words are saying about your heart in prayer.

*A pseudonym.


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“My words became like sawdust in my mouth, because I knew we would never have enough expatriate staff to send to each language group,” commented Russ Hersman, former director of SIL Sudan. Russ was recalling a time in Sudan several years ago when delegations from various language communities would come and ask for help in writing their language, promoting literacy, and starting translation projects. There weren’t enough expatriate translators to meet all the requests for Bible translation.

Usually at least one community a month would send a delegation to his home in Sudan. One month delegations from five language communities requested help. “It felt like telling cold and hungry people, ‘be warm and fed,’ and then sending them away with nothing to meet their need,” Russ said.

“At that time we knew there were potentially 90–105 more languages in need of translation. My leadership team and I met and said, ‘what can we do to use the resources we have more effectively to reach all these languages in our lifetime?’”

hope for sudan

The answer was to equip the Sudanese to become linguists and translators, and then train them to become trainers themselves. Russ’s team decided to host a workshop on translation principles—the start of the Sudan Workshop Project. They hoped for a turnout of fifteen people from six languages, and were thrilled when fifty-one people representing seventeen languages showed up on the first day.

Since that start, the Sudan Workshop Project has continued to offer workshops in writing, Scripture use, translation principles, biblical exegesis, computer training and software use, and other topics to help meet the needs of the Sudanese people.

Thirteen mother-tongue translation projects receive expert help in translation, linguistics, literacy, and Scripture use during workshop sessions throughout the year.

In a recent Scripture-use workshop attended by twenty-two people from six different language groups, participants learned how to use Scripture in their daily lives. Some had gone through difficulties in their church life, and some were ready to assume leadership roles in translation work if they could get help from their local churches. The workshop was led by a Sudanese national.

Through this workshop, Sudanese churches, communities, and individuals learned how to use Scripture in their mother tongue, and as a result, their lives will be transformed. One topic discussed was HIV/AIDS and how Sudanese churches can deal with this devastating disease in biblically and culturally appropriate ways.

Generous gifts helped provide funding for the various workshops in this project! The goal of the workshop program now is to continue to provide resources and assist the local church in Sudan to start work on the remaining translation needs.

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This story is an excerpt from The Finish Line monthly downloads. The Finish Line is a guide to praying for translation projects within three years of completion.  

A regular Sunday morning service at Trinity Church, Mitchells Plain 

No Age Limit—Togo

Damban was in her fifties and the mother of six children before she was finally able to read or write in her mother tongue. “When I began, people made fun of me,” she shared. “Every morning, when I took my bag to go to class, the people asked me where I was going. I answered that I was going to the literacy class. To discourage me, they said that I was too old to learn. But me, I knew what I was after: I wanted to be able to read the New Testament translated into my language, Moba. Three months later, I had learned how to read and write! When it was our neighborhood’s turn to lead the church mass, the leader of our community asked me to read the passages for the day. So I read them, to the great astonishment of everyone! It was at that moment that those who had made fun of me before came and congratulated me and asked if I could help them also to learn to read and write. I told them that they too could sign up to take the class. Now I advise everyone who does not know how to either read or write in their mother tongue to follow my example: because there is no age limit for learning, if one really wants to!”

Want to read more stories like Damban’s or learn how to pray for people waiting for a Bible in their heart language? Sign up to receive The Finish Line monthly downloads today!

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Last Request: A Cow

By Richard Gretsky

Farma Abraham had only one request before he died: at his funeral, he wanted a cow. To some, that may have seemed like an odd request, particularly since he wouldn’t even be there himself.

But there was a very specific reason this was his last request.

The Kaan people of Burkina Faso have long lived simple lives, even amidst the growing pressures from outside cultures to change their education systems, integrate various new jobs, and even assimilate into one of the majority languages.

Kaan men and women are predominantly farmers who educate their children traditionally, and primarily speak their native language: Kaansa.

But one of the most unique things the Kaan people have retained is their monarchal society. They are ruled by a king who serves for his entire life—and then a new member of the royal family is chosen to reign.

Last Request—Abraham

That king leads the people in animistic religious practices that have been a part of their culture for generations. These beliefs require the worship of idols, animal sacrifice, strict regimented ceremonies, and the watchful eye of the royal family. The people have been traditionally forced into that religious affiliation, regardless whether they believe in it or not.

Some people may very well be accepting of the religion, but according to Gloria Scott—a translator/literacy worker for Wycliffe who’s lived with the Kaan for over twenty years—many Burkinabe have felt the heavy burden that collective animism has had on them, squelching their individuality and eliciting a strong fear of punishment and disgrace if they don’t live up to a certain set of standards.

In the midst of those fears and burdens, some Kaan men and women have come to faith in Jesus Christ.

“When the Kaan people come to know the Lord, they move from fear to freedom … they come out of animism, which is an awful, controlling, fearful sort of thing,” Scott said. “And when they come to know Jesus, it’s different.”

And that’s why Abraham, the oldest Kaan following Jesus, wants a cow when he dies—so that his friends and family can joyfully feast and celebrate the fact that death, while sad, is much more a celebration of the happiness of being with Jesus in Heaven.

[Note: Cows are expensive, but when a group of Sunday School children from Gloria’s home church (Grace Bible Chapel in Rising Sun, MD)) learned about Abraham’s desire to celebrate Jesus with a cow at his funeral, they jumped at the opportunity to help. Now, when Abraham does die, there will be a grand party—with feasting, dancing, and celebration.

Abraham has been vitally involved in Bible translation through ethnomusicology (work with various forms of musical expression that communicates God’s Word in powerful ways). He has even written songs and performed them. 

If you’d like to get involved with Bible translation, as these children did, Wycliffe would love your help. Click here to learn more.


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Featured Photo

The sun sets on a gorgeous summer day over the village of Margau, Romania. Christians in this village are grateful to have a Bible to read, since they know what it is like to live without it. During the Cold War many Romanians risked imprisonment to smuggle, hide and share Bibles. And they haven’t forgotten. The small churches in this town, and other towns nearby, are pooling their resources to achieve something great. Together they support a missionary family to live in Ethiopia and are helping bring the Bible to speakers of the Shek/Maj languages—an  incredible testimony to what can be achieved by working together. Read the full story here on wycliffe.net.

Photo: Søren Kjeldgaard

Words: Elyse Patten

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Photo: Greg Blok

Meet Sandy. He lives in Southeast Asia and has been a Christian for about six months. Jesus first piqued his interest last year during rice harvesting. In his village, they cut the rice sheaves and leave them to dry for a few days before threshing them by hand. One day during their harvesting the clouds rolled overhead, and it began to look like rain. If the drying rice gets rained on, it can become moldy and ruined. The man’s son, a believer, prayed out loud, “Please God, don’t let it rain on our rice”. It rained all around their field, but not on their rice! Sandy was impressed, and started his journey towards faith in Christ. Praise God that He is willing to meet us where we are and reveal Himself to us in unexpected ways. Please pray for His Church in Southeast Asia!

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