Archive for the ‘Bible Translation’ Category

Bible, Mission and Metaphor

Monday 23 March 2009

Tim Davy at Redcliffe College in Gloucester has written an interesting post entitled Bible, Mission and Metaphor. He explains how the metaphors that we use to describe everyday activities actually tell a lot about the way we think about these activities.

As well as giving us a fascinating insight into other cultures, looking at metaphors used can also tell us a lot about ourselves and our own attitudes that we may not have realised.

How do we conceptualise mission? Do we take our imagery from Joshua (’mission is a battle’)? Or from the parables (mission is sowing seeds)? What other metaphors might we use? What would ’success’ or ‘failure’ look like according to each metaphor? How might it affect our relationships with those we are seeking to ‘reach’ (another metaphor!)? read more

Although the article looks at biblical metaphors, it started me thinking how in fact we often use metaphors that aren’t biblical at all, and reflect a worldly way of viewing mission that doesn’t line up with God’s heart. I was left wondering to what extent the language we use reflects the way God sees mission, and to what extent it exposes attitudes that are contrary to God’s heart for the nations.

When talking about Bible translation, do we talk about completing a task or sowing seeds? Talking about completing a task may reflect a focus on ourselves and our work, when in fact God invites us to join in with what he is already doing around the world.

Are we advancing towards our goals or working with others to help them achieve theirs? Just as God invites us to join in with what he is doing, he also expects us to be united with other believers around the world. This doesn’t just mean allowing them to be part of what we’re doing, but truly respecting and serving them as they play their part in God’s mission.

Is our aim increased efficiency in reaching people or better relationships in serving people? Western culture may value efficiency, but at the end of the day God’s mission is about him transforming hearts and lives, not us achieving tasks. In our desire to see the most lives changed as quickly as possible, we cannot afford to focus on simply accelerating a process at the expense of real relationships with people.

As Eddie reminded us a couple of days ago

The genius of Vision 2025 was its call to realign ourselves with what God was doing in and through his people worldwide. We need to be constantly working to renew our alignment with God’s mission on an individual and corporate level. read more

Over the last year I have really been challenged as to whether what I’m doing fits in with God’s mission, or if I’m trying to fit God’s mission in with what I’m doing. I still have a long way to go, but I pray that my attitude towards Bible translation is becoming more God-centred and people-centred, and less about completing a task.

Mission After Christendom

Sunday 7 December 2008

I’ve just finished reading an excellent book – Mission After Christendom by David Smith.

The book discusses how the modern missionary movement of the last 200 years has been very much tied to christendom – Europe and North America – and the modernist worldview, largely influenced by evolutionist philiosophy and the idea that science and reason would drive mankind towards an ever increasing utopia.

Missions were from the western church to the heathen nations, who were seen as backward and in need of the religion and civilisation of the west. As such, they often went hand in hand with colonial power and ideology, sometimes with the justification that “the heathens get saved, and in return we get their natural resources”.

The twentieth century, and all the war and destruction that went with it, saw the end of modernism as people realised that science and reason alone wouldn’t guarantee that civilisation would continually evolve towards higher and higher levels of development.

The main message of the book is that when mission is strongly tied to christendom and modernism (or to any one particular culture), the message it spreads is a poor version of Christianity, severely limited by the cultural lens through which it is portrayed. In reality, by God’s grace, over the past 100 years we have seen the growth of indigenous churches, expressing the gospel in their own cultural contexts across South America, Africa and Asia. This growth is not only a blessing to the church in these places, but in fact should be a blessing to the church of the traditional Christian heartlands as it sees the gospel worked out in completely different cultures.

For the Qom [of Argentina], as for the Saxons in ninth-century Europe, a mass movement toward Christianity resulted not in the abandonment of traditional culture, but in its revitalisation. A dispirited people, threatened with the destruction of their known world by the encroachment of a highly sophisticated technological culture, found in Jesus Christ the true redeemer who gave them as Qom, renewed hope, strength and life. Thus, the indigenous church which emerged from a movement of spiritual awakening in the middle of the twentieth century, the Iglesia Evangelica Unida, reflects a dynamic inculturation of the gospel among a people whose world-view is strikingly different from that of other churches in the Chaco, which simply adopted imported Western patterns of spirituality and worship. The Qom were able to distinguish Christ from the culture of the missionaries with the result that they now believe they have something important to offer to Western Christians from within their own cultural heritage. Thus, Hugo Diaz, an indigenous Christian leader, invites Western believers to assist the church in the Chaco in language which clearly reflects the post-Christendom context for mission with which this book is concerned: “We no longer want you to come and teach us the Bible. We want you to come and read the Bible together with us”.

Smith makes a very interesting comparison with the encounter of Peter with Cornelius in the book of Acts. Up until that point, Peter, along with the other apostles, had assumed that Jesus’ message of salvation was for the Jews, with other nations being granted salvation through becoming culturally Jewish. But after his meeting with Cornelius, and seeing the Holy Spirit given to non-Jews, Peter and the apostles rejoice at the realisation that “God has also given the Gentiles the privilege of repenting of their sins and receiving eternal life.” (Acts 11:18)

In this light the whole of the rest of the New Testament continues the theme that God has united all peoples of all cultures in himself. Mission is no longer about going abroad and persuading other peoples to be like us, but it’s about witnessing to Christ and encouraging others to worship him in their own cultural context.

Almost every page of the book had a quote that I wanted to remember, but I think this one sums up well the challenge to 21st Century missions:

…are we able to imitate Peter’s missiological and pastoral response in such a situation [with Cornelius], trusting the Holy Spirit in such a manner that our urge to proselytise such individuals and movements is overcome, so avoiding the implication that following Jesus as Lord means becoming like us? Questions like these are critical on the frontier of pluralisation because devout adherents of other faiths are unlikely ever to get close to the Jesus of the Gospels as long as the lifestyle of evangelists, or the worship of churches shaped by Western individualism and modernisation, makes him appear to be the destroyer of all that is treasured within their traditions. The tragedy of the proselytising approach to mission is that it turns the Gospel into “bad news”, ensures the closing of ranks, and short-circuits the revolutionary impact of the living Christ within these religious traditions. What is more, it ignores the profound insight of John of Patmos that all the peoples on earth may bring their ‘glory and honour’ into the kingdom of God (Rev 21:26).

Which is why I believe that Bible translation into every vernacular language – accomplished as a partnership right across the worldwide church – should be at the forefront of cross-cultural mission in the 21st Century.

Innovation in Mission

Friday 26 September 2008

One of the challenges of 21st Century mission is how to build and maintain godly partnerships with others, on both an individual and a corporate level. Increasingly these partnerships are cross-cultural, with the church in the majority world taking on much more responsibility in world mission.

I’ve just discovered a fascinating new blog on this topic called Innovation in Mission by John and Mindy Hirst, which is based on the book by the same name by John Hirst and Jim Reapsome.

Here’s a taste from a recent post:

Thursday night at the Mission Next Conference, we had a panel of Majority World leaders answering questions. […] One question was, “What does your country bring to a partnership?” Of course, as we talk about parity and mutual benefit, that is a very critical question. If Western countries are bringing funding and resources, what are other countries bringing that they view as equal to the resources.

Some of the answers were:
– Experience of the church
– Passion
– New Questions / Answers about the Bible
– Fun
– We love Jesus, we love others and we want to get the job done
– Able to live with little
– Godly insight and wisdom
– Sheer desire to survive

What caught my attention about these answers is that these are not things you can put in a suitcase. They aren’t things you can physically hand to someone. And they are definitely not things that you can grasp easily via phone and email.

Bottom line, as I have been listening to the issues, the greatest challenge seems to be “face time” with global partners. The value that Majority World people bring is something that has to be experienced in person. We can’t have a conference call and say it’s done. It is deeply personal and any effort to depersonalize it and comoditize it will fail.

Are Western organizations and individuals willing to make the commitment to this type of personal and long-term investment in partners? I think many were asking that question on Thursday night.

I think I might even be tempted to buy the book

Google still has a long way to go

Monday 25 August 2008

Google now has a homepage for its search engine in Swahili: http://www.google.co.tz/

According to this page Google has translated at least 1% of its main site in 152 languages. Not bad, especially considering that these languages are spoken by several billion people worldwide.

According to Wycliffe Bible Translators, the most translated book of all time, the Bible, has been translated into 438 languages. Another 2,016 have at least some of the Bible translated into them.

But that leaves over 2,200 with a need for Bible translation and no project yet started. Many of these languages don’t have a written form, so in order for the Bible, Google or any other text to be translated and written down, an alphabet and writing system must first be developed.

The efforts of Google and others (like Ubuntu, who are currently translating into 189 languages) are to be applauded, and will make their products accessible to the vast majority of people worldwide. But for the Bible, a message from God’s heart to man’s heart, it’s not enough to translate into the 150 or 200 most major languages in the world.

Rather, the message of God’s good news to all nations must be made available to each and every person in the language of their heart, however uneconomical it may seem. No businessman would ever translate his product into a language spoken by 100 people in a village in Papua New Guinea – it just doesn’t make business sense. But then not many shepherds would leave 99 sheep on their own in order to search for the one sheep that wandered astray.

Which is why the Bible will always be the most translated book. God has created each and every person uniquely and loves them just as they are. He will stop at no lengths to draw each person to himself. If we are to reflect God’s character as we join in with his mission to the world, we must make the Bible available to every person in their own heart language.

Translation Services

Saturday 7 June 2008

In the office the other day I received a phone call from a friendly chap from a company that offers translation services. He was offering the services of his company to Wycliffe, wondering if we were interested in outsourcing any of our translation work.

I patiently explained that our translation work is done in cooperation with churches and individuals who are mother-tongue speakers of minority languages, so I didn’t think his company would be able to help us very much. Looking back, I probably should have taken him up on the offer and asked for a quote for translating the Bible into 2,300 unwritten languages

Bible translation, Linux and American beer

Sunday 4 May 2008

What does Bible translation have to do with Linux and American beer? The way that it should be marketed.

This article is talking about how, in the main, the marketing strategy for the Linux computer operating system relies on word of mouth. It argues that for some types of products mass marketing is effective, but for others there are much more cost-effective strategies.

A large part of mainstream media marketing, advertising, and branding is a means to get name recognition at a very superficial level. Its main targets are people who make superficial buying decisions, and for the right products, this works. Why buy name brand Tylenol vs. generic acetaminophen, name brand cereal, or a thousand other identical products that come off the same assembly line but use different packaging at different prices? From the perspective of the thrifty, the main answers are ignorance and brand recognition.

Of course, not all marketing is to compete with effectively identical products. Consider the American beer industry as a major marketing powerhouse with a few similarities to the Windows vs. Linux market. The major American breweries formulated modern beers after Prohibition to appeal to people who didn’t like the taste of beer, and as a side effect the major brewers accepted, these beers taste bad to beer connoisseurs. The post-Prohibition era, even to this day, retains elements of a cartelized liquor distribution industry designed to make it difficult and expensive to compete with the major breweries, such that there have been no new domestic majors in decades. The rebirth of real beer in America was through microbreweries that have small to non-existent marketing budgets. They rely on beer connoisseurs who communicate through beer fan reviews, word of mouth, willingness to experiment, and seeking out the minority of stores that actually carry microbrew and local beers. Beer commercials for microbrews about sports and sexy women would not get many beer drinkers to seek out good beer that isn’t already easy to find. Such commercials are just for “all beer is beer” drinkers who are susceptible to brand association marketing and herd opinion.

This doesn’t mean that high-cost marketing is innately wrong or bad. It means that if you can increase the marginal sales of your high-profit-per-sale product to people who make quick decisions based on brand recognition, then your marketing expenses were a good investment, but otherwise not. Unfortunately for Linux companies, desktop Linux is a very low profit per “sale” product that is not an impulse choice off a shelf of interchangeable consumer goods.

I would add recruitment for Bible translation to the Linux-American beer category. Our market is a relatively small one (committed UK Christians), and our product is very different to almost anything else “on the market”. Even other missions organisations are not normally working directly in Bible translation.

Add to that the fact that people rarely give up a salary to raise financial support and live in a third world country on impulse, and I would say that despite the temptation to invest in quick and easy online mass marketing, our best marketing strategies are through the old-fashioned approach of meeting people, building relationships, and word of mouth.

Unlocking the scriptures

Wednesday 26 March 2008

I was working in Tanzania with Wycliffe from 2004-2006, doing something called Language Survey. On one of our survey trips we went to Mara Region in the north of Tanzania, to see what languages were spoken there and what the need was for Bible translation.

One of the languages, Kuria, already had a New Testament translated by the Bible Society, so we looked into whether additional translations were needed for the various dialects of Kuria, and decided that the one translation should suffice. However, the translation wasn’t being used by the people – most of the copies were sitting in a storehouse.

Recently I read this story from colleagues in Tanzania, which is an encouragement that the scriptures are now just starting to be used! Pray that these men and thousands of others like them would learn to read and love the Kuria scriptures, and that God would use them to draw people into a closer relationship with him.

Welcome to Under the Baobab Tree!

Sunday 16 March 2008

Under the Baobab tree is an accompanying blog to our website, www.everytongue.co.uk The purpose of this blog is for us to share our thoughts from our everyday lives, which may or may not be connected to our work in Bible Translation!

We’ll still be maintaining the other site, but it will be more focussed on the work we’re doing rather than the random other stuff going on in our lives.

We’re looking forward to hearing more from you in the comments sections!