Bible Translation 101: Scripture engagement

August 29th, 2016 by Camilla

Wycliffe Bible Translators does more than just translate the Bible. Through our work in the areas of Bible translation, literacy and Scripture engagement, we see God opening minds to understand Scripture and see lives transformed by God’s love and word expressed in languages and cultures all over the world.

This post is the fourth in our Bible Translation 101 series, giving you a window into our world to learn more about our main focuses: Bible translation, literacy and Scripture engagement.

A man listens to the audio Scriptures for the first time at the Naro New Testament Dedication in November of 2012.

A man listens to the audio Scriptures for the first time at the Naro New Testament Dedication in November of 2012.

You might think Scripture engagement is a focus area for after the full Bible has been printed – in fact Scripture engagement is necessary before anything is translated and throughout the whole process!

So what is Scripture engagement? It’s more than telling people to read their Bibles! Scripture engagement is:

  • building relationships with people in the community
  • promoting local ownership of a Bible translation project
  • deciding what format to produce and distribute Scripture in (whether a book, videos, recordings, etc)
  • teaching and modelling how to engage with the Bible and put it into practice in our daily lives (this may include teaching about how to meditate on God’s word, how to lead a Bible study, how to use listening devices to listen to audio recordings of Scripture, etc
  • identifying needs for, developing and distributing materials that will help people engage with the Bible
  • working with local musicians, actors, storytellers and artists to create ethnically authentic worship songs and Scripture presentations (EthnoArts)

Are you enjoying our Bible Translation 101 series? Are there other Wycliffe basics you want to see featured on our blog? Why not drop us a line at

Avatar technology for sign-language Bibles

August 25th, 2016 by Camilla

About a year ago we published a blog post called What does Avatar have to do with Bible translation?, about breakthroughs in the filmmaking industry that are helping to create powerful visual Bibles for the Deaf.

Today we want to put the spotlight on this issue again, and ask you to pray for sign language Bible translation, and some of the people who have dedicated their lives to bringing the Bible to the Deaf.

Not one single complete Bible exists for the world’s 200 million Deaf people in their mother tongue – sign language – in all its hundreds of forms. Thankfully, something is being done. Wycliffe Australia members Saul and Rebecca Thurrowgood are two people who have dedicated their lives to being part of this story.

Since 2015, Saul has been pioneering a revolutionary computer software program that records sign language movement to create three-dimensional digital recordings.

The project is set to transform sign language Bible translation as we know it and to extend progress beyond its present geographic and technological boundaries.

Things haven’t been easy for Saul and Rebecca, but God has established their every step along the path of placing his word into the hands of the Deaf.

The nature of invention means that Saul and his US co-worker, Shawn Collins, are constantly pushing the boundaries of what is possible in computerised sign language Bible translation.

‘Software-wise, you ask me any time, any day, I’ll tell you I’m up against a wall trying to make the next thing,’ Saul says. ‘That’s just the way it is.’

When the project was at risk of being cancelled in mid-2015, a most fitting partnership with the Deaf Bible Society ensued. With their project funding and shared vision, this partnership is ‘opening up doors,’ Saul shares, ‘that otherwise we didn’t really see happening.’

Pray for:

  • Another programmer to join the project
  • God’s grace as Saul sets up the motion capture system in several willing sign language projects for testing, data collection and feedback
  • Good communication and relationships between team members despite barriers of distance, time zones, cultures and languages

This story is adapted from a story that originally appeared on Wycliffe Australia’s website. You can read the original here.

Font-tastic Mr Fox

August 22nd, 2016 by Camilla

How much do you know about font design? If you’re like most people, it might never have even crossed your mind that such a thing existed. I interviewed Robert Fox*, one of SIL’s* font designers who is based in High Wycombe, to find out more on the subject.

NRSI-Scriptures-3 (2)Why do we need font designers?

Computers don’t understand all the writing systems in the world. People need fonts so that their computers, phones and tablets will be able to handle their language. A pencil’s been able to handle that language for a long time, but if you can’t type your language on a computer, you can’t communicate.

So what does a font designer actually do?

We create solutions for people. That means if there’s a language out there that cannot be used on a computer, because there’s no font available, then we will help source a font for them that contains all the letters of their alphabet. If it doesn’t exist, we’ll find someone who can help meet that need or we’ll meet it ourselves. We’ll design the font, and create it in such a way that it can be installed on computers, phones and tablets, and then develop a way to input it so that you can type it. And we work with people in the computing industry to be able to work as a team with them, to be able to solve these problems together.

How did you get involved in font design? Why did you choose that over another aspect of Bible translation?

My wife and I joined Wycliffe 25 years ago for me to do basic computer support. But while we were doing our training, I found out that there were folks in Wycliffe that were designing fonts! I thought that had to be the best job in the world! Within a few months they’d convinced us to not go directly overseas, but to serve as a font designer at the headquarters in Dallas, because I had the motivation and the talent and I thought that would be wonderful!

What’s your favourite part of the job?

One of the things I like most about the job is the variety of it. Because I need to be one third graphic designer, one third computer programmer, and one third linguist. And I need to mix those to do my job well. But if I had to pick one thing, I would choose to just design letters. I love drawing letters, making them work together.

Interested in font design? Want to know more? Find out how you could be involved.

*SIL is Wycliffe’s primary partner

Have you tried turning it off and on again?

August 18th, 2016 by Jo Johnson

Our IT guys don’t get a lot of attention, but they are in fact fundamental to the running of our office, and Bible translation efforts around the world. Right now, they need prayer as they are about to take our whole office through an all-encompassing systems upgrade.

AK0H0303In our post Stewarding our resources we asked you to pray for our strategic goal of being excellent stewards of the additional resources that we are asking God to provide this year. One way we are hoping to do this is through a significant systems upgrade which will go live in a few weeks’ time.

Paul, our head of IT, says:

‘What we’re aiming to do by go-live date is do the things we currently do, on a new system. However if that’s all we do then we’ve wasted time and money, so it’s important that we are able to do more, which is why we’re switching. This needs imagination from directors, as to what we might do, and for me to work out how to do it.’

A systems upgrade may not at first glance seem very important or relevant to Bible translation, but in order to support staff and projects overseas and relate well to the church in the UK, it’s crucial. Will you join us in praying for a smooth transition?

  • Please pray for wisdom and creativity to know how best to use the new systems and for Paul and the team to find good ways of doing those things.
  • We are only the second UK organisation to use these new systems. Please pray that we find any problems with the UK-specific features before we go live and that those problems are easily solved.
  • Paul is doing a lot of the setup work over the next two months. On top of this, he will spearhead a team rewriting procedures and train the whole office in using the new systems. Ask God to protect him and his family, give him strength and good health.

Remind yourself of our strategic prayer goals.

You can pray daily using the prayer diary in our magazine, Words for Life, which you can receive free by post, by email or online.

Obura Bible reprint

August 15th, 2016 by Camilla

The Bible in the Obura language of Papua New Guinea was first printed in 1982, but many Obura Bibles were never used, as not many people could read. Then, a literacy programme was started which ended up changing everything. Watch the video to see what happened!

For more about why literacy is an important part of our work, check out our Bible translation 101 post about literacy.

Pray for the Bantoanon New Testament

August 11th, 2016 by Camilla

Pray for preparations to record the New Testament for the Bantoanon people of the Philippines. The recording will be done by Faith Comes By Hearing this August and September. The audio version of the New Testament and the JESUS Film DVD are both intended to be ready by late April 2017.

1403 Heather Crossley Tes Garcia translating 001Until now, there has not been much Scripture available in the Bantoanon language, printed or otherwise. However, soon the whole Bantoanon New Testament will be available to listen to almost anywhere and anytime! The Bantoanon audio New Testament will be distributed on CDs and SD cards and be available on android phones.

As the New Testament nears completion in this language, the translation team have been spreading the word in country churches, and suspense is building. The team have been distributing preliminary cellphone editions of the New Testament, along with promotional materials such as laminated Scripture posters, bookmarks and keyrings.

Representatives from all four church denominations in the area met last week to discuss plans for the launch of the New Testament, along with Genesis and Exodus, and audio Bible next April. The meeting was small but very encouraging.

Pray for:

  • The voice actors, especially the voice of Jesus and the narrator. Pray that God would speak through the whole cast and breathe life into this audio Bible.
  • God’s protection on the equipment and the health and safety of the recording team.
  • Pray that God would use these ac­tiv­i­ties to gen­er­ate a long­ing for his word in the hearts of everyone who hears it.

Good news travels fast

August 8th, 2016 by Camilla

If you heard a great story, how long would it be before you shared it with someone else? Probably not long. You’d be even quicker to share it if you were from one of the world’s oral cultures.

Oral cultures place a high value on storytelling, and communicate differently to Western cultures – important ideas, knowledge, art, etc are shared verbally rather than in writing. Bible storying is an aspect of Bible translation tailor-made for oral cultures – short passages of Scripture are translated orally and don’t need much of a push to start circulating.

The idea is not just to provide Scripture in a format people will engage with, but also to allow a people group to engage with the Bible in their language from the beginning of a Bible translation project, and prepare people groups for the rest of the Bible. Bible sto­ry­ing gives oral cultures the word of God in an authentic local format and as a result, stories spread quickly.

Ethno-com­mu­ni­ca­tions con­sul­tant Durk Mei­jer re­calls a man he met at a Bible sto­ry­ing work­shop from the Himba com­mu­nity in north­west­ern Namibia. ‘He was ed­u­cated, spoke Eng­lish and uses Face­book – he’s a mod­ern guy. He learned four Bible sto­ries im­me­di­ately to retell.’

Durk has tried another, slightly dif­fer­ent ap­proach – of teach­ing prin­ci­ples rather than sto­ries – and has found that oral learners struggle with this. Somehow, the key is not just in the fact that it’s verbal rather than written, but in the story format.

‘We’re help­ing people…engage with God’s word in their own way,’ ex­plains Durk.

Though storytelling is an age-old tradition, modern tech­nol­ogy only serves to support this way of engaging with Scripture. South­ern Africans liv­ing in re­mote ar­eas, in­clud­ing many San peo­ple, have em­braced the mo­bile phone as a per­fect method for do­ing what oral cul­tures love: shar­ing stories.

Se­bas­t­ian Floor, di­rec­tor of Wycliffe South Africa’s Re­gional Trans­la­tion Services, re­ports that even with­out wide­spread ac­cess to elec­tric­ity, peo­ple find a way to charge their phones. They also climb moun­tains or travel long dis­tances to get a net­work sig­nal. Such ob­sta­cles are no match for a de­sire to com­mu­ni­cate.

‘It’s amaz­ing!’ ex­claims Se­bas­t­ian. ‘We are find­ing that sto­ries done orally spread very quickly.’

While oral sto­ry­ing is a startup strat­egy for Wycliffe South Africa’s Re­gional Trans­la­tion Services, it isn’t nec­es­sar­ily a sub­sti­tute for writ­ten trans­la­tion. It of­ten pre­pares a com­mu­nity for a full Bible trans­la­tion project.

‘But the main ad­van­tage,’ says Se­bas­t­ian, ‘is that it gets God’s word out to com­mu­ni­ties very quickly.’

This post is adapted from a story which originally appeared on The Messenger.

Want to learn more about Bible storying, or even get involved? Consider signing up for our five-day Bible storying course this November in Gloucester!

South Sudan under fire

August 4th, 2016 by Camilla

South Sudan desperately needs our prayers.

Over the past month or so, there have been a number of clashes between the SPLA (government army) and the SPLA-IO (in opposition) soldiers which have led to full-scale fighting in Juba, the capital city.

Due to the unpredictable situation, five members of the Bible translation team in the country were evacuated recently from Juba, and six have stayed behind. A couple of other members have been unable to return.

laarim boy reading scripturesSince this, some normality has returned. The airport has reopened, some public transport is running, some shops and markets are open again and there is some fuel and food coming in from Uganda. The members who have stayed behind have returned to work along with the local staff and translators, but the office closes early to allow people to get home earlier as a safety precaution.

Though there is calm right now, the situation is fragile and it’s a difficult time to plan and make decisions for the future.

Please pray:

  • That God’s people would have the strength to live lives of love, grace and truth in this fractured society.
  • For the leaders of South Sudan to have courage to lead the country into repentance and reconciliation and a vision to serve all the peoples of the country. Pray also for wisdom and persistence for the international community in their interaction and interventions (eg African Union and United Nations).
  • For different leaders in SIL* (the crisis management team, key staff, the translation team leaders, SIL administrators outside of the country) to have wisdom to understand these times and to know the right way forward for the ministry of Bible translation and language development to the different communities of South Sudan in these circumstances.
  • For all SIL staff including those out of the country to know God’s peace in their situation (being removed suddenly from your usual place of living and work, and waiting, is not easy).

*Our primary partner organisation.

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Scripture use and swimming, linguistics and French cheese

August 1st, 2016 by Josh Oldfield

Where would you send 18 under-thirties to explore how they can be involved in Bible translation? I suspect the South of France might not be top of your list. Surely somewhere more exotic and dangerous – with insects for food and outside toilets? Something out of an old-school biography that more closely resembles a military academy than a family holiday?

TWSBut instead we find ourselves in Charmes-sur-Rhône, near Valence, in 35 degree heat. We swim, buy fresh bread, eat good cheeses – and we learn how the Bible can be translated. In enviable surroundings we learn how we can play a part in helping all language groups access life-changing Scripture.

So we are taught linguistics, literacy and Scripture engagement. We hear first-hand experience of translation projects. We learn about the realities of life in unfamiliar environments and how to work with a culturally diverse team. All of this is done in French and English, amongst a group from six nations, speaking 11 languages.

sword fight 2Every day is framed, morning and evening, by worship, a Bible reading, and prayer. Our singing is a chaotic mix of French and English and we often pray unsure if we are understood by those around us. But as we hear from the Bible in our own languages about our missionary God, we know that he cares for people from every nation and language. We are reminded that the Church has a mission, that our local churches live it out, and that we as individuals all play a part.

Much is said of God’s heart for the nations, of the translation work left to be done and of the sacrifices each of us will make in our own way – but there is never the sense that Wycliffe is for a certain ‘type’ of person. There are no superhero missionaries here, just everyday missionaries – self-professed language geeks, teachers, students and church interns, all exploring how their gifts can help serve God, their local churches, and those yet to hear God’s voice in their language.

38 years in the making

July 28th, 2016 by Camilla

We are celebrating: another New Testament has reached completion and is being launched this weekend in Papua New Guinea!

We are celebrating because we believe that the word of God is truth and now the Urat speaking community will be able to connect with God through the New Testament in their own language. Urat is one of over 800 languages in Papua New Guinea, spoken by 6800 people in the north of the country. The journey towards a Urat New Testament has been a long one.

Urat1Efforts began in 1978 under SIL* translators Nate and Jude Baker. In 1984 they passed the baton on to Robert and Dawn Barnes, who continued the program for about 11 years until they had to return home for medical reasons. Hilkka Arminen became involved with the Urat New Testament in 2001 assisting BTA (Papua New Guinea Bible Translation Association) translators David Belyeme and Enoch Mundum.

After all that work, the day has finally arrived. The Urat New Testament is now a reality.

Pray with us for:Urat2

  • Last minute transportation logistics. The New Testaments have arrived in Wewak, six hours from the Urat area, and now need to be transported out to the village in time for the launch on 30th July.
  • Rain! Water tanks are emptying and an event like a Scripture launch uses lots of water.
  • David Belyeme, one of the BTA translators, who is very stressed with ensuring the dedication team are satisfied with the planning, preparations and schedule for the big day.
  • A sense of God’s peace to preside on the day, that he would be glorified and his word to the Urat people would go forth.

Want to pray more for Bible translations that have been a long time coming? Try our prayer goody bags, packed with information and inspiration to help you pray for more projects like this one.

*Our primary partner organisation