Last year we received a letter from 16-year-old Benjamin*, who wanted to know what he could do now to prepare to serve with Wycliffe in the future. Carwyn Graves, our Wales co-ordinator, wrote back. In case you’re wondering the same things as Benjamin, here’s his reply:
Thank you very much indeed for writing to us. It was heartening to read your letter and to hear of your heart for God’s word and for the lost. May I respond to your questions and then suggest a few other things myself?
Firstly, you ask about the route that most people take into Wycliffe – do they study at university first, and do they do more training before starting? The honest answer is that there is no one typical route that people take before joining Wycliffe. We have members who spend 40 years in another career, in things as varied as medicine, finance and teaching, before joining Wycliffe, and others who join almost straight out of university. But having said that, a university degree is certainly a useful thing to have under your belt were you to consider joining Wycliffe in future. This is true both for the reasons a degree is generally recommended to young people (critical thinking, transferable skills, in-depth study of a subject, independent living) but also because having qualifications matters an awful lot in many countries around the world where we work. It opens doors to countries and contexts by giving you clout.
We have members who spend 40 years in another career, and others who join almost straight out of university
As for further training, that is also a ‘yes’. Most people who join do further study with us, often to Master’s level. Our work is technical in nature, and too important to be done in a slapdash manner. But there are ways of testing the waters – we have a programme called GradTeam for recent graduates who get the opportunity to spend a year working with us overseas, with a kind of ‘crash course’ to start the year. Many then will stay on and do the full training; some will come back to the UK and get a secular job and serve the Lord in a different way here. So that may be something to think about. Importantly, however, it’s not something to worry about – the training is not some hurdle to cross, it’s a way of us ensuring you have the right tools for the job!
Secondly, you ask about the kind of university course to go for. There really is no right answer here, apart from that you pray about it! Pray, and ask others who know you well – particularly Christians – what they would advise. Pray some more. Think about what you enjoy. It does sound like languages are a strength of yours, and yes, people with language expertise are always useful. But at this stage I wouldn’t want you to worry about which languages to study at uni, which precise degree to do, whether to do linguistics etc. Do what you enjoy and are led to do, and you can always learn other languages later. God will provide!
Training is a way of ensuring you have the right tools for the job
Thirdly, the question about using languages in our work. You are right to say that the vast majority of translators these days are mother-tongue speakers of the language in question – and that is a good thing. Often what expatriate workers with a linguistics background would end up doing is the role of ‘translation consultant’. They would help supervise mother-tongue translators, ensure accuracy and intelligibility, and particularly help with the exegesis (ie working from the original Greek and Hebrew). And how better to communicate with teams like this than in their own languages? There are a lot of languages out there, and as you’ll know we are currently working in over 2000 of them!
There is no better preparation for joining Wycliffe than to grow as a Christian
Fourthly and finally, you ask about preparing yourself for this kind of work. This is easy to answer; do everything you can to grow as a Christian! Spend time in the Bible; get involved in a Christian Union, home group or youth group. Read Christian books. Get to know the Lord better. Talk with others, particularly those who have been Christians a long time, about God, and about the gospel. Pray for the world, perhaps using Operation World. There is no better preparation for joining Wycliffe than these things. Learning the biblical languages, studying linguistics etc. are all good things, and being gifted in them is lovely and from God, but the primary thing is loving God and his work in the world.
I hope that has gone some way to answering your questions. One final thing: can I suggest you talk to others about your interest in joining Wycliffe in the future? Christian friends, people at your church, perhaps? Having the encouragement (and sometimes correction) of those that know us well and accompany us on our journeys is an invaluable thing.
Blessings in Christ,