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By Hannah Weiand

Hannah is a Wycliffe USA intern, attending Oral Roberts University. She will graduate with a degree in writing in May 2015.

a woman reads her Bible to her friend

Photo credit: Marc Ewell

Here at Wycliffe Bible Translators, we believe everyone needs the Bible in a language they can clearly understand. Well-meaning people sometimes ask, “Why not just teach people English?” Well, that would be like asking a native English speaker, “Why not just teach you Latin?”

It sounds funny put that way, but before the late 14th century, when John Wycliffe and others translated the Bible into English for the first time from Latin, that’s exactly what English speakers had to do if they wanted to read the Bible.

John Wycliffe believed the common person should be able to read and understand the Bible in their own language. But at that time in history, many people thought English was a vulgar language, unfit for God and his holy Word. So when Wycliffe and others translated the Bible, many church leaders were angry. Years after John Wycliffe died, they were still so angry that they dug up his bones to burn and destroy them. And they took one of his followers, John Huss, and burned him at the stake for telling people that everyone should be able to read the Bible in their own language.

Today, thanks to the sacrifices of John Wycliffe, John Huss and others, we can read the Bible in our own language. And we believe other language groups around the world should be able to have that opportunity too.

When Wycliffe Bible Translator’s founder, Cameron Townsend, went to Guatemala to sell Spanish Bibles in 1917 — before he ever started thinking about Bible translation — a number of people asked him why God didn’t speak their language. Cam was troubled to learn that they couldn’t clearly understand the Bible in Spanish. Their need inspired him translate the New Testament into Cakchiquel, and ultimately, to found Wycliffe Bible Translators.

Photo credit: Elyse Patten

Photo credit: Elyse Patten

That’s why we think Bible translation is so important — because we want people to fully understand what God is saying. When people learn a new language, they usually don’t understand it as well as their first language, so it’s difficult to fully grasp the power and the meaning of the Bible in that language.

Bible translation is important because of the way it transforms people’s lives when they can clearly understand God’s Word. It’s not just about being able to read the Bible – it’s about being able to connect with what it says. Having the Bible in their own language allows people from around the world to make that connection.

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

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By Lindsay Benton

Lindsay is a recent Liberty University graduate and a former Wycliffe USA summer intern.

Many of us have heard the story of Wycliffe founder William Cameron Townsend—also known as Uncle Cam—who traveled the villages of Guatemala attempting to sell Spanish Bibles in the early 1900s. Uncle Cam soon discovered that many Guatemalans couldn’t understand these Bibles, because their primary language was Cakchiquel, which had never been written down and didn’t have a translation of the Scriptures. This hit home for Uncle Cam. If the Guatemalan people could not understand the Bible in their primary language, then they could not read or hear about the grace of God in sending His son Jesus Christ to save sinners.

God put it on Uncle Cam’s heart to live among the people in Guatemala. He was compelled to learn Cakchiquel in hopes of one day translating the New Testament into it. But the process of learning the language, recording it in written form, and translating the Bible was not a short or easy process. Many words and passages in the English Bible, which Uncle Cam was familiar with, had different meanings in the Cakchiquel culture. This did not stop him from dedicating years of his life to build relationship with the people and encourage their understanding of the Bible. “You have to learn the language accurately,” said Uncle Cam. “You can’t hand a book to these tribes and say, ‘This is God’s Word,’ if it’s full of grammatical errors. You’ve got to do a good scientific job. And that takes years—to learn the language and then translate the New Testament.”

John WycliffeIf people in Guatemala did not have Bibles in a language that spoke to their heart, then how many more people groups worldwide did not have a Bible in their heart language? As a result, Uncle Cam organized Wycliffe Bible Translators in 1943, years after he first arrived in Guatemala in 1917. His mission had transformed from selling Bibles to making them available in every language that needed a translation.

The name “Wycliffe” came from the reformation scholar and Oxford professor John Wycliffe. In the 14th century, Wycliffe rebelled against the Roman Catholic Church by translating the Bible in a language the common person could understand. His actions took courage because, at the time, the people of England could only receive the Bible through the priests or read it in the Greek, Hebrew, and Latin languages. The translation came from Latin because it was the only source available to him. Because he translated the Bible into the common language, John Wycliffe was ridiculed by the church even after his death. Religious leaders dug up his remains and burned them as a result of his devotion to Bible translation. One of Wycliffe’s supporters, John Hus, promoted the idea of common persons reading the Bible in a recognizable language. Huss was threatened by the Roman Catholic Church and later burned at the stake in 1415.

John Wycliffe2Because Wycliffe chose to make the Bible available to everyone, he was known for his English Bible translation across Europe. Like current missionaries who serve overseas, sacrificing time and energy while pouring into the lives of unreached people groups, God used men like John Wycliffe and William Cameron Townsend to affect generation upon generation through the power of God’s Word.

Today, Wycliffe has aided Bible translation projects in over two thousand languages. However, there are over nineteen hundred languages that still need a Bible translation project started. Will you join the team at Wycliffe and fulfill the need for Bible translations around the world by praying, going, or partnering with us financially? Help us reach these Bibleless people groups and spread the Word of God to all the nations.

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

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On March 14, Wycliffe USA staff gathered in Orlando to celebrate sixteen recent Scripture translations. Three staff members shared stories about some of the translations featured. We will post the scripts for each of these stories on our blog. Here is the first one, by Roy Jainandan, director of payroll and benefits for Wycliffe USA: 

The Nawuri New Testament, Ghana

nawuri_chief

With tears in his eyes, the Nawuri chief declared, “Today is a great day for the Nawuri people. We have never had a unique occasion as this! This is the beginning of great things for us! We have been neglected by politicians, but we have now been counted among God’s people!” The chief was addressing the gathering on Friday, November 23, 2012, at a ceremony in Kpandai, Ghana, to formally dedicate the Nawuri New Testament.

It is my distinct honor today, in a few minutes, to give you a glimpse into the Nawuri people and their New Testament translation and dedication. To help us understand and appreciate the remarks of the chief, I’d like to share some information about the Nawuri people. About eighteen thousand live in a dozen villages around the chief town of Kpandai, in northern Ghana. Their main occupation is farming. Traditionally the Nawuris had their own beliefs and religion. Mothers cut tribal marks on their children when they were six months old. Traditional belief is that in sickness it is usual to seek the soothsayer to find out whether one has offended an ancestor. The soothsayer will identify the ancestor concerned and prescribe necessary sacrifices. To appease the ancestor, they’ll perform the sacrifices on the ancestor’s grave.

nawuri1In saying, “We have now been counted among God’s people!” the Nawuri chief is intimating that the translation of the New Testament into the Nawuri language confirms that the promises given to Abraham and fulfilled in Jesus Christ are also for the Nawuri people.

This was a momentous occasion for the Nawuri people, and the chief was dressed in black and white—the colors of celebration in Ghana. To mark this historic event, international visitors and people from all parts of Ghana travelled a long and difficult road and crossed rivers with ferries to celebrate the dedication with the Nawuri people.

Granted, it may be difficult for someone from a majority culture to understand what it is like to live thinking that their language has no value and their identity is ignored by the larger world. The unpleasant reality is that in the grand scheme of things, marginalized people like the Nawuris are ignored.

Do the words of the chief sound strangely familiar? Sure, it does. The chief’s statement is akin to the words in the US Declaration of Independence:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”

Dr. Paul Opoku-Mensah, director of the Ghana Institute of Linguistics, Literacy, and Bible Translation, expressed very well the impact of Bible translation work when he said:

In the hands of a marginalized group, the notion of “children of God” can be a critical organizing principle, vision, and practical tool for transformation. In other words, for a marginalized group like the Nawuris, being counted among the “children of God” is more than spiritual salvation. It could also be understood, and used, as a key to transforming their perception of themselves, including their potentials and possibilities.

This project is quintessential of the body of Christ at work. It transcended national, political, cultural, and denominational borders. Work on the Nawuri project began in 1985 by Dr. Rod and Ellen Casali, and was continued later by a national team led by John Adinyah, the current project manager, and his wife, Janet. Father Kofi, a Catholic Father, was also instrumental in the translation project. Churches such as the Seventh Day Adventist, the Evangelical Christian Church, and the Church of Pentecost, along with volunteer teachers and reviewers, worked unselfishly on this project.

It is no secret that a translation project faces many challenges. John Adinyah nawuri2compared the challenges of the Nawuri project and their victory of having God’s Word in their mother tongue to Christ’s resurrection, which neutralized the pain of the cross.

Revelation 7:9 tells us, “After this I saw a vast crowd, too great to count, from every nation and tribe and people and language, standing in front of the throne and before the Lamb. They were clothed in white robes and held palm branches in their hands” (NLT).

Among these worshippers, we know, will be our Nawuri brothers and sisters!

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