Monday, February 12, 2018

Self-Reliance in Parenting and Missions: Reflections from Nevius

by Stacey

The miraculous cannot be brought about through human striving or effort. The sacredness of preaching the Gospel both within the context of missions and of parenting is nothing short of asking God to take a pile of dry bones and make them into an army of committed soldiers.

The Teachings of Missionary to China, John Nevius
John Nevius, born in New York in 1829, was a missionary to China who spoke out against the missions methodologies of his day. At that time, missionaries were employing national Chinese helpers to go out and preach the Gospel in order to reach as many people as possible for Christ.

Nevius objected to this practice because he saw that many of the employed preachers were expressing interest in the ministry position mainly for the consistent income and not as much for the salvation of their fellow man. Further, Nevius was concerned that these paid evangelists were being sent out before they had developed the Christian character that was necessary to go along with the message. This approach produced numbers to be sent back home (X number of people heard the Gospel, X number of people prayed to receive Christ, etc) but, he argued, this approach would not lead to an independent, healthy church.

He therefore encouraged his fellow missionaries to avoid appointing new converts to the positions of leadership and to let all initiative in evangelism be incited by the Spirit in the hearts of the believers. He also exhorted them to faithfully teach “the whole counsel of God” in order to raise up qualified elders (even if it took decades…). He implored them to consider that:

Labor will not guarantee results

A desire to “frantically evangelize” the world and see hard numbers come out of this initiative should not be the goal. Nevius says that the seeds that we sow in this life may not yield results for another 50 years or more: 
It will be nearly fifty years hence to determine with positive certainty what an individual life has or has not accomplished. Only in eternity will every man’s work be fully made manifest of what sort it is. Results of apparently great importance may attract attention and secure general commendation, and yet prove only temporary and illusory. On the other hand, a good book or a word spoken in season, may produce important results, though the world may never be able to trace them to their true source (Nevius, 79).
If there are two missionaries laboring and one is yielding a harvest, and the other is not, that does not necessarily mean that the first missionary is more faithful than the second; nor does it mean that the second missionary’s ministry should be suspect. The Spirit blows where he wishes, and we do not know from where he is coming or to where he is going. He may choose to wait 50 years or more to bring life to the seeds of the Gospel that were sown into hearts.

And if the missionary is tempted to think that the fruit comes from his labors, God may very well humble him.

If we are self-reliant, God may delay the results

Nevius says:
It is so natural for us to feel that with a good knowledge of the language, sincere earnestness and sympathy with the people, together with prudence, common sense, zeal, hard work and perseverance, sooner or later great spiritual results must certainly be accomplished. This is by no means the case. Our labors may combine all the above conditions and yet be fruitless in the conversion of souls.
If we are cherishing a feeling of self-dependence in any form, God will probably humble us before He will use us. We must feel that if anything is accomplished it will be by the presence and power of God’s Holy Spirit, and be ready to ascribe all the glory to Him. Otherwise He will probably leave us to ourselves to learn the lesson of our own weakness (Nevius, 81).
With a lack of fruit, the missionary can easily turn inward and wonder what he is doing wrong. With an abundance of fruit, the missionary may be tempted to attribute his success to his fluency in the language and apparent love for the people. And yet, the first missionary may be the one who is most sincere, most pure of heart, most faithful in the eyes of God. It is easy to think that God’s work is like an equation: If I do A,B,C, then E is a certain outcome. Although the Lord uses means, he cannot be bullied into doing what we think he ought just because we’ve been laboring.

The Right Response: Humility
In Missions
Sometimes a decade of labors in support raising, language acquisition, cultural understanding goes before the first time a missionary is able to share the Gospel with someone who has never heard of Christ. Through those years of striving, the hope of people hearing, believing and being saved is what motivates the missionary to keep pressing on.

Then, when the message is finally preached, oftentimes the person’s response is “Naw.”

The missionary thinks to himself, “What!? I have done all this to get you this message and your response is ‘Naw’?!”

It is at this point that the Lord reminds the missionary that even if the message is preached well in an understandable way, it is still HIM who has mercy on whom he has mercy and hardens whom he hardens. Planting and watering the seeds of the Gospel does not guarantee that the Lord will give growth to what is planted. This reality ought to humble us as missionaries to our knees to ask God to do what only he can do: Send his Spirit to make dead men alive.

This call to humility can also be applied in parenting.

In Parenting
John 1:12-13 says, 

But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
Just as a missionary cannot rely on his own efforts to cause someone to be born again, neither can the Christian parent rely on his own efforts to ensure his child will be saved. The long hours of language learning do not make worshippers and the long hours of conversation, correction, and warnings do not make children love Jesus. It is the Spirit of God who makes children love Jesus.

The other day one of our children was tormenting another child at school and the teacher pulled him aside and said, “You can’t spit in people’s faces and hit them with your lunch box. Why are you doing that?” He looked right at her and said, “Because it is fun.”

It’s hard to admit, but the heart of the unsaved think sin is fun. My son thinks seeing other people angry is enjoyable. Now, I may be able to get him to do his chores, but that deep evil desire in his heart can only be changed by a miracle of God. My will does not change his heart, but instead it is the will of God that can overcome a heart that is dead to him.

A Question
A question for missionaries and a question for parents alike is: In what are we hoping? Are we hoping in our missions methodologies to change a culture? Are we hoping in our nice parenting charts to make our children love what is good? Are we hoping in our polished Gospel presentations in the language to cut people to the heart? Are we trusting in our persuasive arguments to win our children over to our side?

It is true that parenting charts and Gospel presentations (with all the tones exactly right) may be the tool in the hand of God to reach the heart, but ultimately it is not the tool that is doing the work – it is the skillful hand of the surgeon that makes a surgery a success.

God breaks us. He humbles us. He teaches us to not rely on ourselves. And then when he chooses to work through our feeble efforts in parenting and in missions we cannot but ascribe all glory to him. And until that day, we work, we labor, we pray and we say, “For God alone my soul waits in silence” (Psalm 62:1).

Nevius, John. The Planting and Development of Missionary Churches
Tucker, Ruth. From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya: A Biographical History of Christian Missions

Monday, January 29, 2018

"If your God is so smart, why can't he speak our language?" The Life and Legacy of Cameron Townsend

by Stacey
“Understanding Scripture in a language other than the heart language in which we think and experience emotion is like trying to eat soup with a fork. You can get a little taste, but you cannot get nourished.” ― William Cameron Townsend 

William Cameron Townsend, or Cam, was one of the most influential missions leaders in the last two centuries. He founded three organizations: Wycliffe Bible Translators, the Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL), and the Jungle Aviation and Radio Service (JAARS). These three have the purpose of promoting Bible translation among minority language groups. 
His Life

Cam Townsand was born in 1896 in Southern California and attended a Presbyterian school in  Los Angeles with aspirations to be a minister and go overseas. During Townsend’s sophomore year, the Student Volunteer Movement’s lead visionary, John R. Mott, visited his college and challenged students to give their lives to the evangelization of the world. Cameron met with Mott and joined the Student Volunteer Movement, taking one more concrete step towards a life devoted to the Great Commission.

But, there was a problem. He had previously joined the National Guard in 1917, and was prepared to serve his country in the war. But then someone persuaded him to meet with a missionary on furlough named Stella Zimmerman. When he, and a friend who was with him, told her that they were planning to go out with the National Guard, she said

“You cowards! Going to war where a million other men will go and leaving us women to do the Lord’s work alone! You are needed in Central America!” (Hefley & Hefley, 26).

Cam didn’t like being called a coward and thus decided to obey his SVM commitment and go to the mission field instead of to the battlefield. He put in a request to the National Guard to be allowed to go overseas as a missionary instead of as a soldier. To his surprise, his commander officer heartily agreed to let him go.
The Beginnings

In 1917, Townsend started passing out Bibles in Guatemala among the Cakchiquel Indians. Many of the people he came in contact with had no idea who Jesus was. Whenever he would ask them, they would say “There is no Jesus who lives in our village; maybe he lives in the next village.” One day while he was passing out Bibles, Townsend struck up a conversation with an Indian man about God’s sovereignty and how all the answers to life’s questions can be found in the Bible. The Indian retorted back, “If your God is so smart, why can’t he speak my language?” Cameron had no words.
The question asked by the Indian haunted Townsend. Why wasn’t there a Bible translation in the Caqchikel language? This question tormented him to the point that he resolved to live among them long term so that he could translate the Bible into their language. 

So Cam remained in Central America and spent years pulling his hair trying to understand this difficult language. One day, this discouraged translator was visited by an American archeologist who encouraged him to stop trying to fit the Cakchiquel language into an English-language structure, but instead to simply describe what he was seeing. Cam followed this advice and started to look for patterns within the language. It was organized differently than English was, but it was nonetheless still organized.

This advice set him on a trajectory of learning the language and would eventually lead him to starting a linguistics program to help other future translators do the same. Townsand labored among the Cakchiquels until the New Testament was completed. When that work was finally finished, a fellow missionary sat him down and said, “Now that you’ve finished the New Testament, your work is just beginning…You know their language and their ways. They believe in you. Go back and train more preachers” (Hefley & Hefley, 66).

Townsand, however, did not heed this counsel but instead broke with this mission agency. His heart burned for the many other tribes who were without Scripture at all and so he turned his attentions towards reaching them through mobilization and training efforts rather than settling down in one tribe to plant a church.

In 1934, Townsend started Camp Wycliffe as a training ground for future Bible translators. The camp was on a farm where the trainees could get used to living in places where there was no air conditioning, and no chairs for that matter. The students sat on barrels while learning the art of how to learn and describe unwritten languages.

This particular group of students was praying that they would have the opportunity to serve the various Indian tribes in Mexico. There were two women, Eunice Pike and Florence Hansen who wanted to live in a Mazateco village. One of Cam’s friends disapproved of Cam allowing these two women to be sent out alone into the village because he had heard that there was a lot of killing. Cam respected the opinion of his friend and shared his concerns with the two women. The two women looked at Cam in surprise and said “'Why, don’t you believe God can take care of us?” (Hefley & Hefley, 99). Taken aback, Cam replied, “If you put it that way, go ahead.” And so the two women set out to translate the Bible into the complicated Mazateco language.
His Passion that wouldn't Die

After 50 years of ministry, instead of thinking about retirement, Cam decided to start all over in his translation work in a completely different are of the world: The Soviet Union. So, at 72, he flew to Mosco and started studding Russian for several hours a day and began conferring with linguistics and educators in the area.

However, Townsend was diagnosed with Leukemia in December 1981 and the doctors gave him several blood transfusions to keep him alive. On April 23, 1982 Townsend died peacefully at the age of 85 and yet his passion to see every people have the Word of God in their language lives on in thousands of Bible translators around the world. Even his grave stone located in Waxhaw, North Carolina calls out to the next generation: “‘Dear Ones: by love serve one another. Finish the task. Translate the Scriptures into every language.’ —Uncle Cam.

What we can Learn

There is much that we can learn, from the life of Cam Townsend but one thing that stands out to me is the idea that just as the Lord gives different people different passions within the local church, so he gives different people different passions within the missions world. And just as 1 Corinthians 12 tells us to honor and respect the different functions of the different members of the body of Christ within the local church, so I believe that we are to respect the different functions of the various members of the missions community. 

It can be a temptation within missions to pit various ministries against one another and I think that when we do that we are pitting the hands against feet against eyes. We all have different passions, strengths, and weaknesses but we are all members of the body of Christ who are working together to see Jesus worshipped in every tribe, tongue and nation.
And so, for Dave and I, we would've stayed and planted a church among the people group that Cam decided to leave. But the truth is that we are not Cam Townsend and the fact that he left that village led to a training facility that has equipped hundreds to go out and translate the Bible around the world. We as the feet praise God for him, the eyes, who gave such vision to a remarkable organization. 
And more than that, I pray that one day Cam Townsend could look down from Heaven and see every language community in the world able to see that God does in fact speak their language. 

The details of the life and legacy of Cameron Townsend were taken from:
A manuscript given to me by a friend, Lisa Lageorge, who presented on the life of Cameron Townsend at The Master's University chapel. 
Uncle Cam by James and Marti Hefley  

Monday, January 22, 2018

William Carey's Greatest Obstacle: The Local Church

By Stacey

At the end of the 18th century in England, an impoverished shoemaker started reading a book called The Last Voyage of Captain Cook. This book catalogued the exotic adventures of sailor and explorer Captain Cook and caused young William Carey’s mind to drift outside the borders of his native land. This book “became a revelation of human need.” The "savages" that were referenced in the book “were now seen as God’s creatures and in need of a Sovereign’s mercies” (13).*

Carey then looked to the Scriptures and saw that the Sovereign's mercies were poured out on the lost of the nations as they heard the Gospel. And, he asked himself, how were they to ever hear the Gospel unless someone went to preach it to them? Carey knew that God did not only predetermine the ends (that people from every tribe, tongue and nation worship Jesus), but he also purposed the means: sending people, people like him, to them to preach the Gospel to the nations. He was ready to go.

But Carey had a problem...

Carey’s Greatest Obstacle: The Local Church
In the church, at that time, there was a prejudice in the hearts of believers that squelched compassion for the lost. He therefore knew that he had an obligation to convince church members and church leaders of the need for missions. Therefore, at a church elder’s meeting in the year 1786, Carey raised the question whether the command given to the apostles to teach all nations was obligatory for them at that present time. Reading between the lines, an older man present at the meeting looked at him and said,
Young man, sit down: when God pleases to convert the heathen he will do it without your aid or mine (15). 
In the words of biographer Daniel Webber, “The hyper-Calvinism of the day was more than capable of turning the sovereignty of God into a pretext for doing nothing” (15).

The local church was thus one of the biggest obstacles that Carey faced in his pursuit of missions. But he would not relent. He continued to bring the plight of the nations before the church until at last his fellow ministers started to desire to see the nations worship Christ.

However, they knew that mission work was truly an unbeaten path and thus “their minds revolted at the idea of attempting it. It seemed to them something too great, and too much like grasping at an object utterly beyond their reach” (18). Thus they went from seeing foreign missions as ridiculous to important, but still unattainable.

One minister, however, Andrew Fuller, caught the vision and became Carey’s ally. He addressed this attitude in his sermon The Dangerous Tendency of Delay. He looked his congregants in the eye and said:
There is something of this procrastinating spirit running through a great part of life, and it is of great detriment to the work of God. We know of many things that should be done and cannot in conscience directly oppose them; but still we find excuses for our inactivity…We quiet ourselves with the thought that they need not to be done just now.

We are very apt to indulge in a kind of prudent caution (as we call it) which foresees and magnifies difficulties beyond what they really are.

Instead of waiting for the removal of difficulties, we ought, in many cases to consider them as purposely laid in our ways in order to try the sincerity of our religion. (18)
Thus Carey and Fuller together called the church to no longer make excuses for inactivity, but instead to be goers and be senders so that the nations might worship Christ. This was no easy task for there was a spirit of “prudent caution” in the air among church members and church leaders that led to a stagnancy. The church at that time was waiting for a removal of difficulties before they sought to take steps towards going overseas. To this Fuller called congregants to embrace these difficulties and see them not as closed doors but instead as trials purposefully laid out by their heavenly father in order to test the sincerity of their faith.

Fuller and Carey refused to grow discouraged in their desire to persuade the local church of the importance of missions. They agreed that the Lord would save all of the elect in every nation, but they insisted that God would use means in order to do it. They essentially told their fellow church members to look to the left and look to the right in order to see the means that God intended to use to save unreached people groups.

Carey said that the church was to pray for the lost in the nations but he also said that
We must not be contented however with praying, without exerting ourselves in the use of means for the obtaining of those things we pray for (29).
He kept coming back to the Great Commission where God said that we were to go out into all the nations and make disciples. The church responded in saying that this command was just for the apostles at the time of Christ. To this Carey said that if the church wouldn’t claim the responsibility to go make disciples of all the nations then they had no business claiming the promise that Jesus would be with them to the end of the age, seeing that this command and this promise were couched in the same passage.

Little by little, the truth of Carey's arguments worked their way into the hearts of those on the pew.

Six Year Battle – Won!
Finally, after 6 years of fervent prayer and persuasion, the local church was finally won to the missionary vision. In October 1792, a group of ministers met in order to discuss Carey’s proposal of seeking to evangelize the nations. This is what they wrote in their records of the meeting:
Desirous of making an effort for the propagation of the gospel among the heathen, agreeably to what is recommended in brother Carey’s late publication on that subject, we….do solemnly agree to act in society together for that purpose (32).
Carey spent 6 years laboring in order to convince a local body of believers to let him go out and labor all the more on the mission field. And his labor paid off! The church was won and because of this faithful plodding, there are Indian people around the throne of Jesus right now, worshipping him.

Lessons from Carey
We often look to the ministry of Carey on the foreign mission field to draw lessons from. However, there are many many lessons that can be learned from his six year battle to get to the field. Carey's battle to get to the field lent towards...

The Strengthening of the Sending Church
God was sovereign in that he used William Carey to sanctify, correct and build up the church even though that meant delaying his ministry by 6 years. And this correction was not limited to his own local church but has expanded to the universal church. Carey wrote a paper which has blessed the universal church for decades. The Lord not only planned for the Indian people to worship Jesus through Carey’s ministry but also that Carey’s local church be jolted from their hyper-Calvinism that tied them to the pews.

If we as missionaries think that our role is just for the lost of the nations, then we may be missing good works that the Lord has for us to walk in within our local churches. Our plodding in Great Commission ministry does not begin on foreign soil; it begins in the hallways of the churches that we were raised in.

The Strengthening of the Missionary
Not only did the Carey's delay profit the faith of his local congregation but it also strengthened his own faith. In fact, I believe that the difficulties in getting to the field are the training ground for missionary labor on the field. To those that are trying to get to the field, I think Carey helps us to remember that any awkwardness in support raising, resistance from the local church, and dealing with fear are all trials used to work in us a resilient character that is resolved to never give up. If it took Carey 6 years to convince his church to send him out, he wasn’t going to be coming home any time soon.

We, thankfully, cannot personally relate to Carey's frustrations with his local church but there are missionaries who can. And so, to church leaders, let our knee-jerk reaction be to fan the flame of missionary zeal, not dampen it. And to those who are headed to the field and feel as if the local church is more of a burden than an impetus to the field, know that as you take measured, painful steps bearing this burden, you are developing a strength that will be essential for your future ministry on the field. Keep plodding and keep praying that the Lord would sanctify your local church through you. 

* All quotes are taken from: Webber, Daniel. 2005. William Carey and the Missionary Vision. Edinburgh, UK. Banner of Truth and Trust.

Another book that speaks about Carey is: Tucker, Ruth. 2004. From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya: A Biographical History of Christian Missions. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Why Not Just Teach Them French? Revisited

by Dave

We have now been back in the US for over 10 months. Traveling around, talking about Bible translation, we occasionally get asked the question, “Why not just teach the people French?” I have asked this question myself. If the people could read French well, it would open them up to a wealth of resources: multiple translations, commentaries, sermons, and pastoral training materials. And Stacey has a great article examining some reasons HERE.

But along that line, I was recommended a book called The Finish Line, by Bob Creson, the current President of Wycliffe Bible Translators. Before arriving in this current position, he worked in Cameroon in various roles. He tells several stories in the book that are very encouraging. One such story is of a man named LĂ©onard Bolioki, a Cameroonian who helped with the Yambetta translation project in Cameroon. Mr. Bolioki describes how he got involved in the translation project:
“I stepped to the front of the church I attended and began to read the story of Jesus’ crucifixion. Always before, this passage from John’s Gospel had been read in French, but this time I was asked to read it in my own language, Yambetta. 
As I read, I became aware of a growing stillness; then some of the older women began to weep. At the end of the service, they rushed up to me and asked, ‘Where did you find this story? We have never heard anything like it before! We didn’t know there was someone who loved us so much that He was willing to suffer and die like that – to be crucified on a cross to save us!’ 
I pulled out my French New Testament and showed them the passage in the Gospel of John and said, ‘We listen to this Passion story every year during Holy Week.’ But they insisted that they’d never heard it before. 
That was what motivated me to translate the Scriptures into the only language my friends and family can really understand – Yambetta!” (Creson 2014: 15-16).
The Gospel came to Cameroon over 100 years ago, and now there are thousands of churches. But most of these churches are conducted in French (or English for that part of Cameroon). And what many people are hearing there is not the salvation of Jesus, but instead incomprehensible words in a foreign language.

It is hard for those of us who only grew up speaking one language to understand, but, even though the Bakoum speak French, they speak it only in certain domains. So, they can trade and deal with the government in French. But they do not speak French like they speak Bakoum. You could imagine if you only had mastered the vocabulary for the grocery store in another language, church would be very confusing. And not only confusing, but foreign, strange, and empty. We heard recently that reading the Bible in a language you have not mastered is like eating soup with a fork. You can get the taste, but it does not nourish you.

But the question remains: “Why not teach them French?” If the Bakoum would be nourished with a mastery of French, it seems like a better option, doesn't it? But, you will notice that this was not the response of Mr. Bolioki. Instead, he was persuaded that his people needed the Bible in their mother tongue. I think there are a number of reasons for that. One of the strongest of these comes when you understand the history of Cameroon. Cameroon was originally colonized by Germany in 1884. However, with the defeat of Germany in the First World War in 1916, Cameroon was divided between Britain and France. These colonizing forces used extreme force at times in order to govern their new colonies. My friend Simon can point to the tree on which his grandfather was hanged for non-compliance.

And to those Cameroonians we would say, "You must learn French to know God"? For the Bakoum the French language represents the people who killed their grandparents. Could you imagine if the Germans had won WWII? And if they colonized America, then told us that they had a text though which we could know the true God. The only thing is, we have to learn German. How effective would that message be?

What is fascinating is that the very oppression of the Bakoum gives them an opportunity to understand the New Testament in ways that I never will. Jesus was born into an occupied society. The Jews were living in their own land, but they did not have the right to govern themselves. The Romans ruled them, taxed them, and killed them when they did not comply. And the freedom and victory that Jesus preached to his oppressed people could have such deep meaning for my friends and neighbors in Cameroon. But they do not know this freedom. They do not know the salvation of Christ.

The reality is that if French was sufficient, the old ladies in my village would already be weeping for joy. God Word is effective, it is like a two-edged sword that pierces to the division of soul and of spirit. The Word of God is like the rain, which gives life and without it we cannot survive. But it has none of those effects unless it is understood. Without the Bible in a language they can understand, Jesus just becomes another name they can use in their traditional religion. So, we translate, prayerfully, pleading that the Spirit would both aid our work and use it to convict hearts. And we trust that one day, we will be able to finally see recognition in their eyes, and that this would lead to genuine Bakoum worship.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Jan '18 Newsletter - The Firstfruits

The firstfruits.

Jesus was walking through Capernaum when he was suddenly approached by a high-ranking Roman officer. This man of status humbled himself and pleaded with Jesus on behalf of his personal servant who was on the brink of death. Believing that just one word from Jesus could make his servant well, this officer implored him to have mercy and heal him.

Jesus looked at this Gentile ruler and then turned to the religious, but loveless Jews around him and said,
"I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth" Matthew 8:11-12.
I imagine the mouths of the Jews hit the floor as they listened to Jesus say that people from outside of Israel would be with their ancestors while they themselves, the “true" heirs, would be thrown outside the banquet and into a place of suffering.

2,000 years later, in the month of December 2017, a Congolese man, a Cameroonian woman, and an American woman sat together and talked for hours about this passage, reveling in the fact that they were the fulfillment of it. They were the Gentiles who were from the “east” and “west” who belonged with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the banquet halls of Heaven, all because of Jesus. 
To read the rest, click HERE.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Finals Done: Tired, Enriched and Thrilled out of my Mind

by Stacey

We just finished up another whirlwind round of classes. The last two months have been filled with late nights, neglected emails, and hours spent pouring over Bakoum folktales and the Word of God. The Lord has once again proved faithful to help us wade through technical linguistic information, figuring out how to exegete the passage about Melchizedek and how to deal with squabbling second graders. The Lord’s faithfulness, plus all the incredible things we learned this semester causes the excitement to overshadow the fatigue. Here are a couple highlights:

Exploiting the Polygamous "god" for the Glory of Jesus

Dave and I took a class called Discourse Analysis where we were told to take a step back from the minutiae to look at the bigger picture of the language. We looked at texts as a whole to see how they were put together. This is where we learned to distinguish between starting the Bible with "And so it was that…" vs "One upon a time…" As you can see the former formula implies that the story is true whereas the later implies that it is false. These types of formulas are important to get right.

We also learned how languages cite speech acts. Some use direct quotation (Jesus said, “I am the way”), some use indirect (Jesus said that he was the way), and some a combination of the two. If the translator does not get this right, he could end up saying he is the “way the truth and the life” instead of Jesus (true story folks!).

Also, some languages use a lot of connectors to ground their arguments (“Since therefore you have been raised with Christ…”) whereas others use the order of the propositions without connectors (i.e. if Proposition A occurs first, it is the grounds for Proposition B which comes second).

During the course of this class Dave and I meditated on a Bakoum text called "God and his wives" day-and-night for the purposes of understanding the language. We broke it into sections, compared and contrasted every verb tense, along with every connector (thus, since, and, but) and every exchange (he said, she said).

This past Saturday I spent the day looking at how the language uses pronouns (he, she, it, etc). If someone were to come up to you and ask “How do pronouns function in English?” you would probably look at them blankly. It is the same with the Bakoum. They can tell us the word for “foot” when we point to it, but they are simply not psychologically aware of things like how pronouns function in discourse. It is just like how we might not understand all the functions of our liver even though it is an integral part of our daily existence.

So, Dave and I were the “doctors,” so to speak, who looked at the function of pronouns in Bakoum. After weeks of staring at the language and doing research, we have a pretty good idea of how they work. The way they do pronouns is very different than how we do the in English. Now, when we translate the Bible, it will sound Bakoum. After years of being confused in conversation with our friends, we feel like we will start to understand. We are thrilled!

During the late nights of analyzing the Bakoum story "God and his wives," I would often ask myself what good I was doing meditating on the story of a polygamous ‘god’ with a giant son of his twelfth wife referred to as ‘Pombo’. But now I know why: I was meditating on it so that I could exploit this polygamous god for the structure of the language in order to translate the story of the true God. This ‘god’ was showing me how the pronoun system worked so that it will (one day soon) be a vehicle by which the true Jesus will be preached.

Like Paul says, the ‘foolish’ ways of God (like using a story about a false god to help Christians understand a language) are wiser than our greatest missions' strategies. “For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men” 1 Corinthians 1:25.

The Power of the Word of God

We also took another class called The Theory and Practice of Translation where we learned how to translate the Bible from A-Z. Throughout seminary and linguistics school we have learned the Greek, the Hebrew, how to write down an oral language, tone, and so on…all for this one class. It was the pinnacle of about 10 years of preparation and it did not disappoint.

Through this class, we had to translate a passage of Scripture (Matthew 8:5-13) into a foreign language that we spoke. Its funny because I’ve been in church my whole life, through Bible college and seminary, but when I was asked to translate it into a foreign language that I realized I did not understand the passage. Its like how you think you understand a theological idea or biblical truth until your kids ask you a question about it and then you realize that if you cannot articulate what you know to a little child, you really do not know it as well as you thought you did.

For this translation project, I met with three different Christian Africans (two Cameroonians and one gentleman from the Congo). It was a lot of hard work, but I think our little translation team was edified and sharpened. At one point, in response to Jesus praising the faith of a Gentile in the Scripture, one of the ladies said, “All we need is faith! This man was not part of God’s chosen Jews and yet he believed and Jesus accepted him. This is all it takes to enter into the Kingdom of God!” The power of the Word of God grew her and my own understanding of what grace it is that God accepts people for any tribe, tongue, and nation not because our heritage, but because of our faith in Christ.

Also, for this class, my kids helped a classmate with her translation project where they spent hours discussing exegesis and translation principles with her. Kaden would come back from the library at about 9:30 at night, after working for a couple hours more wired and excited than after coming home from a party with his friends. The joy of being in the Word on such a technical level is a joy that all of us have tasted of this semester.

Through it all I kept thinking that this life’s work is far more of a privilege and honor than it is a sacrifice. I get to spend 20 hours seeking to understand one portion of one verse and then I get to communicate what I know to my Bakoum friends, showing them maps and pictures, so that they can help communicate truths into their language. There is nothing I would rather be doing.

Looking Forward

Many courses at our school (GIAL) are taught by people who have spent the better portion of their lives on the field doing Bible translation and literacy. They say things like, “When people become believers…” They can say this because they have seen the power of the Word of God among unreached peoples. Their confidence in this power is contagious and makes me that much more excited to see Jesus be glorified among the Bakoum people.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

The Loss of a Friend: A Tribute to Simon

by Stacey

A few years ago, as we were having our house built in our village, I noticed an older gentleman peeking at us through the tall grass that was behind his house. My immediate thought was, “What does he think of us?” and after spending the next few years getting to know this man, I am sure he was thinking the same thing: “What do they think of me?” Both of us did not know what to expect from the other, but I am sure that both of us did not expect friendship.

This man (Simon) was an unexpected blessing from the Lord. He lived in front of us and did not speak a word of English and only a few words of French. While I am sure he was fluent in Bakoum, he was a bit hard to understand because he was missing teeth. Simon was different than the rest of the people in our village. He was calm, stayed out of fights, and minded his own business. He was a breath of fresh air.

Every morning, when I would go on a jog, I spent a few minutes talking to him on my way home. He usually had a couple coals going and was roasting a potato-like-root for his breakfast. Sometimes he would be sharpening his machete in order to use it in the fields that day. Simon would head off to tend his fields in the bush and I would head off to start my studies for the day.

Then, in the evenings, when I would go out to talk to my neighbors, I would always sit and talk to Simon. He would often talk about how proud he was of the latrine he was digging. I noticed that after his project was complete, he had nailed up some wood around the latrine and padlocked the door shut. Dave and I would giggle to ourselves at night wondering who would break into someone’s latrine. He was so proud of this latrine that we had our kids come over to look at it and compliment him on his hard work. He smiled so proud. When we weren’t talking about his latrine, we would just sit and watch the dog chase the chickens and laugh.

Our relationship continued to grow with Simon. We would send one of our kids with some “American” food for him to try in the evenings and in return he would hike out to his field and bring us back delicious pineapples. One night, he got all dressed up and came over to our house to tell us stories in Bakoum. We had no idea what he was saying (no teeth), but we made some popcorn and I think he had a great time.

Simon was poor and alone. He lived by himself in a very dark house with a mud floor and never had family around. Often, as I would pass his house on my way to go jogging I would pray that the Lord would move him from a life of dirt and mud up to streets of gold. I don’t think he even knew what gold was.

Simon would come to our church, but I was never sure how much he understood because it was conducted almost exclusively in French. Dave and I lent him an audio recorder for him to listen to the French Bible and we would often pass him while he was listening to it. He claimed to believe in God, but I am not sure if he understood the Gospel. My language, unfortunately, was too limited to be able to share the Gospel with him.

Simon was older and a few weeks ago, he became ill. Instead of our village rallying around him in his suffering, they said that he was sick because he went into someone else’s field and was therefore cursed. They wanted to do some type of religious ritual to cleanse him of this transgression, but he did not want to. Our friend and pastor, Boris, was by his side and told us that Simon was trusting in the Lord. However, due to Simon's limited French, it is hard to say how much he really understood about Jesus. Even though we sent money for him to be cared for at a local clinic, we got word this morning that Simon had died.

I don’t know if Simon passed from death to life this morning or if he passed from death to eternal death. My prayer for him these last few weeks has been that the Lord would grant him understanding of the Gospel, even if it was only spoken to him in French. I would pray that the Lord would surround Simon, in his tiny, dark house with angels that would take him up to Heaven. I don’t know where Simon is now, but I trust the Lord in whatever decision he made regarding his soul.

What Now?
Dave and I have always said that our ministry of Bible translation is for the next generation. We have always known that the 60-70 year old people would likely not hear the Word of God in their language. Like my Dad has told me, the Word of God will come “in the fullness of time” to the Bakoum people. I know that is true and yet, I want the older generation to hear the Gospel too (as does my Dad). I am persuaded more and more that we need to teach the Bible as we go so that the grandpas and grandmas will have the opportunity to repent and believe before they die. May God give us grace, energy and the ability to teach and may he provide us with more co-workers who can teach men, women, and children the Word as it is being translated. And may there be no more Bakoum people who face God as judge without first being given the opportunity to hear the Gospel in their own language.

May God be their Refuge, Psalm 91
May God be the refuge and fortress of the Bakoum. May he deliver them from traps and deadly pestilence. May the Bakoum find refuge in God and may the faithfulness of God be a protector to them. May they no longer fear the terror of the night nor any threat that is present during the day, nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness. May no terrorists, no bandits, no riots come near them but may they only look at the judgment of the wicked.

May the Lord be the dwelling place of the Bakoum and may evil not be allowed to touch them. May the Lord command his angels concerning the Bakoum to guard them in all their ways. May they be handled with such gentleness that they don’t even let them strike their feet against rocks. May they tread on the lion and on the puff adders and may they trample every kind of serpent.

May they hold fast to Jesus in love and may Jesus deliver them. May they call out to Jesus and may he answer them. May he be with them in trouble and may he rescue and honor them. May they be given long life and be shown eternal salvation.


Tuesday, November 28, 2017

3 Reasons I Am Thankful for Support Raising

by Dave

Forever and always people have avoided going into missions because they have to raise support. Just recently I saw a thread where men with PhDs in biblical studies were lamenting the lack of employment opportunities in American Bible schools and seminaries. Someone commented on the thread saying, "There are plenty of opportunities overseas." One of the few responses to this was (paraphrased), "Yeah, but then you will have to be raising support for your entire life!"

I understand the hesitancy to raise support. Stacey and I drove all around the country in 2011 speaking to churches, friends, and (at times) total strangers. We did a Talent Show, Bake Sale, Silent Auction, and at one point sat in front of a Lifeway Christian Bookstore for a day trying to raise money. That last one was the most awkward day of my life (and I was a quite awkward middle schooler, so that is saying a lot). Basically most people did their best not to make eye contact and we only raised $40 (take note future support-raisers, don't sit out in front of Lifeway, it doesn't work).

That said, our ministry is now fully supported (at last count) by five churches, and 112 individuals/families that give on a monthly basis (not to mention the various one-time gifts we receive). Our family has been exclusively living and ministering on the support of these churches and individuals since 2012. In that time we have lost the monthly support of three churches and a number of individuals and families. I have had more awkward conversations in that time. I still would not say that I like talking to people about money, but I am more comfortable with it. And over this Thanksgiving holiday I reflected on the fact that I have many things to be thankful for, and one of them is support raising.

So, here are three reasons that I am thankful for support raising:

1. It Blesses Us
This is probably the most obvious, but perhaps not in the way you are thinking. Sure, we receive a financial benefit from this situation. And we are so thankful for that. But we have found that we receive so much more. It turns out, when you are investing money into a ministry you think about the ministry more. I think this is the outworking of the principle: "where your treasure is, there your heart is there also" (Matthew 6:21). When you think about a ministry more, you tend to pray more. And we receive the benefits of not only financial support, but prayers. And even more than that, we receive the benefit of fellowship. I have heard of missionaries who have gone to the field and have essentially been forgotten. And while I know that can happen even when you have done support raising, that has not been my experience. I receive emails, comments on our blogs, care packages, and even letters often enough to know that we are not forgotten.

As a side point, we also receive through this the blessing of accountability. We are not lone rangers out doing whatever is right in our own eyes. We have a host of supporters that care not only about our ministry, but about our theology and methodology. We have sharpening conversations, we have people to turn to when we do not know what to do. We are well supported, held accountable, and so blessed.

2. It Blesses the Bakoum
This is probably also obvious, but good to think about. While the problems that the Bakoum have cannot only be resolved with resources, they cannot be resolved without resources. Let me explain what I mean by that. Many of the problems that the Bakoum have are deeply spiritual. When we had a young boy with a compound fracture in his leg, we were willing to give of our own resources to see the boy taken to a hospital for surgery. The people rejected this offer not because of a lack of resources, but because they trusted in the power of the village magic. The root of their problems is not merely a lack of resources. The real issue is that they need Jesus.

However, the vast majority of the Bakoum do not know him. And we know that everyone who calls upon Jesus will be saved. But they cannot call upon him if they do not believe. And they cannot believe unless they have heard. They cannot hear unless someone is preaching. And we cannot preach unless we are sent out and supported (Romans 10:13-15). Further, when Jesus told us to go to the nations, he said "teach them to observe all that I have commanded you" (Matthew 18:19). In order for this to happen, they don't just need preachers. They need the words of Christ in a language they can understand. Then, they need to learn how to read. They also need leaders that are trained in exegesis. None of these things are going to happen without resources. Your giving supports us, so that we can support them, so that they can know Jesus, so that they can find the solution to their deepest problems.

Your giving also serves as an example to the fledgling Bakoum church which needs to consider their own role in supporting ministry. I tell them about you, about your faithfulness to give every month and I encourage them to think about how they are using their resources to further God's kingdom in Cameroon and abroad

3. It Blesses You Most of All
Were you expecting this one? I have been convinced more and more throughout the years that when Christians support ministry it blesses them most of all. How can I say that? Well, the idea comes from something Jesus said, "It is more blessed to give than to receive" (Acts 20:35). Jesus did not just say that those who give are blessed, he says they are more blessed. Another verse to this point is Proverbs 11:25, "Whoever brings blessing will be enriched, and one who waters will himself be watered."

There are many awesome examples of generosity that I find as further affirmation of these principles. One such example is the best selling Christian author Randy Alcorn. Alcorn gives away all of the royalties from his books and is able to support many different ministries. He wrote a blog entitled "Why I Love Not Receiving a Cent of the Royalties from My Books." In this blog he writes:
I don’t go to bed at night feeling I’ve “sacrificed” that money, wishing somehow I could get my hands on it. I go to bed feeling joy, because there’s nothing like giving. For me, it is like the joy of leading someone to Christ. 
I love the fact that our ministry is supported by churches and Christians all around the world. Though certainly not as much as Alcorn, I know the blessing of contributing to ministries that further the Kingdom of God. There is a joy that our supporters know which cannot be experienced apart from giving. And I am thrilled that we are able to provide them with an opportunity for greater joy.

So this holiday season, I am choosing to be thankful for support raising. I pray that this will be a helpful corrective for those who consider such a way of life unthinkable. It is hard, it is humbling, it is awkward. But at the end of the day, I believe many people are more blessed because of it. And the truth is, awkwardness is a small price to pay for such blessing.


If you are looking for an opportunity to support missions, I would ask that you prayerfully consider supporting the ministry of Richie and Tabitha Rice. You can watch their video below, talking about their journey to Cameroon. They are currently raising support to be sent out from the US to work alongside us in Cameroon.

For many years, when people have asked us for our greatest need, we have responded that it is co-workers. The Rice family is one of the clearest answers to those prayers. They are members of our main sending church, faithful and diligent workers, and eager to be used in Cameroon. I commend the Rice family to you as those who would use your support to further God's Kingdom.

If you are interested in learning more, you can sign up for their newsletter: or check out their new blog:

Further, they are currently looking for financial partners. If you would like to support them in this way, go to Under the column for "Worker" you can put their names: Richie and Tabitha Rice. Then, enter an amount and click 'Give'. You will then be prompted as to whether you would like to give monthly, or one-time.

And please pray for them. This is an exciting time, but it is also full of challenges. The Lord is faithful.

"The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest." -Jesus

Monday, November 20, 2017

The Crucial Role of Single Women in Missions

By Stacey
Gladys Aylward, Single Missionary to China

Fifteen years ago, at The Master’s University in Southern California, the Lord used a return missionary to challenge me to devote my life to the mission field. I feel indebted to this man and indebted to this institution for putting people like him in front of me to expose me to a world of lostness that I knew nothing about.

Fifteen years later, someone from this same university asked Dave and I to stand in front of the student body and tell them about this same lostness that I had learned about while there. It was their Global Outreach Week and they brought us in to talk about Bible translation. After speaking 6 times and spending time with the student body, Dave and I were on a plane headed back to Dallas. When I asked him what he thought, he said that it was evident that the Lord had us at Master's…for the women.

Dave was right. A couple of men on the campus voiced interested in overseas ministry, but the response from the women was overwhelming. It was the women who asked to meet with me individually to talk about what concrete steps they could take to get to the field. In one conversation, a godly, single young lady asked me about how she, as a woman, could be used on the field. I tried to explain to her that the work of single women on the field was not an accessory to "real" mission work, but instead was vital to spreading the Gospel overseas. 

The crucial role of women
I am currently working towards a Masters degree in Bible translation and, out of the required textbooks for my current classes, half of them were written by women. The content of these texts is dealing with heavy exegetical translation issues, and it is the women who are making major contributions to the field through their writings. In the same way, I just finished an annotated bibliography this weekend where I read multiple theses about literacy work that has been done in Cameroon. Seven out of ten of these works were written by women. And what was striking was that woman after woman gave praise and glory to God for in their dedications. It is the same on the field. Women serve as Bible translators, exegetical consultants, linguistic consultants, doctors, nurses, children’s ministry workers, evangelists, teachers and literacy workers. They saturate the field in every domain.

The founder of Wycliffe Bible Translations, Cameron Townsend, advocated for women to be sent out as Bible translators. There was much controversy surrounding his decision to send out Loretta Anderson and Doris Cox to headhunting tribes of the Peruvian jungle. The chief of the Shapras tribe was known to have killed his predecessor in order to take his position as chief. And it was this very man who started helping these two ladies learn his language. After working with the women for a couple years, he became a believer and repented of his witchcraft and murder. Then, years later he confessed to Townsend,
“If you had sent men, we would have killed them on sight. Or if a couple, I’d have killed the man and taken the woman for myself. But what could a great chief do with two harmless girls who insisted on calling him brother?”* 
In some instances it is actually more advantageous to be a woman in kingdom work.

Be defined by what you can do, not by what you can’t
When we look in Scripture, we see many commands being given to both men and women alike, and only a few prohibitions given to women. As far as prohibitions, women are not to have authority over a man in the context of her marriage and in the context of her local church. And that is pretty much it.

On the other hand, women are called to go out into all the world and make disciples (Matt 28:18-20). They are called to abound in the work of the Lord (1 Cor 15:58), to devote themselves to do good works and to not be unfruitful (Titus 3:14) to cry out with the Psalmist that all the nations worship the one true God (Psalm 67). There is much work for a woman to do.

To restrict a woman from carrying out Gospel work overseas or for a woman to restrict herself unnecessarily would be costly and even ‘stupid’(as Fredrick Franson, the founder of TEAM, so bluntly stated). He explains,
There are, so to speak, many people in the water about to drown. A few men are trying to save them, and that is considered well and good. But look, over there are few women have untied a boat also to be of help in the rescue, and immediately a few men cry out; standing there idly looking on and therefore having plenty of time to cry out: “No, no, women must not help, rather let the people drown.” What stupidity! 
Historically and still today, single women are refusing to let the people drown, but instead they are going out as sheep among wolves to dangerous places and sharing the Gospel.

But there is still so much more work to be done and more need to go out.

Let’s get it done ladies
Only 9.4% of the world’s languages have a complete Bible in their language and there are tribes and nations who are still untouched by the Gospel. There are women cutting their sick babies with razor blades due to lack of medical knowledge and allegiance to their, often dark, tribal traditions.

And in many of these cultures, women do not have a voice. In some, women are considered lesser than men and ignorant. And yet, God, in his wisdom may choose to save even more headhunting chiefs through the testimony of a few stumbling women missionaries who are trying to tell him about Jesus. In the eyes of the world, this is foolishness. But in the eyes of God, this is his plan to take what is low and despised in the world to shame the strong. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 1:27-29:
But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.
Single women face unique challenges living overseas and yet, God has and will continue to use them to shame the strong and bring his kingdom to the ends of the earth. Let's not be shy ladies, let's get it done.

* Quote taken from From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya, p 378. 
** Quote taken from From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya, p 341.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

The Unfortunate Consequences of Short-Sighted Bible Translation

by Dave

I just had the amazing opportunity to attend the 9th Biennial Bible Translation Conference put on by GIAL and SIL International. The theme this year was "Tradition and Innovation in Bible Translation." It was a fantastic time of remembering those who have gone before us, and thinking about what is to come. I heard lectures on Luther's translation principles, historical surveys of people groups in Africa that have now had the Scripture for a number of years, as well as several presentations about how technology is changing the Bible translation landscape.

The opening lecture was given by Dr. Margaret Muthwii (pictured second from the left), the Vice Chancellor of Pan Africa Christian University. She is remarkably experienced in the translation world having served as a Translation Consultant, Translation Coordinator, and a Global Translation Advisor. She was very well received having experience in translation and linguistics. There were two statements that she made in her presentation that both surprised and impacted me:

1) "Many people groups are asking for new translations."

According to Dr. Muthwii, the overarching methodology for Bible translation since the 1970's has been what is called "dynamic equivalence" or, more recently, "functional equivalence." In this theory, one is seeking to translate the meaning of phrases or whole sentences, rather than the individual words. This is contrasted to the view often called "formal equivalence" which is usually understood as providing a more "literal" translation.

I heard in numerous breakout sessions that national translators who were able to read English were given two English translations to look at: 1) a more "literal" translation like the ESV or NASB, and then 2) the Good News Translation (GNT). The more "literal" version was said to give them more insight into the forms from the original languages, but they were called upon to translate like the GNT.

Dr. Muthwii emphasized that some of the communities receiving these "functional equivalence" translations are now requesting more "formal equivalence" type Bibles. They are comparing their translations to English translations and believing that shortcuts have been taken. Specifically, she mentioned that these Christians were seeing passages where there is some ambiguity in the text in the English version, but the ambiguity had been removed for their mother-tongue translation.

This ambiguity might be, for example, a passage like Luke 11:42 where Jesus accuses the Pharisees of neglecting justice and "the love of God." In Greek (and in some English translations) this phrase "love of God" could refer to either: 1) God's love, or 2) the love that one (should) have for God. The GNT flattens this by saying that the Pharisees neglect "love for God." Translations like the ESV have specifically chosen to say "love of God" so as to allow the reader/teacher to determine the correct interpretation based on their study. The Christians that Dr. Muthwii was referring to wanted the liberty to study themselves, in their churches, which interpretation was best, rather than having those decisions made for them by the translation team.

2) "Pastors and community leaders need training too."

A second encouragement from Dr. Muthwii was to teach the pastors and the community leaders about Bible translation as well. She has found that such leaders have questions (often very insightful questions) about the translation process. Engaging them and training them is a key to promoting the use of the translations. And it is also key in ensuring better quality teaching when the translations are made available to these leaders. This would include training in: translation methods, hermeneutics, biblical interpretation, and even biblical languages.

The claim that the community must be involved in the project is one that I heard numerous times at this conference. And Dr. Muthwii made it clear that the most important aspect of community involvement (as well as national translator involvement) is training. The training that she referred to was not just for the purpose of translation, but so that the Bible can be rightly used and rightly taught.

I believe that Dr. Muthwii is seeing two symptoms of a major flaw in much of what is being done in the Bible translation world. Specifically, I believe that the responses of these communities reflect a short-sighted view of Bible translation.

The short-sighted view of Bible translation: Evangelism

In another session, regarding the issue of ambiguity, Ben Kuwitzky mentioned that the intended purpose of a translation affects the way that you translate. He indicated that when we translate for the purpose of evangelism, we often flatten the text, removing any potential ambiguities. However, he warned that often these translations become the Bible of the church. As such, they are now being used not only for evangelism, but also for discipleship.

It seems to me that many modern Bible translations have been done with the short-sighted goal of evangelism. The intended audience has been the unbeliever who knows nothing of the Bible, nor has anyone to teach them. In this we have produced what amounts to children’s Bibles which have served well to cater to the newly literate, unbelieving, non-Christian communities. In many of these places we have seen people come to faith, where there were no Christians before. These Bibles have served the spiritually immature, as they came to their first understanding of who God is.

But these spiritual infants have grown up (or are in the process of maturing right now). Some of these translations have now been around for longer than I have been alive. Children in these communities are growing up literate, going to college, and are able to compare the Bible in their mother-tongue with those translations in other languages. And this is leaving them wanting more, not unlike a Christian adult who only has a children’s Bible. So, how would we translate differently if we took a long view?

The long view of Bible translation: Discipleship

To explain the long view of Bible translation, I will discuss two goals that I hope to put into practice:

"Mature" Translations

I have only been working as a missionary for about five years, and I am not sure if I am allowed to coin new terms. However, I believe that the Bible translation community needs to be producing “mature translations.” That is, translations that are aimed not for evangelism, but for discipleship. As I have studied translation methodology I have found the term “literal” to be unhelpful. That is because it is hard to know what people mean. Even in Young’s Literal Translation, the word order is different than the Hebrew (which is often Verb first, then Subject, then Object). The ESV claims to be “essentially literal” and “as literal as possible.” But even the ESV uses the word “heart” in English when translating the Hebrew word meeh ‘belly' (see Psalm 40:8).

Instead of saying “literal” I say let’s strive for “mature.” Let’s strive to produce translations that are aimed at discipleship. When Jesus gave us our Great Commission he said,
Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age (Matthew 28:19-20).
He did not say, "Go, evangelize the nations" or even "Go, translate the Bible." Evangelism and Bible translation are vital, but they are not the end goal. The end goal is disciples. I think that if we strive for "mature" translations, there is still freedom for the translators to explore different theories of translation. But, the goal makes it clear that we are not seeking to "flatten" the Bible, or to make difficult passages easy. Instead, we are trying to produce natural translations aimed at the discipleship of Christians.

Now, you might be thinking, "But Dave, if we translate for Christians (and not for unbelievers) the people will not be able to just pick up the Bible and understand it." And that brings us to the second aspect of the long view of Bible translation:

Mature Churches

Practically speaking, when we look at how the disciples fleshed out the Great Commission, it was in planting and strengthening churches. The vast majority of the Bible was not written with individual readers in mind. It was written to be read, interpreted, and taught in community. This should be of no surprise to us, being that when Jesus gave us the Great Commission, he included the words: "teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you." Teaching has always been a part of the Great Commission, and not just the teaching of the Gospel. We are to go out and make disciples, teaching them all that Christ commanded.

If our goal is not Bible translation, but strong churches, we will make different decisions. In fact, Wayne Dye (who has worked for over 30 years to encourage Scripture use) said in another lecture: "Sometimes teaching the Bible is more important than translating the Bible." We need Bible translators that are committed to the long haul. Translators that are willing to stop translation at times when there is a need for teaching. Translators that work hand-in-hand with local churches and teach pastors how to interpret the Scriptures. We need translators that are willing to ask the question: "What is best for the church?"

Philip Noss wrote, “perhaps because we have been oriented toward the task of translating, and of training people to translate, we have paid little attention to what follows translation" (Noss 2002: 331). This is the heart of short-sighted Bible translation. We need to be translating not just for the salvation of others, but for their discipleship. We need to be training up leaders that have access to God's Word in their mother-tongue and know how to properly study it and interpret it. Bible translation is not our goal, it is only one of the steps to get there.

It would be good to remember that the God of the Bible ordained that there would be evangelists and teachers in his church. Translation of the Scriptures is not the only thing needed for adequate communication of the gospel: God has equally mandated the training and deployment of evangelists and pastor/teachers. Failure to account for this aspect of our task may unwittingly encourage a 'translation' that is to some degree a perceived replacement of human agents (Carson 1985: 213).
This quote and more are available in the presentation by Kyle Davis which was delivered at the BT Conference dealing with the reformers and their translation committees. The PowerPoint for his presentation can be accessed HERE.



Carson, D.A. "The limits of dynamic equivalence in Bible translation." ERT 9 (1985), 213.

Davis, Kyle. "Reformation Translating."

Noss, Philip A. “Translators’ Words and Theological Readings,” TBT 53, no. 3 (July 2002): 331.

*Image of Dr. Margaret Muthwii from: