Posts Tagged ‘mother tongue’


For I have come down from heaven to do the will of God who sent me, not to do my own will. —John 6:38 (NLT)

In Alaska’s frozen north lands, there are no natural landmarks like mountains or streams, so it’s easy for people to get lost and freeze to death in a snowstorm. To help mark the trails, they build tall tripods and attach a piece of reflective tape to the top of each one. Even at night, light reflects from that tape, marking the way.

One language in this area has a word that means to “follow” or “obey.” People follow these trail markers, “obeying” them when they can’t see the trail ahead.

When the Bible translators in this language came to John 6:38, where Jesus says that he came “down from heaven to do the will of God,” they realized they didn’t have a good word for “do.” So instead they used the word for “follow” or “obey.” The verse reads something like this: “For I have come down from heaven to follow, or obey the will of God who sent me; not to follow, or obey my own will.”

As both fully God and fully man, did Christ know ahead of time every detail the Father had planned for his life here on earth, or did he have to obey one step at a time? The Bible isn’t clear on this point. But one thing is clear — our Father does ask us to trust and obey him even when we can’t see the way ahead, just as Alaskans trust and obey trail markers in a snowstorm.

How are you obeying God’s markers in your life even when you can’t see the way ahead?

Read Full Post »

Highlands Landscape

For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many. —Mark 10:45 (NLT)

Bible translator Neil Anderson and six Folopa men were working hard translating the Gospel of Mark in the Folopa language. But when they came to Mark 10:45, where it says that the Son of Man came to “give his life as a ransom,” they hit a roadblock. How could they translate “ransom”?

Neil explained to the men that a ransom is a price that must be paid before a captive, whose life hung in the balance, can go free. As he explained, Neil could see they understood.

“We need to ransom people all the time,” one of the Folopa men said. “When a man is felling a tree and it falls the wrong way and kills someone, the clansmen of the dead person demand payment. If the relatives of the offender’s clansmen don’t pay, the relatives of the dead person demand the life of the offender. To save his life, we make an exchange. Pigs, shell money and other things of value are given to the relatives in exchange for the life of the offender.”

Bursting with excitement, Neil used their phrase to help him translate Mark 10:45 into Folopa. When he was done, he read it aloud. Translated back into English, the finished verse read, Jesus came to affect an exchange whereby He took the punishment of the evil deeds of many people. He came so that many people could go free and He died.

When they heard these words, the men were deeply moved.

“We give a lot to make an exchange for a wrong,” one man said. “But we have never given a person for the exchange price. Jesus did a great work for us.”

Isn’t it staggering to know that Christ gave his life in exchange for yours?

Read Full Post »

By Bill Gardner with Richard Gretsky

Many people think that Bible translation has been a recent phenomenon that really only started in the last 150 years or so. But the reality of Bible translation’s history might surprise you.

Bible Translation Through the Ages - John Wycliffe

Bible translation actually began even before Jesus was born! Around 200 B.C. many Jews were living in Egypt where they no longer fluently spoke Hebrew or Aramaic, but instead spoke Greek as their mother tongue. (Egypt had been conquered by Alexander the Great.) Since the Old Testament was written primarily in Hebrew with a few sections in Aramaic, they decided to translate it into Greek, beginning with the Torah (the five books of Moses). This Greek Old Testament became known as the Septuagint, and was used widely among Jews and then among Christians. In fact many of the quotes in the New Testament are from the Greek Old Testament.

At first the early Christian church used the Greek Old and New Testaments. But after a couple centuries, people decided they needed the Bible in their own languages, so the whole Bible was eventually translated into some of the most widely spoken languages in the world (i.e. Latin, Syriac, Coptic, Gothic, Ethiopic, etc).1 But as those languages changed over time (e.g., Latin became various Romance languages like French, Italian, Portuguese and Spanish), their translations became archaic, “holy” translations, which most people no longer understood at all.

After another 1,000 years a second major wave of Bible translation happened, around the time of the Reformation. While John Wycliffe had earlier translated the Bible from Latin into English, William Tyndale and Myles Coverdale translated the Bible into early modern English from Greek and Hebrew. Around that time, Martin Luther did the same for German and others did so for Spanish, Portuguese, French, etc.2 With the invention of the printing press in the early 1400s, people could more easily access, read and understand the Bible. It led to transformation in individuals, communities and societies all across Europe.

The third major wave of Bible translation began about 200 years ago. During the 19th century, God’s Word was translated into almost 500 languages all across the world.1 The 20th century saw the birth of Wycliffe Bible Translators and other Bible translation organizations, and significantly saw more than 1,000 new Bible translations. And the pace of Bible translation has continued to increase during the 21st century.

Bible Translation through the Ages - Africa

Today, we have the honor and privilege to participate in a movement that God has been orchestrating for centuries. By serving, praying, and fiscally supporting the work of Bible translation, we truly make a difference.

Let’s all work together so that soon all people groups can hear God speak to them in their own language.
[1] Silzer, Peter. “An Overview of Bible Translation Through History.” Lecture, Biola University, La Mirada, 2005.

2 Scriptures of the World: A Compilation of the 1,946 Languages in Which at Least One Book of the Bible Has Been Published since the Bible Was First Printed by Johann Gutenberg. London: United Bible Societies, 1990. 41.

Read Full Post »

By Melissa Paredes

“I want you in full-time ministry,” God told him.

This calling came out of the blue for Steve. After all, he was enjoying his life and work as a band and choir teacher near Spokane, Washington. He and his family had a great community of friends, and they even saw themselves staying in Spokane long-term. But it seemed God had other plans for them.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhen recalling the day he heard God’s voice, Steve admits he was hoping for more details from God. After all, he didn’t feel qualified spiritually, and his particular gifts didn’t seem to fit the mold of full-time ministry. Steve thought about possibly going to Bible college to further his education, but that wasn’t something he really wanted to do — he’d already received an education and loved what he did! He was confused by God’s call and didn’t know what it meant for him and his family.

A year later, Steve happened to meet a Wycliffe recruiter who told him about the remaining need for Bible translation in almost 2,000 languages. But Steve still didn’t see where he fit. “There’s no way I could be a Bible translator!” Steve shared. And isn’t that what he would have to do if he worked for Wycliffe Bible Translators?

But then Steve learned something exciting — something that seemed to answer that haunting question of where his gifts fit in ministry. The recruiter told him that Wycliffe needs teachers, particularly for missionary kids. Even music teachers!

This news struck a chord with Steve. He had a set of gifts and qualifications that could be used right away, and in full-time ministry!

So in 2006, Steve and his family moved to Papua New Guinea where he now teaches at Ukarumpa International School. And through teaching, Steve’s making a difference in the lives of his students, their families and even those who are still waiting for the Bible in their own language.

Steve Blake 1

“I’m helping God’s Word reach new places, new hearts,” Steve shared. “It’s cool to hear parents say, ‘We wouldn’t be missionaries here if it wasn’t for the school.’ These parents are able to focus on translation, literacy and other work because they know their children are being given a solid education.”

And it’s true. When people like Steve use the gifts God has given them for his glory, they’re contributing to the work of Bible translation. Every role is important in this work — even teaching music to missionary kids. It’s just a matter of faithfully answering God’s call when you hear his voice.

Read Full Post »

By Hannah Weiand

Where in the World - Pair (Elyse Patten)

A key thing to note is that Wycliffe USA is just one of many organizations working in partnership around the world to make Bible translation happen. Many of these organization are part of the Wycliffe Global Alliance, which includes more than 45 Wycliffe member organizations and more than 60 partner organizations serving in more than 93 countries. For perspective, there are only 197 countries in the entire world, so together we’re working in nearly half of them! You can see the list of organizations within the Wycliffe Global Alliance here.

One interesting feature of the Alliance’s website is a tool that lists the languages of the world, by country, and whether or not they have any Scripture. Although it doesn’t specifically tell you where personnel are working, it can give you a broader scope of the work that is both being done and still needs to be done. So if you have a specific country in mind, and want to know if Bible translation is being done there, this tool can help.

This post is part of our Wycliffe 101 series. Click here to read the previous post, or here to start at the beginning.

Read Full Post »

By Amanda Swift with Richard Gretsky

In the Tanzanian village of Bwitenge, an elderly man came in and sat down at the end of a meeting between the Ikoma translation team and the Ikoma language committee. After the discussion ended, the man stood up, greeted everyone, and started giving his testimony.

In his old age, he had become blind. Because of a friend’s recommendation, he had seen an eye doctor in Nairobi, Kenya, who gave him two pairs of glasses, one for reading and one for regular use. But standing in front of the crowd of people, the man no longer needed the glasses—God had healed his eyes.

Pausing from his speech, clearly seeing the crowd of people in front of him, the man looked to the table next to him and saw a printout of the Lord’s Prayer in the Ikoma language. He picked it up and read some of it out loud to prove that he was able to read without using his glasses. He gave glory to God and expressed deep appreciation for God’s healing power and goodness. He also shared that he had long been praying that Scripture would someday become available in the Ikoma language.

At the end of his testimony, some people from the group gave him the publications of the Gospel of Luke, Ruth, Jonah, and the Lord’s Prayer—all in the Ikoma language.

Soon after, two members of the translation team saw the man again while they were walking down the street. He enthusiastically greeted them. To explain how thankful he was, he compared the gift of God’s Word in his own language to ugali,* the beloved, staple food of his home country.

He said, “Nimebarikiwa sana. Nimepewa chakula kitamu sana kuliko ugali.” (I have been very blessed. I’ve been given food sweeter than ugali.)


*Ugali is a dish of maize flour cooked with water to a dough-like consistency.

Read Full Post »

By Hannah Weiand
Hannah is a Wycliffe USA intern, attending Oral Roberts University. Hannah will graduate with a degree in Writing in May 2015.

People sometimes ask, “Why not just translate the Bible using Google Translate? Wouldn’t that save you a lot of time, money and effort?” Unfortunately, it’s not that simple.

In today’s world, where technology is advancing rapidly and information is more accessible than ever, it’s important to realize that Bible translation is more than just a process of word substitution. There are approximately 7,000 languages in the world, and just under 2,000 of those languages are completely without Scripture. As intriguing as it might seem to use a tool like Google Translate to provide the Bible for those remaining languages, it simply doesn’t work.

Here’s why:

First, according to Google Translate’s website, Google Translate uses a process called “statistical machine translation.” Google explains this process as the computer detecting patterns in documents on the Internet that have already been translated by human translators. The problem here is that language groups that still need a Bible translation are typically underdeveloped, at best, and some don’t even have an alphabet. So little-to-no material appears on the Internet in those languages. And even for those languages that Google Translate does serve, Google states that “For some languages, however, we have fewer translated documents available, and therefore, fewer patterns that our software has detected. This is why our language quality will vary by language and language pair.

Second, there is a problem with the lack of languages that Google has to offer. While its program continues to grow, it currently only has 80 languages in its repertoire, making its benefits very exclusive.

Mainly, however, there is more to the process of translation than what tools like Google Translate can or cannot do. One thing that a computer tool like Google Translate cannot account for is culture. The process of translating the Bible for people who have never had it in their own language requires an understanding of their way of life. Only through that understanding can we properly communicate the complex, powerful concepts found in the Bible.

Steve Pillenger lives in Johannesburg, South Africa and works as a type setter.

For example, we love God with all of our hearts and accept Jesus into our hearts. But in many cultures around the world, the heart is not considered the center of the emotions. Consider the Awa people of Papua New Guinea, who express feelings and importance with the liver. They wouldn’t say “I love you with all of my heart”; they would say something along the lines of “I love you with all of my liver.”

Cultural context aside, we must also consider the many complexities of language. For example, some languages have multiple ways to describe something that may be a single-word concept in English, while other languages may not have a word for that concept at all. And some languages take entirely different forms, like those that are whistled or signed. (There are nearly 400 different sign languages in the world, and most of them are without the Bible!)

All of these factors help explain why Bible translation takes so much time, dedication and personal investment. And in the end, nothing can replace that personal connection.

This post is part of our Wycliffe 101 series. Click here to read the previous post, or here to start at the beginning.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: