Three Bible translation agencies have teamed up to make the Bible more widely available in hundreds more languages through an ambitious digitisation project. MissionAssist, Bible Society and Wycliffe Bible Translators are appealing for volunteers to digitise Scripture translations so they can be made freely available on major platforms like YouVersion.

The work involves copying translations which only exist in printed form because they were made before the digital age, or because older digital copies have been lost.

Many of these translations are in minority languages whose speakers don’t have access to the wealth of resources in their language that English speakers do. As well as serving the needs of Christian nationals and Bible students, digital translations – because they widen the range of literature available in these languages – help ensure the survival of these languages and cultures.

Digitising texts also means earlier translations can be revised and unfinished projects completed, and Braille versions can be produced for blind people.

Led by MissionAssist, the Bible Digitisation Project involves training volunteers in the keyboarding skills they need to transcribe Bible text in a language they don’t know. Volunteers need basic computer skills, but most important is accuracy and an ability to concentrate.

In the technique developed by MissionAssist, two volunteers work independently on the same text and their results are collated and checked against the original printed text and corrected as needed by another volunteer to ensure the highest possible level of accuracy.

Mrs Christine Reynolds (76), from Balham, is digitising the Psalms in Micmac, an endangered indigenous language used by fewer than 7,000 people in Nova Scotia. She said the work is demanding because of the concentration needed, as well as the skills she has had to acquire in order to key in Micmac characters. ‘I have to use keys I’ve never been near before,’ she said. ‘Some letters require four keystrokes.’

She said: ‘It’s very satisfying because you’re enabling someone to get access to the Bible. You’re also helping to save an endangered language – the world goes wild about endangered species, but we forget that our own languages and cultures are disappearing. You’re not only meeting someone’s spiritual needs, but keeping alive someone’s heart language.’

Wycliffe’s Executive Director, James Poole, said: ‘In a world where almost 1 in 5 people don’t have access to the Bible in their own language, but where smartphone and internet use is growing rapidly, this is a really strategic initiative. Having digital Scripture in both readable and audio form can be transformative for churches and communities, and Christians here in the UK can make a real difference in this.’

MissionAssist’s Chief Executive Officer, the Revd Daryl Richardson, said: ‘A Bible cannot do much lying in a library storeroom covered by dust, but when people read or hear the word of God for themselves then lives are changed. It is such a valuable work – with eternal consequences – when volunteers give some of their spare time in making the Scriptures accessible in the nations for whom they are intended. These people are not part of the translation process but by using their computer keyboards at home, after training from MissionAssist, they make books of the Bible available for people to read or hear in their own country. It is a privilege to be able to send the word of salvation from the comfort of our own homes around the world.’

Bible Society’s Chief Executive Officer, Paul Williams, said: ‘Digitising translations of the Bible is hugely important. Bible Society has the largest collection of printed Scriptures in the world, and within our archives are texts in languages which have no Scriptures online. We want to make them available as widely as possible so more and more people can read the Bible in their heart language. We’re delighted to be working with other Bible Societies and translation agencies to make this happen. Keyboarding volunteers have a vital role to play in making God’s word accessible today.’

One of the translations being digitised is in Kare, a language of the Central African Republic (see ‘Case study’ below). One indigenous speaker working with Wycliffe on a revision said: ‘Since my birth I have never seen a text in Kare. But now we have read a text in our own language for the first time!’

To find out more about the Bible Digitisation project or how you can help, contact Volunteer Enquiries: volunteers@missionassist.org.uk


Notes to Editors

1. For further information, call Jeremy Weightman on the Wycliffe Communications Team on 0300 303 1111.

2. Images. You can download the following images to accompany the press release, by clicking on the ‘Image’ link:

Image 1 – Reading the printed and digital Scriptures at the same time

Image 2 – Digitisation volunteer looking at on original document

Image 3 – Digitisation volunteer at work

Image 4 – Reading Scripture on a tablet

Image 5 – Different ways of engaging with Scripture

Image 6 – The Luganda Bible (1896)

3. Tests have shown it is often not possible to use Optical Character Recognition software to transcribe printed Bibles, either because of the quality of the scans or the use of accents in little-known languages.

4. It’s not possible to say exactly how many Bibles or portions of Scripture have been translated in the past but still require digitisation. At least 204 complete Bibles, 545 New Testaments and more than 1,000 Scripture portions have been published in the last 80 years and are not available on digital platforms; research is continuing into whether any of these might exist in a digital form.

5. The digitisation project is spearheaded by MissionAssist (a member of Wycliffe Global Alliance), which also digitises study tools such as concordances.

6. The three mission agencies are all involved in Bible translation and are making a joint appeal to their supporters for volunteers because of the growing demand for digital Bibles as internet use around the world increases.

7. Case study: Kare, Central African Republic

The Kare language is spoken by about 97,000 people in the Central African Republic. According to the country director of Bible translation agency SIL, Elizabeth Marti, a translation had been completed in the 1940s. She says: ‘Since about 2013 I knew there had been a translation of Kare done in the ’40s but had never seen a copy of it myself. It also sounded like surviving copies in the villages – considering weather, time, and wars – were highly unlikely. It was a part of history that was lost to the years.’

It was then found that there was a copy in UK archives that could be digitised. ‘What an unexpected blessing!’ says Elizabeth. ‘It can now be used as a reference for a revised, modern translation into the Kare language.’

Paul Murrell, who serves with Wycliffe Bible Translators and is contributing on a new translation into Kare, says: ‘Having the New Testament easily available in this format means that we can now check how well people understand it and assess how well the existing translation meets their needs for Scripture access. The fact that this is digital will make it so much easier to use as a base for future work, whatever form that may take. This digitisation has the potential to save years of work down the line; I pray that it is put to good use in the coming months and years.’

8. Wycliffe Bible Translators seeks to enable all peoples to engage with the Bible in a language that speaks to them best. It does this through a range of activities, including Bible translation, literacy and Scripture use initiatives. Currently, Wycliffe has 367 people from the UK and Ireland serving 530 million people who speak 360 languages in 71 countries. Of the 7,300 or so languages spoken worldwide today, only about 700 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.