Holding multilingual church services

September 23rd, 2014 by Ruth

Increasingly in the UK, multi-ethinic churches are faced with a dilemma.  Should everything be done in English, or should prayers and songs in another language be incorporated?  It’s a challenge faced the world over, and we in the UK have much to learn from those who have wrestled with this very issue for years.

Ghana is a country with over 60 languages, and these languages are not expressed in well-defined, discrete areas of the country.  Language communities overlap, people groups intermingle, and there is significant cultural and linguistic diversity in many churches.  Ed Lauber, working with partner organisation GILBT* shares some ways the church in Ghana has embraced this challenge.

Singing hymns in two Ghanaian languages as the same time. This was at a business meeting conducted in English.

Figuring out how to be one, unified church while making sure that everyone hears the message in a language they fully understand is a challenge. There are many approaches, such as having more than one service each in a different language, then once a month having a unified service in a regional or national language. Some churches conduct services in two languages. But translating everything is time consuming plus it is difficult for listeners to stay focused when every other sentence is in a language they don’t understand. Others have church services in a regional or national language, and home Bible studies in local languages. There are no easy answers. But some ignore the issue altogether and do everything in a regional or official language. But that leaves those most disadvantaged in that language to fend for themselves. It is hard to imagine how a person can become a thriving Christian while understanding only a fraction of the Bible and the teaching and preaching in church. (Read whole post here)

English speakers have the hardest challenge of all.  As the speakers of a dominant world language, it is almost impossible for us to imagine what it’s like to be a minority language speaker, where we are not widely understood.  Let’s not ignore the issue.

The Bible paints a picture of unity and diversity, of God reaching out to great and small, bringing us together as one Body.  The Good Shepherd leaves the 99 for the one lost sheep, and Revelation describes this:

After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no-one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb… they cried out in a loud voice: “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.” Revelation 7.9-10

That great shout will be in thousands of languages! What will the overhead projector look like for that worship service?  Somehow I don’t think we’ll be needing words on a screen, and it’s just as well!
Nevertheless, the Wycliffe website has some helpful suggestions for churches here: Support Non-English Speakers.

* the Ghana Institute of Linguistics, Literacy and Bible Translation (GILLBT)

The Next Step: 31 October – 2 November

September 22nd, 2014 by Ruth

At the end of October Wycliffe offers a fantastic opportunity to spend some quality time with others considering your next steps in God’s mission.  ‘Where could I fit?’  ‘What might God be leading me to next?’

TThe Next Stephe Next Step is a residential weekend designed for people who are interested in being part of God’s mission by making the Bible available in everyone’s heart language, but don’t know how they could be involved. We explore both language related options for service and non-language support roles at home and overseas. Such roles might include IT support, teaching opportunities or project management roles as well as joining the team that is part of the Bible translation movement through literacy, language survey, Scripture impact and linguistics.

We also explore in some depth what is needed to make Bible translations clear, natural, accurate and acceptable to local language communities.

A previous participant says,

“I can’t tell you how important the weekend has been to me, and how it gave an impulse in finding out what our God has in mind for me and my wife and sons.”

Book now! www.wycliffe.org.uk/thenextstep

If this isn’t the right thing for you right  now, why not share it with someone who would find it challenging and helpful?

Streams of water in an arid land

September 19th, 2014 by Jo Johnson

The far north of Kenya, near the border with Ethiopia is the homeland of the Daasanach people. They live in a dry and arid part of the world, remote and difficult to reach. Yet they are not beyond the reach of the love of God; on 20th September 2014 the Daasanach New Testament will be launched.

Janet Sweet (Typesetter) with the New Testament in Daasanach

Janet Sweet (typesetter) with the New Testament in Daasanach

The celebration will be held in Ileret, which is a challenging place to get to. At some points the roads become ‘suggestions’. Using public transport, it can take between three days and a week to make the journey between Ileret and Nairobi! That’s why Bible Translation and Literacy* (BTL) is chartering planes and sturdy vehicles from other mission agencies to allow 100 guests to travel from Nairobi. Another 100 plan to travel down from Ethiopia and about 600 locals are expected to attend too.

The team chose the unusual combination of blue page edging and a sandy brown cover for the New Testaments to represent precious streams of life-giving water in the arid landscape of northern Kenya. Please join us in praying that God’s living water will transform many lives.

  • Praise God that the lorry carrying the New Testaments and some supplies for the celebration has arrived at Ileret despite encountering some problems en route.
  • Praise God that even those who live in isolated places are not isolated from God’s love. Pray that many will encounter his love through the newly launched New Testament.
  • Pray for all the final preparations for the celebration. Due to the remote location it may be challenging to have everything ready on time.
  • Those who will be flying there on the day will fly from Nairobi. Please pray the transport logistics will run smoothly so that that guests can get there and back within permitted flying hours.  Pilots’ flying hours are restricted for safety reasons.

*Bible Translation and Literacy is the national bible translation organisation in Kenya.

Find out more about the Daasanach project.

Find out how to pray for communities with the New Testament by downloading our free prayer pack.

Laying strong foundations

September 17th, 2014 by Ruth

The Ukarumpa Training Center hosted 43 workshops and courses last year, resourcing the growing Bible translation work in Papua New Guinea.  They are on target for the same this year.  As the foundations of a new training building was laid, Principal Max Sahl encouraged people, “Remember: this is the Lord’s doing and not our own. We don’t ever want to think we are the ones doing this work.”

Carrying a passage of Scripture written in her own heart language, Abu Daniels approached the rectangular foundation of the building being constructed at the Ukarumpa Training Center. She joined other teachers, students and community members in dedicating the new structure to God…

Dr. Neil Coulter, Director for Language Services, shared from I Corinthians 3:10 about building a foundation. He emphasized that in erecting this physical building, the important thing is that it be used of God to build a spiritual foundation in people’s lives. He explained, “It is our hope that when students leave here they will be stronger in their faith and understand more clearly their relationship with God.”

Scripture verse laid in the foundation

As the sun rose over the mountains, men and women stepped forward one by one to lay their heart-language scripture in the foundation. Later the construction team would pour cement over the verses, making them a permanent part of the building. In doing this, they demonstrated that they were building on the firm foundation of the Word of God, for the purpose of training people to translate that Word into the mother tongue languages of Papua New Guinea.

Mrs. Daniels, an elementary school teacher, speaks the Yom Kawac dialect of the Bukawa language. Remembering her children at home, she said, “My language area is in the heart of Lae City, but they go to schools that teach in the vernacular. I want my children to grow up knowing their language.” Reflecting the feelings of most people present that morning, she concluded, “This was a very meaningful event. I am glad my language is written in the foundation of this building.”

Read more on this story on the PNG Experience blog, and PILAT, the Pacific Institute of Languages, Arts  and Translation, based at the Ukarumpa Training Center.

Laying the foundation for the new training block















Favourite verses around the world

September 15th, 2014 by Ruth

The GMI Missiographics team share another eye-opening infographic with us, this time exploring how people around the world are searching the Bible, based on stats from BibleGateway.com.

Global Bible Searches - What Are They Searching For?

Global Bible Searches – What Are They Searching For?

There are some favourites of mine here, featuring across national borders, such as John 1, our introduction to Jesus, the Word of God.  There’s also the chapter about Love in 1 Corinthians 13, and the famous ‘song for the sheep’ in Psalm 23.

But Missiographics leave us some challenging questions about this snapshot. For example,

‘In Pakistan and Nigeria, all of the top 5 searches are from the Old Testament.’

‘If many searches in your country of interest are Old Testament searches, how are you weaving the Old Testament into your presentation of the gospel?’

Of all the languages in the world, only 513 have the entire Bible.  Most languages, if they have any Scripture at all, have just the New Testament, or maybe some portions of the Old.

We recently wrote about Nigeria, which has the largest need for Bible translation in Africa, with a total of 520 languages, 250 of which have no known Scripture.

So when starting a new translation project, where would you start? Would you start by translating John 3:16, because it’s your favourite verse?

Often, rural communities relate strongly to Old Testament stories rooted in pastoral culture, so it might make sense to start translating portions of the Old Testament, rather than diving straight into the New Testament gospels.  Who gets to decide?  The stats here seem to show there’s a hunger in Nigeria for the Psalms!

Decisions like these are not simple to make, and are part of a process of the language community working together with national translators and ex-pat colleagues to set project priorities.  Some books are easier to translate linguistically, like Jonah.  Some are really hard because of complex themes or ‘key terms’ used, like ‘redemption’ or ‘sin’.

But the challenge remains.  If there is no Scripture at all in the language you understand best, would you have a favourite Bible verse at all?

  • The Life of a Language Project explains some of the stages a in project, even before the first word is translated.
  • You can be involved in ensuring that those without any Scripture can have a favourite verse of their own.

Prayer is the most powerful weapon

September 12th, 2014 by Jo Johnson

Sometimes the opposition translation projects face is very obvious and at others it is much more subtle. Those working on the Bassar (also called Ntcham) Bible in Togo have faced both sorts in the last year. ‘The devil has been contesting this translation of God’s Word, but in all things God is sovereign, and His purpose cannot be thwarted.’

In ‘The heat is on: finishing the Bassar Bible‘  we told you of how God preserved the life of translator Samuel Kpagheri, the nearly finished Bible proof sheets and his laptop in a serious car accident in December 2013. Taxi roads DSC03265Shortly afterwards the Bible was sent for printing. But in June there was yet another setback when the team learned that, due to unforeseen circumstances, printing had not yet begun.

As a result, the launch that was scheduled for November had to be postponed until January 2015. However, word came at the beginning of September that the printing has, indeed, begun. Praise God that His purpose cannot be thwarted!.

Please pray:

  • that the printing of those Bibles to go well
  • for the safe shipping of the Bibles from Korea to Togo
  • for their smooth transit through customs
  • that they may arrive in good time for the dedication in January.

Not only has the project progressed but Samuel has moved on too. He has just about finished his first year of study for an MA in Bible Translation at the Africa International University in Kenya, a course which is partly residential, and partly done by following courses online.  He is training to be a translation consultant*, which will enable him to support translation in many languages.

As a member of Wycliffe Togo he faces a challenge as he now has to raise support for his ministry. Praise God that this has begun to happen. Samuel wrote: “We need not only financial support but also prayers from our partners. Prayer is the most powerful weapon God has given to his children.

Please pray that he will soon be fully supported.

* Translation Consultants work together with a team thoroughly going over the translation to check for accuracy, clarity and naturalness looking for omissions, extraneous thoughts and possible misconceptions.

Find out more about about translation work in Togo and  Wycliffe Togo. 

Wish you knew more about the Bible?

September 10th, 2014 by Ruth

A recent poll at BibleGateway.com shows that most of their users wish they knew more about the Bible.

Readers of the Bible Gateway Blog were asked “How do you describe your personal knowledge of the Bible?”, to which more than 2,000 responded. Of that number, a total of 59% agreed with, “Wish I knew more.”

Almost a third of responders (28%) said they are “comfortably knowledgeable,” nearly a tenth (9%) called themselves “a Bible scholar,” and 4% said, “About all I know are some of the names of the books, but not in order.” (read full post here)

Bible Society’s inflatable whale attraction

Add to this recent news from the Bible Society whose Pass It On campaign includes an inflatable whale attraction which shares the story of Jonah with the UK public.  General knowledge of key Bible stories, according to YouGov research, is even shakier.

‘Research conducted by YouGov for Bible Society showed that whilst half of all parents think it is important for their children to engage with the Bible; in practice 59 per cent of children didn’t know Jonah and the Whale was a Bible story. The research further revealed that 29 per cent of children couldn’t identify the Nativity as a Bible story.‘ (full article from Inspire)

Whilst we celebrate that the BibleGateway have just added audio translations in four more languages to their impressive selection of Bible versions available online, there still remain around 98 million people worldwide without any Scripture in their language, and a definite need for Bible translation to begin for them.

How much of the Bible do you think they know, without one?

  • Will you help them know more of the God of the Bible, by being a part of bringing the Bible to them for the very first time?
  • And for those of you who wish you knew more about the Bible, why not check out Wycliffe’s free downloadable small group resource, The Bible: Frequently Asked Questions?
  • Take a look at our presentation series Understanding the Scriptures on Slideshare, with experienced translators sharing their insights and examples from the world of Bible translation.

International Literacy Day

September 8th, 2014 by Ruth

For over 40 years now, UNESCO has been celebrating International Literacy Day, reminding the international community that literacy is a human right and the foundation of all learning.  This video from UNESCO South Sudan gives a profoundly touching insight into the struggles of a nation facing staggering illiteracy rates.

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The South Sudanese have suffered the deep disruption of war, resulting in closed or destroyed schools and a generation of children left illiterate in its wake.  Add to that the challenges of educating nomadic communities, constantly on the move in pursuit of grazing land. Yet there is no doubt that leaders in South Sudan see literacy as key to bringing peace and hope to their nation.

For the illiterate now – many of whom are ex-combatants – job opportunities are extremely limited.  As one man remarked of violence still prevalent within South Sudan,

‘A hungry man is an angry man.’

Yet teacher Jacob Oruru and many others like him believe literacy is the answer.

‘Literacy helps to reduce violence… because once you are literate, you know what is good and what is bad.’

All the more so when Scripture becomes available in the mother tongue, as Wycliffe and partner organisations work with local translators worldwide to develop minority languages, creating alphabets, dictionaries, health and educational materials.  Ultimately the New Testament or entire Bible becomes available in a way that communities can understand, and in a way that transforms hearts and minds.

This Jesus can speak our language!

September 6th, 2014 by Ruth

The story goes that, back in 1917, Wycliffe founder Cameron Townsend started out in his missionary career offering Spanish Bibles to locals in Guatemala.  A Cakchiquel man, finding material in Spanish incomprehensible, challenged him with, “If your God is so great, why can’t he speak my language?”

This heartbreaking question provoked a dramatic response. Townsend himself went on to translate the New Testament into that man’s language within 10 years.  And nearly 100 years later, following Townsend’s footsteps, God has raised up hundreds of individuals and partner organisations with one vision: to see God’s word translated into every remaining living language, so that this question would be forever answered.

In 2014 – 6,918 languages worldwide.  Only 513 languages with complete Bibles. 1,576 languages still remain with no known Scripture, representing around 98 million people.

Where translation work is underway, the exclamations abound.  People are hearing God speak their language for the first time.  Take this recent showing of The JESUS Film in the Mara area of Tanzania:


Jesus Film premier, Mara Region

Our SIL Kabwa and Zanaki translators translated the script for these films and were instrumental in finding the voice actors needed.  We are praising God for the tremendous response to the film premiers which took place in April.  To illustrate a little what the response was like, let me tell you what our office’s Partnership Officer, himself a Zanaki man, Pastor Willy Futakamba- reported after the Zanaki Jesus Film Premier. 70+ adults (children were at least another 70) came forward in response to the Gospel message given along with the film. The next day 3 men who had been at the film tracked Pastor Futakamba down at his home. “We now can see that this Jesus can speak our language.  We want to become Christians.  Please tell us where we should go and what we should do.” They were ready to completely leave their previous lives behind and were seeking out a Christian community for which they could join.  God has truly blessed these premiers.  Pray that He will continue to bless these films as they will be used in evangelism around the Kabwa and Zanaki communities. (source: TheTask.net)


” The greatest missionary is the Bible in the mother tongue. It never needs a furlough, and is never considered a foreigner.” Townsend, Cameron — Founder, Wycliffe Bible Translators 

You can help to give the story by praying, giving, going, or telling others.

Proclaiming the word of God

September 5th, 2014 by Jo Johnson

Sometimes translating the Bible is a long process. Take the Bakossi language of Cameroon, for example, the project first started in 1974. The running of the project was taken over by CABTAL*  during the  1990s and the Bible was finally launched in 2011, 37 years later. As the project progressed the Bakossi church was increasingly involved and after the launch, the Bakossi churches were handed the task of continuing literacy efforts and helping people learn how to use Scripture in their mother tongue.

Man listening to a proclaimer

Man listening to a proclaimer

However, one issue was that the Bakossi, like two-thirds of the world’s population, are oral learners. This means that even when they can read and write they often prefer to learn through oral means, and some will never learn to read and write. Our partners Faith Comes By Hearing stepped into the breach and produced an audio version of the Bible, which was recorded soon after the launch in 2011.

The next step was to put the recorded Scripture onto microchips which are installed in specially designed audio players called Proclaimers. Proclaimers are easy to use and have good enough sound quality to be heard by groups as large as 300 people. It’s little wonder they are popular, so popular in fact that there weren’t any immediately available for the Bakossi.

Paitence and perseverance were again rewarded when supervisors’ training took place in April this year and immediately 23 listening groups were set up with 1,000 people attending. This in turn has resulted in an increased demand for Bibles, as people want to read along to what they are listening to, all the while improving their literacy skill.  Praise God!

Please pray :

  • many more listening groups will be started and many will hear God’s truth for the first time.
  • that Christians attending these groups will understand God’s word better.
  • that the word of God will change hearts and lives and empower churches.

Find out more about oral communities and pray effectively by using our prayer module ‘Bibles for oral communities

* CABTAL Cameroon Association of Bible Translation and Literacy