Wycliffe Bible Translators was represented at COP26 (United Nations Climate Change Conference) in Glasgow, from 31 October–12 November through its key partner SIL International. During the conference, Michael Jemphrey and Andy Clark, who serve with Wycliffe and SIL, attended as official ‘observers’.
They were at COP26 as part of the Christian Climate Observers’ Program (CCOP). This group of 40 Christians was diverse, with ages ranging from 19–79 (but a median age of just 25!) and from across the world, including USA, Canada, UK, France, India, Macedonia, New Zealand, Australia, Philippines, Zimbabwe, Burundi and Hong Kong.
Michael comments: ‘We were there to bear witness to the COP process and then to communicate what we heard and experienced back to our networks.’ As a result, each day the team dispersed into a multitude of stalls, talks and sessions, seeking opportunities to learn and discuss.
They carried a brochure highlighting some of the projects that SIL is involved in that are tackling climate change issues head-on. This includes the Faith and Farming initiative in Nigeria, providing farmers there with workshops in their own languages so that they have a more scriptural understanding of farming and how they can farm in a more environmentally-friendly way.
A recurring theme was the need for local or indigenous peoples to be present and heard. They are invariably among the most marginalised groups in the world and live in areas most affected by climate change. They are often, also, communities that speak languages that are on the margins too. As a result, Wycliffe and its partner organisations work alongside many of these peoples, helping them to gain a voice through strengthening the place of their language in their own community, and helping to validate it in the wider national – and hopefully – international communities.
‘Here at COP26 space was given to indigenous groups,’ Michael continues. ‘For instance, there was a session on the Finance day where COP26 President Alok Sharma held a public meeting with eight indigenous leaders. That was good, as are the finances that are earmarked to support indigenous communities in their fight against climate change. But as the indigenous leaders made clear, what they need is to be heard at the decision-making table, and to be given opportunities to speak into the development of national strategies for tackling climate change.’
‘That’s partly a language issue – those who speak marginalised languages are often also those who live in marginalised regions and are at the forefront of the effects of climate change. This is something that Wycliffe and its partner organisations may be able to highlight as we work alongside such indigenous groups.’
Andy was particularly affected by one session. ‘I attended one session in the People’s Climate Summit that really brought the issue home to me — literally! ‘Resisting Language Loss and the Ecological Crisis’ was presented by two Scottish students who were fluent in Scottish Gaelic and passionate about their language.
‘Like most Westerners in Wycliffe, I know about the tragic consequences for marginalised communities whose languages are shifting, dying out or being displaced by major languages. But I rarely think about this in my own backyard. These two young activists shared their pain about how historically Gaelic speakers have experienced marginalisation in rural areas and the negative effects of central government policy. It was really inspiring to hear about their struggle to see Scottish Gaelic maintained.
Andy continues: ‘How does this link to the ecological crisis? There is a strong correlation between the places with a decrease in diversity of languages and places with a decrease in biodiversity. And vice versa, we see huge language diversity in places like Papua New Guinea where there is also rich biodiversity. The students called out two main factors – first, economic progress and industrialisation, and, second, urbanisation and marginalisation of rural areas. I know this happens in other countries around the world where Wycliffe works with minority language communities. But I’d never thought of this in relation to the Scottish Highlands!’
Michael adds: ‘The move away from agriculture which extracts goodness from the soil to regenerative agriculture is vital but involves tough issues, including access to traditional land and the right to practise traditional foraging and farming methods which have maintained biodiversity for centuries. Another related issue is farmer indebtedness: one theologian on the team reminded us of the Jubilee in Leviticus where debts were wiped away every 50 years.
‘So there were much sadness and anger in and around COP26. If I were asked to name a couple of bright spots, I would say, firstly, that for the first time the final statement at least recognises “the important role of indigenous peoples and local communities’ culture and knowledge in effective action on climate change”.
‘Secondly we were able to meet up and network with many other Christians on the front line in this area through scientific research, regenerative farming, theology of God's creation, advocacy, education, and intercessory prayer. As we talked and shared they recognised that translation is another key piece of the puzzle.
‘My takeaway is that we must act together as the salt of the earth.’
Notes to Editors
1. For further information, call Jeremy Weightman on the Wycliffe Communications Team on 0300 303 1111 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
2. Wycliffe Bible Translators seeks to create a world where everyone can know Jesus through the Bible. It does this through a range of activities, including Bible translation, literacy and Scripture use initiatives. Currently, Wycliffe has 360 people from the UK and Ireland serving 530 million people who speak 350 languages in 71 countries. Of the 7,300 or so languages spoken worldwide today, only 717 have the Bible. Around 1.5 billion people (1 in every 5 people) do not have the Bible in their language. As a result, translation of the Bible into people’s languages is one of the critical needs in world mission, to enable the growth of evangelism and discipleship ministries.
3. Wycliffe and its partner organisations are currently involved in about three-quarters of global Bible translation efforts.
4. Images. You can download the following images to accompany the press release, by clicking on the ‘Image’ link and then saving to your desktop. All images should be credited as follows: © 2021 Wycliffe Bible Translators.